That’s right people. Every weekly wrestling programme in covered here on PTBN, did you think we were going to let MMA pass us by in that regard? Total Divas is no longer the greatest reality show here, as The Ultimate Fighter is back! Now in its 18th season, TUF is making history this season with the first season to include women – both as coaches, and as competitors. Two tournaments will take place across the season, for 135 pound men and 135 pound women. Sixteen fighters from each weight class started this episode with the elimination fights, and the eight winners were picked into teams to fight throughout the season. This is also the second season since they changed the filming and production style to a far more documentary-like style to match the Fox Countdown and Primetime shows, and the first on Fox Sports 1.
We get a hype package straight off the cold open, with footage of the fighters with family and from the elimination fights narrated by fighter interviews telling us how hard they’ve all worked. Dana builds up TUF as the ultimate opportunity to get into the UFC. Straight away, we’re reminded of the women being part of TUF for the first time, and we get a very quick recap of the format of the show. In this double episode, sixteen fighters from each weight class will fight their way into the house.
Ronda Rousey enters the gym, and tells us about how she had always watched TUF while waiting for an opportunity, and now she’s coaching against Cat Zingano – OR IS SHE? Rousey’s longtime rival Miesha Tate shows up, and she’s here to coach. Ronda is pissed and worried about what this could mean, but Dana informs Ronda and her team that Cat Zingano injured her knee and Miesha, or “your buddy” as Dana calls her, has taken her place. These two are linked in many ways, so it’s fitting that this is the combination we’ve ended up with.
The fighters enter and get the now traditional sweary hype speech from Dana, but he puts the women over big. For the men, he tells them not to be overshadowed. The good thing with this season is that unlike other weight classes, the top prospects in WMMA haven’t been raided for previous seasons, meaning that there are some legitimately world class fighters here, including Shayna Bazler and Tara LaRosa. More importantly – they can win a purple sparkly Harley Davidson! Even the men, apparently. “If you ever fought a fucking fight in your entire life, make that fucking fight tomorrow.” Moving stuff from the boss.
As the fights kick off the coaches are seated cageside, and Dana announces his arrival with the campest “what’s up ladies” I’ve ever heard. We start off with Invicta veteran Jessamyn Duke greeting her family in the hotel – as with last season, the families and friends of the fighters are brought in for the elimination fights. Team Rousey and Team Tate’s coaches take half of the fighters each to help them prepare, though this of course has no bearing on team selections later on. Duke is fighting England’s Laura Howarth, and these two colliding so early on is a perfect demonstration of the female talent available. Duke has an eight inch height advantage which translates into a four inch reach advantage, and Duke is able to use that to keep Howarth at distance, and eventually submit her on the ground with a triangle. This is a competitive scramble, but Duke was always the favourite here. Her height and experience make her one of the favourites in the whole competition, and her height is uncharacteristic for a bantamweight fighter.
Next up is WEC vet Danny Martinez against another English fighter, David Grant. Martinez is 11-4 and trains with Dominic Cruz at Alliance MMA. This is an intense striking match up, although somewhat marred by two infractions by Grant – first a 12-6 elbow to Martinez’ spine, and finally losing a point for a knee to the head on the ground, though both Dana and Grant think it was to the shoulder. Grant doesn’t panic, and ends up submitting Martinez with an armbar. Jessica Rakoczy is up next, and has the dubious honour of being the first person to cry on this season. She’s fighting Revelina Berto, the daughter of UFC 10 competitor Berto. Dana says he also fought at UFC 9, but that is incorrect. Damn you Dana. Her father also retired from MMA with an 0-3 record, so it’s not the best thing to shout about. Rakoczy gets the submission victory with an impressive omoplata after some great grappling – all the more impressive given Rakoczy’s background is actually from boxing. She cries again here.
Michael Wooten and Emil Hartsner fight next, and somewhat stink up the place. Wooten wins by decision, and Dana has “literally nothing to say about this fight….other than it sucked. I lost 15 minutes of my life.” Moving swiftly back to the women, and Peggy Morgan takes a dominant TKO win over Bethany Marshall. Marshall is the first to bring a sob-story into the cage, the less common “my boyfriend had cancer but is now fine”. Marshall should be fighting at 125, which Morgan could easily fight at 145 and not look undersized, so the result was a surprise to no one.
Roxanne Modafferi fights next, who tells us her inspiration was wanting to be like the Power Rangers. She has this wonderful maths teacher look going on, that makes her a real surprise when she submits Valerie Letourneau. On the phone her mother says “let the force be with you” which I popped hard for. Letourneau is a 15 year veteran who also cries. Next Tim Gorman TKOs Lee Sandmeier in quick fashion, and expresses his love for both bare knuckle fighting and street fighting. Well, every season needs a Junie Browning…Sandmeier is hearing impaired, and says that he used to take his hearing aids off before he got to school so he didn’t get bullied.
