Reserved for the Dogpile: TUF Castoffs Re-Emerge as UFC Favorites

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Imagine... It’s the biggest day of your fighting career. You’re in Las Vegas for the first day of filming The Ultimate Fighter, the elimination round. The preliminary contest is going favorably, as you dominate your opponent with bullying strength and punches. Assured of at least scoring the decision, you briefly go on cruise control, relaxing your submission defense.

Suddenly, the glare of the six-figure contract and weekly national television exposure distract you from the task at hand; you get caught daydreaming inside the cage, and the fantasies of mansion-living and a Zuffa-sponsored training camp come to a quick, crashing halt, as you leave your left arm hanging out for some part-time grappler to hyperextend, and finish you.

Such was the case for middleweight Costas Philippou, who attempted his first run in the UFC as part of the TUF 11 cast. Philippou hit the snooze button during his reality TV debut, tapping out to a no-name substitute teacher. The loss prematurely ended the New York-based Cypriot’s first outing in the octagon, sending him back to the dogpile of thousands of MMA hopefuls around the world.

Now set to square off against Lorenz Larking in the UFC Fight Night 40 co-main event, Philippou has sufficiently established himself as a force at 185 pounds. But the future didn’t seem so bright for the former Golden Gloves boxer back in 2010, when he was unable to land a spot on the television alongside current 185-pound colleagues Brad Tavares, Nick Ring, and Chris Camozzi.

Philippou is just one of several highly touted prospects to falter during the reality TV elimination stage; however, he has developed into the best mixed martial artist to never make it on TUF, compiling a respectable 5-3 record, which includes a top-15 win over the perennially tough Tim Boetsch, fighting on several high-profile Pay-Per-View cards, and even headlining a televised event against Luke Rockhold earlier this year.

For lightweight James Krause, who will face Jamie Varner as part of the upcoming UFC 173 main card, his road to the octagon took a major detour in 2012, when he arrived in Las Vegas for his chance to participate in The Ultimate Fighter’s brief foray into the live format.

An 18-fight pro at that point, Krause was in the midst of a career resurgence after receiving his walking papers from the now-defunct WEC as a result of back-to-back losses against top-10 lightweight Donald Cerrone and top-5 featherweight Ricardo Lamas. TUF Live was Krause’s best shot to re-sign with Zuffa after his 2009 firing.

Owning an 8.5-inch reach advantage and six-inches inches in height over glorified 145-pounder Justin Lawrence, Krause, who also had a significantly deeper resume, transformed from slick grappler into a Zombie-fied punching bag. Lawrence completely thrashed Krause during their 2-minute encounter, landing heavy kicks and punches in scores, while Krause made no effort to avoid the damage.

The loss sent Krause packing, back down to the minor leagues, and many, many miles from the bright lights of the fight capital of the world. But after five straight wins in the RFA, UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby could no longer ignore the grappling ace and set him up against 155-pound gatekeeper Sam Stout.

Finally making his debut at UFC 161, Krause emerged from the dogpile to score a most impressive victory over Stout, earning both “Fight of the Night” and “Submission of the Night” honors for his third round, come-from-behind, guillotine choke.

With MMA losses occurring in spontaneous and unpredictable fashion, it’s understandable that the UFC often calls upon TUF castoffs to step up to the big show. Underwhelming welterweight Che Mills, an English prospect who never quite panned out, was caught by a freak James Wilks heel hook in just 30 seconds into the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom, while current lightweight Jon Tuck fought through a mangled toe, nearly losing the digit, during his failed reality TV bid.

But worse than any of these freak losses, worse than basically anything in MMA, is leaving your professional fate in the hands of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which overseas the TUF elimination round. As such is the case of light heavyweight Ryan Jimmo.

With five fights inside the octagon currently under his belt, the Canadian Jimmo, who will fight next at UFC 174, has become known for his polarizing performances, occasionally delivering highlight-reel caliber knockouts, but also throwing down some slow and boring, wall-clinch-heavy stinkers.

However, no one knew the split personalities of Jimmo’s MMA game back in 2008, when he unsuccessfully dropped a majority decision to Antwain Britt during the TUF 8 elimination round. Sent packing on the back of a lackluster performance, Jimmo resumed his place in the dogpile of regional MMA upstarts and tomato cans.

Jimmo rallied to score 10 straight wins in smaller promotions, even earning the MFC 205-pound title, but he seemed to take no lesson from his reality TV bomb, developing a penchant for dragging out fights and a refusal to finish opponents. That is until he finally made his first appearance inside the octagon, where he disposed of Anthony Perosh in just seven seconds.

The dogpile is indeed the starting point for all MMA hopefuls, but it’s the last place anyone aspires to return to, especially when the big-time promotions come calling. Philippou, Krause, and Jimmo are all prime examples that the hungriest dogs will eventually climb out of the mess and into the octagon.


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TUF and Tribalism