The new season of The Ultimate Fighter premiered tonight on Fox Sports 1, featuring teams coached by UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and the division's No. 1 contender, Claudia Gadelha.
What Is The Ultimate Fighter?
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) is a reality TV series that gives 16 aspiring MMA fighters a shot at a UFC contract, and a chance to compete with some of the best in the world. The show follows these athletes as they live and train together in the same house, and each week two of them face off, with the loser getting sent home.
Each season also features two well-known UFC fighters taking on coaching duties, mentoring their group of eight, and competing to see which one of them will end up with a winner on their team. Traditionally, at the end of each season, the coaches fight each other as well (fair's fair), to settle things for good.
This season the cast is split into two groups: light heavyweight (205 lbs.) men, and strawweight (125 lbs.) women. That means there will be two eventual winners, one man and one woman, each of whom will earn a UFC contract.
How Do They Determine Who Makes It On The Show?
As in seasons past, the first episode of the show featured "elimination fights." 32 fighters made it past the initial auditions, and then had to compete against each other to determine who got to be among the final 16 (eight men and eight women).
They do so in a full-contact MMA fight, best of two 5-minute rounds, with the bout going to a third round in the event of a draw.
So, Who Is Our Cast Of 16 For This Season?
After a day of fierce fighting, here's who will be competing for that coveted contract.
Amanda Cooper (1-1)
The first fight of the day featured two relative newcomers to pro MMA, Mellony Geugjes and Amanda Cooper. It didn't take very long, with Cooper snatching a quick first round armbar victory. Ironically, Cooper herself is coming off of an armbar loss herself in Invicta FC back in September 2015.
Eric Spicely (8-0)
Undefeated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist Eric Spicey made short work of the heavily tattooed Kenneth Bergh (3-0). Spicely took it to the ground early, slapping on a rear naked choke for yet another first round victory.
Lanchana Green (2-1)
Police officer Ashley Cummins (3-3) went up against the UK's Lanchana Green and dominated the first round. Cummins scored a takedown inside of the first minute, spent time grinding out some ground-and-pound, before nearly locking in a rear naked choke. Green proved her toughness though, absorbing a ton of punishment.
The second round gave Green a chance to show off her stand-up skills, as she locked on a thai clinch and unleashed an absolutely devastating barrage of knees for the TKO win that left UFC president Dana White exclaiming, "Holy Sh*t!"
Green showed a ton of heart, and although there is clearly a huge hole in her game, that comeback was the biggest moment of the night. Just wow!
Khalil Rountree (4-0)
Both Khalil and his opponent Muhammed Dereese (5-0) were undefeated going into this fight. They both also showcased some very aggressive styles in the first round, but seemed to visibly slow in the second.
Both men seemed like there may have been some cardio issues at work — that is, until a sudden burst of striking from Rountree sent Dereese crashing to his hands and knees. In a crazy display of power, Rountree then finished his opponent with soccer kicks to the body. Insane!
Jamie Moyle (3-1)
Canadian financial planner (seriously!) Alyssa Krahn (3-1) took on Las Vegas's own Jamie Moyle. Krahn tossed Moyle to the canvas early, but Moyle was able to turn the tables later in the round though, taking her opponent's back and locking in a tight rear naked choke for the win.
Jamelle Jones (6-2)
Jones is a three-time collegiate All-American wrestler, and man did it show. He put on a wrestling clinic for his opponent, Myron Dennis (12-4), finding takedown after takedown, before knocking out Dennis's mouthpiece en route to a TKO victory.
Ashley Yoder (4-1)
Team Quest's Ashley Yoder (4-1) arrived accompanied by former Pride FC champ Dan Henderson himself. Not to be outdone, her opponent Jodie Esquibel (5-1) got some last minute coaching from her best friend Holly Holm, and is the fiance of former TUF competitor Keith Jardine. Talk about some epic entourages!
The two women came out swinging and did not let up, but it was ultimately Yoder who took home an extremely controversial split decision victory.
Unsurprisingly, Jardine was pissed following the fight, while Yoder was so overcome with emotion that she wept.
Elias Urbina (3-0)
The 22-year old Urbina is the youngest competitor this season, and is actually the younger brother UFC fighter Hector Urbina, who also earned his contract after competing on TUF.
