Last night saw the excellent two-hour premiere of the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. Subtitled A Champion Will Be Crowned, this new season pits 16 of the best 115-pound women in the world in a tournament, with the winner becoming the first ever UFC women’s strawweight champion. Last night’s premiere featured one of the best fights the show has ever seen, a three-round tilt between Randa Markos and Tecia Torres. Despite being seeded well above her opponent, Torres fell to Markos’ crafty striking and superior grappling, giving the show the first of what will probably be many upsets and classic moments.
Guiding the women through this season are coaches Gilbert Melendez and UFC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Pettis is making his first appearance as a coach, but his history with The Ultimate Fighter runs deep. “I actually tried out for The Ultimate Fighter a couple of years ago and didn’t make it on,” Pettis told EW during an interview on The Editor’s Hour on Entertainment Weekly Radio on SiriusXM 105. “A couple of years later, I’m coaching one. On the personality side, they’re looking for that drama in the house, and I’m more of a relaxed, chilled-out guy.”
As seen last night, there’s no shortage of personality on the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. Since so many of these contestants have fought each other in the past, there’s a lot of pre-existing bad blood between them. Felice Herrig has already emerged as a clear antagonist, Aisling Daly has an instant narrative as a last-picked underdog, and everyone is already gunning for top-ranked Carla Esparza.
“There’s a lot of drama in the house, but it’s just about girls bickering. These girls can fight,” says Pettis. “I was impressed from the first fight until the last fight. So many times, the girls were like, ‘She did this, she did that,’ and I was like, ‘Well, guess what? You’re probably going to fight her pretty soon.'”
That’s the beauty of The Ultimate Fighter: Unlike most reality shows, where the arguments are settled with passive-aggressive shade, all of the disagreements will be ironed out inside the cage. And though past seasons of the show have been bogged down by dull fights, last night’s tilt has set the stage for more of the same to come. “These girls are really well-matched, and their output is so fast. You can’t blink during these fights,” says Pettis. “You don’t see a lot of knockouts in the lighter weight classes, so there’s way more output in everything. These girls have everything. They’re a new breed of fighter.”
They’re in good hands with Pettis, who is one of the most entertaining fighters in the world and the Showtime Kick, perhaps the most iconic moment in the history of mixed martial arts.
Pettis still can’t quite believe he was able to pull off such a stunning move in a championship fight. “Even when I landed it, I turned around and was like, ‘Oh, it actually worked?'” he says, adding that he has passed the secret of the move on to his charges on The Ultimate Fighter. “There was one whole class on the Showtime Kick,” he says. “I don’t think any of them will be doing it any time soon, because it takes some time to develop that. But you’ll see it.”
As The Ultimate Fighter continues through its season, it looks to create some new stars and galvanize some new personalities in the wake of the sport’s new superstar. “They’re delightful, and then they get in the cage and get crazy,” Pettis says of the women on the show. “Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t want to date any of these women, because they have some skills. Their skills speak for themselves, and everybody has a great story. This season is filled with a lot of personalities and stories and skill. Ronda Rousey set the way for women’s mixed martial arts, and we have a couple of girls right behind her.”
At the end of the season, not only will TUF crown a strawweight champ, but Pettis will also defend his title against Melendez. Though he’s a self-proclaimed laid-back guy, don’t mistake that for apathy. “I’m winning this show, I’m winning this fight, and I’m taking everything that comes with it,” he declares.