As the UFC’s Mexico City event took place this weekend, they took the opportunity to announce the cast for the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, the long-running (and some would say long-suffering) reality series. As previously noted, the coaches will be the possibly indestructible Justin Gaethje and the Underground King Eddie Alvarez.
See, those two are people are individuals we all know. But most fans aren’t as familiar with the fighters that will be on the show. Well, we’ve got you covered with a primer on the participants for this season to find out just who will be contending for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title.
Now, I want to put this as politely as possible - the talent pool is not as strong as the previous all-women’s season for the inaugural strawweight title. Some of these choices are not what one would expect when it comes to a season that has title consequences. That’s not to disparage any of the participants here. Some have smaller records but a good amount of talent and potential, and the more established veterans are proven fighters with serious experience against top talent. We’ll start off with the lesser-known talent and work our way to the veterans.
Ariel Beck - Fighting out of Montana, Beck is currently 4-4 as a professional. She’s had at least three amateur fights, but online sources seem to disagree as to how many and against whom. Beck also sports a 3-1 pro boxing record, and beating one of her opponents twice. After starting at 2-1 in her professional MMA career, Beck fought Invicta mainstay Andrea Lee for the women’s flyweight championship under the Legacy FC banner, losing by armbar. She bounced back with two consecutive wins before joining Invicta last year and losing a split decision against now fellow castmate Rachael Ostovich. That was followed by a unanimous decision loss to Kathina Lowe last December.
Shana Dobson - Dobson fights out of Phalanx MMA in Texas, and has an amateur record of 2-0 and a professional record of 2-1. Dobson’s amateur wins were a choke and a TKO, but has two decision wins and a decision loss to current castmate Nicco Montano (lot of strange bedfellows on this season - there’s more). Her pro fights have been for King of the Cage and XKO, and both wins against fighters making professional debuts.
Sijara Eubanks - Maryland native Sijara Eubanks has racked up a ton of grappling championships since 2009, taking second place in the IBJJF Worlds last year. She has a submission win in her lone amateur bout against Alexa Conners and won her pro debut in Invicta against Gina Begley. She then dropped a decision against current UFC fighter Katlyn Chookagian in CFFC, rebounding in Invicta again after taking out Amberlynn Orr with strikes. Her last fight was under the Invicta banner once again, where she was defeated by a very game and very durable Aspen Ladd, who has since joined the UFC as well. Under the tutelage of coach Lloyd Irvin, she’s been dominant in the fights she wins, but seems to have had problems against fighters she can’t put away.
Melinda Fabian - Perhaps the strangest entry on this list, Fabian is 4-3 with a draw on her record. She has losses against the aforementioned Katlyn Chookagian (armlock) as well as another UFC fighter, Lucie Pudilova. All four of her wins were submissions, but they were against opponents that had records of 0-1 (Barbora Polakova) and 0-2 (Paulina Borkowska). Her other two wins were both fighters making their professional debuts, capped off by a loss in Feburary against German fighter Judith Ruis (via choke). I understand that the European scene is an odd landscape with less established infrastructure for MMA overall, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of inclusion that one would expect the UFC to add in a season that ends with an inaugural title fight.
Karine Gevorgyan - Armenian fighter Gevorgyan is 3-2 as a professional with no amateur fights fighting out of AR Fight Team. After winning her first two fights by submission, she lost consecutive bouts to current UFC talent Veronica Macedo and Chinese stalwart Jin Tang. She earned a guillotine submission win earlier this year against debuting Spanish fighter Azahara Sanchez in March.
Christina Marks - Another curious entry, Marks is currently 8-8 as a professional. She’s listed as having been part of the Fight Ugly team in San Diego, and lost her first two fights before winning two in a row. She had two wins in Xplode Fight Series, but moved on to fight for BAMMA USA and King of the Cage. She had the misfortune of fighting some talented opposition early on and losing to most of the stronger fighters she’s faced. Her notable losses include Mayra Arce (twice by decision), Michelle Ould (armbar), Sara McMann (choke), Alexis Dufresne (choke), Colleen Schneider (armbar) and Sarah D’Alelio (rear naked choke). She’s on a three fight win streak with her last fight being a decision win this past February.
Nicco Montano - The Fit NHB product from Albuquerque, NM has been a busy bee. Montano started with an amateur run of 5-0, with two TKOs and three submissions. She’s only 3-2 as a professional, but did most of her work under the King of the Cage banner. She has a loss to Invicta talent Pam Sorenson, but went on to win the KOTC flyweight title against Jamie Milanowski last October. She went on to have her most recent fight by decision, a bantamweight title bout Julia Avila at HD MMA 7.
Gillian Robertson - At only age 22, Robertson only started her professional career in March of last year, and has a 3-2 professional record (2 submissions and one decision). But get this - she’s 9-1 as an amateur with four submissions under her belt. She holds an amateur win over Invicta fighter Ashley Greenway as well. Her professional losses were in her pro debut by decision to fellow debutant Hannah Goldy and also to a decision loss to current UFC firebrand Cynthia Calvillo at a 120lb catchweight. Robertson has also fought at flyweight and trains with American Top Team in Florida.
