“The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate” kicks off with a video package of several fighters explaining their desire to become the new tournament champion. The style in which the show is shot replicates the most recent season, and once again, the fighters wait in their hotel rooms with friends and family as they prepare to fight their way into the house.
UFC President Dana White explains the changes to the 18th season of the reality show, noting this will be the first time the cast consists of both male and female bantamweight fighters.
The package cuts to the first scene in the “TUF” Gym, where UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey waits alone under massive fight posters of herself and original opposing coach Cat Zingano.
As Rousey waits, former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate enters the gym, leaving Rousey in a state of confusion and desperate for answers. Tate says she would prefer to have White explain the situation, which he later does, informing a stunned Rousey that Zingano blew out her knee and would be unable to both coach the show and participate in their scheduled Dec. 28 title fight at UFC 168.
Instead Tate, who Rousey holds a March 2012 win over, will step in as opposing coach as the next challenger to the championship belt currently held by “Rowdy.”
With the dramatic coaching switch over, the 32 UFC hopefuls are brought into the gym. White talks about how far women’s MMA has come since famously saying females would never fight in the UFC and proceeds to give one of his classic motivational speeches.
The gym is transformed to suit Tate’s arrival, and we’re off to Station Casino, where the fighters patiently wait in their hotel rooms until it’s time to compete in the elimination round of fights. Win, and you’re in the “TUF” house. Lose, and you’re going home.
Soon, the first tournament fight is underway, and it is sprinkled with a little bit of history, as it will be the first women’s contest in “TUF” history.
JESSAMYN DUKE VS. LAURA HOWARTH
The fight begins with Duke pressing forward with strikes and controlling the distance in the standup with kicks and punches. Howarth initiates the clinch and gets Duke up against the fence. Duke reverses position and takes down Howarth, and she ends up in half guard. A scramble results in Howarth on top, but Duke immediately works a high guard and nearly gets an armbar. Howarth escapes and takes Duke’s back, but Duke scrambles to her back and reestablishes guard, where she works for more submissions from the guard. Another scramble for position results in Duke securing a tight triangle choke submission for the tap-out.
Jessamyn Duke def. Laura Howarth via submission (triangle choke) – Round 1
DAVID GRANT VS. DANNY MARTINEZ
The two fighters meet in the middle of the cage and immediately exchange a series of haymakers. Martinez presses Grant up against the cage twice in a row and attempts takedowns with no luck. While defending, Grant throws an illegal 12-to-six elbow to Martinez’s spine, and referee Herb Dean breaks up the action. Grant is given a warning for illegal strikes. The fight resumes with more striking exchanges from a distance with Grant landing with the cleaner punches and knees. Martinez once again presses Grant against the cage, but this time he is successful with the takedown. Grant nearly locks in a triangle choke, but the round ends before he can finish.
The second round begins with more striking exchanges until Grant knocks down Martinez. As Martinez works out of danger and back to his feet, Grant connects with an illegal knee to the head of his downed opponent. The referee again breaks up the fight and takes one point away from Grant. Action continues with more big punches from both men on the feet. Grant sprawls on a Martinez takedown attempt and transitions to the armbar, forcing Martinez to give up.
David Grant def. Danny Martinez via submission (armbar) – Round 2
REVELINA BERTO VS. JESSICA RAKOCZY
Performance highlights show dominance and several near-submission attempts from Berto in the early going from both top and bottom positions. Unable to finish the fight, Rakoczy rallies back with significant strikes from the top and locks in a submission of her own. In what starts as an armbar, Rakoczy rolls over the shoulder and gets Berto in a rare submission using the omoplata technique.
Jessica Rakoczy def. Revelina Berto via submission (omoplata) – Round 1
MICHAEL WOOTTEN VS. EMIL HARTSNER
Performance highlights show a lot of clinch and cage work by both fighters. White consistently chimes in as highlights of the fight play, putting down the performance of both men and stating the matchup was far from memorable and admitting he has no interest in seeing either man fight again. The bout goes all three rounds, and Wootten takes the decision.
Michael Wootten def. Emil Hartsner via decision
PEGGY MORGAN VS. BETHANY MARSHALL
Morgan has a noticeable size advantage from the outset and uses it to her fullest advantage in a completely one-sided performance. Marshall fails on a takedown attempt early and is reversed directly into mount, where Morgan tees off with strikes until referee Steve Mazzagatti mercifully stops the fight.
Peggy Morgan def. Bethany Marshall via TKO (punches) – Round 1
VALERIE LETOURNEAU VS. ROXANNE MODAFFERI
Modafferi opens the fight as the more aggressive striker on the feet and proceeds to press Letourneau against the cage, where she lands a takedown. Modafferi passes guard to side control, and Letourneau gives up her back. Modafferi goes for the rear-naked choke, and after some hand fighting, locks in the submission.
Roxanne Modafferi def. Valerie Letourneau via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1
TIM GORMAN VS. LEE SANDMEIER
Sandmeier rushes forward and walks right into a Gorman takedown. Gorman improves position while landing big punches and elbows. Sandmeier gives up his back, and Gorman gets his hooks in. Sandmeier manages to roll over into mount, where Gorman reigns down heavy shots. Sandmeier shows courage in throwing punches from his back while mounted, but the damage ultimately catches up to him, and the referee stops the fight.
Tim Gorman def. Lee Sandmeier via TKO (punches) – Round 1
TONYA EVINGER VS. RAQUEL PENNINGTON
Performance highlights show both fighters landing respectable strikes in the standup and clinch. Evinger looks to be winning the fight until Pennington catches her in a guillotine choke with her neck exposed for the second-round finish.
