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By: Yael Grauer, Special Guest Contributor
After months of build-up, the two-hour premier of The Ultimate Fighter finally aired last night. As we know, those who wanted an end to the drama between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate will be disappointed; the show begins with Tate showing up on set and Ronda somewhat understandably pitching a fit. Turns out that she'd been having some contract disputes with the UFC at the time, although they left that out of the episode, so Rousey was worried that she'd been kicked off the show and replaced with Tate. No love lost between these two ladies, but Rousey at least seemed relieved to know she didn't have to pack her bags and go home.
Next up, we have 32 hungry fighters with Dana White admitting he was very wrong about not allowing women to fight. He mentions that as the sport of MMA has been evolving for 13 years, so has the women's division. "These women are legit, and they've been waiting for this moment their entire life," he said. The interesting thing as a fan of women's MMA is to see where the grizzled veterans of old stack up against some of these new fighters who can actually train in MMA gyms (and with female training partners), something that was barely available when some of the pioneers of the sport began their careers. As the depth of women's MMA continues to grow, it looks like some of the veterans got this opportunity a bit too late.
Oh yeah, and there's men on the show, too... and they just might have to battle for attention. Dana chimes in with his motivational speech of the season: "If you ever fought a fight in your entire life, make that fight tomorrow. You fucking ready or what?"
Miesha's poster replaces Cat Zingano's and we're ready for the first fight.
Fight #1: We've got the tall and lanky Jessamyn Duke, who I last saw fight Muay Thai champ Miriam Nakamoto over at Invicta (Duke was the victim of an illegal knee, and Nakamoto's victory was soon overturned). Duke's opponent, UK kickboxer Laura Howarth, has only fought amateur (but the rules are a bit weird in England). The referee was Kim Winslow, who generally lets women go a little bit longer than some male refs (though don't tell that to Miesha). Duke used her range and throw kicks and punches, and the two fighters jockeyed for position against the cage. Duke scored a nice takedown to half guard, transitioned to guard and worked rubber guard. She got slammed but worked for armbars and omaplatas, taking some short punches but managing to lock up a triangle for the win.
Tate and White are discussing the fights but Rousey is heads down, for some reason, and doesn't say a single word. This continues throughout the fights.
Fight #2:: Next up is Danny Martinez, who trains with Dominick Cruz at Alliance, going up against David Grant from the UK. They get to talk about their kids and how they'll miss them and other such things. Danny rushes in with looping punches, but Grant gets a big knee to the face. He's scrappy! He also unleashes an elbow directly to the spine. How they didn't take a point away is beyond me. Heavy strikes from Martinez as well, and a takedown. Grant looks for a triangle/armbar, but Martinez is saved by the bell. The second round starts with the two throwing leather, but Grant seems more polished and aggressive, with slick transitions. He lands an illegal knee and Herb Dean takes a point. Grant needs to end the fight, which he does, via armbar.
Fight #3: This fight featured the highly emotional Jessica Rakoczy, who I'm pretty sure typically fights at 125, up against Revelina Berto, who comes from a fighting family with wrestlers, boxers, NAGA grapplers, and other MMA fighters. Dana explains their background, and Tate listens and responds, but looks like Rousey's gonna insist on being Pouty-faced McGee. Anyway, Rakoczy has a bad throw attempt, and Berto ends up on top, but later ends up on the bottom and loses via submission, as Rakoczy attempts an armbar and transitions into an omaplata.
Fight #4: Michael Wooten, from Liverpool, takes on Emil Hartsner, from Sweden. Dana said the fight was boring, with a lot of pushing against the cage, so apparently Wooten isn't his favorite Scouser, but he did manage to win by decision.
-By now we're getting a bit tired of hearing the story of every single female fighter on the show. (Let me guess... they decided to try a grappling class because of a friend of brother, fell in love with it, realized boxing wasn't that bad and then started fighting. Their parents were upset at first. Oh and people are very surprised to find out they're fighters. And the other girls underestimate them, but they do hope they're scared. And if they're not, then they should be.)
Fight #5: However, Peggy Morgan mixes it up a bit by saying that her 3-year-old son tells people she fights in a lion's cage and that his mom can beat up their dad. Morgan, who is huge for 135, is most well-known for releasing a hateful video about transgender fighter Fallon Fox. Morgan's opponent is Bethany Marshall, whose most recent fight was a TKO loss to Barb Honchak at Invicta FC 2. Marshall (who's very small for 135, by the way) comes from a Christian rock family, but they didn't tell us about that. As one would predict, Morgan was incredibly aggressive and defeated Marshall with strikes.
Fight #6: Here comes one of the pioneers of women's MMA, Roxanne Modafferi. This girl started karate in middle school because she wanted to be a Power Ranger. She'd been training in Japan while teaching English for years. Now, most people may know Roxy because she was on the losing end of Sarah Kaufman's highlight reel, but Modafferi has been competing since 2003, with wins over Tara LaRosa and Marloes Coenen (though she's lost to both as well). Modafferi is the only fighter to have defeated Jennifer Howe (which she did not once, but twice), ending Howe’s 11-0 winning streak and taking her IFC Women’s MiddleWeight belt by triangle choke in the third round of her rematch in March 2005. It was a really big deal at the time.
