The UFC’s reality television program The Ultimate Fighter is returning for its 17th season.  And the UFC is pulling out all the stops to make sure this season is a success.

The UFC announced late last fall that fast-talking, sound-bite machine Chael Sonnen would be one of the coaches.  He is coming off a loss against the middleweight champion Anderson Silva.  However, the promotion is banking that he can deliver his brand of humor week in and week out to attract viewers to the reality series.  In fact, the promotion is so enamored with this idea that it has slotted Sonnen for an immediate title shot in a new weight class.

Coaching opposite of Sonnen is the light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.  This season, TUF will act as a three-month build-up to his title defense against Sonnen.  Jones is a gifted athlete who has used the combination of his freakish athletic ability, his own wrestling background and his rapidly improving overall MMA game to appear nearly unbeatable.

In addition, UFC President Dana White has stepped up the promotional push for this season.  He recently stated at a media luncheon, “This next season is so awesome and so badass. We have a guy on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, every fight he’s in, someone goes to the hospital.  The whole house is terrified of this guy.  F– terrified.   Everybody.   I picked this fight, and this guy is lined up with the guy I’m telling you about, and the guy has a nervous breakdown in the house over the weekend. Has a f– nervous breakdown. Freaks out and has a nervous breakdown. This guy scared the living shit out of everyone. It’s awesome.”

While the coaches’ selection and the heavy promotion have drummed up some excitement, the single biggest thing that will impact viewership is that TUF is moving away from Friday night. This season, TUF is returning to mid-week and will help lead into some of FX’s biggest shows.  The Ultimate Fighter season 17 starts Tuesday, Jan. 22, on FX.

What makes or breaks the show every year are the fighters.  While everybody wants to know who Dana White was describing, fourteen guys make the house.  Let’s meet the guys with that are most likely to make it and win.

Tor Troeng (15-4-1)
Umea, Sweden
Age: 29
Height: 6’2”
Twitter: @ThorTheHammer

Notable Opponents: Mark Weir (W), Mamed Khalidov (L), Lucio Linhares (L), Daniel Acacio (L), Thales Leites (L)

Ever since White’s statements were made, people have been trying to guess who he was talking about.  Many pundits have speculated that the fighter in question is Tor Troeng.  Though this writer isn’t convinced that he is that man, he still has to be the favorite to win the show.  He has faced stiff competition throughout his career.  All of his losses are against proven veterans, and three of those losses happened in his first seven fights, nearly five years ago.  A training partner of UFC light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson, Troeng has gone 11-1-1 in his last 13 fights.  Troeng is the favorite for the show for a simple reason: he has the fewest holes of any competitor on the show.

Strengths: He is a strong striker; technical with a great jab, good kicks and power. Troeng also has a proven submission game, but probably most surprising is that the Swede possesses good wrestling.

Weaknesses: At times, he can be overpowered.  While Troeng is tremendously skilled, other fighters might be able to bully him.

Uriah Hall (7-2)
New York City (by way of Jamaica)
Age: 28
Height: 6’0”
Twitter: @UriahHallMMA

Notable Opponents: Chris Weidman (L), Constantinos Philippou (L)

If Troeng isn’t the feared striker White mentioned, then Uriah Hall more than likely is.  Hall has a background in Muay Thai and kickboxing, even competing in Chuck Norris’ World Combat League.  Hall is a powerful puncher, has great timing and devastating kicks.  However, the most impressive thing about Hall is his freaky athleticism.  He is in the mold of a Jones or Lesnar, the type of fighter who could win bouts with just their athletic ability.

Strengths:  Hall is a pure athlete who will likely be the quickest and most athletic fighter this season and maybe ever.  He is a technically sound striker with knockout power in both his hands and feet.

Weaknesses:  Chris Weidman drew the blueprint to beat Hall.  If the fight is standing or Hall is on top, he is nearly unbeatable, but he needs work off his back.  He couldn’t threaten Weidman and couldn’t get back to his feet.

Jimmy Quinlan (3-0)
Metheun, Mass.
Age: 26
Twitter: @JimmyCrashBJJ

Jimmy Quinlan may seem a little inexperienced to be ranked this high, but the truth is that he is probably the most feared 3-0 fighter in the country.  It took him over a year to find someone to agree to fight him in his first fight and nearly a year to find his second fight (against a veteran of 17 fights).  In his third fight, he took on a fighter with over 50 fights.

So what makes Quinlan so scary?

He is an excellent wrestler—a former state finalist in high school who is a four-time All-New England wrestler, won the New England title and ranked top-five nationally in college.  But his real claim lies in the BJJ world, where he won world grappling championships as both purple and brown belts, has won or placed in grappling at the Worlds, Pan-Am games and Abu Dhabi in both Gi and No-Gi.  Simply put, Quinlan may very well be one of the best pure grapplers in New England.

