The premiere episode of the twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter aired last night, and while the notion of another season of the once-groundbreaking-but-now-played-out reality TV series might make most MMA fans nauseous (and rightly so), this one is different right out of the gate.
Of course, by now, everyone knows that this batch of freshly-baked episodes features the cream of the 115-pound female fighter crop, with the two teams coached by UFC champ Anthony Pettis and top challenger Gilbert Melendez. And sure, the eventually winner of the tournament gets more than just the meaningless label “The Ultimate Fighter”, because she will also be crowned the UFC’s strawweight champ. But between the 19 previous seasons plus however many international versions there are floating about, it’s hard to imagine that TUF could once more be interesting. We have literally seen it all – right?
Well, no, we haven’t, as evidenced by last night’s episode.
First off, thanks to what Invicta FC has done in terms of putting together the best female fighters and giving them a platform to strut their stuff, we already have a strong idea of who’s the best and who isn’t. So when Dana White announced that the fighters were seeded by Joe Silva and Sean Shelby (thereby taking the matchmaking out of the hands of the coaches), it was hard to argue that Tecia Torres wasn’t worthy of her #3 seed ranking – we’ve seen her wreck everyone she’s faced in the Invicta cage. Heck, on paper, Torres was likely to win the whole TUF tournament. Her predetermined opponent, the relatively unknown #14 ranked Randa Markos, didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell against her.
But then they fought, and Markos out-grappled Torres into oblivion.
For fans supposedly in the know, this was the equivalent of Ruan Potts laying a beating on Cain Velasquez.
So already TUF 20 has tweaked the format and thrown us a curveball. That, plus the infinitely higher stakes and all-female slant on things, makes for some compelling television where before there was none.
TUF 20 just might kick ass.