For the past two weeks, the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter has been on hiatus to accommodate the Major League Baseball playoffs. In anticipation of the show’s return tonight, I engaged in a binge watch of the first four episodes over the weekend and here are some random comments and information for anyone watching or fans wondering whether they should consider doing so.
1. The first episode had a lot of good ideas I’d like to see the show expand on in the future. For one, having short, well produced profiles of the contestants is more memorable than two hours of mostly insignificant fights to get into the house. Secondly, I liked seeing the tryouts. That’s not a segment that will necessarily make sense every season, but it can’t hurt to show us more of the pre-show process. I especially liked that they contrasted the paths of the more well known fighters with those who had to audition.
Right off the bat, we got to know more about Carla Ezparza (the favourite), Felice Herrig (notorious for self promotion), Alex Chambers (the astrophysicist), Angela Hill (the rookie), Heather Clark (the professional), Angela Magaña (spiritual), Rose Namajunas (beast), Lisa Ellis (mommy), Tecia Torres (the undefeated prospect), and Randa Markos (the underdog). They’re already treating these women like stars, which makes sense because regardless of who wins the show the rest of the cast will form the foundation of a new division in the UFC.
2. The inclusion of Invicta fight footage was brilliant. The clips showed us that these fighters have been performing at a high level already while also serving to promote a product that is now part of the UFC Fight Pass experience. I’m also a believer that you can learn a lot about a fighter even if you’re only seeing snippets of what they can do. Anything that helps foster familiarity in your viewing audience is a good thing.
It was also smart of them to acknowledge that there’s a lot of history between the girls both inside and outside the cage. They know each other, they’ve trained with each other, and they’ve fought each other. Whether you’re looking for fresh match-ups or high stakes rematches, every fight this year is going to carry extra weight.
3. Once they were all gathered in the gym, Dana White declared that these are the sixteen baddest girls in the weight class. Somewhere, Jessica Aguilar was throwing a remote at the television.
4. As unpopular as this opinion might be, I should note that I’m not the biggest fan of women’s MMA. That’s not to say that I don’t support it or that I don’t find it exciting. I just feel that it’s not on the level of the men’s game. I’m aware that’s a “duh” statement. The most obvious comparison to make would be the NBA and the WNBA. The WNBA is a fine product if you’re a basketball fan, but it lacks that elite level of athleticism that makes basketball a transcendent experience. I’ve watched and enjoyed women’s basketball and I’ve watched and enjoyed women’s MMA. I just prefer my basketball with acrobatic lay-ups and thunderous dunks and my MMA with greater potential for one hitter quitters.
5. And to continue on this piggish bent, there’s no getting around it: there are some attractive women in this cast. I’m not only talking about physical beauty either, though obviously most mixed martial artists are appealing on that level just from being in fantastic shape (I’m looking at you Roy Nelson). Beyond that, these girls have great attitudes and personalities, which to me is the essence of attraction. Take Herrig for example. Yes, she’s cute, but (at least to me) she’s not on the level of a super model. It’s her confidence and outgoing personality that makes her truly “hawt”. Others may disagree and find her personality to be grating, but “eye of the beholder” and all that.
This is my reward for all the male nudity I normally have to deal with on this show.
6. Since you asked, the girls I like the most are Felice, Alex (so purdy and smart), Rose, and Joanne Calderwood. Rose consistently gives some of the best confessionals and I never get tired of hearing her rail on Heather Clark. She also has amazing eyes, the most adorable nose, and a fantastic bum.
I’m sorry, Pat Barry. It’s not my fault your girlfriend rules.
7. The tournament seeding is awesome! Thank you TUF show runners for respecting that this season is unlike any other and that the crowning of a champion needs to be treated thoughtfully and respectfully.