Strengths: He is an absolute animal on the ground.  He has a long background in wrestling and is an extremely decorated grappler.

Weaknesses: His lack of experience is a concern.  With only three fights, it is difficult to determine much beyond his credentials.

Zak Cummings (15-3)
Kansas City, Mo.
Age: 28
Height:  6’0”
Twitter: @ZakCummings

Notable Opponents: Tim Kennedy (L), Ryan Jimmo (L), Terry Martin (W), Rudy Bears (W)

Zak Cummings may have the name more casual fans will recognize than anyone else on the show.  The Strikeforce and Bellator veteran has faced solid competition throughout his career.  Cummings has been wrestling since he was a kid, and although he is well-rounded, he tends to prefer the ground, where he has collected eight submissions victories.

Strengths: Cummings is experienced, not just in the number of fights he has had but also in the competition he has faced and in appearing on big shows.  He is also a well-rounded fighter that poses risks wherever the fight has gone.

Weaknesses: He may be under more pressure than anyone else entering the show.  He is expected to do well, and we have seen that pressure hurt previous fighters on TUF.

Joshua Samman (9-2)
Tallahassee, Fla.
Age: 24
Height: 6’3”
Twitter: @JoshSamman

Notable Opponents: Chris Cope (W), Mikey Gomez (W), Dan Cramer (L)

Joshua Samman is a contributor for a MMA website and also has the skill to be a competitor of the sport at the highest levels.  Out of his nine wins, eight have been stoppages (five knockouts, three submissions).  The World War Cage Fighting middleweight champion is a strong puncher, possess good ground-and-pound including his patent double punch, and if an opening is there, he can lock on a submission.

Strengths: His biggest strength is his ground-and-pound attack, which allows him to either knock out opponents or forces a scramble that opens up a submission opportunity.

Weaknesses: Although it may be more of an unknown than a weakness, we really haven’t seen him work off his back.

Nik Fekete (5-1)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Age: 32
Height: 6’0”
Twitter: @nikfekete

Notable opponents: Ovince St. Preux (W)

Nik Fekete has spent years training and helping other fighters, and now he wants to take his own career to the next level.  He had been a high school state and national wrestling champion, a Big Ten Conference athlete at Michigan State and a training partner for the 2008 Summer Olympics wrestling team.  Fekete has helped train a who’s who of the MMA world, including the likes of Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Forrest Griffin.   While in college, the standout wrestler roomed with UFC lightweight Gray Maynard for two years.

Strengths: Fekete should be the best wrestler on the show.  After he gets opponents down, he has solid ground-and-pound until a submission opportunity opens up.

Weaknesses: The Bellator veteran has two key weaknesses: size and striking.  Fekete is listed as a light heavyweight on Sherdog and will need to show he can make weight.  Also, he will need to get the fights to the ground in order to win, but with a house full of strikers, that could be a dangerous proposition.

Timothy Williams (7-1)
Millville, N.J.
Age: 26
Height: 6’2”
Twitter: @TimWilliams185

Notable Opponents: Duane Bastress (W), Andre Gusmao(W), Dustin Jacoby (L)

Although Timothy Williams lost his last fight, it was against UFC veteran Dustin Jacoby and was due to a doctor’s stoppage.  All of his victories are due to stoppages (five subs, two KO’s) and five ended in the first round.  The former CFFC middleweight champion demonstrated technical striking, good wrestling and a great submission game from both his back and when he is on top.

Strengths: Williams is a technical fighter both standing and on the ground.  Wherever the fight goes, Williams poses risks.

Weaknesses: Although Williams is a technical striker, he seems to lack real knockout power in his striking.  In a season that features a number of power punchers, that could be a real disadvantage.

Adam Cella (4-0)
Fenton, Mo.
Age: 27
Height: 6’2”
Twitter: @AdamCellaMMA

Adam Cella may not be the most experienced fighter in MMA, but if you add in his amateur MMA career, plus boxing and kickboxing bouts, he has well over 70 fights.  He is the 2008 Golden Gloves boxing champion in both novice and open.  He had over 60 kickboxing fights, was the 2006 IKF World Classic Tournament Champion, and joined the World Combat League.  Cella went 7-1 as an amateur in MMA.  All of his professional bouts ended in the first round.

Strengths: Striking is obviously his game.  He has fast hands and feet, with knockout power.

Weaknesses: Cella hasn’t had a lot of experience against quality opponents.  Three of his four MMA opponents were in their debuting fights.

Robert “Bubba” McDaniel (20-6)
Albuquerque, N.M.
Age: 29
Height: 6’3”
Twitter: @BubbaTheMenace

Notable opponents: Johnny Rees (W), Kyacey Uscola (W), Billy Horne(W), Kala Hose (W), Lucas Lopes (L), Gerald Harris (L),Alexander Shlemenko (L)

“Bubba” McDaniel is the most experienced fighter entering the house.  He has faced solid competition throughout his career and submitted many of his opponents.  The Jackson’s MMA fighter has 15 submission victories in his career.

