Note: I really don't want to get into trouble for racism so I'll clear something up by saying any references to Armenians cutting people's fingers off are purely down to TUF 12's crazy Sevak Magakian, who made reference to cutting fingers like four times during that season and had me in stitches. For the record I love watching the whole Hayastan crew and I mean no disrespect at all to Armenian people.
Onto TUF 18. This was the season in late 2013 and was the first to have women as well as men in the house, with both Bantamweight divisions in the spotlight. Original coaches were Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano, leading to their title fight, but Cat blew her knee out and so Miesha Tate stepped in, probably making for a better season actually. I'm a big fan of Cat obviously but the Ronda/Miesha rivalry was a huge one where I think Ronda and Cat largely get along and have a professional rivalry.
Episode 1: As per usual we begin with the entry fights, but before that it's a bit of DRAMA!~! Ronda arrives first at the training centre and soon after, Miesha walks in. Ronda is all like, what are YOU doing here to which Miesha says she's here to coach. Obviously this was a total shock given Cat's photo is still up on the wall and everything. Cue a total meltdown from Ronda as she storms off the set. This is really weird but might give us an insight into Ronda's psyche somewhat as Fucking Fucking Dana White explains the meltdown wasn't due to her having to coach against Miesha, but actually because she THOUGHT MIESHA WAS REPLACING HER. That's totally crazy given she's the star of the show whether it's against Miesha or Cat, but yeah. Wild. Entry fights begin and while the backstories of the fighters do tend to merge a bit, a few REALLY interesting things are quite notable. Firstly, you've got FOUR fighters losing in the entry fights who eventually ended up in the UFC proper (Valerie Letourneau, Patrick Holohan, Danny Martinez, Sirwan Kakai) which is crazy, especially when you consider right now in the UFC there's as many male fighters who lost in the entry fights as there are actually made it to the show. Of those losers, Holohan and Martinez look like it's down to size (both are 125lbers now); Kakai just gets hit REALLY HARD by Chris Beal, and Letourneau to me seems to suffer a massive adrenaline dump which allows longtime veteran Roxanne Modafferi choke her out. That leads onto the next notable point - in the women's division they had a handful of proper veterans of WMMA in Shayna Baszler, Modafferi, Tonya Evinger and Tara LaRosa. Only Shayna and Roxy make it through. Evinger is currently whining and shooting her mouth and being wildly anti-UFC but she lost in TUF so the joke's on her. Best fight here looks like the wild shootout between Cody Bollinger and an undersized Rafael de Freitas, but also cool are Tim Gorman running over his opponent with wild aggression, Julianna Pena absolutely pounding her opponent into mush, a grappling war between Chris Holdsworth and Louis Fisette (won by Holdsworth) and boxer Jessica Rakoczy somehow busting out an OMA PLATA to win her fight. Not so good are the wins by Brit Michael Wootten and Canadian Josh Hill, fights that piss Dana off no end. Coin toss follows and Ronda wins, deciding to pick the first fight. So Miesha gets first fighter pick and takes Pena, with Ronda taking Baszler. And surprisingly Ronda decides that's next week's match. Tremendous opening act.
Episode 2: Right away we start with laying some characters down, with Chris Holdsworth and Anthony Gutierrez seemingly competing for the title of House Sleazebag, although it must be said that Anthony comes off as being more desperate whereas Holdsworth just seems open to possibilities. We've also got Tim Gorman who establishes himself as the House Sexist, saying he could never bring himself to go 100% in training with the girls and that he doesn't know who Miesha even is. Dude comes off like a more chill version of Junie Browning, like Junie without the psychotic nature and wild drinking habits. So it's disappointing when it's revealed he's got to go without even fighting as he tore his hamstring off the bone during his entry fight. Dana promises him a crack in the UFC but damn, I wanted to see this guy in the house. Replacing Tim is Louis Fisette which is a GREAT choice given how he fought in the entry round. We are also told that he lives with his parents, which we didn't really need to know, but it's funny anyway. Fight is also built well as Shayna won't shut up about how much she's sacrificed over the years in order to get to this point, which would be cool, but she also comes off as super-arrogant, saying Julianna doesn't belong in the cage with her, she ought to be attending her seminars (!), etc. Julianna is really humble and just seems happy to be there. Total underdog against a big favourite type deal. And the UNDERDOG WINS as Shayna gets surprised by the aggression of Julianna and tagged by punches early. She does come back to probably win the round in fact with some sharp ground control, but in the second Julianna somehow turns up the heat again, stuns the veteran and ends up stunning her with a rear naked choke submission. Tremendous showing from Pena and a big red flag for those thinking the old vets would run the table here. Ronda shows herself to be maybe TUF's most emotional coach as she outright cries post-fight and while choking back her tears, promises to ABSOLUTELY DESTROY Miesha for apparently "smiling at Shayna's pain". Episode ends with Miesha setting up Chris Holdsworth against Chris Beal in a striker vs. grappler match, Holdsworth being Miesha's top BJJ guy. Ronda is furious with this as Beal has a swollen hand, but again choking back tears she says Beal will fucking win with one hand. This was one of the best episodes of TUF I've seen in a long time.
