Current cell-based repair strategies have proven unsuccessful for treating cartilage defects and osteoarthritic lesions, consequently advances in innovative therapeutics are required and mesenchymal stem cell-based (MSC) therapies are an expanding area of investigation. MSCs are capable of differentiating into multiple cell lineages and exerting paracrine effects. Due to their easy isolation, expansion, and low immunogenicity, MSCs are an attractive option for regenerative medicine for joint repair. Recent studies have identified several MSC tissue reservoirs including in adipose tissue, bone marrow, cartilage, periosteum, and muscle. MSCs isolated from these discrete tissue niches exhibit distinct biological activities, and have enhanced regenerative potentials for different tissue types. Each MSC type has advantages and disadvantages for cartilage repair and their use in a clinical setting is a balance between expediency and effectiveness. In this review we explore the challenges associated with cartilage repair and regeneration using MSC-based cell therapies and provide an overview of phenotype, biological activities, and functional properties for each MSC population. This paper also specifically explores the therapeutic potential of each type of MSC, particularly focusing on which cells are capable of producing stratified hyaline-like articular cartilage regeneration. Finally we highlight areas for future investigation. Given that patients present with a variety of problems it is unlikely that cartilage regeneration will be a simple “one size fits all,” but more likely an array of solutions that need to be applied systematically to achieve regeneration of a biomechanically competent repair tissue.