(Note: This is the first part in a three-part preview of the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter. Part two looks at the fighters who are likely to make the house and part three looks at the underdogs.)

At nearly every UFC event, the fruit of The Ultimate Fighter can be found.  From former champions like Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans to main event competitors like Diego Sanchez and Michael Bisping to rising prospects like Ryan Bader and Joe Lauzon, all can trace their entrance into the UFC back through reality show.  Stars are born and grow before fans eyes on the show.

This year’s cast will be coached by current UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.  Cruz has been nearly unstoppable throughout his career.  He is 19-1 and undefeated in the bantamweight division.  That one loss is, of course, to Urijah Faber. Faber is 26-5 in his career and was once the biggest star for the WEC.  After his second loss to reigning featherweight king Jose Aldo, Faber followed Cruz down to the bantamweight division.  The two squared off a second time last summer with Cruz walking away the victor.  This coaching stint sets up the conclusion for their trilogy.

The Ultimate Fighter is recognized as what saved the UFC and turned the organization from a money loser into a billion-dollar company.  Now entering into its 15th season, The Ultimate Fighter is getting a little bit of an overhaul.  This will mark the first season the show airs on FX and with its new broadcast partner, The Ultimate Fighter will air the fights live each week.

The Ultimate Fighter debuts on FX on Friday, March 9, at 9 p.m. ET.

Let’s meet the cast.

The Favorites:

[one_third]


James Krause
Blue Springs, Mo.
Record: 15-4
Twitter:@TheJamesKrause
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Krause is a true veteran of the sport.  Before turning pro, he went 18-1 as an amateur.  As a professional, he is a WEC and Bellator veteran.  He has finished all of his opponents in his victories.  He holds a win over UFC veteran Michael Johnson.  His only losses are to UFC and WEC veterans Donald Cerrone and Ricardo Lamas, Bellator veteran Toby Imada, and a close split decision loss to Sengoku and Pride veteran Clay French.

What makes him a favorite: Experience and competition.  Krause is the second most experienced guy on the show this season.  With both 19 professional and 19 amateur fights, he has seen it all.  He also competed in the same promotion as his coaches.  His only losses are to very good fighters.

[one_third]


Myles Jury
San Diego, Calif.
Record: 9-0
Twitter: @Fury21
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Jury is a surprising addition to this season’s cast.  He was originally on Season 13 of TUF, but an injury forced him off the show.  So for the first time in the reality show’s history, a castmate gets to return for another season.  His return may have to do with his perfect 9-0 record with every fight ending in the first round.  Amazingly, the longest fight in his career lasted just two minutes and 55 seconds.  Jury has a wrestling background as an All-State high school wrestler and he trained with the University of Michigan’s team.  He is a brown belt in BJJ and has shown KO power.

What makes him a favorite: Well-rounded and vicious.  He has shown all the skills needed to win: wrestling, submissions and KO power.  However, what sets him apart is his killer instinct.  He is just vicious in the cage, always looking for the finish.

[one_third]


Justin Lawrence
Villa Ridge, Mo.
Record: 3-0
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Lawrence has been the buzz of the MMA world in his short career.  He was invited to join the infamous Black House team before his debut.  He then had his debut fight in Strikeforce.  Lawrence grew up in combat sports;  his father owned a martial arts gym and Lawrence began in Kempo by the time he was six years old.  From there, he began training in kickboxing and boxing.  He is a six-time national champion in kickboxing and a two-time boxing Golden Gloves champion in St. Louis.  He also excelled in wrestling and football throughout high school.  At just 21 years of age, he will likely be the youngest person on the show.

What makes him a favorite: Training partners.  The saying is “iron sharpens iron” and if that is the case, Lawrence couldn’t have found better iron anywhere.  If Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the rest of Black House say he is special, who am I to argue?

[one_third]


Daron Cruickshank
Wayne, Mich.
Record: 10-2
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Cruickshank is a former NCAA Division III wrestler.  However, in MMA, he is better known for his crowd-pleasing flashy striking. The Ringside MMA champion has finished six of his fights by first-round KO.  His only losses come from Strikeforce and Affliction veteran Bobby Green and Bellator veteran Luis Palomino.

What makes him a favorite: Wrestling and striking.  The one skill any striker needs is the ability to keep the fight standing.  Cruickshank’s wrestling allows him to do what he does on his feet.

[one_third]


Jordan Rinaldi
Matthews, N.C.
Record: 5-0
Twitter: @JordanRinaldi
[/one_third]

Rinaldi is undefeated as a professional fighter and also holds a 5-1 amateur record.  Of his 10 victories, he has finished nine with a submission.  Rinaldi is a purple belt in BJJ and uses a relentless wrestling attack to get his opponents down.  He holds a first-round submission victory of UFC competitor and TUF finalist Dennis Bermudez.  Also, he took his last fight against Tenyeh Dixon on five days’ notice, at welterweight, and his opponent weighed a reported 20 to 25 pounds more than he did, yet Rinaldi still found a way to win.