Episode 3: We begin with a bit of stupid controversy as after Miesha has presented Julianna with a milkshake and then consoled Shayna on her loss (Shayna for the record seems torn as I guess she was friends with Miesha pre-show but then got close to Ronda during it), Cody Bollinger of Team Tate decides to accuse Julianna of leaking the fights they're planning to Team Rousey. This is ridiculous as he has no proof and as we've seen in the last EIGHTEEN FUCKING SEASONS this kind of planning NEVER WORKS. Shit even when Shonie left the notepad out it didn't go to plan! Turns out the whole thing stemmed from Jessamyn Duke of Team Rousey telling Roxy of Team Tate that she's psychic and knows the picks. According to Duke, Cody overhead and used it as an excuse to go after Julianna. Dude comes off like a wanker and he's also got this seedy-looking moustache that makes him more heelish. Naturally we also get a confrontation between Ronda and Miesha again as this time everyone's drinking at the Red Rock Casino, and somehow things escalate into Miesha and the weasel-ish Bryan Caraway trying to say Ronda has no stand-up. This was after Caraway threatened her on Twitter, too. Anyway Caraway seems out of his depth here as Ronda's whole coaching crew and entourage is filled with CRAZY ARMENIANS!~! including head coach Edmond Tarverdyan and TUF veteran Manny Gamburyan. Unfortunately neither guy threatens to cut Caraway's fingers off though. Around all this is the build to Holdsworth vs. Beal. We go for the light side first with Holdsworth reading a "good luck" letter written to him from Julianna, which comes off like a fifteen-year old reading dirty texts from a girl to his buddies. As in, not really good or smart, but somehow inevitable. And usually I don't pay much attention to the backstories but in this case they had me hooked as both guys lost a brother to gangland shootings. If they weren't fighting I'd love to see them discuss their experiences. Fight though is one-sided traffic. Everyone - Dana included - expected Beal to look to strike while Holdsworth shot for takedowns, but instead Holdsworth uses a much smoother boxing game to destroy Beal standing, before knocking him down and finishing with a slick guillotine. Holdsworth looked incredible here, like a UFC-ready fighter from the off. Season rules so far.
Episode 4: With Holdsworth vs. Beal done Miesha picks the next fight and it's longtime veteran Roxanne Modafferi against Ronda's former pro-boxer Jessica Rakoczy. Basically another striker vs. grappler deal. Feud between Team Ronda and Team Miesha continues with a vengeance as this time, Dennis Hallman shows up as a guest coach for Team Tate and decides to pick a fight with Edmond Tarverdyan. I know they were trying to argue that Edmond started this but to me it looked like Hallman was calling him out. Edmond looks ready to go even though he suspects that the whole thing is a ploy to trick him into fighting and getting booted from the show. Thankfully though Ronda manages to shut the whole thing down by telling Hallman to at least pick a better time i.e. when the cameras aren't around. Which isn't REALLY a "better time" per say but I can see her point. In the end Uncle Dana has to step in to calm the whole situation. I know a lot of people slammed Ronda and her crew for their attitude at the time but to me Miesha's crew were more to blame for this whole feud as they come off like the smug school bullies who get away with it all when someone who's being poked understandably gets violent. Anyway the majority of the episode is focused on Modafferi who has like a geeky-type persona but just seems like the nicest person you'd ever meet and literally nobody in the house has a bad word to say about her. Can't remember that with like, anyone on any series of TUF I don't think. Shayna Baszler in particularly loves her to death. Unfortunately though being well-liked doesn't win you fights. To be fair Roxy does really well with her ground game in the first couple of minutes of the fight, but once she winds up on the bottom she's in big trouble and eventually loses steam completely, leading to a second-round TKO for Rakoczy. To me this was a classic case of a more skilled fighter being stomped in the end by a better athlete with enough skill to negate the technical advantages, if that makes sense. It's the first win for Team Ronda but everyone's gutted for Roxy naturally. She's upset, but seems to take it in her stride. Next up is one of Ronda's two token Brits, Davey Grant, against Louis Fisette - the replacement.
Episode 5: I was half-asleep watching this last night so I may have things out of order, so yeah. First big deal to me is Anthony Gutierrez in this episode coming off like a total idiot. There's a game of truth or dare going on and it's all good fun at first. Josh Hill is dared to try a shitty pick up line on Roxanne so he busts out "Nice boots, wanna fuck?" which for the record Justin T. advised me to use back in the day. I never did use it for fear of being slapped or something, maybe I was wrong though. Roxy laughs it off thankfully, but then the game turns a little, shall we say needle-ish as Anthony is asked who he thinks the weakest fighter in the house is and without any delay he says Louis, as he lost his entry fight. Uh, dude, he did lose but it was to a fucking BEAST in Holdsworth who at this point had beaten Chris Beal far worse than he did Louis. And really you can't judge on that sort of thing when you consider guys like Paddy Holohan lost in the entry fights and stuff. Louis to be fair to him shrugs it off because you can only imagine how badly a guy like Junie Browning or Julian Lane would've flipped over this, wow. Then we get a really foreshadowing moment when it's explained that the men of the house are struggling with their weight a bit due to a not-so-clean diet. Holdsworth admits he's finding it hard as Julianna keeps cooking for him, but Gutierrez and Cody Bollinger - the two guys who have come off the worst thus far - both seem confident and Anthony thinks he can eat what he likes while Cody says he ALWAYS makes weight. Just wait, dude. Meanwhile in training Ronda's mother - former judo champ AnnMaria DeMars - makes an appearance as a guest coach. She's stonefaced, intense and incredibly serious, which might explain a lot of Ronda's personality traits. Looks like a hell of a coach though. And it's PRANK TIME and of course it's quite a shitty one as Miesha leaves a figurine of Count Dracula in Team Ronda's dressing room to taunt Edmond who they think looks like him. Ronda decides to get rid before the Armenian can spot it to avoid another confrontation. Fight between Grant and Fisette is absolutely DOMINATED by the Brit who takes Louis down and wrecks him with ground-and-pound. Looks like the fight could be stopped at the end of the first, but it just about makes it into the second where Grant beats Louis until he gives his back for a rear naked choke. Tremendous showing from Davey who lived up to his 'Dangerous' nickname for sure. Team Ronda evens it up at two apiece and next up is a likely brawl between Ronda's lanky former model Jessamyn Duke and brawler and openly gay Raquel Pennington of Team Tate. Not a dull episode yet which is excellent.
Episode 6: Not much in the way of character build in this episode outside of Raquel Pennington who comes off great as a woman who's overcome a lot, mainly the fact that she's openly gay and obviously had to come out to her family and friends and stuff. It's crazy to me that literally nobody cares that Raquel is gay as it doesn't make a difference to who she is or how she fights and stuff, but if a male fighter came out as gay he'd likely still be ostracised. Frightening given we're in 2015 but yeah. Raquel and Sarah Moras are also given makeovers by Julianna Pena, who is I guess more in touch with her uber-feminine side, not that Raquel or Sarah are overly butch anyway to be fair. Previous episode promised a brawl between Raquel and Jessamyn Duke and holy shit do they deliver. It's basically a female version of Griffin vs. Bonnar as both girls trade shots from the opening to the final buzzer. First round goes to Duke who manages to use her range, but once Raquel finds a way to wade into the pocket and do damage from there the fight is all hers. Great fight and Fucking Dana White is absolutely gushing over both girls but especially Raquel of course because she's the winner. You can see why the UFC have given Duke so many chances though because she did show incredible heart and bravery. So Miesha's in control and in the lead again and the next fight is Ronda's second token Brit Michael Wootten taking on Miesha's Canadian former model Josh Hill. Interestingly these were the two fighters who least impressed Dana in the entry round. Fight made this episode as very little else happened.
Episode 7: In a rare bit of what seems like blatant favouritism, Fucking Dana White outright tells Raquel she can win the season if she just lets her hands go more, which is interesting, but to be fair to Dana I guess it was heat of the moment stuff as he'd just witnessed an incredible fight. Meanwhile Ronda visits the house to deliver gifts for the dads of the house for Father's Day, which gets Cody Bollinger in particular emotional, giving him a rare moment where he's a sympathetic character. Miesha meanwhile makes me wonder how the hell she came out of this as a babyface as she decides to put up these posters of I think Missi Pyle in Dodgeball with 'Edmond Rousey' written on them. It's a ridiculous prank that isn't funny and again comes off as pointlessly antagonistic. Dana thankfully outright decides to stop it and removes the posters himself, but Ronda still finds out and goes fucking BALLISTIC, although she doesn't tell Edmond. Her spin is that it's racism against Armenians as it's stereotyping their facial features, which to be fair I don't buy as I don't think Tate's crew come off smart enough for that. Fight is better than either man's entry fight, as Hill - a stocky wrestler who's huge for 135lbs and reminds me of a Chad Mendes or Sean Sherk - slams Wootten around in the first to take the round, but then eats a REALLY brutal knee to open the second and ends up being dominated by the Brit. Third round sees Wootten manage to ground Hill again and on his back this guy doesn't seem to have much at all. It's a decision for Wootten in what I guess must've been an upset given Hill had been on the Bloody Elbow Scouting Reports and stuff. And continuing a trend, when Miesha tries to shake Ronda's hand post-fight she gets flipped off. Call it bad sportsmanship but fuck it, why should Ronda play nice when Tate and her crew are constantly taunting?
Episode 8: I skipped this one as it was a recap show for some reason, no idea why.
Episode 9: So the last two fights are academic; Sarah Moras vs. Peggy Morgan and Cody Bollinger vs. Anthony Gutierrez. Except there's a BIG PROBLEM as Cody Bollinger can't seem to make weight. Uh oh. This remember was the same guy who was eating a ton while saying he never misses weight on an earlier episode. He decides to quit, but after a pep talk from Raquel at the house he decides to give it another shot by climbing into a salt bath. And then quits again literally minutes later. Fucking Dana White shows up and of course he's FURIOUS and throws Cody out of the house, saying he "tore up someone's lottery ticket". I've never cut weight but don't have much sympathy for Cody here as he knew what weight he had to hit so why not be more careful with his diet? Or shit actually fight at a weight you can make to begin with? And so we have another clown added to the annals of TUF contestants who fucked up big time. So then Anthony gets called into a meeting and this might be the most hilarious thing I've ever seen on TUF as Dana gives him two options - either take a bye into the semis or fight Chris Beal (!) and of course Anthony, being sane I presume, chooses the bye. Why the fuck wouldn't you?! Next up it's Sarah vs. Peggy and it's largely a nothing fight until Sarah gets Peggy on her back and from there it's domination as she passes the guard, mounts her and armbars her. Pretty easy win for Sarah in the end actually. And then it's time for the semi-final picks. Interestingly Ronda says the best woman in the house is either Raquel or Jessica while both Dana and Miesha think it's Julianna. Fighters give the usual spiel and then somehow the coaches AGREE on the picks which is jaw-dropping. It's Julianna vs. Sarah (a rematch of a pre-UFC fight that Sarah won) and Jessica vs. Raquel, and for the men it's Holdsworth vs. Wootten and Grant vs. Anthony, both of which sound cool. This season ROCKS.
Episode 10: First semi-final on tap is Holdsworth vs. Wootten, and while Holdsworth is the clear favourite, after upsetting Josh Hill it doesn't feel like anyone's counting the Brit out. Ronda shows up to the house first though to give some fast food to the fighters, mainly the ones who've already lost and so don't need to worry about their weight. Anthony Gutierrez however is shown scoffing food despite Wootten saying everyone's a bit concerned at this point following the Bollinger Incident. Anthony promises Ronda he'll make weight and be a "finely tuned athlete" however. Concerning. The usual boring Harley Davidson segment is on this episode too and as per usual does nothing for me even with a random Cain Velasquez cameo. On Team Tate meanwhile there's DRAMA!~! brewing. Basically the other male fighters feel Holdsworth is being favoured, particularly Josh Hill. Well, to be fair it's understandable as he's the only male competitor they have left in the tournament. The edit monster seems to want to push Chris as a bit of a lone wolf type in the house now but to me it seems more like he's just taking it very seriously, which is smart given the distractions that being on TUF can provide. Miesha outright says he's the hardest worker they have too, so I don't see any issue. More disturbing though is the feeling from the female fighters that Miesha and her crew are favouring Julianna Pena, which is suspicious given Raquel and Sarah from her team are still in the tournament. More on this in the next episode though. On Team Ronda meanwhile we get a random Nate Diaz cameo, I'm guessing as Ronda is tight with the Diaz Brothers. No drama from Nate as he comes off about as cool as he's ever done I think. So finally it's fight time and holy shit, it's all Holdsworth as he completely shuts Wootten down, and in what Dana calls one of the sickest moves he's ever seen, somehow swings himself from the clinch right around into the lemur position and chokes the Brit out in the first round. It's like watching a human python. So Holdsworth is into the finals and if I'm honest it'd be unrealistic at this point to see any of the other guys stopping him after watching him walk through Wootten and Beal. I wish he'd get healthy because to me he's as legit a prospect as you can find at 135lbs right now. Fun episode.
Episode 11: The issue of Julianna being the golden girl comes to a head here as Miesha's outright seen teaching her ways to defend an armbar, step-by-step, as apparently that's Sarah's go-to move. Moras ends up sobbing in the sauna over the whole deal and Miesha finally seems to realise she's probably in the wrong as she comforts her and decides to take herself out of coaching for this fight, leaving it to Caraway and the rest of the crew - who still seem to favour Julianna. I really don't know how these guys got babyfaced over Ronda and her team. Anyway it's Julianna's turn next to be treated in a shitty fashion as the whole house - except Roxy who loves everyone - seems to have turned on her for no good reason really. Raquel explains that she's pissed because she rooms with Julianna and she's too noisy, but is that any reason for the dudes in the house to hate her? Fuck no. It's schoolyard shit really from what I can see. Pena admits herself though she's a headcase and Dana feels that the one thing that can beat her is self-doubt. At one point she's seen sitting on her own in her bedroom while Ronda arrives at the house to cut up some t-shirts into cool like, ventilation t-shirts I guess. She's no fashion designer but she's still probably better than Victoria Beckham, dude. Miesha meanwhile admits there IS favouritism to Pena, but it's only because she's the hardest working girl on the team. Which is sort-of fair I guess but even so. Fight comes and it's total dominance for Julianna. Her takedown is incredibly quick and hard to stop, she's strong and powerful from the top and a good guard passer and it allows her to elbow the shit out of Sarah for a round before busting her nose in the second and putting her away with a guillotine. Like with Holdsworth this was the sort of performance that pretty much confirmed she was winning the whole thing. Moras tries to say she "didn't show up" and so forth but to be frank she was smashed here by a better fighter. Another good episode although I never like the schoolyard bully shit that sometimes happens.
