The newest installment of The Ultimate Fighter will kick off tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1, and for the first time in five seasons, a champion will be crowned as the women's flyweight division is introduced into the UFC.
Following the rise of Ronda Rousey and the women's bantamweight division, the UFC eventually introduced a second women's division with the strawweights being introduced back on The Ultimate Fighter 20. That year, Carla Esparza won the inaugural title at 115 pounds after going through one of the toughest tournaments in the history of the series, one that included a slew of fighters who are still competing in the UFC today.
Now 16 more fighters will look to achieve the same goal as the season kicks off with the 125-pound women ready to establish themselves in the Octagon.
The first episode of the season will actually go back to the early part of the summer, when the UFC held open tryouts in Las Vegas to cast the show. Virtually every season of the show has some sort of audition process, but this was a particularly important phase of the tournament, considering the 16 women chosen would go on to compete for the first women's flyweight championship in UFC history.
With matchmaker Sean Shelby and UFC President Dana White keeping a watchful eye on the action, they looked over the best of the best at 125 pounds before selecting the 16 fighters who will represent the flyweight division this season.
There are more than a few familiar names amongst the cast, maybe none bigger than Ultimate Fighter season 18 participant Roxanne Modafferi, who returns to the reality show with a new set of skills and a whole lot of determination to prove herself after coming up short in her previous stint on the series.
When Modafferi showed up back in 2013, she had just relocated to the United States from a job she had in Japan with a focus to finally make a serious push in her mixed martial arts career. Modafferi was already a veteran, but she hadn't been able to devote as much time to her training while also working in Japan. Unfortunately, Modafferi made it on to the show but failed to get past the preliminary round matchups when she lost to eventual show finalist Jessica Rakoczy. Following another loss at the finale to current top 10-ranked bantamweight Raquel Pennington, Modafferi moved to a more natural flyweight division, where she signed with Invicta FC and started to really put together her complete fighting game.
Now she's back in The Ultimate Fighter with a goal to not only improve upon her last performance, but to make it all the way to the finals and become the first ever UFC women's flyweight champion.
Once the tryouts get wrapped up and the fighters are selected, the UFC matchmakers will seed the 16 fighters into the tournament before the coaches pick their teams. Much like season 20, the 16 fighters will be ranked from No. 1 to No. 16. Each coach will make their selection and the fighter opposite them in the tournament will automatically go to the other team. For instance, whoever is selected as the No. 1 fighter will be picked for one team and the No. 16 seed is automatically chosen as their opponent and placed on the opposing squad.
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This season will see two of the most exciting lightweights in the sport serving as coaches, as they look to lead their respective teams until one fighter is left standing as the new women's flyweight champion.
Former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez will get his first shot at coaching the show after a very successful career thus far in the UFC. Alvarez has faced a murderers row since arriving in the UFC and he scored impressive wins over Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez before delivering a knockout against Rafael Dos Anjos that earned him the lightweight title. Alvarez came up short in his first title defense as he fell to current champion Conor McGregor, but he wants nothing more than to climb back up the contender's ladder until he can get another shot at the gold.
Opposing Alvarez this season will be former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion and undefeated 155-pound wrecking machine Justin Gaethje.
Gaethje made his debut earlier this year during The Ultimate Fighter season 25 finale, where he put on a Fight of the Year performance in knocking out veteran lightweight Michael Johnson. Gaethje is known for his devastating style inside the cage, where he always lays it all on the line, and he's willing to go toe-to-toe with anybody In the world. That attitude will serve him well as he tries to coach this team of flyweight competitors looking to leave it all in the Octagon with a shot at gold at stake this season.
Before the fighters are shuffled on to their teams this season, it's up to Alvarez and Gaethje to put them through a rigorous workout to find out who will be the top selections. There is definitely a lot of veteran talent on the show this season, such as former Invicta FC flyweight champion Barb Honchak, as well as multi-fight UFC veteran Lauren Murphy, so Alvarez and Gaethje will have to really examine the fighters to determine who should make up the teams.
Plus, the UFC matchmakers have already seeded the tournament and determined the first round matchups, so it will be interesting to see if the coaches peg the top fighters in the tournament as they make their selections. Remember, Alvarez and Gaethje have no idea about the rankings, so they will make blind selections when picking their teams and only then will the seeds be revealed.
Once the teams are selected, then it's time for the action to get underway because the first fight of the season will kick off on the debut episode this week.
When it's all said and done, the UFC women's flyweight division will officially get underway as The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion kicks off tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1.