The new season of The Ultimate Fighter didn't start the way strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk had hoped after she put Khalil Rountree into the first fight against his friend and teammate Cory Hendricks.
Despite Hendricks suffering from an injury that swelled his foot up to twice its normal size, he still overcame his training partner and teammate's strong striking attack to sink in a rear naked choke late in the first round and- get the victory.
The win by Hendricks not only knocked out one of Jedrzejczyk's strongest competitors, but it took away control of the fight selections and handed it back over to her rival Claudia Gadelha. So with her first choice, Gadelha took her No. 1 pick Tatiana Suarez and matched her up with Jedrzejczyk's top selection, JJ Aldrich.
While the common theme of season's past has been to pit the strongest competitors against the weakest link to thin the herd, Gadelha is looking to punish Jedrzejczyk's team right away by trying to take out her strongest strawweight in the first fight of the competition.
Suarez certainly had to endure a lot to get here, but she's earned her spot as the top choice in the competition.
Suarez is a former four-time high school wrestling champion, a two-time world medalist in freestyle wrestling and a world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Suarez was raised as a grappler and it was just a few years ago that she was ranked as one of the top freestyle wrestlers in the world when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Suarez had to battle to save her life while the disease simultaneously zapped any chance she had at making a run at the Olympics or any other wrestling competition at the time.
Now, several years later, Suarez is back on her feet as an undefeated mixed martial artist and definitely one of the strongest fighters on the show this season. Suarez earned her spot as the top choice for coach Claudia Gadelha and she'll look to justify that pick when she fights for the second time this season while trying to eliminate JJ Aldrich.
Before the fight kicks off this week, both teams will get into some intense training sessions, but it turns out the battle between Cory Hendricks and Khalil Rountree was just the beginning. It turns out the two teammates and training partners outside of the show had a wager already set before they fought that no matter who came away victorious, the two of them would then engage in a donut eating competition after the fight.
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Now every fighter who has ever competed on the show knows that chomping down donuts while cutting weight multiple times is probably not a good idea, but it looks like these two friends are willing to sacrifice a little extra time in the sauna for the sake of an eating competition. The loser of the match will also have to endure one of the most embarrassing moments in Ultimate Fighter history and this is definitely can't miss television.
Once the fighters finish eating, it's time to prepare for the fight this week as the strawweights get underway. The 115-pound women's division has flourished since debuting on The Ultimate Fighter season 20 and now they get a second time to shine with this season of the show. Considering the champion and No. 1 contender in the division are the coaches, it also stands to reason that every woman in the house will look to impress as they make their way through the competition.
With Suarez meeting Aldrich in a battle of No. 1 picks, this could also be one of the best fights of the season in only the second week.
"I expect this to be a very good fight," UFC President Dana White said ahead of Suarez vs. Aldrich.
When it comes to the matchup between these two fighters, it's a classic battle between grappler and striker, with Suarez coming from a long, rich grappling background while Aldrich was trained in taekwondo from the time she was only nine years old. Aldrich is no slouch on the ground either, with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu while also being a training partner of former title challenger Rose Namajunas, who is regarded as one of the best submission specialists in the UFC strawweight division.
Suarez is still developing her overall MMA game, with only three fights under her belt, but what she does with her wrestling is going to be tough for anyone in this competition to stop. She's a tenacious grappler who presses forward with tremendous pressure from the time the referee starts the fight. Suarez makes up for her shortcomings in striking by never allowing her opponents to have a second to breathe on the feet before she's looking to take them to the mat. Suarez also happens to be one of the bigger, stronger competitors this season, so her ability to out muscle her opponents could be a huge advantage over a smaller fighter like Aldrich.
The key for Aldrich is clear - stuff the takedown and make Suarez pay every time she decides to shoot from the outside. Aldrich is working with Jedrzejczyk, who has great takedown defense, but since this fight is so early into the competition, it's hard to say how much she could have picked up from the strawweight champion. Aldrich needs to sprawl early and often and stay away from the cage to prevent Suarez from just overwhelming her with wrestling throughout this fight.
Aldrich is a game fighter with a lot of heart and a ton of power. She only needs to connect with a few hard shots and that will make Suarez think twice before shooting in for another takedown.
This really could be one of the best fights of the season and will certainly set the tone for the women's division with the two top picks squaring off right away.
Can Team Joanna get back on track and take out Gadelha's top pick? Or will Team Claudia continue to reign supreme with another victory to go up 2-0 in the competition? Tune into The Ultimate Fighter tonight on FS1 to find out.