For anyone who missed it, this is how it went down: Without the coaches’ knowledge, the UFC seeded the women from 1 to 16 based on the fighters’ history and the tryouts. The coaches would still pick the teams, but depending on who they picked the other coach would then automatically get that pick’s opposite number. For example, if Anthony Pettis picked #1, Gilbert Melendez would get #16, then if Melendez picked #2, Pettis would get #15 and so on. This ensured that the high seeds would deservedly get an easier path to the finals and also challenge the coaches and their staff’s ability to assess talent.
(fighters listed in order of selection alternating between Pettis and Melendez, official seeding in parentheses):
Carla Ezparza (1)
Randa Markos (14)
Joanne Calderwood (2)
Alex Chambers (10)
Jessica Penne (4)
Felice Herrig (6)
Justine Kish (9)
Aisling Daly (5)
Angela Hill (16)
Tecia Torres (3)
Emily Kagan (15)
Rose Namajunas (7)
Lisa Ellis (13)
Heather Clark (11)
Bec Rawlings (8)
Angela Magaña (12)
8. Just based on the seeding, Pettis killed it by ending up with five of the top six picks. Aisling Daly really threw a monkey wrench into things. She’s been dealing with depression and her understated persona might have caused them to overlook her impressive record. Pettis nailed the top pick, highly regarded the highly regarded Esparza who I’m sure Melendez would have taken as well. It’s the bottom of the draft where things got even better for Team Pettis as they somehow got the better of three of the last four picks (and Rawlings/Kish is essentially a toss-up).
9. I don’t see why that tournament style seeding isn’t something they couldn’t try every season, since a natural pecking order always develops anyway. The fact is that most fighters they find these days have at least heard of each other. In the past it might have been a good idea to sell every fighter as some unknown property to increase the believability of anyone winning, but people are smart now. As much fun as it is to see how guys react to where they were picked by the coaches, it would add even more intrigue to have official rankings as well.
10. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a good idea to reward the belt to the winner of this show. On the one hand, it’s a heck of a prize and it makes TUF somewhat relevant (at least for one season); on the other hand, the multitude of belts has already diminished their drawing power so tying one into a reality show could do further harm.
11. Speaking of titles, based on what we’ve seen so far, the show has done nothing to disprove the notion that having Pettis and Melendez coach this season was a bad idea. Neither is Mr. Personality in front of the camera, there doesn’t appear to be any real animosity, and that lightweight belt continues to hover in limbo. With the recent news that Cain Velasquez will miss The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America coaching match-up with Fabrício Werdum, I can’t fathom how the organization thinks it’s a good idea to wilfully waste their champions’ time filming these shows. I’m not saying Cain got hurt because he was a TUF coach; however, if there’s even the slight possibility he could have fought instead of doing the show then you have to make that a priority. If Pettis or Melendez suffer an injury that pushes their showdown even further back, it will be a disaster.
12. Tecia Torres became the first high seed to get upset and in the very first episode no less. It is a close fight, one that is difficult to judge because her opponent (Randa) was on top for the majority of the contest, but Tecia was aggressive from bottom position. It goes to a third round that I scored for Randa due to her top control. I might be slightly biased because she’s flying the greatest colours in the world.
And don’t you forget it.
13. Oh JoJo, my heart sings for thee, lassie. So much so that you get your own bullet point. Maybe it’s my love of accents, maybe it’s my love of pale women, maybe I’m just a total weirdo, but I think Joanne is SO HOT. That near whisper she speaks in is so seductive, am I right? Am I right?!? I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. Urijah Faber (stepping in for an absent Pettis) commented on it and he also said “You sound like Braveheart.” Smooth. You stay away from my girl, Faber! (And you too, Joanne’s boyfriend!)
Some of JoJo’s highlights:
(After being matched up with Emily Kagan)
I’m pretty happy with that match-up even though before we were talking and I was like “I’m a wee bit hungry” and she’s like “Oh, I’ve got some food in my bag”. So she went away and brought me two carrots. Then when we got matched up I was like “Aw f**k she’ll be wanting her carrots back.”
Pettis: Oh! Not so hard! She took my arm out. We’re just practicing right now. Go light, okay? I know you’re in fight mode.
