Thoughts From Across The Pond. 09.09.13. TUF 18.1 History In The Making
Posted by Alex Watt on 09.09.2013
In which 32 fighters become 16 and coaches Rousey and Tate pick their teams. 411s Alex Watt checks in with his in-depth review of episode 1 of The Ultimate Fighter 18, the first ever season to feature female coaches and female competitors.
Thoughts From Across The Pond will take on a new look over the next few months, as I'll be checking in every Monday with an in-depth review and analysis of the latest episode of the brand new season of The Ultimate Fighter. I hope you enjoy my weekly look at what should be an exciting season of TUF.
The Ultimate Fighter "History In The Making" (S18 / E1)
The title of the first episode of the eighteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter should go some way to telling you how significant the UFC brass consider this latest development in their flagship TV programme to be.
The Ultimate Fighter vehicle started out as a reality TV experiment, designed to attract viewers to watch the UFC, at a time when the promotion was in dire straights. It worked a treat and the inaugural season, capped off by the famous fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at the live finale, kicked off a period of prosperity for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, from which the company has never really looked back.
It's easy to forget how important the show has been over the years and how many stars it has created, given that the format has grown stale in recent times. In that sense, the introduction of 135lbs female athletes alongside 135lbs male athletes for the most recent incarnation of the series, is something which adds a new and interesting dynamic to proceedings and freshens up the format, even though little about the set-up has fundamentally changed.
Make no mistake, it is a big deal to have a female coached show and female contestants on a programme which has been so male dominated and testosterone filled for seventeen prior incarnations. For women's MMA, the latest season of TUF mirrors the significance of the first ever season of the show and the importance that held for male athletes in the sport. It adds a fresh feel to the show, with some of the female fighters having a significant number of fights on their résumés, which drastically contrasts with the male competitors on the show, many of whom are relative unknowns.
This could be an issue for the male competitors as the show progresses and it's one which UFC President Dana White addressed immediately in his customary motivational speech to the assembled contestants, noting that the men would need to step up their game if they were to avoid being outshone by their female counterparts, who have tremendous motivation going into this season given how long they've been hungry to make it onto the big show of the UFC. Miesha Tate noted that the male competitors should be stirred by the knowledge that much of the hype for this season has revolved around the female competitors; they should be angry about having to take a backseat and fight to prove their worth on the show.
Ah yes, Miesha Tate. For those who have been living under a rock for the last several months, original coach (and No. 1 contender to the UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship) Cat Zingano badly injured her knee, weeks prior to the start of filming on TUF 18. As a result, the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter began with the first of what is sure to be many twists and turns in the road. This is a reality TV show, after all.
Miesha Tate's appearance raised an initial laugh from reigning UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey, but Tate's assertion that she was "here to coach" resulted in Rousey storming out of the gym in search of Dana White. This was quickly written off as a misunderstanding with Rousey claiming that she thought she was being replaced but it should go some way to putting across to any viewer new to the two women, just how much simmering hatred there is between them.
"For some reason, fate has intertwined us. Me and Miesha; we're meant to be rivals."
Ronda Rousey has recently gone on record discussing her worries about how the audience will receive her following TUF 18, noting that her brash personality may not come across too well after the editors have had their way with the footage. She hasn't been the first TUF coach or competitor to voice these concerns, and she probably won't be the last. This is, sadly, a necessary side effect of reality television, in which each episode must be edited in order to be as exciting and as compelling as possible. Inevitably, some contestants and coaches will see their worst moments of the process aired in the name of entertainment and see themselves painted as "the bad guy".
Whether that is how this season turns out for the UFC bantamweight women's champ will remain to be seen. In the majority of this episode, however, she unwittingly took a backseat to her hated rival, Tate, who came across particularly well. Rousey's determination and competitiveness was plain to see, as she spent much of the episode's preliminary fights in which the competitors fought for their place on the show, with 32 being narrowed down to 16 - scribbling extensive notes with a steely determination which has been ever present throughout her career from the Olympics to the UFC. Tate, on the other hand, demonstrated her knowledge of the sport and of many of the female fighters, in particular, via witty observations and interesting discourse with the UFC President who was sat between the two coaches during the process (something which led to a very funny shot making clear the awkwardness of sitting Rousey and Tate so close to one another, given their extensive history). It was interesting to see how personable Tate was in this first episode, given that she also has a history of rubbing people up the wrong way. Whether this persists throughout the season remains to be seen, but in the likeability stakes, I'd say it was Miesha 1, Ronda 0 after episode one.
Speaking of editing, something which struck me was how truncated some of the footage of the fights was. I realise this is a necessary evil, given that the editors had the unenviable task of cramming sixteen fights into a mere 85 minutes, alongside footage introducing us to the fighters and their backgrounds, a juggling act which the editing team generally excelled with. Nonetheless, I was surprised that Sarah Moras' upset win over women's MMA pioneer Tara LaRosa wasn't given more attention. Although several people, including Moras herself and coaches Rousey and Tate, noted that LaRosa was once the No. 1 fighter in the women's 135lbs weight class, it felt like too little was made of Moras' victory over a 24-fight veteran of the sport and only showing highlights of the fight played a role in that.