Strengths: McDaniel is very experienced fighter, and he should not see anything he hasn’t seen before.  He is also a submission ace and will be looking to get his opponents to tap.

Weaknesses: McDaniel does have a suspect chin.  Four of his losses are due to knockout, and the cast has some brutal strikers.

Dylan Andrews (16-4-1)
Gold Coast, Australia (by way of New Zealand)
Age: 33
Height: 6’1”
Twitter: @dylanthevillian

Notable Opponents: Jesse Taylor (L), Shonie Carter (W), Brian Ebersole (L)

Dylan Andrews is the first international fighter still living outside of the United States to be featured on this list.  Andrews possesses powerful hands, a strong wrestling base and an aggressive style that has led to 14 stoppages in his career.  The Nitro MMA middleweight title holder is currently on a four-fight winning streak against decent regional competition and has established himself as one of the top-ranked middleweights in Australia and New Zealand.

Strengths: Andrews is a powerful striker that has 10 knockout victories in his career.  He is also an extremely aggressive fighter who will push the action and put pressure on his opponents.

Weaknesses: Although Andrews is a strong wrestler, his submission game is average at best.  Strong grapplers could present him problems.

Scott Rosa (4-1)
Sparks, Nev.
Age: 26
Height: 6’6”

Notable Opponents: James Irvin (W), Anthony Ruiz (L)

Scott Rosa went 7-2 as an amateur before he turned pro.  As a professional, he has only been to one decision in his career.  Rosa is a former basketball player, and that is the most intriguing thing about him.  He stands 6-foot-6 and has an 88-inch reach.  You can’t teach that kind of size, and his opponents will be forced to adjust against something they have probably never seen in this weight class.

Strengths: His size and reach are just so unusual.  If he can use them to his advantage, it will be tough to counter.

Weaknesses: He has competed at light heavyweight most of his career, so he will have to adjust to the weight cut.  And, of course, he does not have much experience.

Kelvin Gastelum (5-0)
Yuma, Ariz.
Age: 20
Height: 5’9”
Twitter: @KelvinGastelum

Kelvin Gastelum is the youngest fighter on the show.  However, his mixed background and experience, packed into a short time, make him an interesting fighter.  He has stopped four of his opponents (two by knockout, two via submission).  He wrestled in college out of the Idaho College where he was ranked fifth in the nation.  He also has a boxing background.  When you mix in his athletic ability, Gastelum is quick, aggressive and very active.

Strengths: He has a solid wrestling background and is quick and aggressive.

Weaknesses: Gastelum has two weaknesses: size and experience.  At just 5-foot-9, he will be one of the shortest fighters on the show, which means he will often find himself at a reach disadvantage.  He also lacks experience.  With just five fights in his career, the best opponent he has faced only had a 3-1 record; the rest were either debuting or had a losing record.

Kevin Casey (5-2)
Hawthorne, Calif.
Age: 31
Height: 5’11”
Twitter: @kevinkocasey

Notable Opponents: Matt Lindland (L), Ikuhisa Minowa (L)

Kevin Casey is a self-promotion machine. So if he makes it into the house, expect him to get plenty of camera time.  For example, Casey once promoted himself to black belt, forcing a rift with his instructors until they eventually reconciled.  He also made an awful rap video featuring reality personality Spencer Pratt mean-mugging throughout.  It is not that he lacks skill in the cage, but just that his drive for self-promotion is even stronger.  Casey is a BJJ black belt under Rickson Gracie and a member of the famed Black House.  He has won three times in his career by submission.  He has made appearances on big shows like K-1 Hero’s and Strikeforce.

Strengths: His submission skills are top notch, and it makes him a threat for anybody.

Weaknesses: There are a couple of concerns with Casey.  He has limited experience for someone who started his career in 2007; he does not possess great wrestling to get the fight to the mat easily; and he has a suspect chin, losing both of his fights by knockout.

Kito Andrews (9-2)
Sacramento, Calif.
Age: 34
Height:  5’11”
Twitter: @KitOandrews

Notable Opponents: Seth Baczynski (L)

Kito Andrews is on a seven-fight winning streak.  The Team Alpha Male member is also a MMA trainer at Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness gym.  Andrews has a background in football and track.  He trained in Aikido in college and was introduced to BJJ by Nick Diaz in 2003.  He is a true mixed martial artist and has stopped six of his opponents (four by KO, two by submission).  He lost a year and a half of fighting due to an injury that he thought was going to force him to retire.  He just returned to the sport in 2012.

Strengths: Andrews is athletic and trains with one of the best teams in the sport.  He can win by knockout, and he has won a number of grappling tournaments.

Weaknesses: His age is a concern for the grind of trying to win the tournament.  Also of some concern is how the injury affected him both mentally and physically.

Photo: Tor Troeng (Henrik Wall/

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.