"It's the most important season we've ever done"
That's right, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) is back and better than ever, according to none other than Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White, who is charged with promoting season 20 and the 16 strawweight (115 pound) mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters representing it.
The winner will be crowned the promotion's first-ever strawweight champion and according to White, "they want it bad," so will this season -- coached by lightweight championship rivals Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez -- live up to its considerable hype?
We'll find out every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 beginning with episode one, "Locked Out," which aired earlier this evening (Sept. 10, 2014) on the cable television network (check out what fans were saying in real time right here).
"These girls are tough, these girls are mean, some of them are real nasty," said White. "I love it."
On that note...
Episode one gets underway with "nervous" and "excited" Carla Esparza, the "Cookie Monster," in her Getting To Know You (GTKY) segment. She believes she has a target on her back as the last woman to hold the Invicta FC 115-pound title, though she believes she could make 105.
Next up is Felice Herrig, who is "really into fan interaction," seen taking a selfie in bed just seconds after waking up. The "Lil' Bulldog" talks about using her sex appeal to promote her own personal brand, because that's how she gets paid, even if it irritates the other female fighters. "Champions do what contenders won't," she adds.
All the way down in Australia, Alex Chambers introduces fight fans to her daily routine. She wakes up and runs on a beautiful beach and plays with her dogs. Her nickname is "Astro Girl" because she has a science degree in math and physics. Brains and brawn! But it was hard for her to face the negativity that comes with being a female fighter "Down Under."
We take a quick break from the GTKY segments and travel to Las Vegas for TUF 20 tryouts, where White and Co. are on the hunt for eight female strawweights to complement the existing eight acquired from Invicta FC earlier this year. Dana says a lot of contestants get weeded out based on nothing more than a few minutes of rolling, but left the tryouts "very impressed."
Back to our GTKY segments and Angela Hill is just 1-0 in her combat sports career and she admits she has a lot of catching up to do compared to some of the other girls. Hill actually lives inside her gym in North Carolina so she wakes up, rolls out of bed, and boom hits the mats.
We kick it back to "Sin City" for a look at Heather Jo Clark who is also a training partner of Miesha Tate, who knows a thing or two about reality television. Oh hey, it's a "Cupcake" cameo! Tate, not surprisingly, is picking Clark to win the entire season.
Moving over to Thailand for Angela Magana who lives on the beach with her boyfriend and daughter. And here I thought Alex Chambers had it good. Her neighbors are "butterflies, monkeys, and snakes." She trains with a hardcore coach who "probably would have been sued" if he trained girls his way in United States, but Magana insists it fits her style.
We're back in Vegas again for the first day of season 20 and there is some awkwardness among the cast as many of them have already competed against one another on the regional circuit. Small world, this MMA thing. We're not even 30 seconds at the TUF gym and Clark is already gunning for Herrig. Not just to avenge her Bellator loss, but to punish her longtime rival for misrepresenting female fighters.
Dana comes strolling in with Pettis and Melendez by his side. He gives them the "Do you want to be a fucking fighter" speech and warns them it will be the hardest experience of their lives. Oh shit, new format! UFC matchmakers have already seeded the roster and put together the upcoming fights.
No. 1 fights No. 16, No. 2 fights No. 15, and so on and so forth... Now it's time for the coaches to get some one-on-one time to evaluate the fighters before making their picks, which I don't quite understand, seeing as how the girls have already been paired up, but this is why I don't produce television shows.
Rose Namajunas gets her GTKY treatment and she's speeding down the streets of Colorado on a pretty sweet bicycle, describing herself as an outdoorsy-type. She used to fight with "hate" and "dark-side energy" and hey look! It's her boyfriend and fan favorite Pat Barry!
Cameras are back in the TUF gym and the cast -- by their own words -- seem to be warming up to Melendez, who is "taking his time to get to know them" as opposed to the "uncomfortable" evaluations from Pettis, which consists of a few questions and "being put on the spot."
Lisa Ellis is profiled next and she happens to be the wife of Eddie Ellis from season 16. If the name doesn't ring a bell, it's because he didn't make it. Lisa had a baby last year and hasn't competed since, but insists she's in a much better place "mentally" and she's ready to "kick ass."
Time for team picks!