His opponent, Norman Pairasy (13-4-2), meanwhile, had a strange story of his own. Pairasy actually tried to get on TUF once before in Season 11, but quit between rounds of his elimination fight. He wasn't injured, he just couldn't will himself to keep going. Needless to say, he was looking for redemption in this fight.
Unfortunately, he'll need to keep looking, as he lost all momentum in the third round and was unable to attempt much of anything at all. He ended up losing a decision, although neither coach was particularly impressed by Urbina's performance either.
J.J. Aldrich (2-1)
We didn't get to see much of J.J. Aldrich's elimination bout, but considering she won it, and is a training partner of top-10 ranked fighter Rose Namajunas, she's definitely the real deal.
Abdel Medjedoub (3-0)
Medjedoub trains out of Tristar, home of UFC legend Georges St-Pierre. He took on the also undefeated John Paul Elias (3-0), who is married to Playboy model Carly Lauren.
She couldn't help him in the Octagon though, and Medjedoub utilized his superior wrestling ability to absolutely smother Elias for both rounds for a decision win.
Tatiana Padilla Suarez (3-0)
Suarez was once ranked as the No. 1 female freestyle wrestler, until a serious illness sidelined her training. She's back at it now though, and took on Chel-C Bailey (2-0), a close friend of bantamweight champ Miesha Tate and UFC fighter Bryan Caraway.
Suarez was able to utilize her wrestling to score multiple takedowns, and earn enough love on the judges' scorecards for a decision victory.
Andrew Sanchez (7-2)
Phil Hawes (3-0) was easily the most hyped fighter going into this season. A training partner of Jon Jones, he was an early favorite to win the entire thing.
Andrew Sanchez meanwhile was seen playing around with a ukulele ahead of his fight. That chill demeanor hid a pretty monstrous skill-set though, and Sanchez is actually a four-time All-American wrestler, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion.
While Hawes seemed physically more powerful, Sanchez neutralized his offense, and delivered over 50 (50!) elbows to his opponent en route to a decision win.
Kate Jackson (7-2)
Jackson didn't have a chance to demonstrate very much technical skill in her fight with Irene Rivera (6-2), but she outclassed her opponent by a mile and a half, earning her a spot in the house by TKO.
Cory Hendricks (3-0)
Hendricks basically looks and sounds just like Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens — I'm just saying. He took on Marcel Fortuna (8-1), a second degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the only Brazilian in the running for a spot on this season of TUF.
It looks like Brazil won't be getting represented though, as Fortuna was unable to keep the fight on the ground, and absorbed a ton of punishment on his feet. A third round was called for, and both men showed a ton of heart. Ultimately, Hendricks was the one walking away with the decision victory though.
Helen Harper (4-1)
The UK's Helen Harper was inspired to become a fighter after surviving an abusive relationship. She locked up a slick armbar on Amy Montenegro (7-2) for a submission victory.
Josh Stansbury (7-2)
Stansbury very nearly made it onto Season 19 of the The Ultimate Fighter. He was winning his elimination fight before the unthinkable happened: He broke his own leg during a takedown attempt and obviously was unfit to continue.
He found his second chance though, defeating a literal gold miner with a tight, tight Americana armlock.
Following the elimination fights, the coaches get to take turns selecting fighters for their respective teams. Claudia Gadelha won the coin toss, letting her choose one of two options: picking the first fighter, or match-making the first fight.
She chose to select the first fighter. Here's how it eventually broke down:
Team Claudia (first pick):
- Tatiana Suarez
- Andrew Sanchez
- Kate Jackson
- Eric Spicely
- Amanda Cooper
- Abdel Medjedoub
- Lanchana Green
- Cory Hendricks
- J.J. Aldrich
- Josh Stansbury
- Jamie Moyle
- Khalil Rountree
- Ashley Cummins
- Myron Dennis
- Helen Harper
- Elias Urbina
Unsurprisingly, Elias Urbina was chosen last, but Dana White was right to point out that the last pick on TUF was eventually the winner three times before.
Jedrzejczyk then got to pick the first fight, and chose Khalil Rountree to face Cory Hendricks. It's an interesting choice, given that Cory might not be able to fight at all. He suffered a potential foot injury in his elimination fight that a doctor will need to evaluate before he can proceed.
This season of TUF will go for 11 episodes, airing once a week on Wednesdays at 10 PM ET, 7 PM PT. It will culminate in a live finale on Fox Sports 1 on July 8, featuring both finalist fights, and a title fight between the coaches, Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha.
See you all next week!