Joanne: That was light.
(Filming a home video)
Joanne: I’ll go to Jemma first, my sister. Will you miss me when I go away for six weeks?
Jemma: Of course not.
The purple and pink shades put it over the top for me.
I can tell you this: if she walks out of this tournament with the title, she immediately becomes the UFC’s most distinctive champion (until Mark Hunt knocks out Werdum, of course).
14. Poor Heather has been singled out by the cast (and the production crew) as the house pariah. We all know people like her who are trying really hard to fit in and the harder they try it just makes things worse. She also seems to be the neat and orderly type and those are two things that the TUF house has never been. Everything she does rubs her teammates the wrong way, whether it’s playing rules lawyer during a raunchy question and answer game or using the ice bath at the wrong time. The latter incident resulted in Angela M. yelling “I don’t want to hear it! Shut up!” And considering Angela M. is normally pretty chill, that was bad.
The two Angelas and Rose hiding in the opposing locker room to avoid having to deal with Heather.
15. Angela H.’s farting. This is a thing apparently. I was wondering how she made it onto the show ahead of other more experienced women and I guess this explains it.
Kickin’ in the door like Frankie Edgar!
16. Episode three started off on an awful note when Bec Rawlings found out that her dad passed away. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This harkens back to season 15, when Michael Chiesa received the same news. He went on to win the show and it remains to be seen whether Bec can find the same inspiration he did. Jake Shields visited the house to give his condolences. He had to deal with the death of his father a few years back, weeks before a big fight with Jake Ellenberger.
I bet y’all feel bad about all those mean things you’ve said about Jake Shields now, don’t you?
17. It never ceases to amaze me that in addition all the difficulties that come with being a professional athlete, women also have to deal with the possibility of becoming pregnant. Starting a family can interfere with a woman’s career in any field, but when you add in the physical demands required to be a successful martial artist the challenge is mind boggling.
Lisa (wife of TUF 16 cast member Eddie Ellis) is only a year removed from having a baby. She was dealing with a lot of issues, particularly a lack of confidence from having to endure such a long layoff. The seeding did her no favours, matching her up with Jessica Penne who was mega focused. Just as Melendez feared, Lisa froze up when Jessica got aggressive. She was on defence the whole time and eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke.
18. This season still doesn’t have as much crying as the TUF: Brazil series. Yes, these women get emotional when they lose or when they’re talking about their struggles or missing their families. The men in Brazil cry because it’s Tuesday.
Now this is some progressive programming.
19. Team Pettis started a tradition of hanging their underwear on the Team Pettis sign in their locker room. I suppose that’s one way to add a feminine touch to the proceedings. Team Melendez gets the wise idea to put a pair of granny panties up there, which isn’t a bad gag. Jessica’s counter prank is better. She takes the panties and stretches them across Melendez’s portrait.
Most men would be happy to have women’s underwear being shoved in their face.
20. Overall, this season has definitely been worth watching even for lapsed TUF fans or even newcomers to the program. Instead of relying on the novelty of an all female cast to carry the season, the show has stepped up its coverage of the fighters by giving us lots of footage of their lives outside of the house and drawing upon their shared history. The fights have been good (if unspectacular) and there’s been little forced drama inside the house. The conflicts feel real, almost uncomfortably so at times (at one point, the girls wonder if Heather has “real person feelings”. Ouch!).
There’s also great camaraderie. This is an enormous opportunity for every person in the house and they know it. No cast will ever approach the significance or success of the original TUF (can you imagine the likes of Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, and Josh Koscheck all living in the same house today?), but this is as close as you’re going to get for a while. You get the feeling that they want to elevate each other, whether it’s through bringing out each other’s personalities or pushing each other to the limit during training. Friends or enemies, they have the chance to make a lot of money together.
But what do I know? I watch every season of this show anyway so I can’t be trusted. If you haven’t already, it can’t hurt to check out an episode and make up your own mind. And if you won’t do it for me, do it for JoJo.