Still, for all the talk surrounding the women, it should be noted that the men did indeed step up and delivered the two most compelling fights of this opening episode; Louis Fisette vs. Chris Holdsworth and Rafael De Freitas vs. Cody Bollinger, both of which were back and forth barnburners. However, the worst fights of the day were also courtesy of the male contestants, with Dana White noting bluntly about Michael Wooten vs. Emil Hartsner, "I literally have nothing to say about this fight, other than it sucked".
The episode's most impressive performances were definitely in the women's bracket, however, with all eight qualifiers looking dominant in their own way - with a number of cracking submission finishes, in particular - and it should make for a highly competitive competition on the female side of the competition, with a good mix of talented veterans and highly touted up-and-comers.
We closed out the first episode of an entertaining, if slightly rushed, first episode of The Ultimate Fighter 18 with the fight announcement for next week's instalment. In a ballsy move, Ronda Rousey - having won the coin toss - opted to match her No. 1 pick (and favourite to win the show as everyone acknowledged) Shayna Baszler with Team Tate's No. 1 pick Julianna Peña. It makes for a heck of a fight to look forward to next week and one which could set the tone for the entire season; Rousey has gone for the jugular of Team Tate by trying to eliminate their best fighter and demoralise their team, but it could just as easily backfire and have the reverse effect on the whole of Team Rousey should the favourite, Baszler, be knocked out of the competition so soon. It's a bold move from the UFC women's bantamweight champ and indicates that the mind games are starting already.
In the show ending preview of what to expect from the coming season of The Ultimate Fighter, it seems that one fighter is heading home due to ripping up a fellow contestant's lottery ticket, so we might not have seen the last of impressive losers such as Louis Fisette or Rafael De Freitas, or even one of the surprise losers on the women's side, like Tara LaRosa.
So, that was the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter 18, featuring female fighters competing in The Ultimate Fighter Training Center for the first time ever. With the co-ed theme running through this new season, the UFC brass will be hoping that it will attract new viewers to the fading TUF franchise. However, the low ratings for this first episode 762,000, roughly half the amount who tuned in to watch the TUF 17 premiere is a worry for the longevity of the show. A good portion of this is down to the show being broadcast on a new network (moving from FX to Fox Sports 1) which reaches less homes than its predecessor, in addition to the show airing on a new day, but it also has to be accepted that a female themed show is going to turn away some of the more chauvinistic members of a male-dominated fanbase. One can only hope that the ratings will improve as the season progresses and more viewers will feel compelled to tune in and watch another barrier being broken down for women's sport.
As Shayna Baszler put it at the start of the episode, "There might still be some haters out there, who think that women don't belong and they should stay in the kitchen, stay at home, raise the kids. Well, watch me." Let's hope they do.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Ultimate Fighter.
Elsewhere in TUF
Dana White's frequent quips about how much Rousey and Tate dislike each other managed to keep the mood of the show light early on. I wonder if Tate will now change her nickname to "Ronda's Best Friend" Miesha Tate? Imagine Bruce Buffer announcing her as that on December 28th. It'd be classic.
Those who had Mr. Tate aka. Bryan Caraway (who finally made his appearance by Miesha's side at the episode's conclusion) earmarked as the sure-fire "Douche of the Season" must have been disappointed when male contestant Tim Gorman emerged as the frontrunner for the unofficial award so soon in proceedings. His response on being picked second-to-last by Tate, led to a remark about how "I don't even know what her name is, so I don't even care that she picked me last because I don't even know who she is." The jibe managed to paint him as a sexist, an idiot, and someone who doesn't actually watch the sport he's involved in, all in one fell swoop. That's almost impressive, really.
With women's MMA pioneers LaRosa and Evinger missing out on the TUF house, it was good to see their fellow veterans Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modaferri earn their spot on the show. The Ultimate Fighter may be a vehicle to create new stars but, given the importance of being the first female season, it would have felt wrong if a couple of the legends weren't in there vying for the contract.
It was a delight to see women's MMA veteran Roxanne Modaferri earn her way into the house for other reasons too. The unassuming, geeky Modaferri is the complete antithesis of everything someone pictures an "Ultimate Fighter" to be. Modaferri noting that she started karate because of Power Rangers, her mother wishing her luck by saying, "may the force be with you" and Modaferri's charming post-fight interview in which she excitedly proclaimed; "I feel outstanding, no stopping me! I'm happy; that was really lame. That's okay!" all indicate that Roxanne should be one of the most entertaining contestant's on this season's show.
There were several examples of the show unashamedly tugging on the heartstrings of its audience via reality TV 101; the emotional or inspirational backstory. Chris Beal (cancer survivor) and Chris Holdsworth (brother killed due to gang violence) were the most compelling of these, but we also got so many variations on the "I fight so that my kid can have a better life" tropes, that it was hard to keep track of them all.
It was good to see some UK competitors make their way into the TUF house, with David Grant and Michael Wooten flying the flag for the British Isles. If the former can "learn the rules" and the latter turn in more exciting performances, then they could go far in the competition.
As always, large photographs of UFC stars past and present adorned the walls of The Ultimate Fighter training centre to inspire the contestants, and I'm sure it was no coincidence that we were treated to a lingering camera shot of Anthony Pettis' portrait, with the episode airing days after he dramatically captured the UFC Lightweight Championship.
And that's all for this week. I'll be back next Monday to review episode two of The Ultimate Fighter.
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