Episode 12: AKA Gabe Ruediger: Redux. Episode is practically centered around food so we start with - what else? - Manny Gamburyan arriving at the house to throw an ARMENIAN BARBECUE!~! I have no clue what Armenian food tastes like but it looks good to me. Fight coming up is Davey Grant vs. Anthony Gutierrez and unsurprisingly both guys can't eat much of Manvel's beautiful food. Oh, wait. Grant can't eat it but Gutierrez is so confident of making weight he scoffs the food down and asks for seconds and in a comically foreshadowing moment, when Manny mentions making weight, Anthony outright REFERENCES GABE by asking Manny about him and whether he was on Manny's team. Dude clearly didn't pay attention in his TUF history class as of course they weren't on the same team. Before any more weight cutting antics though, we get the coaches challenge, and it's up there with the best in TUF history - basically Ronda and Miesha have to scale this HUGE rock climbing wall and ring a bell at the top. Miesha pulls away to begin with but Ronda, ever the competitor, sees she's losing and just fucking POWERS UP and ends up dinging the bell first. And afterwards she flips Miesha off because of course she does. This was awesome. The morning of the weigh-ins is less awesome for Mr Gutierrez, however. Dude somehow weighs 145lbs. I say somehow but it's clearly because he's following in Mr Ruediger's footsteps and been scoffing shoddy food all season long. At this point they're still acting like the fight is on, and we see Anthony running in a sweat suit and doing long stints in the sauna - without Flair Flopping naked thankfully. Weigh-ins arrive and Grant hits 136lbs. Anthony meanwhile is 140lbs, which he still can't quite believe. He's got an hour to lose the extra four pounds but at this point he's clearly in over his head and he knows it. Looks like he's ready to throw the towel in until Ronda and Edmond give him a pep talk about not giving up, so he decides to try an EPSOM SALT BATH. A few moments later Manny goes to check on him and that's when disaster strikes as he reveals he's throwing the towel in and can't do it now anyway. Why? I'll quote the guy: "I just drank the bathwater". Not quite "Put me back in B" but about as close as you'll get. This was a SPECTACULAR FAILURE, moreso because the guy had a fucking free ticket to the semis BECAUSE ANOTHER GUY MISSED WEIGHT. Uncle Dana can't even get angry about this and just expels the guy with no emotion. Dude is perhaps the biggest muppet in TUF history in terms of throwing away an opportunity and that's saying something. So Davey gets a bye to the finals and he actually seems a bit upset, probably because he DID make weight and didn't get to fight. And then in a moment of insanity (although we don't see the results), Ronda decides to hit a weight cut herself to show the rest of the team how you fucking do it. She's crazy as fuck but you have to admire her. No fight but this was a golden episode from an entertainment standpoint.
Episode 13: And somehow we end with a damp squib unfortunately. Whole episode is dedicated to the final semi which is Raquel Pennington vs. Jessica Rakoczy, and both girls get banged up going into the fight; Pennington jacking her hand up and Rakoczy hurting her shoulder in a grappling session. That's about it basically and we go right to the fight and it's no surprise, given the lack of build, that it goes all three rounds. The big surprise is that despite being the underdog, the former pro boxer Rakoczy manages to outgun Raquel standing and defend her takedown attempts. It's a disappointing fight though, particularly for Dana who was expecting fireworks after Raquel's first fight. Jessica basically outboxed the brawler though and that sort of thing is never fun which is why UFC need to stop matching Diego Sanchez with sharpshooting strikers but that's a tangent and a half. So the finals are Pena vs. Rakoczy and Grant vs. Holdsworth in what must've been two of the most one-sided sounding finals in TUF history given how good Pena and Holdsworth looked on this show. Final word goes to Ronda though as during a staredown, Miesha presents her with some socks that have the middle finger on them. Ronda's response is to slap them out of her hand and call her a fucking cunt. Only the second time I've heard that word (first being Akira Corrassani on TUF 14) outside of London gangster movies. But shit Ronda is still the babyface to me.
Overall this was a tremendous season. Coaches rivalry was fantastic and always stayed nasty rather than heading into parody, which kept it like say, Rampage vs. Evans or Penn vs. Pulver rather than the muted Nelson vs. Carwin type deal or the more professional Jones vs. Sonnen. I know the big debate is who was more likeable but I maintain Ronda at least was quite transparent in her dislike for Miesha, while Miesha came off quite often as a sniggering schoolyard bully. There was enough drama going on with the botched weight cuts and the interesting dynamic between the men and women without that descending into Julian Lane-dom too, and we got plenty of interesting characters. In terms of the talent level, the women's side didn't quite add as much talent to the division as I might've hoped, but Julianna Pena is a hell of a prospect, as was Holdsworth on the men's side. I'm still not sure actually why guys like Wootten, Hill, and Fisette didn't get a UFC shot - especially when you consider Wootten actually won a fight in the tournament and is still unbeaten professionally - when guys who lost prior to the house have been brought aboard. No idea on that one. All of the fights were fun for the most part too with the only dull one really being the final semi off the top of my head. I'd put this up there with the first season and then TUF 5 and TUF 14 as one of the very best editions of TUF I think. Definitely glad I rewatched.