Raquel Pennington def. Tonya Evinger via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 2
CHRIS BEAL VS. SIRWAN KAKAI
Performance highlights show Beal getting the better of the striking exchanges early in the fight as he drops Kakai with a hard left hand. Beal continues to get the edge on the feet, but Kakai has his moments with takedowns, ground strikes and submissions attempts. Beal keeps it on the feet more often than not, though, and outpoints his way to a decision victory.
Chris Beal def. Sirwan Kakai via decision
PATRICK HOLOHAN VS. JOSH HILL
Performance highlights show a grappling-heavy affair with Hill out-positioning his way to the win. White criticizes Hill for his wrestling-centric approach to the match, but nevertheless, the Canadian gets the decision win.
Josh Hill def. Patrick Holohan via decision
COLLEEN SCHNEIDER VS. SHAYNA BASZLER
Baszler is the aggressor early, and after some work against the cage, she takes Schneider to the ground. Schneider tries desperately to wall-walk back to her feet, but Baszler takes her back and begins working for a choke. Schneider defends well and manages to escape from danger back to her feet. That doesn’t last long, though, as Baszler wins the scramble for a takedown and ends up in side control. After a few punches, Schneider gives up her arm, and Baszler takes it home for the submission victory.
Shayna Baszler def. Colleen Schneider via submission (armbar) – Round 1
LOUIS FISETTE VS. CHRIS HOLDSWORTH
Serious aggression from both men early, but it’s Fisette who clinches Holdsworth against the fence and tries for a trip takedown. He fails but then switches to a body lock and gets the slam. Holdswroth immediately threatens with submissions from his back. He nearly gets an armbar and triangle choke, but he can’t finish with either. Fisette displays tremendous toughness by refusing to quit, and after spending a good portion of the round avoiding chokes, finally escapes. Fisette shows desperation in his wild attempt to do something meaningful, which allows Holdsworth to get back on top and secure mount. Holdsworth goes for an arm-triangle choke, and Holdsworth’s run of tight submission escapes is over.
Chris Holdsworth def. Louis Fisette via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 1
JULIANNA PENA VS. GINA MAZANY
Performance highlights show Pena getting the better of the action on the feet and especially on the ground. White, Rousey and Tate all praise Pena’s performance as she picks up a lopsided unanimous decision win.
Julianna Pena def. Gina Mazany via decision
MATT MUNSEY VS. ANTHONY GUTIERREZ
Performance highlights show minimal clips of Gutierrez landing strikes on the feet with some submission attempts on the ground en route to a decision win.
Anthony Gutierrez def. Matt Munsey via decision
TARA LAROSA VS. SARAH MORAS
Performance highlights show LaRosa landing clean shots to the chin right off the bat. Moras decides she wants no part of a striking battle and opts to take the fight to the ground. Moras attempts several submissions on the ground but cannot finish LaRosa, whom coach Tate reminds viewers has never been submitted before. Moras continues to utilize her wrestling ability to neutralize LaRosa’s offense for the win and what could be considered the biggest upset of the elimination round.
Sarah Moras def. Tara LaRosa via decision
RAFAEL DE FREITAS VS. CODY BOLLINGER
De Freitas and Bollinger waste no time exchanging punches until Bollinger lands a takedown. De Freitas immediately threatens with an armbar from the bottom; however, Bollinger displays his power and slams his way out of danger. De Freitas gets back to his feet, and more punches are thrown. Bollinger goes for a slam takedown, but De Freitas counters with a guillotine choke that appears close. Bollinger escapes the choke and is free for a brief moment before De Freitas locks in a tight triangle choke. Bollinger stays calm, gives the referee a thumb up, and the round ends with Bollinger in the choke.
Round 2 is underway, and both men are clearly tired, with De Freitas being noticeably more fatigued. Bollinger turns up the pressure and starts connecting with punches, kicks, elbows and knees on his Brazilian opponent. De Freitas eats several flurries and looks out on his feet. Bollinger remains composed and eventually lands the fight-ending combination for the knockout win.
Cody Bollinger def. Rafael De Freitas via TKO (strikes) – Round 2
With the elimination-round fights in the books and the final 16 established, the winners are brought back to the gym, where White informs them fan voting at the conclusion of the season will reward $25,000 to the “Knockout of the Season,” “Submission of the Season” and “Fight of the Season.”
Additionally, the winning male and female fighters will receive a six-figure UFC contracts as well as custom Harley Davidson motorcycle for them and their respective coach.
It’s time for team selection. White flips the coin, and Rousey wins. The reigning champion opts to pick the first fight of the tournament, giving Tate the first choice of fighter.
The team selection went as follows:
1. Julianna Pena
2. Sarah Moras
3. Raquel Pennington
4. Roxanne Modafferi
1. Cody Bollinger
2. Chris Holdsworth
3. Josh Hill
4. Tim Gorman
1. Shayna Baszler
2. Jessamyn Duke
3. Peggy Morgan
4. Jessica Rakoczy
1. Chris Beal
2. David Grant
3. Anthony Gutierrez
4. Michael Wootten
After the team selections are complete, White reveals Rousey must choose her first matchup. Rousey consults her staff of coaches and decides to pit her No. 1 female pick, Julianna Pena, against Team Tate’s top pick, Shayna Baszler.
Rousey explains the reasoning for her selection, saying, “We want to just go straight for the jugular and demoralize their whole team, take their No. 1 pick out, and retain control of the fight picks for the rest of the tournament.”
Tate reacts, saying, “Ronda likes to make bold moves and bold statements, but that was a risky one because she doesn’t know much about Julie at all and neither does Shayna, so I plan on surprising the hell out of them for sure.”
And thus concludes the two-hour “TUF 18? season debut.
Catch new episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate” every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on FOX Sports 1. MMAjunkie.com recaps each episode of the reality series.