Raquel Pennington defeats the more experienced Tonya Evinger in one of the bigger upsets in the episode. Pennington is only 3-3 in MMA to this point, but could be one to watch. Miesha Tate is not a big Evinger fan, so was more than happy to see the back of her. Undefeated Chris Beal, his creepy mask and his cancer-based sob story are on deck next against Sirwan Kakai, with Beal taking a decision victory. Not a dull performance by any means, and the lack of finish is more a testament to Kakai’s toughness than anything else. For some reason Kakai pretended he’d won up until the result was announced. Grappling star Josh Hill outwrestled– sorry Dana, ‘wrestle-f*cked’ Ireland’s Patrick Hollohan in a forgettable fight.
Shayna Bazler is up next, and she’s easily the favourite in the women’s tournament for this season. She’s actually ranked higher than some of the current UFC fighters, and is fighting Colleen Schneider – but Shayna’s Dad has never heard of her. Schneider says that Shayna was probably the favourite, but that she’s fighting her she’s going out straight away. Because that’s how it works. Shayna is easily the most experienced, and takes a dominant submission win. Chris Holdsworth lives in his Dad’s house rent-free because he’s too busy training to have a job, and Mr Holdsworth definitely isn’t resentful about this. Not one bit. Chris is fighting Louis Fisette, who brings the always popular “brother got killed by drug gangs” to the table. Chris tells us that he doesn’t train that hard and slacks off – what is he doing all day when his dad thinks he’s training then? Holdsworth gets the win, despite Fisette being cheered on by Alpha Male colleague Urijah Faber. Holdsworth’s submission victory should come as no surprise, given he’s a BJJ black belt, though Fisette had him in a compromising triangle position early in round 1.
Former figureskater Gina Bazany fights Julianna Pena next. Apparently ‘people’ told Pena that she should have been a model or a lawyer, an obvious choice. Pena takes the decision after a back and forth battle, though Pena definitely won it on the feet and probably should have taken the knockout. Matt Munsey, the ‘gator-wrassler’, fights Anthony Gutierrez next in an uneventful fight. Munsey is supported by TUF 17 semi-finalist Josh Samman. In the final women’s fight Sarah Moras takes a big upset over Tara LaRosa, despite LaRosa being the most experienced in the competition – Moras notes that LaRosa was ranked number one in the world when she started training. Miesha is not a fan of Tara either, but Ronda says it would be “interesting” to have Tara around. LaRosa has never been submitted, but Tate’s training partner Sarah gets her in some dangerous positions before taking a decision victory. Moras says she wants to win every fight in the house (including against the men?), win the show and “take Ronda out”. Steady on…
The final fight doesn’t disappoint and shows that the men do have something to offer on this season, as Cody Bollinger takes a gutsy TKO victory over Rafael de Freitas who has a voice like everyone’s Anderson Silva impression. He wants to take care of his single mum and he believe, controversially, that she is getting older. Bollinger turned pro at fifteen somehow, and has a 14-3 record to show for it. De Freitas had a good couple of submission attempts but Bollinger impressed here late in the day.
From there we go to team picks, and I’ve a rant coming. A coin is flipped to decide which coach gets the advantage, and that coach gets to choose if they pick the first match-up, or the first fighter in the team picks. Almost universally, the idiots pick the first fight. WHY?? If you pick the first fighter you get the advantage in the entire team picks, but if you pick the first fight and lose it control shifts to your opponent. It’s just silly. Rousey wins the toss and elects to pick the first fight.
Anyway, the team picks are as follows:
Women: Julianna Pena, Sarah Moras, Raquelle Pennington, Rozanne Modafferi
Men: Cody Bollinger, Chris Holdsworth, Josh Hill, Tim Gorman
Women: Shayna Bazler, Jessamyn Duke, Peggy Morgan, Jessica Rakoczy
Men: Chris Beal, David Grant, Anthony Gutierrez, Michael Wooten
Miesha Tate let her heart rule her head on these to be honest, picking two training partners first while letting Ronda pick up Bazler and Duke, the two experienced and heavily favoured Invicta vets. Ronda also picks up the impressive Peggy Morgan, so I’d definitely give her a big edge on paper. As for the men Miesha picked well with Bollinger and Holdsworth on deck first, but Rousey took the gutsy Chris Beal and the powerful David Grant. I’d probably just give Miesha the edge on the men, but Ronda definitely has the better overall team based on these elimination fights.
Ronda and her team then pick the first fight for next week, and it’s a doozy – Julianna Pena vs. Shayna Bazler. Oh boy. This season is going to be good.