The following article was written by Kevin Iole and originally published by official MMAWeekly.com content partner Yahoo Sports.
Filming began Tuesday for Season 18 of the UFC’s reality series The Ultimate Fighter with a gigantic and unexpected switch.
Unbeaten Cat Zingano, who was slated to coach opposite women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, injured a knee and was replaced as coach by long-time Rousey rival Miesha Tate.
Rousey did not know that Zingano was injured – UFC president Dana White said it had been a tightly kept company secret since Zingano injured her right knee during a May 16 workout – or that Tate had been brought in to replace her, until the opening scenes of the show were filmed on Tuesday.
When Tate came out, Rousey was clearly stunned and she stormed out of the UFC training center, searching for White. She later said she was angry because she thought Tate was replacing her.
Rousey, though, was pleased with the change.
“This is what we really wanted all along,” Rousey told Yahoo! Sports. “Everyone said an Ultimate Fighter between me and Miesha would be the best. We have a personal history with each other and this is a personal show. For some reason, me and Miesha are intertwined in fate like Ali and Frazier or something like that.
“I think people will look back at this as one of the monumental rivalries and look back at this as one of those things that really cemented women’s MMA.”
Tate was disappointed that it took an injury to Zingano for her to get the spot on the show, but she said she felt it was fate. She said she felt she was winning the fight with Zingano when referee Kim Winslow stopped it.
But Tate was thrilled to not only get the gig and the title shot, but to see Rousey get visibly angry when she appeared.
“It was rewarding to see that,” she said. “I was like, ‘Yay! This is getting good.’ I watched her go to her corner and her corner was up in arms. I was just sitting there in the doorway thinking, ‘This is awesome.’
“I felt I was cheated a little in that fight with Cat. I had two solid rounds and one not-so-good round. Either way, I felt I was meant to be here and it’s come full circle.”
Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter will debut in September on the new all-sports channel, Fox Sports 1, and will, for the first time, include women as coaches and females as well as males among the contestants, all vying for a UFC contract.
Zingano stopped Tate in the third round of their April 13 fight to win the right to coach opposite Rousey and get the title shot. The coaching slot and title shot – tentatively slated to be on pay-per-view on Dec. 28 – now goes to Tate.
Rousey won the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title from Tate in 2011 when both were in the now-defunct promotion. It was that fight which piqued UFC president Dana White’s interest in women’s fighting. To that point, White had maintained that the UFC would be men-only.
Zingano underwent surgery on her right knee on Tuesday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, as well as to clean up other damage. She said she injured the knee as she came down after clearing a short hurdle.
“I was doing my regular routine, my strength and conditioning,” Zingano told Yahoo! Sports by telephone shortly before she was wheeled into surgery. “I was jumping over tunnels that were about 12 inches high. I’d jumped over them like 10 times already. This one time, I jumped up and my left knee came down right on track and my right knee bent outward.
“Snap, crackle, pop, and I hit the floor. That was all she wrote. It was terrible. It hurt bad, but the thing that bothered me most was the sound. I never experienced anything like that.”
Zingano said she will be able to resume training in six to nine months. She said the most crushing part of the injury is that she will lose the opportunity to fight Rousey for the belt. She said White promised her she would have the first shot at the Tate-Rousey winner.
White said it made the most sense to put Tate into the spot rather than one of the UFC’s other women fighters.
“Miesha has the most experience,” White said. “She’d probably won the first two rounds of that fight with Cat and if it had gone to the cards, she’d probably have won by decision. The nice thing having Cat in there coaching against Ronda is that Cat was undefeated, and so we had this whole thing of two undefeated fighters facing off.
“But with Miesha, she and Ronda already had a great fight and they have a history together. They don’t like each other. We’ll make it work. We always do. You know how I say every day when I wake up, I know some bad [expletive] is going to happen? Well, this was one of them, but we’re doing the best we can here.”