The latest season of The Ultimate Fighter got off to an explosive start last week as heavyweights and women's featherweights were introduced to the show under the watchful eyes of middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and top-ranked contender Kelvin Gastelum.
After team selections were made, the first fight of the season unfolded, with Team Gastelum's Maurice Greene earning a vicious knockout against Team Whittaker's Przemyslaw Mysiala in the opening round.
With the heavyweights kicking things off, the women's featherweight division will be showcased this week with a pair of former Invicta FC fighters facing off as Team Gastelum's Pannie Kianzad takes on Katharina Lehner.
Kianzad comes to the show with a 10-3 professional record, including a two-fight win streak before she was selected to join the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. Kianzad was born in Iran before moving with her family to Sweden back in 1993.
While she still calls Sweden her home, Kianzad actually travels across a nearby border to train in neighboring Denmark, which is where her mixed martial arts team resides.
Kianzad is definitely one of the most experienced fighters entering the competition this season from the women's featherweight division. She's a former Cage Warriors champion and she's faced a long list of top fighters throughout her career.
In fact, Kianzad holds wins over a pair of current UFC fighters with a TKO against Lina Lansberg and a unanimous decision victory against Jessica-Rose Clark. She's also taken on opponents such as Tonya Evinger and Sarah Kaufman in the past as well, so Kianzad not only has experience, but she's gone up against some serious competition during her career.
While her earliest combat sports experience comes from boxing, Kianzad is a pure MMA fighter these days, with an expansive arsenal that will definitely make her one of the toughest outs during the tournament this season. Kianzad possesses strong hands and knockout power, as well as a suffocating ground game that can give anybody trouble.
As she prepares for her fight this week, Gastelum will work with Kianzad on a game plan that he believes will break down and beat Lehner from start to finish.
Gastelum's team got off to a great start in the debut episode and he would love nothing more than to go 2-0 with wins at heavyweight and featherweight before Whittaker gets his first fight selection next week.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the cage will stand Katharina Lehner, a 7-1 fighter who hails from Cologne, Germany.
Lehner is another multi-fight veteran from Invicta FC, where she picked up a TKO win in her debut before falling to UFC veteran Sarah Kaufman in her most recent fight, which stands as the only loss on her record.
Germany has definitely produced more than a few solid UFC fighters over the years, including Nick Hein, Dennis Siver and Peter Sobotta. Women's MMA has definitely flourished in Germany more recently, but there's no doubt that the sport is still developing there, with more and more athletes coming from the area every year.
Lehner hopes to not only make her way to the UFC but to become the first women's fighter from Germany to get a win inside the Octagon (Sheila Gaff was the other German fighter but she was 0-2 in the UFC).
Lehner is best known for her striking skills, which is probably where she'll look to keep this fight against Kianzad. Lehner doesn't have quite as much experience, but she's never shied away from facing top competition and this will be no different.
Considering her proclivity for a standup battle, Lehner is definitely working under the perfect coach with Whittaker getting her ready for the fight ahead. Whittaker has earned a reputation for being one of the most devastating strikers on the entire UFC roster, with notable knockouts over a long list of middleweights and even a few welterweights as well. Now he'll look to get Lehner ready for the fight against Kianzad while trying to get his team onto the board with their first win of the season.
Elsewhere this week, Gastelum will deal with one of his fighters who didn't exactly come to the show ready to compete.
Fighters selected for the show go through a tryout, which is an evaluation of their skills that are then scored by the UFC matchmakers before final decisions are made on who gets called into the house. But there's no perfect system between those selections and when the fighters arrive in Las Vegas to determine that they'll be in the best shape possible as the competition kicks off.
In the past, fighters have struggled to make weight because they weren't totally prepared to compete during the early days of filming, and that can make for a tough situation. While it's tough to believe heavyweights would have those same struggles, there's at least one fighter on Gastelum's team who will raise a couple red flags in the upcoming episode.
It will be up to the middleweight title contender to make sure his fighter is going to be ready when his name is called. Of course, for all the privacy that the teams have during their sessions, fighters talk when they get back to the house and it's no secret that coaches will often target somebody they deem as the weakest link when selecting opponents.
If Whittaker smells blood on Gastelum's team, he might just go after that heavyweight for the next fight of the season.
Once all that is finished, it will be time for the latest fight of the season as Kianzad looks to put Team Gastelum up 2-0 while kicking off things for the women's featherweights.