The two-hour premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 begins with a moment that has been teased for many weeks in promos. Ronda Rousey finds out that it will be Miesha Tate, not Cat Zingano, who will coach opposite her for the season’s duration.
Predictably, Rousey is about as happy with the news as a Deep Purple fan at a Miley Cyrus show. Rousey is initially worried that she has been replaced by Tate, but she is later relieved to find out that Tate will instead be her opponent due to a last-minute knee injury to Zingano.
This season marks the first time women will compete on the show. The 16 women fighting in the qualifying round will be accompanied by 16 men, meaning that 16 bantamweights in total will be coached by Rousey and Tate after today’s elimination round cuts the field in half.
After narrowly avoiding Rousey’s wrath, UFC President Dana White greets the 32 fighters and reminds them of the stakes, urging all of them to leave any personal hang-ups behind in order to give their best in the Octagon.
“You don’t want to be that guy riding home on the bus tomorrow. Do everything you can,” says White. “Punch, kick, knee, slam, go for submissions. If you ever fought a fight in your entire life, make that f---ing fight tomorrow.”
Former model and Invicta Fighting Championships alum Jessamyn Duke is the first fighter in the cage, and she is followed by British talent Laura Howarth. The rangy Duke stalks her foe with straight rights and hits a head-and-arm throw, but Howarth reverses her and lands in Duke’s rubber guard. Howarth slips out of armbar and omoplata attempts, but Duke locks up a slick triangle choke to force the tap.
Danny Martinez and Davey Grant are up next. Martinez charges forward with wild left hooks to start, but Grant fends him off and catches him with a knee to the bread basket. Not long after, the Brit drops a 12-to-6 elbow directly to Martinez’s spine. Referee Herb Dean warns him but does not take a point. Martinez hits a takedown but falls into a triangle just as the round expires. Grant floors the Arizonan with a clean left but erases it all when he knees the downed fighter square in the face. This time, Dean deducts a point, but it matters little, as Grant sprawls on a takedown and rolls into a beautiful armbar finish.
Former boxer Jessica Rakoczy and Revelina Berto -- daughter of UFC 10 vet Dieuseul Berto -- are now in the cage, and they do not disappoint. Rakoczy escapes a series of submission attempts before locking up an unorthodox armlock of her own to force Berto to relent.
Mike Wootten and Emil Hartsner then proceed to stink up the joint by grinding against the cage. Wootten wins a three-round decision.
Peggy Morgan is up next against the much smaller Bethany Marshall. Morgan mounts her opponent almost immediately and pounds away with hammer fists until referee Steve Mazzagatti mercifully ends the contest. Both coaches are impressed by the massive Morgan.
“Peggy don’t give a f---,” Rousey explains.
Seasoned veteran Roxanne Modafferi squares off with Quebecer Valerie Letourneau. Modafferi takes her down and eventually transitions to the back, locking up a body triangle and cinching a rear-naked choke.
Two Iowans will next do battle, as Tim Gorman meets undefeated Lee Sandmeier. Gorman takes down Sandmeier, mounts him and wrecks him with punches and elbows to earn the first-round stoppage.
Seventeen-fight pro Tonya Evinger faces Invicta vet Raquel Pennington next. Evinger grinds Pennington down in the early going, but Pennington catches her in round two with a guillotine choke.
Undefeated Chris Beal, a cancer survivor, takes it to Sirwan Kakai, dropping the Swedish prospect with a lead uppercut. Though Kakai manages to score a takedown and apply a guillotine choke, Beal escapes and punishes him with more leather to the face en route to a decision win.
The stocky Josh Hill uses his hulking physique and superior wrestling base to cruise to a decision win over Irish talent Patrick Holohan, much to the displeasure of the UFC boss, who confesses his distaste for fighters who try to “wrestle-f---” their opponents.
Former Super Fight League talent Colleen Schneider takes on EliteXC, Strikeforce and Invicta vet Shayna Baszler. “The Queen of Spades” quickly takes Schneider down and achieves back-mount, only to see “Bisquit” worm away. Baszler hits another takedown and grabs an armbar, forcing Schneider to tap out after a minor struggle to extend the arm.
Louis Fisette charges hard to start his bout with Chris Holdsworth and takes him down but soon finds himself caught in an armbar and then a triangle choke. Holdsworth fights to find his squeeze, but Fisette pops his head out and punishes his foe with ground-and pound. Holdsworth reverses the position, however, and locks up an arm-triangle. This time, the leverage is there, and Fisette has no option but to tap out.
Julianna Pena takes the fight to Gina Mazany to kick off their bout, taking her opponent down, mounting her and dropping violent strikes in round one before flooring Mazany standing in round two. The outcome is never in doubt, and Pena gets her hand raised via decision.
High-school dropout Matt Munsey meets Titan Fighting Championship fan-favorite Anthony Gutierrez. “Sharkbait” grabs an apparently uneventful decision win, and referee Kim Winslow forgets his last name while announcing him as the winner.
Longtime pro Tara LaRosa clashes with Sarah Moras in the final women’s bout of the night. Moras eats a hard jab and then takes the fight to the floor, threatening with a triangle choke as the fight ends. Moras picks up the decision win, upsetting the veteran and sending LaRosa home.
The undefeated Rafael de Freitas meets Bellator tournament veteran Cody Bollinger to close out the men’s bouts. Bollinger takes his man down, but the Brazilian works his way back to his feet and jumps guard with a guillotine choke. The American slips out of the choke, but “Barata” catches him in a loose triangle to end round one. The second frame unfolds differently, with Bollinger teeing off on de Freitas standing. Both men are exhausted, but Bollinger gets the job done with punches against the cage.
It’s time for Tate and Rousey select their squads. Rousey wins the coin toss and elects to take the first-matchup privilege instead of picking the first fighter. Tate then selects Pena as her first female fighter, followed by Moras, Pennington and Modafferi. Rousey chooses Baszler, Duke, Morgan and Rakoczy. On the men’s side, Tate picks Bollinger, Holdsworth, Hill and Gorman, while Rousey takes Beal, Grant, Gutierrez and Wootten.
White puts Rousey on the spot and asks her to select the first fight. Rousey decides to pit the top two women’s picks against one another, and Baszler will meet Pena next week.