The Ultimate Fighter Latin America kicks off on UFC FIGHT PASS on Tuesday, 12am ET
The newest international version of The Ultimate Fighter will debut this week, as TUF Latin America comes to UFC FIGHT PASS with 16 of the best competitors from Mexico and Latin America squaring off while coaches Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum lead these teams of featherweights and bantamweights through the toughest tournament in sports.
The entire season will lead to the first ever UFC event in Mexico on November 15, with UFC 180 featuring the finals of The Ultimate Fighter as well as the matchup between the coaches when the heavyweight title is up for grabs between Velasquez and Werdum.
The newest season of the show, along with the UFC debut in Mexico, is more than a decade in the making, according to UFC President Dana White, who has long dreamed about expanding the company's foothold into Latin America. Mexico, in particular, has been a hot spot that White has wanted to conquer due to the extreme popularity of sports like boxing in the area, and he's had a vision for years to bring mixed martial arts to the masses and watch the sport explode just like he's witnessed in countries like Canada, England and Brazil.
"I have waited 15 years for this," White said in the debut episode, airing on August 26 on UFC Fight Pass.
The fighters all moved from around the world to Las Vegas, where they lived and trained for six weeks while participating on the show. The teams break down like this
Bantamweights: Enrique Briones, José Alberto Quiñones, Alex Pérez and Marco Beltran.
Featherweights: Gabriel Benítez, Yair Rodríguez, Rodolfo Rubio and Masiosare Fullen.
Bantamweights: Marlon Vera, Bentley Syler, Guido Cannetti and Fredy Serrano.
Featherweights: Alexander Torres, Diego Rivas, Leo Morales, Humberto Brown.
Now if there is an advantage for either side at the start of the competition it falls in favor of Mexico, if for no other reason than the fact that many of the fighters either already knew one another or have trained together in the past. It's no secret that Mexico is a burgeoning area for mixed martial arts, but the amount of high level gyms in the area are still at a minimum, so many of the fighters on the show have already crossed paths in the past.
There are also a lot of experienced fighters on the Mexican side, which could give them an advantage in the early going in the competition as the coaches still find out what these guys are made of during the initial series of practices. Some of the top names on the show actually trained at camps in the United States prior to moving to Las Vegas. Featherweight Alex Perez, for instance, trains primarily at gyms such as Team Oyama, where UFC flyweight standout Ian McCall works on a daily basis.
The Latin American side doesn't have the same experience, but there are still some very talented fighters competing for Fabricio Werdum. The first piece of the puzzle that will need to be figured out will be the team unity portion, since most of these fighters are coming out of different countries from all over Latin America. Some are from Colombia, others from Ecuador, Bolivia and a few other spots such as Argentina, as well. The bonding for this team will be much more like past seasons of the reality show, but ultimately, this is an individual sport where the spotlight will shine down on one person standing in the Octagon when it's fight time.
Don't let the overall records fool you because there are some seriously talented fighters on the Latin America side, including names such as Bentley Syler (normally a flyweight going up to 135 pounds for this season of the show), who routinely works out of American Top Team in Florida - the same team responsible for Robbie Lawler, Hector Lombard and a slew of top 10 fighters already in the UFC. There's also Fredy Serrano, who fights in the bantamweight division out of Colombia. While his MMA record only reads 1-0, it's Serrano's resume outside the cage that should catch everybody's attention, as he is a 2008 Olympian in freestyle wrestling. So while his MMA game is still evolving, he's got a grappling pedigree few, if any, will be able to match on the show.
As the fighters move into the house, there are a few key things to remember for this inaugural season. First, there are no fights to gain entry into the house, so the teams are already divided up and ready to go. That also means there won't be nearly as much of a learning curve as usual when the coaches are picking and choosing the first matchup. Whoever gets the first fight selection between Velasquez and Werdum will have to choose based on only a couple of practices, the conversations held with the fighters, and maybe some early video study before heading on to the show to educate themselves on these competitors.
And like every international version of The Ultimate Fighter, home country pride is on the line, which always turns up the heat a few extra notches. It's one thing to represent yourself and your home gym - it's a whole other element when an entire country is watching and rooting for you to win and make them proud. In many ways, the international versions of The Ultimate Fighter are an MMA Olympics of sorts, where the best of the best from one region of the world tries to outwork and defeat another.
With those kinds of stakes on the line and a six figure UFC contract hanging overhead, expect nothing but the best from these 16 newcomers all trying to become the latest Ultimate Fighter.
TUF: Latin America kicks off August 26 at 12am ET in the United States, exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS.