Episode No. 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter 26: A New World Champion” opens with a look back at preseason tryouts. A number of aspiring women’s flyweight fighters gather in Las Vegas in the hopes of joining the cast in order to vie for the inaugural 125-pound belt in the UFC.
UFC President Dana White discusses the tryouts, which attract more than 50 fighters from across the globe. White, along with matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard, assess the athletes and decide on the 16 who will join the cast.
Fast forward and the fighters arrive at the “TUF” gym, where they are greeted by head coaches Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje, who are scheduled to fight at the end of the season. White summarizes the stakes of the tournament via a satellite message, and the competition is officially underway.
The fighters change into training gear for coaches evaluations. Gaethje interviews each fighter on top of grappling and pad work sessions. He says his priority is to select those with mental toughness and durability.
Alvarez, meanwhile, has the fighters engage in a much more physical level of sparring. He wants to see the talent firsthand in a live-fight scenario and admits to being “shocked” by the level of talent on the cast.
At the conclusion of evaluations, Alvarez and Gaethje have the traditional coin toss to determine which team has the first fighter pick and which selects the first matchup. Alvarez wins the coin toss, and decides to pick the first fighter.
With his first overall pick, Team Alvarez selects former Invicta FC champ Barb Honchak, who is announced as the No. 2 seed. As a result, No. 15 seed Gillian Robertson joins Team Gaethje.
The rest of the fighters are selected, and the 125-pound tournament to determine the first UFC flyweight champion shakes out as follows:
With team selection finalized, Gaethje announces the first matchup: #1 Modafferi vs. #16 Dobson.
The fighters then visit the “TUF” house for the first time. A few of the athletes are awestruck by house and platform they are about to compete on. The intensity and focus is high as the fighters settle into their new living area.
Modafferi, who is the first female to ever make two appearances on the “TUF” reality series, is eager to make up for a poor effort on Season 18. She was eliminated in the first round, but has since excelled under the Invicta FC banner and wants to prove to the world that she doesn’t “suck anymore.”
At the first Team Alvarez training session, the coaching staff beings to work with Dobson, who is a sizable underdog to Modafferi with just three career fights. She calls herself the “best kept secret in MMA,” and coach Alvarez says the key to victory is to keep the fight standing.
Team Gaethje has its first training session, and right off the bat coach Gaethje brings in a special assistant coach. Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate enters the gym. Tate was Modafferi’s coach on Season 18, and gives her some motivational words.
The official weigh-ins for the fight takes place, and both fighters come in under the 126-pound women’s flyweight limit. A respectful staredown follows.
Fight day arrives, and the first tournament bout has arrived. Modafferi and Dobson finalize preparation with their coaches, and the athletes walk to the cage for the debut contest of the season.
#1 Roxanne Modafferi (21-13) vs. #16 Shana Dobson (2-1)
Round 1 – They touch gloves and Dobson opens with a jab. Modafferi feints to close distance and inside, but Dobson backs her up with some straight punches. Modafferi is looking to close the distance but eats a wild hook from her opponent. Modafferi lands a body kick and Dobson responds with one of her own. Modafferi lands a jab then just misses with a spinning backfist. Modafferi continues to punch at a high rate and gets inside with a body lock. She slams Dobson to the canvas and lands in half guard after a brief scramble. Modafferi patiently works to advance position as Dobson looks to free herself from bottom. She attempts to explode free, but Modafferi instead advances to mount. Modafferi begins to land punches while Dobson is defending and trying to find an opening to escape. Modafferi postures and is landing heavy punches and elbows. The referee gives multiple warnings, but Dobson can’t get out of the mount. The referee waves it off and Dobson immediately stands up arguing that she was fine to continue. However, it’s too late.
Roxanne Modafferi def. Shana Dobson via TKO (strikes) – Round 1
“I’m so happy,” Gaethje says after his fighter’s win. “She was our first pick. We put a lot of confidence in her and a lot of trust by giving her that first fight, and she nailed it.”
The fighters return to the locker room and Modafferi begins to shed tears of joy.
“I feel spectacular right now,” Modafferi says. “I feel so proud of myself and like I redeemed myself after my last loss last time I was on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ I feel like I got to show more of what I built myself up too. … I’m thrilled with my win, but this is just the beginning. I’m going to make it to the end and become the champion.”
Team Gaethje moves to 1-0 on the season. Team Alvarez takes control of fight selection, and with his choice, coach Alvarez selects No. 4 Bennett to go up against No. 13 seed Gevorgyan of Team Gaethje next.
Catch new episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter 26: A New World Champion” every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on FS1. MMAjunkie recaps each episode of the reality series.
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Source: MMA Junkie