The Ultimate Fighter season 20 premieres Wednesday, September 10 at 10pm ET on FOX Sports 1
For over 20 seasons, both domestic and abroad, The Ultimate Fighter has been a series about discovering the next wave of talent destined to make an impact in the UFC one day. It was always expected to be a development show of sorts, a Triple A of MMA, if you will.
The best prospects from around the world gathered to be coached by two of the best fighters in the UFC, and in the end at least one winner would walk home with a six-figure UFC contract and the lifetime notation on their resume of being The Ultimate Fighter champion.
Several world champions have eventually developed after being on The Ultimate Fighter - Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and T.J. Dillashaw for instance. Only one time in history have the stakes been high enough that the winner of the show would earn a UFC title fight and that was during season four, with a group of established veterans all looking to get back into the Octagon after faltering in previous attempts.
For the first time ever, the new season of The Ultimate Fighter won't focus on prospects or even veteran fighters attempting a comeback. The 20th season of the show instead features the 16 best female fighters in the world at 115 pounds. These are fighters who aren’t trying to get into the UFC - they are already in the UFC and the winner from this competition will walk out of the Octagon in December with a gold belt around their waist and the notation as the first ever UFC strawweight champion.
The UFC brought in eight of the best fighters from Invicta Fighting Championships - the premier all women's MMA league - and then held tryouts to fill the other eight slots on the show. Together, those 16 women represent the best of the best in the strawweight division, and they will compete this season with more on the line than ever before.
Guiding their journey will be UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, who joins the show as a coach for the first time ever and also as a new experience for him. Pettis has been a student of the game for several years working under famed trainer Duke Roufus, but this will actually be the first chance he's had to step into the spotlight as the leader as he tries to focus his fighters on the goal of becoming champion. On the other side of the Octagon stands former Strikeforce lightweight champion and No. 1 ranked contender Gilbert Melendez. Unlike Pettis, Melendez has been a coach for a big part of his MMA career, and he's actually coached several female fighters before, including his wife Keri, who is a former Muay Thai specialist in her own right.
Another oddity this season is the fact that so many of the competitors on this show have already fought each other in the past, so it will certainly create some unique rivalries on the first day the fighters arrive in the house. All of them will be motivated by the belt, but a few more might be motivated by revenge.
At the top of the list is the heated rivalry between popular women's star Felice Herrig and Heather Jo Clark. The two women squared off in 2013, with Herrig coming out on top by split decision, but these ladies do not like each other one bit and if they get the chance to face each other again, chances are fireworks are in order. Tecia Torres is another interesting fighter to watch this season because while she only has four professional fights on her record, two of them come against her potential opponents or training partners, depending on how things shake out in the team selections.
Torres defeated Rose Namajunas and then went on to beat Felice Herrig in her last fight before joining The Ultimate Fighter. While her experience level isn't as high as some of the other competitors on the show, Torres is expected to be a favorite going into the series and could be a pick to win the title when it's all said and done.
If Torres does make the finals, there's a good chance at some point her path will lead her on a collision course with the fighter unanimously rated as the top 115-pound fighter in the world - Carla Esparza.
Before joining The Ultimate Fighter, Esparza was the reigning and defending women's strawweight champion for Invicta FC and she holds wins over two of her housemates - Felice Herrig and Bec Rawlings. Her powerful wrestling and submission game are going to make her a favorite in the house, but those kinds of expectations also come with a certain amount of pressure. Esparza is going to have a large target on her back from the first day she steps on the show because this isn't a season filled with prospects on equal footing all trying to get a leg up on the competition. Esparza is well-known as the best strawweight in the world and now she has to back up that reputation with a few wins to get a crack at the first ever UFC title at 115 pounds.
Another interesting name to watch this season will be Jessica Penne, but not only because she's picked up wins over a couple of her potential teammates already; she's a former champion as well at 105 pounds. Penne is going up in weight for the chance to compete on The Ultimate Fighter, which means she'll be giving up some size to a few of the competitors, but what she lacks in physical prowess she more than makes up for in superb technique. Penne has wins over Angela Magana and Lisa Ellis, who are also featured on the show, and she trains with a world class team at Reign MMA and King's MMA, working with coaches like Mark Munoz and legendary Muay Thai instructor Master Rafael Cordeiro.
Then there's Scottish standout Joanne Calderwood, who comes to the UFC with a perfect 8-0 record, a destructive striking style and a soft-spoken style that may catch some viewers off guard. Calderwood prefers to do her talking in the cage, where she's racked up some very impressive wins in her career, with four of them coming by way of knockout or TKO. She's a fierce knockout artist with a long reach and a steely gaze when staring down an opponent. Calderwood won't be the loudest one in the room, but she may be the most dangerous.
All told, these 16 fighters truly are the best of the best in the world and getting to know them over the next 13 weeks will give a true glimpse into an exciting new weight class being introduced to the UFC. These fighters come from different walks of life from all over the world, but the one thing they have in common is the desire to end this show by winning the UFC strawweight title. This is a can't miss season and with every fight meaning the difference between glory or ruin, the stakes are higher than ever before.
Don't blink and make sure to watch it all starting on September 10 at 10pm ET on FOX Sports 1 as The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned begins.