What makes him a favorite: Solid wrestling, relentless and finds a way to win.  Against Dixon, he was pounded in the first round, but he kept his wits about him and found a way to pull out a victory in the second.  The ability to survive and thrive is not always the easiest skill to learn.

[one_third]


Cristiano Marcello
Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 12-3
Twitter: @Cristiano_CM1
[/one_third]

Marcello is a veteran of Pride and Mecca, but he is probably best known for a fight that happened outside the cage.  He famously choked Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett out with a triangle backstage at Pride Shockwave 2005.  Marcello is a BJJ black belt under Royler Gracie and was the Chute Boxe BJJ coach.  He is a world-class BJJ practitioner, which highlights why nine of his victories in MMA have come via submission.   He holds wins over UFC veteran David Kaplan and K-1 Heroes and M-1 veteran Do Hyung Kim.  Two of his losses are also to elite competition: Pride veterans Luiz Azeredo and Mitsuhiro Ishida.

What makes him a favorite: His submission game.  Marcello will have the best submission game of the season.  Everyone he faces will have to be aware of their limbs and neck at all times when he is in the cage.

[one_third]


Akbarh Arreola
Chula Vista, Calif.
Record: 19-6-1
[/one_third]

Arreola is the most experienced fighter entering the show by far.  He has been competing for nearly a decade.  In addition to being the most experienced fighter on the show, there is little doubt that the Hispanic fighter has also faced some of the best competition.  He holds victories over UFC veteran and former WEC champion Gabe Ruediger, M-1 and Dream veteran David Gardner, and holds a draw with UFC and IFL veteran and MFC champion Antonio McKee.  The list of fighters who hold a victory over Arreola is also an impressive list, including UFC veteran and former TUF champion Mac Danzig, Bellator veteran Toby Imaba twice and UFC veteran Ronys Torres.

What makes him a favorite: Experience and competition.  Arreola is the most experienced fighter this season.  With 26 fights already under his belt, he has been there and seen that.  He also hasn’t just been in the cage with nobodies; he has faced solid competition and done pretty well.

[one_third]


Jon Tuck
Hagtna, Guam
Record: 6-0
[/one_third]

Tuck enters TUF with a tremendous amount of hype.  In part because he holds an eight-second KO victory over Eduardo Folayang, still the Wushu champion’s only loss in MMA, and in part because all six of his victories were stoppages in the first round.  In 2010, he stepped away from MMA to compete in BJJ tournaments around the world before picking up his MMA career again in 2011.

What makes him a favorite: Well-rounded and mysterious.  The hype around Tuck seems to almost center on the unknown.  The one fight everyone has seen of him lasted only eight seconds as he destroyed a favorite.  He has shown punching power, and a year off to compete in BJJ indicates ability on the mat as well.

[one_third]


Mike Rio
Miami, Fla.
Record: 8-1
Twitter: @MikeRioMMA
[/one_third]

“The Wolverine” has been a fixture on the Florida MMA regional scene for the last several years.  Rio is a standout wrestler.  He has been competing since he was 14; he was a two-time state high school wrestling champion and a three-time NAIA champion.  Despite his wrestling background, he has finished seven out of eight fights and six of them in the first round.  His only defeat was a decision loss to former TUF champion Efrain Escudero.  He has bounced back since then with back-to-back victories.

What makes him a favorite: Wrestling and finishing ability.  Rio has the best and most extensive wrestling background entering the house this year.  However, he doesn’t just look to get his opponents down and lay there; he looks to put them away.

[one_third]


Joe Proctor
Pembroke, Mass.
Record: 7-1
Twitter: @Joe_Proctor
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Proctor is one of the top-ranked lightweights in the northeast.  He is the primary training partner to UFC veteran and TUF competitor Joe Lauzon.  Proctor is the Reality Fighting champion and enters the house on a three-fight winning streak.

What makes him a favorite: Training partners.  The TUF house is a hard place to stay focused; you’re stuck with the same annoying people day in and day out with no opportunity to get away, talk to someone else or distract yourself.  Someone who has lived through that can help prepare you in a way no one else can.  Once you mix in his skill, then Proctor has the tools to pull this out.

While I have identified these fighters as the favorites of the season based on their skills and past accomplishments, anything can happen.  MMA is still a sport where unpredictable upsets happen, such as Ryan Bader embarrassing “Rampage” Jackson just a few weeks ago.  Style match-ups can take a one time favorite and make them an underdog.  Not to mention, TUF’s random opening round could see two favorites fight, forcing one out of the show before they even make it into the house.

Photo: Justin Lawrence (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.