Welcome to yet another season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and in this, the 26th season of the popular Ultimate Fighting Championship reality series, a cast of women vie for a crack at the inaugural women’s flyweight world championship. Sixteen of the most talented female 125-pounders will battle it out in a weeks-long tournament and will be coached by lightweights Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. And with that, “TUF 26: A New World Champion” begins.
The TUF 26 tryouts take place at Palace Station, which is right down the street from the old UFC headquarters on Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas. Several of the women are seen filling out forms, weighing in and trying out with grappling, striking and other facets of the fight game. UFC President Dana White explains what’s going on in the season and how excited he is that a women’s flyweight division is finally being created.
After several minutes of footage of the tryouts, the 16 finalists pile into the TUF gym to meet Gaethje and former UFC 155-pound king Alvarez. White appears on a big screen TV and greets the ladies as well and reveals that the winner of the season will be crowned the 125-pound champ. After the intros from White and the coaches, it’s time for fighter evaluations.
Once the evaluations are complete, Gaethje tosses the coin but loses to Alvarez for who will pick first: either the first fighter or the first matchup. The 16 women are also holding envelopes that contain which seed they are in the season-long bracket. The Philly fighter opts to go with selecting the first combatant and he chooses former Invicta Fighting Championships flyweight champ Barb Honchak, who is seeded No. 2. She will face off against 15-seed Gillian Robertson, who goes to Team Gaethje. From there, the coaches alternate picks until everybody is chosen.
The teams and matchups for the season are as follows:
1. Roxanne Modafferi (Gaethje) vs. 16. Shana Dobson (Alvarez)
2. Barb Honchak(Alvarez) vs. 15. Gillian Robertson (Gaethje)
3. Lauren Murphy (Alvarez) vs. 14. Nicco Montano (Gaethje)
4. DeAnna Bennett (Alvarez) vs. 13. Karine Gevorgyan (Gaethje)
5. Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson (Gaethje) vs. 12. Sijara Eubanks (Alvarez)
6. Montana Stewart (Gaethje) vs. 11 Ariel Beck (Alvarez)
7. Melinda Fabian (Alvarez) vs. 10. Rachael Ostovich Berdon (Gaethje)
8. Emily Whitmire (Gaethje) vs. 9. Christina Marks (Alvarez)
Since Alvarez picked the first fighter, Gaethje gets to choose the first battle and he goes with TUF 18 veteran Modafferi versus Dobson.
Finally, the fighters arrive at the TUF and they are as giddy as schoolgirls. They are doing cannonballs in the pool, running through the house, selecting their bedrooms and just taking in everything the mansion has to offer. But there’s little time to waste as it’s about to get serious.
Modafferi is featured first and she’s thrilled to prove to the world that she “doesn’t suck anymore.” Her loss on the show sparked a fire inside her and she has turned her career around. She’s been at Syndicate MMA in Vegas, scored a few impressive wins under the Invicta banner and is ready to take the sport by storm. The “Memoirs of a Happy Warrior” author is talking a great game and it’s a matter of time whether she can walk it as well.
Dobson’s training segment follows and highlights of her fights in the XFO promotion roll and Dobson is a solid striker. She has only three pro fights, though, so she’s in way over her head in terms of experience compared to Modafferi. That means nothing to her; she’s amped to pull off the upset. Alvarez is impressed with her striking ability and says she’s got “some funk” to her style. She’s openly gay and her home video depicts her and her girlfriend before going into how she began her career in MMA.
Finally, after all the usual pre-fight build-up, it’s time to fight. Jason Herzog is the referee for the matchup and they begin the duel by tossing out rangy jabs. Modafferi pops Dobson with a nice jab to the face, which backs her up. Modafferi eats a solid straight right and then misses a takedown attempt, coming dangerously close from being decapitated by a right uppercut from the Texan. Modafferi gets close enough to clinch and from there, she easily takes her foe to the canvas. Dobson uses the cage to push herself away, but she turns the wrong way; Modafferi is on top in half guard. Modafferi is maintaining solid control on top but when she attacks with a few elbows, Dobson escapes and nearly gets back up. However, “The Happy Warrior” presses her opponent back down and moves to full mount. Dobson is in a world of trouble at the halfway point as Modafferi is peppering her with short right elbows and left hammerfists. Dobson bucks up a few times in an attempt to bridge and escape, but Modafferi is all over her. Dobson is blocking most of the elbows and punches, but Modafferi is relentless and throwing them over and over and over. Herzog warns Dobson to improve but even though she’s blocking many of them, she can’t escape and the veteran third man intervenes, ending the fight.
After the dust settles, Alvarez picks the next fight and he goes with 4-seed Bennett vs. 13-seed Gevorgyan. Coming attractions for the entire season roll and there seems to be a ton of drama, crying, hostility and White appears to be angry at something one or more of the women of this season.