Because the girls are already seeded, each time a coach picks a fighter, whoever is fighting that opponent is automatically sent to the opposing team. Pettis wins the coin toss so he picks Carla Esparza, which means her seeded opponent, Angela Hill, automatically goes to Team Melendez.
Here are the picks:
Heather Jo Clark
Carla Esparza (No. 1) vs. Angela Hill (No. 16)
Randa Markos (No. 14) vs. Tecia Torres (No. 3)
Joanne Calderwood (No. 2) vs. Emily Kagan (No. 15)
Alex Chambers (No. 10) vs. Rose Namajunas (No. 7)
Jessica Penne (No. 4) vs. Lisa Ellis (No. 13)
Felice Herrig (No. 6) vs. Heather Jo Clark (No. 11)
Justine Kish (No. 9) vs. Bec Rawlings (No. 8)
Aisling Daly (No. 5) vs. Angela Magana (No. 12)
The fighters square off and shit gets somewhat real between Herrig and Clark. Outside of that, things remain pretty cordial. We also get two performance bonuses this time around ($25,000 each) as well as $25,000 for best fight of the season. In addition to the strawweight title, the winner receives a custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Dana also tells the cast that each one of them is officially a UFC fighter, so expect them all to return after the season ends. Now it's time to pack them all into the TUF house and there is the usual mad dash to claim the best bunks, but tension is in the air since the match ups are already in place.
The first fight of the season will be Tecia Torres vs. Randa Markos.
Team Melendez hits the gym and the strategy for Torres is to "keep it standing." Back at the TUF house, Markos tells her house mates that Saddam Hussein should have never been removed from power. What does that have to do with anything UFC related? Markos was born in Iraq, and escaped during the first Gulf War, so there you go.
Randa -- training ground -- promises to surprise everyone when it comes time to fight.
Let's find out.
Elimination fight #1 -- Tecia Torres (Team Melendez) vs. Randa Markos (Team Pettis):
Round 1: As expected, Torres opens with strikes, attacking the legs. Markos goes full banshee and rushes in with flying fists. They clinch and go to the cage, Markos tries to get it south but no dice. They reset and this time it's Torres who rushes in punching, but she gets clipped with a knee and gets on her bicycle. Markos follows her and goes for the takedown, to which a mad scramble ensues, followed by some wrestling against the cage. Neither is able to advance position and they get back on their feet. Markos times a punch perfectly, ducks under, and is able to get the fight to the floor. Some fancy ground work from both ladies and this round ends with Torres -- who slapped on a ground triangle -- eating knees to the body.
Round 2: The second stanza kicks off with lots of bobbing and weaving. They exchange low kicks. Torres gets greedy with her leg and Markos uses it to secure a takedown right against the fence. Markos working elbows from half guard. Markos heavy on top but finding the scrappy Torres difficult to control. Markos postures up and gets caught in an armbar but is able to muscle out and get back to half guard then eventually full guard. Markos looks to be running away with the round. Torres getting hammered with elbows now and has absolutely no answer. They show a close up of her face and she looks totally overwhelmed. Let's see what the judges say. The cards are in and they say "third round."
Round 3: Another slow start to the round as they exchange intermittent punches for the first 60 seconds. Surprising lack of urgency from both sides considering this is now a one-round fight. They trade combos and reset. Markos comes in wild and lands two good shots, forcing Torres to tie her up against the cage. Chants erupt for RANDA! RANDA! RANDA! which naturally are countered by TECIA! TECIA! TECIA! Markos circles out and goes on the offensive. After they trade punches, Torres gets taken down and that could be the fight, unless she gets up and does something significant. Melendez screaming instructions. She does escape, but Markos drags her back down and finishes on top.
Final result: Markos def. Torres via unanimous decision
Here's where we stand after episode one (by seed):
1. Carla Esparza
2. Joanne Calderwood
3. Tecia Torres
4. Jessica Penne
5. Aisling Daly
6. Felice Herrig
7. Rose Namajunas
8. Bec Rawlings
9. Justine Kish
10. Alex Chambers
11. Heather Jo Clark
12. Angela Magana
13. Lisa Ellis
14. Randa Markos
15. Emily Kagan
16. Angela Hill
After the fight, White shows no sympathy for the loser, because he didn't see enough urgency in the last round. "This is for the world title," he reminds us. Now it's time to pick the next fight and episode two will deliver Joanne Calderwood vs. Emily Kagan.
See you next week!
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