By Elias Cepeda
The first episode of The Ultimate Fighter season 18 begins with Ronda Rousey finding out that she will be coaching against Meisha Tate instead of Cat Zingano. She isn’t very happy. In fact, she loses her shit, storms around the TUF gym after Meisha walks in and surprises her, looking for Dana White so he can explain.
When he does, Rousey looks relieved. For some reason, she thought that seeing Tate there meant that she herself was being kicked off as a coach. Not sure why she’d assume that, but it just reaffirms that Rousey’s mind is a dark, scary place built to use everything it encounters as anger-inducing motivation. She’s a terrifying, awesome chick.
The reality sets in — Ronda will coach against Mr. and Mrs. Tate on TUF and will rematch Meisha when it’s all over. Rousey seems cool with it, finally, talking of destiny and broken limbs. This season, of course, will feature both men and women bantamweights vying for a UFC contract.
Thirty-two fighters, sixteen of each gender, have been invited to Vegas and will fight their way into the TUF house. First up, is the obligatory former female model turned fighter Jessamyn Duke out of Kentucky winning by triangle choke. The Invicta vet is 5’11 and somehow makes 135 pounds. Nuts.
Next up, David Grant from Britain faces Dominick Cruz’s teammate Danny Martinez. Martinez is desperate for the take down from the get-go. While defending a takedown against the fence, Grant throws a downward elbow to Martinez’ spine and has a point deducted.
Martinez finally gets a takedown near the end of the round but Grant immediately works a triangle choke. Time runs out and Martinez is saved by the bell. The second round starts and Martinez looks gassed.
Grant knocks Martinez down with a punch, then transitions to his back and, as Martinez gets up, Grant knees him to what he believes is the shoulder but what referee Herb Dean calls as an illegal knee to the head. Another point is deducted.
Grant is clearly the better fighter but is on the verge of losing because of point deductions. Not so fast, the Brit says, and he transitions to a beautiful rolling arm bar the next time the two are on the ground and finishes Martinez to make it into the house.
Dana White sits in between Ronda and Meisha outside of the Octagon, watching the fights. He tries to make small talk and Meisha seems to engage him but Ronda is focused like a laser, pen in hand, making notes as she watches.
Next up, Revelina Berto, sister of Andre Berto, and Jessica Rakoczy get in a back and forth grappling match before Rakoczy gets the submission with a weird, inverted omoplata.
Michael Wootten and Emil Hartsner are up next and both immediately earn the Dana White Scorn Award (also known as the Jon Fitch Memorial Trophy) for being “boring,” and doing that wrestling stuff that is so stupid. Wootten wins a decision.
Peggy Morgan is an adjunct college professor and tall as all get out. She uses her huge size advantage to smash Bethany Marshall and pound her out for a first round TKO win. Meisha Tate calls Morgan the biggest 135-pounder she’s ever seen in her life. Ronda dubs her “Peggy Don’t Give a Fuck.” Now that’s a nickname.
Next up women’s MMA pioneer Roxanne Modafferi takes on Georges St. Pierre Tri Star gym teammate Valerie Letourneau. The TUF producers and fighters continue their “good television” but incredibly disruptive practice of having the families of competitors come visit them the night before their fight and also watch the fights in person. Letourneau has her young daughter watch her lose. Gotta be rough, but we’ve seen worse. Roxy gets the take down, takes the back and sinks in a rear naked choke early.
Tim Gorman finishes Lee Sandmeier quickly, getting a take down, obtaining mount and then the back and finishing with strikes for the TKO win. You don’t know it yet, but Gorman is a real asshole. Stay with us, you’ll see what we mean soon.
Next up, former Gina Carano opponent and party wrestling buddy Tonya Evinger takes on Raquel Pennington. With so many pioneers and veterans on the women’s side, it is interesting to hear Meisha dish on fighters that she knows or well or at least knows of like Roxanne and Tonya. In this case, Tate shares with Dana that Evinger always has “drama” with her girlfriends and that is the reason she has lost the fights she has.
Seems out of left field, but after Raquel submits Tonya in the second round, Evinger herself seems to be referring to such situations saying that she’s got too many distractions in her life right now. Get it together, Tonya. We’ve always liked what you bring to the table, and we’re rooting for ya.
Chris Beal gets the distinction of being the first TUF 18 member (hopefully the last) to wear a mask out to the cage. The kid is a cancer survivor. Not sure if that’s related to the mask or not. In any case, he scores an early nasty knockdown of Sirwan Kakai but the Swede hangs tough, comes back and fights hard before losing a decision to Beal.
Josh Hill wins a unanimous decision over Patrick Holohan on the strength of his wrestling.
Louis Fisett is a spoiled, no good, lazy moocher. Well, at least that’s what his father says about him. He immediately takes down Chris Holdsworth, of Urijah Faber’s suddenly-unbeatable Team Alpha Male, but is in trouble from armbars and triangle chokes right off. He works out but then gets reversed and taps to an arm triangle choke.
Julianna Pena shows impressive ground striking in her bout against Gina Mazany and wins a decision.
Anthony Gutierrez wins a decision over Matt Munsey next.
Former #1 ranked fighter Tara LaRosa fights a fan in Sarah Moras. That admiration doesn’t stop Moras from winning a decision off the strength of take downs and multiple submission attempts.
We’d heard lots about Cody Bollinger recently and the 22-year-old does indeed look tough in stopping Rafael De Freitas in the second round. Cody got a take down in the first but spent most of the first round working out of deep submission attempts from De Freitas. In the second round, however, Cody is the fresher fighter and begins to tee off on the feet with strikes until he drops and finishes De Freitas.
That’s all the fights and now it is time for the coin toss to see which coach will get to begin picking their team first. Ronda wins the coin toss and has the choice of picking first or instead deciding on the first fight. She chooses to pick the first fight and cedes the first fighter pick to Meisha.
Tate chooses Julianna Pena, whom she has trained with in the past. Ronda chooses Baszler. For the full team list, go here.
Oh yeah, here’s when we learn that Tim Gorman is a dork. The Iowa fighter gets chosen last by Tate, which probably kinda stings. Oh well, the other fighters just deal with it. Not Timmy, though.
“I got picked by Meisha Tate,” he tells the confession camera later. “Is that her name? I don’t even know what her name is so I don’t care that she picked me last because I don’t even know who she is.”
Well, the rest of the fight world knows who the soon to be two-time world title challenger is, Tim. She’s fought in the UFC, you haven’t. She’s headlined a pay per view. You haven’t. She’s a professional fighter who does this for a living. You hope to soon be able to do that one day. Any other questions?
Fight pick time is up and Ronda goes in headfirst. She pits both teams’ first picks against one another. Julianna Pena from Team Tate will take on Shayna Baszler from Team Rousey.
That’s it for this week, kids. Can’t wait to see how these guys and dolls coexist in the house together and who will come out on top in what looks to be a great first fight.