Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 | 2 a.m.
UFC President Dana White promised widespread changes to “The Ultimate Fighter” on its 17th season, headlined by better fighters and more in-depth storytelling.
The show delivered on its premiere Tuesday night with several fighters nabbing impressive wins in the elimination portion of the competition, and sharing a glimpse at their background in the process.
The field was whittled from 28 prospective fighters who flew to Las Vegas to 14 who will move into the “TUF” house and compete for a six-figure UFC contract.
Now the real tournament begins under competing coaches Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.
“People don’t realize what a pressure-cooker this thing is,” White said on the show. “Not only being away from your family, but the people you are competing against and the guys you are going to fight are living in the same house as you. Nobody can ever understand that until they come here and experience it.”
Episodes will air every Tuesday night at 8 for the next 11 weeks before a live finale fight card scheduled for April 13 at the Joint at the Hard Rock.
Meet the 14 men out to become the newest “Ultimate Fighter” champion below.
Dylan Andrews (16-4-1)
Drafted 14th by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Gold Coast, Australia
Elimination fight: Won a majority decision over Tim Williams.
About: Andrews tried to get on “TUF: Smashes” last year, which pitted Australia against the United Kingdom, but it was for welterweights. The UFC wanted to keep him at his middleweight weight class. The former rugby player rides a 10-fight win streak into the “TUF” house and has 10 knockout victories on his record.
Luke Barnatt (5-0)
Drafted first by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Cambridge, England
Elimination fight: Beat Nicholas Kohring by unanimous decision
About: At 6-foot-6, the undefeated “Bigslow” should posses a reach advantage over most of his castmates. He’s rapidly busted out in MMA, barely encountering any adversity in five fights since turning professional 18 months ago. Barnatt, who claims he doesn’t “know how to lose”, is the only British fighter on this season of “TUF”.
Kevin Casey (5-2)
Drafted 11th by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Hawthorne, Calif.
Elimination fight: Submitted Eldon Sproat with a rear-naked choke in the first round.
About: The Strikeforce veteran memorably created controversy a few years ago when he awarded himself a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. His gym banned him for the discretion before Casey apologized and agreed to earn the coveted distinction the right way. His last Strikeforce fight — a third-round TKO loss in 2010 — came against former Olympian Matt Lindland.
Adam Cella (4-0)
Drafted 12th by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Fenton, Mo.
Elimination fight: Submitted Jake Heun in the first round with an armbar.
About: Mystery can be a great weapon. While Cella is one of the least known members of the cast, that means nothing. He’s got an undefeated record, consisting of all first-round finishes that proves he’s not a fighter to sleep on. Cella started as a kickboxer before moving into MMA.
Zak Cummings (15-3)
Drafted fifth by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Kansas City, Mo.
Elimination fight: Knocked out Nick Fekete in the first round.
About: None of Cummings’ three losses stand out as negative. He lost by decision to current UFC middleweight Ryan Jimmo, by decision to relatively well known Elvis Mutapcic and by submission to two-time Strikeforce top contender Tim Kennedy. Cummings is a gifted athlete who relies heavily on his wrestling to get fights to the ground and his submissions to finish them once there.
Kelvin Gastelum (5-0)
Drafted 13th by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Yuma, Ariz.
Elimination fight: Won a unanimous decision over Kito Andrews.
About: Sporting a zero in the loss column means enough, but that achievement is amped up significantly when all the wins were finishes. Gastelum has two submissions and two knockouts to his name. His combination of youth and ability might mean Gastelum has the most potential of anyone on the cast.
Uriah Hall (7-2)
Drafted third by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: New York
Elimination fight: Won a unanimous decision over Andy Enz.
About: Watch out for Hall’s confidence. The Muay Thai kickboxer believes he should be in the UFC already. His only two career losses came to Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou, two current top-10 fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division. He’s long been considered a top prospect at 185 pounds and won a Bellator fight in 2009, knocking out his opponent with a head kick.
Collin Hart (4-1-1)
Drafted 10th by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Santa Rosa, Calif.
Elimination fight: Submitted Mike Jaspar in the first round.
About: A protégé of former UFC middleweight top contender David Terrell, Hart’s background isn’t unlike many other mixed martial artists. He wrestled in high school and college. The drive to keep competing led him MMA, where he was able to pick up the rest of the needed disciplines quickly to get to this point.
Clint Hester (7-3)
Drafted second by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Atlanta
Elimination fight: Defeated Frasier Opie by unanimous decision.
About: Hester’s most significant strength is his power. Five of his seven victories, including each of the last two, came by knockout. It makes sense given his history. Hester first went after a career as a professional boxer before turning to MMA. No one can fault him for an unoriginal nickname, as Hester goes by “Headbu$$a”.
Bubba McDaniel (20-6)
Drafted sixth by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Albuquerque, N.M.
Elimination fight: Knocked out Ryan Bigler in the second round.
About: Three seasons ago, two fighters from renowned trainer Greg Jackson’s team won “TUF” — Diego Brandao and John Dodson. McDaniel looks to notch another victory for the Albuquerque-based fight team. He’s one of the most experienced competitors on the show and declared himself “the absolute best unsigned 185-er in the world.”
Jimmy Quinlan (3-0)
Drafted ninth by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Metheun, Mass.
Elimination fight: Second-round TKO victory over Mike Persons.
About: “Crash” advanced to the Division III national championships as a college wrestler at Bridgewater State in Massachusetts. He was also a three-time captain for the Bears. His transition to mixed martial arts has gone swimmingly, as he’s finished two of his three fights in less than three minutes in well known regional promotions in the Northeast.
Josh Samman (9-2)
Drafted fourth by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Tallahassee, Fla.
Elimination fight: First-round TKO victory over Leo Bercier.
About: Getting on “TUF” may mean more to Samman than anyone else on this season’s cast after what he went through trying to notch a spot three years ago. Samman tore his quadriceps at a “TUF” open workout three years ago, which required more than 200 stitches after surgery. But he’s bounced back to win four of five fights, all victories coming by stoppage in the first round.
Gilbert Smith (5-1)
Drafted eighth by Team Jones
Fighting out of: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Elimination fight: Submitted Eric Wahlin in the first round with an arm-triangle choke.
About: Those cast members who lack grappling chops will want to avoid Smith on “TUF”. He fought three times in 2012, winning all of them by submission. Smith may not have fought any recognizable names to this point of his career, but he’s got the profile of a fighter who could use the opportunity for world-class training on “TUF” to make his career take off.
Tor Troeng (15-4-1)
Drafted seventh by Team Sonnen
Fighting out of: Umea, Sweden
Elimination fight: Choked out Scott Rosa with a first-round submission.
About: Troeng’s inclusion on this season has already trudged up excitement from hardcore MMA fans. “The Hammer” has built a reputation as one of the most dangerous fighters on the Scandinavian MMA circuit, boasting knockout power and submission smarts. The sport’s popularity is growing exponentially in Sweden, UFC will host an event in the country for the second straight year in 2013, and Troeng could further help the ascent.