Karyn Bryant has anchored UFC broadcasts on FOX Sports 1 for the last year, including the “TUF Talk” segments which followed each episode of The Ultimate Fighter.
In previous years, she handled hosting duties for UFC on FUEL TV, created her own series, MMA H.E.A.T., and also reported for Showtime Championship Boxing among others.
Today we enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Ms. Bryant about tomorrow’s TUF finale, which will crown the UFC’s first champion in the women’s strawweight division. In part one of our talk, we talk about some of the personalities that emerged from this season.
Caged Insider: The finale is tomorrow night and it’s kind of historic moment for women’s MMA and the UFC: it’s the first time this format was used to crown a UFC champion, and it’s the first time a women’s strawweight belt is introduced. There’s also some very interesting talent – how do you measure TUF20 finale compared to other finales?
Karyn Bryant: I think it’s an incredibly deep talent pool. Regardless of who wins tomorrow night we’ve got an incredible division. I also think we’ve also been introduced to people that you care about this season. Some seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, it’s like, “who’s that guy…?” Everybody remembers this season – not just because a first champion will be crowned, but because of the personalities; and they’re exciting fighters.
Caged Insider: One of my favorites was Joanne Calderwood.
Karyn Bryant: I loved JoJo! She’s so sweet and soft-spoken.
Caged Insider: Yes. You needed subtitles, not just because of because of the Scottish brogue…
Karen Bryant: Right! I thought she was great, a real compliment to some of the other energy that was going on. She had a serenity that was really welcome at times, but when she fights she’s a scrapper! I liked her a lot too, and I’m excited to see her fight more.
Caged Insider: She has a tough match tomorrow on the preliminary card against newcomer Seo Hee Ham. How do you break down that fight?
Karen Bryant: One of the most interesting things is that unknown element. If she was fighting someone in the (TUF) house she’d have that sense of familiarity — how that person trains, what head games could she play. Now, she has that unknown entity. Granted she’s had that before. I feel like JoJo could perform well, better than she did on the show. She didn’t perform badly, people all lose fights. But now, there’s no back story, no emotional connection and I think she can put on the killer instinct.
Caged Insider: She was throwback in ways, in terms of personality. She actually reminded me of the kind of fighters I recall when I first got into MMA, when Japan was a bigger part of the sport. I thought of Megumi Fujii and how I couldn’t imagine her in that TUF house. Calderwood found herself struggling with it and having to tell off Nate Diaz for boo’ing a decision. It had to be surreal.
Karen Bryant: She was a different kind of energy. I don’t know how anyone can do that! I certainly don’t have the personality to be around 15 other women, some of whom I really didn’t like, for that much time. I would go crazy. She was a calming person, and the way she approached it, not getting involved was smart. At the same time, I wish she was a little more outgoing so people could have gotten to know her more. You have this opportunity to build some fans, for some of these women – we don’t know how things are edited – but, seize the moment! Do a little with this opportunity.
Caged Insider: Another was Aisling Daly, who was very open with her issues with depression, and I think that really has a chance to have a nice effect on viewers. But a lot of what we saw on the show… maybe wasn’t so exemplary.
Karyn Bryant: Yes. (laughs)
Caged Insider: I know it must be a tough experience, but twenty seasons into TUF now, and it seems there used to be a feeling of graciousness — about this unique experience these athletes received. I never felt that this time. Do you think this could impact the sport in a negative way?
Karyn Bryant: I don’t know about that. When I spoke to the fighters, they were always very appreciative of their coaches and what they were able to learn. Maybe that didn’t get depicted on the show. You notice Bec Rawlings went up to train with Gilbert Melendez and the Diaz brothers after the show. She clearly made a great bond.
It was an emotionally charged season. Jessica Penne told me she would sometimes stop what she was doing and just watch Anthony and Sergio Pettis spar – because it was amazing. The experience was so inspiring to them. There was a lot going on that maybe didn’t get shown; I never got the sense that they didn’t appreciate their training.
Caged Insider: Sometimes it felt a little ugly – including last night’s TUF Talk segment which you conducted with several cast members. Did you ever feel unsafe there?
Karyn Bryant: (laughs) No! Even though they’re trained killers! People were diplomatic. There was tension, but nothing that got out of control. I think these are people who are extremely passionate, and passionate about the people they are training alongside. They care deeply, and they’re being pushed physically and mentally to their limits.
Some handle that in a way where they kind of explode on other person. Others, like Jojo and Aisling, kind of retreat into themselves. But when they came by for “TUF Talk,” they were great. The girls were really cool. It was a tough experience but ultimately I think it’s been great and we’ve been introduced to a lot of great fighters.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two, where we break down the main event at TUF 20 — and Ms. Bryant lists her favorite moments as a broadcaster in the fight game.