As humans we love story and we are still captivated by the classic Cinderella/rags-to-riches plot line. For The Ultimate Fighter the main characters are real women fighting for the opportunity to dance in the largest mma castle, so instead of putting on glass slippers they are donning 4-oz gloves. The dramatics that play into TUF are certainly part of the draw to the show. The editing team fosters a narrative that compels the audience to be emotionally tied to each fighter by casing their individual life experiences and potential futures into each one’s own individual 8-mile. Nevertheless, this crop of flyweights have a lot of work to do if they want prove their worth as future UFC stars.
When Team Peña’s top pick went down in the opening bout of the women’s flyweight division for The Ultimate Fighter 30, cast members and fans collectively got wide-eyed with how open the tournament suddenly became. There’s no calling Helen Peralta’s split decision loss to Kaytlin Neil as anything other than an upset. Que the old heads posturing up and saying, “Any given night,” but let’s be honest: Yes Neil is rangy. Yes she’s won 3 of her last 4. Yes she can submit people. But her tentative style and flat feet limit her as she minimizes her own 68″ reach. Not getting knocked out by the ferocious Helen Peralta by her bareknuckle boxing fire was a major accomplishment in itself, but to contain and control Peralta to the point of stealing a victory from her was something on a different level. Nevertheless, watching the two aspiring fighters dance around each other with uncertainty and displaying rigid technique makes me question the depth of the talent pool for this season’s female roster.
It doesn’t take much to be reminded of the differences between rookie and vet: just watch a young-blood under pressure. The UFC showcased two flyweight fights for Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic to coincide with the debut of the flyweights on TUF. The #8 v #9 battle between Viviane Araujo and Andrea Lee made the Paralta vs Neil fight look like armature hour. In defense of our ladies in The Ultimate Fighter, Araujo and Lee have nearly 20 UFC fights combined so the stage doesn’t feel as surreal to them anymore, but the speed and precision needed to compete at that level wasn’t shown. The ROI with women’s TUF fighters has overall been exceptional: Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas, Macy Chiasson, and of course UFC champion and current TUF coach Julianna Peña, have legitimized the investment into women’s fighters through the show, so that’s not to say that we won’t be wowed in the coming weeks, but we’re not off to a sterling start.