Maia Stevenson - If the name is familiar, Maia is married to former UFC fighter and recent returning TUF contestant Joe Stevenson. Maia Stevenson had a rough patch to start things off with losses to Rachael Cummins, Kanako Murata and current UFC talent Danielle Taylor. After starting her professional career at 1-4, Stevenson has gone on a five-fight winning streak, all of them finishes (two submissions and three TKOs). The problem here - and it’s a major caveat - is that all of her wins have been under the Gladiator Challenge banner. Unfortunately, that means her wins have been against less-than stellar opposition. Alexis Trinidad-Marquez was making her pro debut and is now 0-2. Alissa Watts also made her debut against Stevenson, lost and hasn’t fought since. Lanquin Robbins was 0-1 and is now is 0-5. Catalina Madril was 0-4 when she fought Stevenson, and is now 0-6 after losing to Stevenson twice. Make of that what you will.
Montana Stewart - As a high school wrestler, Stewart was competing at a state level and also at a national level. She started off at 0-2 as a professional only to go on a tear and win five consecutive fights. She then had two straight losses against Cynthia Calvillo (TKO) and BJJ superstar Mackenzie Dern (rear naked choke). That was followed by her most recent fight, a submission win this past June against Kathina Lowe.
Emily Whitmire - Currently 2-1 as a professional, the 26-year-old Whitmire is 4-4 as an amateur with amateur losses to Patricia Vidnoic and Brenda Enriquez. Her single pro loss was against current Invicta fighter Kelly D’Angelo by TKO, and her two wins include a decision over current Bellator standout Emily Ducote.
Rachael Ostovich - Ostovich started off as a 6-0 amateur and came into Invicta as a 1-1 professional fighter. She beat Evva Johnson in her promotional debut and has alternated wins and losses since. She suffered a submission loss to Andrea Lee, but got a split decision win against Ariel Beck in her following fight. Her last bout was a rough TKO loss at the hands of heavy hitter Christine Ferea this past January. The Hawaiian native trains out of the Jesus is Lord gym run by her father, and both her brother Bob and her husband Arnold Berdon are also professional fighters.
DeAnna Bennett - Bennett’s a fighter that has been a staple of Invicta events, and one of the more interesting additions to this cast. Training at The Pit Elevated in Orem, Utah, Bennett is 2-0 as an amateur and 8-3 as a professional. She notched early wins against former TUF winner and UFC contender Julianna Peña, as well as Colleen Schneider and standout wrestler Sharon Jacobson (both by submission). She racked up wins over veterans Jennifer Maia, Norma Rueda Center and Katja Kankaanpää before facing her first professional loss in a strawweight title fight against former strawweight champion Livia Renata Souza. Unfortunately for Bennett, this was followed by two more losses against current castmate Roxanne Modafferi and Jodie Esquibel. Having fought at bantamweight and strawweight as well, it appears she’s settling on staying at 125.
Lauren Murphy - After winning the then-vacant Invicta bantamweight title, Murphy was snatched up by the UFC, where she went 1-3. Her lone win there was against Kelly Faszholz, but faced tough opposition in Sara McMann, Liz Carmouche and Katlyn Chookagian. After her contract ran out earlier this year, she decided to try out for this season of TUF. She holds wins in Invicta over Kaitlin Young and Sarah D’Alelio.
Roxanne Modafferi - On her first go-round on TUF, the world got to see the Roxy most fans familiar with her knew - a jovial fight fanatic that’s obsessed with learning and making friends. While she didn’t fare well in the UFC after that run, it led to her moving back to the US permanently and settling down at Syndicate MMA. While there, she’s moved to flyweight and improved exponentially, surprising many in her Invicta fights against Tara LaRosa and a fantastic performance against Andrea Lee. She lost close decisions against Vanessa Porto and Jennifer Maia, but got a good decision win over DeAnna Bennett and a recent TKO win in an exciting fight against Sarah D’Alelio in May.
Barb Honchak - Former Invicta champion Honchak lost her title due to inactivity, and what appears to have been a misunderstanding between Honchak, her management, and Invicta. With an amateur record of 4-1, Honchak’s lone amateur loss was a split decision to Jessica Eye. Honchak won her professional debut by submission and had a tough break facing Cat Zingano and Angela Magana, losing both by decision. She’s been undefeated since, taking on Felice Herrig, Nina Ansaroff (both by submission), and submitting Roxanne Modafferi with a rear naked choke in 2011. From there she made Invicta her home and beat Bethany Marshall by TKO and racking up decision wins against former UFC fighter Aisling Daly, Vanessa Porto, current UFC fighter Leslie Smith and Japan’s Takayo Hashi. That Hashi fight was in November of 2014, and she hasn’t fought since.
So, there you have it. This is the current crop of fighters to kick off the division, and the most interesting thing won’t just be who wins, but who else the UFC signs in the meantime.