Valerie LeTourneau from Tristar has considerably less experience. She took on some top players early, losing back-to-back fights to Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis back in 2007. While Roxanne had lost five in a row, clearly she has fought higher-caliber opponents.
Anyway, Roxy lands a single, and gets the takedown despite a very squirrelly opponent. She takes her back, lands some punches, sinks in a body triangle and locks in the rear-naked choke for the victory.
Fight #7: This is the battle of the Iowans, with Tim Gorman taking on the hearing impaired Lee Sandmeier. Gorman rushes in for the takedown, throws heavy strikes from mount and gets a quick stoppage.
Fight #8: This fight brings Raquel Pennington to the fold, who says she's very family oriented (When I think of Rocky, I think of her fans who threw paper at Leslie Smith after Smith defeated her at Invicta, so it's hard to take that seriously). Pennington points out that she has a striking advantage over her opponent, drama queen Tonya Evinger, who's more of a wrestler. Tate says that Evinger lacks heart. She came out strong but ran out of steam in the second round, succumbing to a guillotine.
Fight #9: Up next is cancer survivor Chris Beal, who has big elbows and crisp striking, escaped a guillotine attempt and ultimately defeated Swedish prospect Sirwan Kakai via decision.
Fight #10: At this point, we're getting a bit fight weary. Josh Hill is 9-0 with a 26-1 grappling record, but Rousey points out that he only has one submission. Hill outwrestled Irish prospect Patrick Holohan in a not-very-exciting fight
Fight #11: We've got Colleen Schneider, whom you may recall took Liz Carmouche to decision back at Strikeforce Challengers 10 in August 2010. She has her work cut out for her going against Shayna Baszler, one of the best submission specialists in the sport. "The Queen of Spades" has a chip on her shoulder, and rightfully so. She's been fighting since 2003, has some big wins in her record (including Julie Kedzie and Sarah D'Alelio). "it's easy to be hungry when the feast is at the table. I was hungry when we were being fed nothing but crumbs," she said. Shayna's sort of like a more likable, less hyper-emotional version of Rousey, and she's really fun to watch. The fight started with a clinch war, and Shayna got a takedown (bad news for Colleen). Baszler took some punches and got her hooks in... her corner kept yelling for both hooks, but she doesn't need both hooks. She's a catch wrestler. Anyway, Baszler finished the bout with an armbar, quipping, "I'm not in the house with you; you're in the house with me."
Fight #12: Louis Fisette's dad whines about how the guy never pays rent because he doesn't have a job, since he's constantly at the gym. His opponent is BJJ black belt Chris Holdsworth, whose older brother was shot and killed when Chris was just 8 years old. Fisette comes out very aggressively, landing hard rights and scoring a takedown, but Chris obviously has good grappling skills and attempts an armbar and a triangle. He's on the receiving end of some ground and pound, but Holdsworth wins the bout with a beautiful arm triangle.
Fight #13: Next up is Gina Mazany, who's 3-0 but literally none of her opponents have a win on their record. Her opponent is Julianna Pena, a natural 125-er who lost her last two bouts. It's a quick, high-pace bout with Pena being dominant through positions and ground and pound.
Fight #14: Self-described "strong country boy" Matt Munsey, who dropped out of high school in 9th grade and says he's been climbing trees ever since, defeated Anthony Titan Fighting Championship's Gutierrez by decision.
Fight #15: One of the final fights in the opening round featured an absolute legend in the sport in Tara LaRosa, taking on up-and-comer Sarah Moras. Moras has trained with Rosi Sexton in the UK for a year and has trained a little with Miesha as well.
It's worth noting that Tate and LaRosa have a LOT of history, so it would've been interesting to have her in the house, but no such luck. Sarah Moras, who trains with Toshido up in Canada, didn't let Tara's experience advantage stop her and landed the biggest upset of the show thus far. She landed takedowns, had good offense from the top and bottom, had great transitions and showcased her grappling skills, landing a spot in the house via decision and calling Rousey out in the interview.
Fight #16: For the last fight of the night, Rafael de Freitas faced Bellator veteran Cody Bollinger. Cody got a quick takedown but de Freitas stood up and jumped guard, working for a guillotine. In the second bout, Bollinger landed uppercuts, hooks and straight rights to secure his spot in the house.
Okay, so now it's time to pick teams. Ronda picks the coin toss but elects to pick the first fight rather than the first team.
Here's the lineup:
Rousey picking Baszler is a good move for the Queen of Spades. I'd say that Shayna's grappling is better than Tate's, so she'll probably learn more from that team, and Rousey's attitude is more in line with Baszler (who loves playing the heel and is a bit argumentative, though I think far more likable).
Tate picking Pena and Moras makes sense, since they've met and trained before. Looks like Sarah Moras and Rocky Pennington are on the same team, which is interesting because they have fought before at Invicta. Gorman went on a rant about how he didn't care about being picked last by Tate because he didn't even know who she was - well, that kind of attitude would probably be less tolerated on team Rousey, so he's glad he got picked by Tate.
Anyway, Rousey gets to pick the first fight, a bit sooner than expected, and she goes for the jugular by pitting here first pick, Shayna Baszler, against Tate's first pick, Julianna. Should be interesting!
Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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