Upon the announcement of women being cast on the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter, fans and media alike held their collective breaths as they waited to see what kind of talent would join the roster in the inaugural season for women.
When the cast (now narrowed down to eight upon the airing of the first episode Wednesday night) was revealed, a host of top-shelf women’s talent highlighted the first episode.
Such names as Roxanne Modafferi (15-10) and Shayna Baszler (15-8) made the official roster while others such as Tara LaRosa (21-3) and Tonya Evinger (11-6) fell just short of making it in to the TUF house, all pioneers in a blossoming sect of this sport. Also making the list are former professional boxer Jessica Rakoczy (33-3 as a boxer) and prospects Peggy Morgan, Sarah Moras and Raquel Pennington, just to name a few.
Several viewers of Wednesday’s TUF premiere noted this talent as being somewhat misplaced on a show that for the past few years, has been stuck in a ratings rut as it churns out gatekeepers for their respective divisions. In fact, a champion hasn’t come from an Ultimate Fighter winner since the extremely unlikely Matt Serra took the title from current welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre back in 2007 at the age of 32, coming off of the fourth season.
Since then, only one TUF winner has even challenged for a title as John Dodson took part in a losing effort against Demetrious Johnson in the ultra thin UFC flyweight division that houses a mere 18 fighters.
Before Dodson, the last winner to challenge a champion was season five winner, Nate Diaz, who was routed by Benson Henderson last December. When we look in the opposite direction, the early days of The Ultimate Fighter, we see a much different picture. Before (and including) Nate Diaz from season 5, seven men have been granted title shots, three of which won the belt.
That is the difference between the early days of the formerly popular reality show and now. Back when the UFC was an upstart promotion and MMA still somewhat taboo in this country, The Ultimate Fighter was the perfect gateway to make a living as the best fighters outside the UFC flocked to tryouts for what seemed like a fast track to the big stage, at least for men.
Now, if a male fighter wishes to test his mettle inside the Octagon, he can choose to fight in smaller promotions, as he hopes to string together enough wins to get the call from Joe Silva. Bellator MMA, World Series of Fighting, and the cavalcade of promotions that broadcast on AXS TV are all viable options to fight for within the states, make some money, and put together professional wins. With this option, a fighter doesn’t have to sit in a house for seven weeks with people that he may not get along with, training with a staff that is not his own, just to get to the finals after winning amateur fights that, if you’re not Uriah Hall or Kimbo Slice, will not be remembered.
When it comes to women on The Ultimate Fighter don’t look at them as fighters who are well past their primes, simply seeking a spot on the UFC roster to hopelessly struggle for a glimpse of relevance. Instead imagine that these woman are fighting in their own version of the first Ultimate Fighter series, looking to make their own history not as a continuation of a series that has been around since 2005, but rather a birth of a new avenue that has just been put in place, one with a very bright light at the end of it.
These woman have never had the opportunity at something like this as they break through their own glass ceiling in an effort to not ‘reinvent’ their careers but instead to invent them, using the UFC as their platform. Besides the recent Strikeforce imports, where would a woman go to make a respectable income participating in a sport that must consume your life if you ever plan on succeeding in it?
Take a look at even the most famous of women’s fighter’s records and you will see a trend of female fighters rarely fighting for one organization for more than two bouts as they bounce around looking for a place to settle where their skills are sought after by promoters and where the appeal for a women’s fight is based on raw talent, not as a niche fight that rounds out a card.
Invicta FC has only been around since April of 2012, and while it is making great strides in the world of women’s MMA (WMMA), it still sits as the number two promotion for top-tier fighters in the world even with its impressive list of talent.
The UFC, itself, just accepted woman in to their ranks this year while smaller promotions offered little in the way of a lifestyle choice for prospective fighters. Luckily for those on the UFC roster now, Strikeforce created a healthy environment in which woman could thrive and as Strikeforce grew, as did the profile for WMMA until they were bought by UFC parent company Zuffa, and the rest is history.
Basically, if you can’t get behind this season of The Ultimate Fighter because of a tired format and the rare likelihood of a winner’s future success outside the parameters of the show, try to take a different approach. Instead, watch this season for the woman whose success not just in the UFC but in this sport, hinges on their success on this season with a title shot for the winner not necessarily outside the realm of possibilities. The season will wrap up just a few weeks before the coaches face off in a title fight scheduled for December and with the level of competition on the show, a title shot becomes all the more believable.
Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate 2 takes place in the co-main event of UFC 168 on December 28th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Ultimate Fighter airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Fox Sports 1.
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