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The Ultimate Fighter returns for season 19 tonight, with former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar making his first appearance on the show after being a member of the UFC roster for the last seven years. He will coach opposite fellow former champion BJ Penn, who returns for coaching duties for the second time after leading a team of lightweights during season five.
Ironically enough, Edgar actually tried out for The Ultimate Fighter once upon a time, but didn't make the list for the final casting of the show. Care to guess which season he tried out for? Yep, you guessed it -- Edgar tried and came up short during season five when Penn was one of the coaches alongside rival and former UFC champion Jens Pulver. Also, one other piece of information to chew on is that Edgar's greatest rival since coming to the UFC, Gray Maynard, was also a contestant on season five, where he made it to the semifinals of the tournament before being eliminated.
This season, Edgar and Penn will coach against each other before doing battle for a third time inside the Octagon. The bout will go down July 6 in Las Vegas, with Penn making the cut to featherweight for the first time in his storied career as he attempts to get revenge against Edgar after losing to the New Jersey native twice before.
The cast for TUF 19 will include light heavyweights and middleweights all vying for a shot to make the finale and earn the six-figure contract with the UFC. Considering some of the talent that's come off The Ultimate Fighter lately, including top 15-ranked welterweight Kelvin Gastelum, Uriah Hall, Julianna Pena, Raquel Pennington, Myles Jury, TJ Dillashaw and John Dodson, the stakes are higher than ever to not only win, but to go and do great things once you arrive in the UFC.
Among the competitors you'll meet in the debut episode is Tyler King - a former heavyweight who drops down to 205 pounds for the show. King comes from a very athletic family, including his dad Steve King, who played for the New England Patriots for eight years during the 70s and 80s. His son followed suit, and Tyler actually played in the NFL for several teams as well before he transitioned to mixed martial arts full-time.
One familiar name fans will finally meet on TUF 19 is Irishman Cathal Pendred. If the name rings a bell, it's because Pendred led a charge on Twitter last year, doing everything in his power to get the attention of UFC President Dana White to grant him a shot inside the Octagon. He also employed the services of his teammate and good friend Conor McGregor to help push his agenda, and eventually the UFC gave him his shot, and now he'll compete on The Ultimate Fighter season 19. Pendred is joined by Chris Fields, another Irishman who fights in the light heavyweight division, as he attempts to get in the house as well. As an added bonus, McGregor will be in attendance during the elimination round to hopefully spread a little luck of the Irish to his friends and teammates.
Lyman Good will surely get a few looks going into the fights this week because as a former welterweight champion from Bellator he would seemingly have the experience to take him far in this competition. Then again, having a name that everybody knows can easily backfire, considering that automatically puts a target on his back from the first day he shows up in Las Vegas waiting to fight.
You'll also meet several fighters this year who are going into TUF as a do-over from past seasons where they didn't make the cut. Nordine Taleb becomes the first fighter to ever compete in back-to-back seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. He was a contestant on the TUF Nations season that just finished airing, and now he returns for The Ultimate Fighter 19 as well. He's joined by Tim Williams, who attempted to make the TUF house during season 17, but was eliminated by current UFC middleweight and Australian Dylan Andrews in the elimination round. Jake Heun also tried out for season 17, but lost to Adam Cella in the first fight of the season. Now he's back with a new found determination to make it into the house, and erase the bad memories of his past experience.
As Jules Winfield from Pulp Fiction would say, “personality goes a long way,” and a guy by the name of Doug Sparks is brimming with that as he enters the season. Well, personality or at least a guy you'll be mesmerized watching on TV because - and yes, this is for real - he wears polar bear ears on his head at all times except for when he's fighting. It's so bizarre it sounds fake, but watch and see when you meet Sparks for the first time. Oh, and to make things even better, his nickname is “Ants in the Pants.”
There are also quite a few notable 'teammates' on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, including Matt Van Buren, who works at the Alliance Training Center alongside UFC light heavyweight contenders Alexander Gustafsson and Phil Davis. Eddie Gordon, who is a training partner of UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman and works under the same coaches, Ray Longo and Matt Serra. Then there's Dhiego Lima, who works with former UFC middleweight Brian Stann, while Dan Spohn is an Ohio native who has trained with fellow TUF alums Matt Brown and Luke Zachrich.
The fights to get into the house during the first episode will definitely leave a few jaws on the floor, including a knockout that will likely make Uriah Hall apologize to Adam Cella all over again. If you remember Hall connecting with a spinning back kick that absolutely floored Cella during season 17, the way this fight ends on the debut episode of The Ultimate Fighter 19 should send shivers down your spine.
One of the best parts of the debut episode also includes a slew of finishes and variations of how they get there, including a few knockouts, a few good submissions and even one good old fashioned slobberknocker that’s going to make you feel bad that either guy has to go home when the day is over.
There's no shortage of great action and drama in this first episode, as the fighters compete to live their dreams, and it's always going to be a day full of highs and lows as the families, wives and girlfriends of the competitors fill the stands to watch and cheer on their loved ones. Some tears will be shed, some hearts will be broken, and when it's over, 16 fighters will be left standing to compete on the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter.