Episode one of The Ultimate Fighter’s 18th season saw the preliminary fights go down and the teams picked, it was episode two was time for everybody to find a bunk at the new TUF House and get ready for the first proper fight of the competition. Cocky WMMA trailblazer “The Queen Of Spades” Shayna Baszler was picked to take on the 4-2 “Venezuelan Vixen” Julianna Pena in this episode.
The episode started with all 16 bantamweights, barreling into the house, trying to claim a bed. With a smaller house and differently sized bedrooms from last year, there was a little awkwardness in the proceedings, with Team Tate’s Roxanne Modafferi worrying that she might have to share a room with some of the guys. That situation, however, was rectified, as Roxy was ended up bunking with the four female members of Team Rousey in one of the 5 bedded rooms. This was not without issue, as that room only had one bathroom, which as Peggy Morgan noted, “Could get really ugly.”
Once the necessary segment on bed allocation difficulties has finished, it’s hot tub time. It all starts with the heavily-inked Raquel Pennington and Sarah Moras climbing into the standard-sized above ground unit with Anthony Gutierrez, Peggy Morgan, and Jessamyn Duke. Chris Holdsworth walks by, and cracks a joke about a little “Hot Tub Time Machine action,” before getting a talking-head segment discussing the potential for hook-ups between the fighters over the 6 week period, all over a visual of other cast members squeezing into the tub. This, of course, was rebutted by Julianna Pena stating that while she could only speak for herself, but that she was there to do business, not look for a boyfriend.
The next day starts with breakfast being made by the Brits Michael Wooten and David Grant, and a discussion going on outside with some of the housemates about the proper etiquette of training with women. Timmy Gorman put himself on the outs almost immediately, stating that he could never go at 100% when training with a woman for fear of hurting her. Both Shayna Baszler and Sarah Moras took offense to this, essentially stating that they’re not women on the mat, they’re equals. Moras points out the women don’t generally train with other women, they train with the men. She also promises to tap Gorman out repeatedly in training if he doesn’t give it his all. Gorman played it up, proclaiming a girl would not submit him. However, this challenge never had a chance to be tested, but more on that later.
We cut to an unofficial Team Rousey meeting, with Shayna Baszler having a conversation in a side room with teammates Peggy Morgan and Jessamyn Duke. Baszler, correctly, mentions that due to the disparity in both their records and experience, no athletic commission in North America would book a fight between herself and Julianna Pena. It’s a fight that could only happen on The Ultimate Fighter. Duke, in a sidebar, mentions that people need to do their research on “The Queen of Spades,” and that she’s not only one of the greatest female fighters in history, but also her hero. The giants of the competition, Morgan and Duke, both agree that all the advantages seem to fall in their teammate’s favor.
Next, we cut to Julianna Pena discussing going to a her first Strikeforce card and seeing Baszler fight, and that “The Queen of Spades” literally gave her the fight shirt off her back. Pena also and that she was honoured when she saw Baszler and got take pictures with her. She feels it will be a good fight, and looks forward to getting the win.
It’s time for training, and we start with Team Tate on the early shift. As she greets the fighters, we get to hear Miesha Tate talk about being a head coach, saying that it’s somewhat overwhelming, and that she wants to help all her charges get better. She tells her crew that she wants them to feel their experience is amazing, their training optimal, and their feelings excellent when they go into fights. She then introduces her coaching staff, which was selected by her boyfriend, assistant coach, and TUF 14 competitor Bryan Caraway. We then see Tate going over the very, very basics of striking distance with a drill designed to help fighters measure their distance by ensuring they touch their opponents with their lead hand as they move around. She then says that it’s a recovery day, and let the fighters do what they wanted after some basic drills. Half-way through the practice, Tate notices that Tim Gorman isn’t moving well, and pulls him aside. We learn that Timmy is injured, having come into the preliminary fights with a torn hamstring. For precautionary purposes, Tate ships the dedicated, if mouthy, fighter off for an MRI.
Team Rousey arrives at 5:58 PM, and asks her team to let her know when it’s 6:00 on the dot. When the clock strikes 6, Coach Rousey barges into the training area, shooing Team Tate away and giving them the bum’s rush out the door. It was one of those moments that I think Ronda was talking about when she was worried about how bad she was going to look to the world. Tate complained about it in a cut away, saying it was “typical Ronda,” while Rousey explained to her team that it was meant as a way to try and establish dominance. “Psychologically, you have be ‘you’ll move when I tell you to,’ and we never have to move for you,” was the lesson for her team. We then get a cutaway of Rousey, a little giggly, explaining her approach to coaching. She does not feel that she’s superior, but that she there to help as resource, and is a tool to be used to improve. We then get an insight into “Rowdy’s” Olympic-calibre mindset, stating that no corners, no matter how large or how small, can be cut. She used swimmers shaving off their body hair to reduce drag as an example, then tells her team that she and her coaching staff are there to help, and to be asked for advice. She then tells her fighters that even if they don’t take the situation 100% seriously for themselves, they need to do so for their teammates because one’s actions reflect on their team. Rousey then her head trainer and striking coach, Edmond Taverdyan, in another cutaway, saying that she’ll be relying on his expertise a great deal of the time. Rousey then says it’s easy to be responsible for yourself and fail because you can only blame & answer to yourself, but that it would hurt her more being there for these other people and failing them. “I hope I can live up to what these fighters deserve,” she finishes.
Back at the house, we get Anthony “Sharkbait” Gutierrez talking about the women in the house, claiming that Sarah Moras “wants me bad,” but claims he’s not totally into he because of that. He then calls Jessica Rakoczy his “hot cougar” and claims she’s tough but warming up to him, says Jessamyn Duke claims to have a boyfriend but locks eyes with him longer anyways at their conversations end. He finishes by saying that it’s going to be interesting when all the women’s periods match up. Raquel Pennington rebuts, saying that Gutierrez was obnoxious and drove her insane. This preceded a clip of “Sharkbait” inviting Roxy Modafferi to his bunk that night. Peggy Morgan chimes in, saying that she doesn’t date the guys she trains with for fear of being “That Girl,” and that all the women in the competition came in for business only. We cut back to “The Happy Warrior” turning down “Sharkbait,” saying she’s too focused on her career. Jessamyn Duke finishes the segment saying, “This is time to focus, time to get serious. Not time to goof off.”
Later, we get Gutierrez and teammate Chris Beal discussing Team Tate’s plans in the event that Julianna Pena wins. As it turns out, “Sharkbait” learned from opposing team member Chris Holdsworth that the plan is to have the Team Alpha Male submission wiz take on “The Real Deal,” is nursing a well-known hand injury. Beal admits that he’s hurt, and that picking a fight against him would be a good plan. The cancer survivor gets a “talking head” bit, saying that while everybody knows about his injury and its severity, it doesn’t matter. He won’t let it stop him.
In the Team Rousey Ladies bedroom, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler are talking their way through the upcoming bout. Duke tells her hero that she must believe she’s going to win impressively in the first round. Baszler agrees, stating that she can beat up Pena in any stage of the fight, and that in her decade-plus of experience, she doesn’t think that “The Venezuelan Vixen” is the one to put the stamp on the end of her career. We cut to Pena, who states that she’s a little fearful of Baszler’s submission game. She is reassured by Raquel Pennington, who tells her to believe in herself, and not worry so much about her opponent.
We cut back to training, with Baszler giving some of her background, talking about how she earned her nickname through a card trick. She also talks about growing up in a family of wrestlers, and dropping out of college after falling in love with mixed martial arts. She also talks about fighting in warehouses at the start of her career, on cards where the top pay-day was $300 under the table. She finishes by saying that she wishes she could “Vulcan mind meld” with the audience and show them the long road that women have had to go down in order to make it to the UFC, and all the the fans missed. We then get to see Edmond Taverdyan working on her striking, while Ronda talks about how Shayna’s experienced and is one of her favorite fighters. We also get to see a grappling fan’s dream as we see clips of Rousey and Baszler rolling. She ends off saying that she feels Baszler will in, and that Pena doesn’t know what she’s in for. Baszler talks about how she has things that her opponent has never seen, and there there is no place that’s safe for her.
Back at the house, we see Julianna Pena doing her make-up while talking with a showering Sarah Moras, who tells her it’s a different feeling when she’s the underdog. In a voiceover, Pena talks about how she feels that she is under the most pressure, because she is very critical of herself and feels that she should settle for anything less than winning and being a champion. Once Pena is out with the rest of the castmates, Pena is complimented by “Sharkbait’ Gutierrez, then starts another voiceover talking about how WMMAists are misconstrued as tomboys, but that she’s very feminine and that being a fighter doesn’t mean you can’t be feminine. She also discusses her roots in the sport, how she stayed for an MMA class after cardio kickboxing. She fell in love with it, and just went from there.
It’s training time for Pena now, who see working on her armbar defense under the watchful eye of Coach Tate. When she allows former foe Sarah Moras to swing under her and catch an armbar from guard, Tate starts giving her pointers. Miesha then talks about training with Pena as they’re from Washington, and says that while she is raw and aggressive, she knows “The Venezuelan Vixen’s” skill set. She then says that while she’s confident in her charge’s grappling, the only way Baszler stands a chance of winning the fight is on the ground. “Cupcake” then adds that Julianna is, in her opinion, one of the hardest hitting women in the bantamweight division, and that they hope to keep it on the feet. We finish with Pena saying that Baszler is experienced, but that’s her only edge, and that her own biggest weakness is herself. In a potential bit of foreshadowing though, while Julianna is doing her voiceover, we see clips of her getting ragdolled by Sarah Moras.
After training, Tim Gorman and Miesha Tate are pulled aside by Dana White to meet with the UFC’s medical consultant, Dr. Jeffrey Davidson. We learn that Gorman has a significant tear in one of the muscles in his hamstring, so bad that it’s nearly ripped right off the bone and that it requires 4-6 months of rehab. Despite Gorman’s protests, Dana pulled him out of the competition for his own well-being. White confirmed after the show, though, that he would give Gorman a shot in the UFC, so there is a happy ending to all of this.
With Gorman gone, a replacement was needed, and “Uncle” Dana had one in mind: Louis Fisette. After Gorman said his goodbyes, Fisette was brought in and introduced to the rest of Team Tate. Miesha takes it upon herself to let Louis know that his opponent from the prelims, Chris Holdsworth, was on the team while making the rounds through the ice baths. Fisette greeted the man who vanquished him with a pat of the head and a “S’up buddy!” Holdsworth was dipolmatic about it all, while Fisette rambled on about how Dana White says that the Team Alpha Male member “beat him off once,” and how he won’t let him “beat him off twice.” We cut to Coach Tate, who returns to her admiration of Fisette’s methodology and fearlessness.
At the weigh-ins, both women make weight. Peggy Morgan predicted that Baszler will take it in the first, while Chris Holdsworth believes that Pena will make it an action-packed fight. When the two ladies face off, “The Queen of Spades” produces her signature card, and puts it down Pena’s shirt in an attempt at intimidation. Louis Fisette was not impressed, while Jessamyn Duke applauded the mind games.
One last trip back to the house, and we see Shayna going through her least-favourite part of the night before a fight: Getting cornrows put in. While this is happeneing, “Rocky” Pennington comes up and asks Baszler if she normally puts cards in her opponents’ boobs, to which Team Rousey 1st pick responds with, “She was pretty hot about that, wasn’t she?” After Baszler continues to talk about how she has her opponent intimidated, we cut to Pena getting her cornrows put in, asking the hairdresser if Shayna claimed she was going to kick her ass. The hairdresser confirms it, and we then get a voiceover from Pena talking about how she refuses to be bullied, and then says about her opponent, “I want to kick your ass, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” In their room, apart from their teammate, Sarah Moras and Raquel Pennington talk about Pena’s chances, and agree that it doesn’t look good.
Shayna Baszler vs. Julianna Pena
In the dressing room before the fight, Baszler was at her cockiest, saying that this bout was just a 10 minute circuit that she can choose to end when she wants. She also says she wants to that there are girls in the house, who on the right day, could beat her, but that she doesn’t believe Pena is one of them, and that Julianna doesn’t deserve to be in the same ring with her, but should be at her seminars and learning. Coach Rousey backs this assessment, and before they walk out, tells Shayna that, “She is The Queen of f–king Spades, and you’re going to show everybody what that means!” In one last voiceover, Baszler really lets her ego show, saying that part of her feels like she shouldn’t have to go through TUF to get into the UFC, because she has wins over some currently-signed fighters, and higher rankings than others, and that she needs to teach people a lesson for passing her over.
Pena says she thinks the other house members feel she’s a joke, but that make-up or no make-up, “What you see is what you get. Love me or hate me, you’re going to know me.” Tate confirms that the match is bad for her charge on paper, but that “The Venezuelan Vixen” can win this by getting in there and landing the first, hard strikes. In her final, pre-fight monologue, Julianna says that it’s “go time” once the cage door locks, and that there’s no time to wait or be relaxed. She feels pressure from the added people watching, but “May the best woman in.”
Round 1 sees Shayna Baszler backing up her opponent and landing the first jab, only for Pena to come back with a flurry of winging shots before clinching up against the cage. Baszler eventually gets an over-under clinch with her back to the cage, and on the advice of Coach Rousey, uses her hips to bump Julianna Pena off of her and push her forward into a takedown. “The Venezuelan Vixen” gets to her feet, but is clinched and taken down again. Baszler in side control, then takes the back as Julianna rolls to try and create space. Baszler mixes in strikes with loose, catch wrestling-style control, letting Pena carry her weight while expending energy trying to escape. Team Tate’s 1st pick eventually re-guards, and manages to land some strikes from the bottom before Team Rousey’s number 1 postures up to land some punches. Pena swings for an armbar, but Baszler sprawls out and starts landing hammerfists before the Washington native returns to guard. Julianna lands more strikes from the bottom, and tries to sweep, but is unsuccessful. Eventually, “The Queen of Spades” backs off a bit, hoping to see an opening for a guard pass, only for “The Venezuelan Vixen” to get to her feet. Shayna clinches with her up against the cage before hooking in and getting an inside cradle for the takedown, landing some elbows to the side of foe’s head for good measure. Pena manages to wriggle free and goes for a takedown, but Baszler sits up into butterfly guard and sucks her into a double overhook position, preventing a pass. Baszler gets it back to the feet, stuffs a Pena takedown, and then hits what appears to be a harai goshi hip throw, but is unable to get full extension and lands in Pena’s guard. Julianna lands more strikes from the bottom before Shayna stands up, then tries for a lumberjack sweep. Baszler sees it coming and rides it through, forcing a scramble that sees her land in side control. Toying with her opponent, “The Queen of Spades” loosens up the pressure and goes for a an extremely low-percentage guillotine choke after allowing Pena into her half-guard. Baszler uses her hips to force Pena into a more chokeable position, then lands some elbows to her ribs. When Julianna opens up with a couple of body shots, Shayna goes for a knee shield to re-guard with, but is caught with punches to the head. After weathering a small storm, Baszler then catches a single leg, lets Pena back up, then takes her down again with a cradle to finish the round. This round is easily 10-9 for Baszler.
Round 2 saw an instant straightening of punches from Julianna Pena, as she drilled Baszler right in the mouth on the first exchange, but then finish off winging wild, lumbering punches. Baszler hits an uppercut, clinches, and lands a knee, but Pena just keeps on swinging. Shayna almost looks like she’s taking this second round lightly while Julianna’s found an extra gear to go into. Baszler keeps trying to close distance, but is having trouble holding on as Pena wriggles out of clinch attempts. “The Venezuelan Vixen” lands a hard, sloppy hook and rocks Shayna at around the 0:36 mark, then continues to attack with jabs and 1-2 combinations before Baszler finally gets a body lock and tries to push forward for the takedown. Both women end up against the cage, in the Team Tate corner, and after a period of jockeying for position up against the wall, Pena manages to get the better position at around 1:11 in. Julianna lands some hard knees, and it looks like Baszler’s nose got busted up in one of the earlier exchanges. Miesha’s 1st pick continues to land solid, intermittent strikes as “The Queen of Spades” tries to get off the cage. Shayna eventually muscles her way out, goes for a takedown and a back mount, but ends up on the bottom in guard. The WMMA trailblazer goes for an armbar, but the younger fighter stands up and passes to side control. Baszler tries to roll away to create space and get to her feet, but in a reversal of a scene from the 1st round, Pena ends up on her back, lands some shots, and eventually sinks in a rear naked choke for the tap and the shocking upset victory.
Julianna Pena def. Shayna Baszler via Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:08 of Round 2.
And with that, an even more shocking upset than Kelvin Gastelum beating Uriah Hall transpires. Ronda Rousey is incredulous as Miesha Tate runs into the cage and embraces her friend and top pick, while each woman’s team reacts as you would expect. In a voiceover, a tearful Rousey says that coaching is hard, and that it, “feels like ripping your heart out of your chest and letting it run around without ya.” She’s taking the loss as hard as her first pick, and says she wishes she could take all of Shayna’s pain and feel it herself, and that her team member deserves better. Back in the cage, Baszler is distraught at having lost her shot at making the UFC, while Rousey tries to console her. During the fight highlights, we get Miesha Tate talking us through, talking about how Shayna wanted no part of Julianna Pena on the feet, but that she won the 1st round. Rousey stated, correctly that Baszler took the first round, and that when she was down in the 2nd round, her pupil made the mistake of already looking towards a 3rd. “The Queen of Spades” would later admit to this very thought in a blog posted after the show aired. Dana White then gives his 2 cents, stating that instead of Rousey gaining the momentum she had hoped for, Tate is now in control.
After the fight, Pena talks about how it doesn’t matter if she wears make-up or lip gloss, that she is an animal and a gamer once the cage door closes. She states she is here to do business, and will win the whole competition. We then get Coach Miesha complimenting her young friend both to her face, and in a cutaway, for beating what was thought to be the best woman in the house. We cut to Baszler and Rousey in the TUF Gym’s entrance, with Shayna still in tears at the prospect of having forever lost her shot at being in the UFC. Rousey tells her that this isn’t the end, and tries to console her, even as Shayna’s ego torments her over the defeat. We cut to Ronda talking about how it was her job make sure her fighters get through this, but that she doesn’t feel that this day. After seeing Baszler’s heartache, and seeing what she thought were Tate’s smiles over it, Rousey vowed to make Miesha pay. We cut back to more consolation, with “Rowdy” telling her top pick that not everybody who wins the Ultimate Fighter becomes anything, but that some people who just appear on it become everything.
We go now to the fight selection, with Dana White telling Coach Tate that she has to pick a fight between two of the male fighters. As had been discussed in the house earlier, it was indeed Chris Holdsworth vs. Chris Beal. After the pick, we hear Miesha getting straight to the point, saying they picked Beal straight away because of his hand injury, as it would give Holdsworth an advantage against the heavy-handed striker. Rousey, still smarting from what happened with Baszler, called Tate’s pick, “Some p—y-ass bulls–t,” but said that Beal will beat Holdsworth with one hand. On the way out, Rousey pulls up alongside Tate and tells her, “Just to let you know, you smiling at my girl’s pain is one more reason why I’m going to f–king destroy you again.” Tate tried to claim that Baszler was her friend, something which Baszler tempered in the same post-fight blog she copped to the mental issues in by saying they were merely on “friendly terms.” As Rousey stormed off, Tate chuckled and began to strut as the show came to a close.
Now, I’m going to start this off by saying I honestly don’t believe that Tate was smiling at the fact that Baszler lost. I think she was genuinely happy that Pena won. However, with the bad blood, the needling, and the fact that Miesha Tate can just look smug unintentionally, I can see how Rousey misinterpreted it. As much as the image we’re fed of her says otherwise, Ronda Rousey is – like many Olympic-level elite athletes – rather sensitive, and sensitive people don’t react well when they’re forced to deal with people who they feel have bullied them. In fact, the closing off, the desire for retribution, and the vocal posturing that we saw at the end are responses I recognize from being bullied in my own youth. I also know now that none of those behaviours actually help, but when you’re still emotionally raw, you don’t realize these things. Am I saying that Ronda was right to react the way she did? Certainly not, but I’m saying that I understand why she did it, and feel that she at least deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. As far as the fight between Baszler and Pena goes, I was shocked at the outcome. When I looked at the fight on paper, there was no way it should have gone down the way it did, but that’s the beauty of MMA: Anybody can win on any given day. Now, with that said, let’s look at the standings.
Team Tate (1-0)
- Julianna Pena (1-0)
- Sarah Moras
- Raquel Pennington
- Roxanne Modafferi
- Cody Bollinger
- Chris Holdsworth
- Josh Hill
Tim GormanLouis Fisette
Team Rousey (0-1)
- Jessamyn Duke
- Peggy Morgan
- Jessica Rakoczy
- Chris Beal
- David Grant
- Anthony Gutierrez
- Michael Wooten