The first episode of “The Ultimate Fighter 23” is under way and, as usual, the expectations are through the roof amongst all involved. This year’s coaches, UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha, make it abundantly clear right off the bat that they aren’t exactly fond of each other.
“I don’t like her,” the Brazilian tells the camera almost as soon as the episode begins. “When I’m around her, I just want to punch her in the face… I don’t want to be around her every day but I have (to).”
Before the two women come to blows, though, they actually are cordial when sitting at the main table to watch the initial fights before UFC President Dana White joins them. There isn’t a hint of trash talk between the ladies and it actually makes for a pleasant afternoon, save for the fighters who eventually lose and are sent packing.
Little time is wasted before the first of 16 fights is underway. This year will see eight strawweight women and the same number of light heavyweight men all vying for one goal: to become the Ultimate Fighter.
The women are up first (the editing team decides to alternate between women and men fights) and it’s Dutch striker Mellony Geugjes taking on Amanda Cooper. After taking a few blows to the dome, the American stumbles to the canvas but Geugjes makes the mistake of chasing her down and landing in her guard. Bad move because almost immediately, she is tapping to a textbook armbar and Cooper is the first into the house.
Rhode Island’s Eric Spicely followed suit by quickly dispatching Kenneth Bergh. As soon as the duel begins, Spicely is all over the Norwegian, takes his back and forces the tap thanks to a slick rear-naked choke.
Lanchana Green is the one taking a beating in the opening round against Ashley Cummins but the Englishwoman quickly turns the tides in round two. Green drills her foe with a series of knees in the clinch and then finishes her off with punches to the face, electrifying the gym.
The fights come fast and furious, with the action never taking a breather. On the men’s side, Khalil Rountree soccer kicks the guts out of Muhammed Derees, scoring a second-round stoppage; Myron Dennis batters Jamelle Jones with a plethora of punches until the fight is stopped by the ref; Elias Urbina IV struggles with his cardio but he proves to have a little bit more than Norman Paraisy (who quit on his stool on TUF 11) and wins a decision in the sudden victory; Abdel Medjedoub controls and grinds out a decision over John Paul Elias, who is married to Playboy Playmate Carly Lauren; Andrew Sanchez scores what apparently is a huge upset by decisioning the highly-touted Jackson-Wink MMA fighter Phillip Hawes; Cory Hendricks out-points Marcel Fortuna in sudden victory; and in the last fight of the men’s side, Josh Stansbury, who dislocated his kneecap on TUF 19, controlled Trever Carlson and eventually gets an Americana from side control.
Recapping the women’s bracket, Jamie Moyle latched on a rear-naked choke to tap out Alyssa Krahn; Ashley Yoder is lucky to get a decision over Jodie Esquibel, Keith Jardine’s fiancée, after two rounds where everybody thought she lost; J.J. Aldrich bests Kristi Lopez in a back-and-forth affair and wins a unanimous decision; Tatiana Suarez wows everybody by dominating Chel-C Bailey via unanimous nod; Kate Jackson forces a second-round stoppage due to strikes from the mount against Irene Cabello Rivera; and Helen Harper comes out of nowhere to submit Amy Montenegro with a silky smooth armbar in the first.
After the marathon of battles concludes, it’s time to pick the teams. Claudia wins the coin toss and decided to be the one to pick the first fighter, not the first match. She goes with Tatiana as he No. 1 overall selection and the two coaches alternate picks between men and women.
The champion’s team is eventually comprised of Aldrich, Stansbury, Moyle, Rountree, Yoder, Dennis, Harper and Urbina IV.
Conversely, Claudia goes with Tatiana, Sanchez, Jackson, Spicely, Cooper, Medjedoub, Hendricks and Green.
Once the two squads are finalized, Jedrzejczyk opts to have the first fight in the men’s division, pitting her Rountree against Hendricks, which is an awkward situation because the two 205ers actually train together in Las Vegas at Syndicate MMA. Moyle, interestingly enough, also trains at Syndicate, giving the powerful gym a total of three combatants on the season.
At the end of the lengthy season premier, a slew of highlights of the season unfold: the two coaches about to rip each other’s throats out, drunken Tom Foolery, plenty of fights and White telling one of the fighters off-camera that he will let that person go home. It has the makings of a classic season.