With TUF 26, The Ultimate Fighter is Off to Its Most Promising Start in Years

TUF 26 Finale Roxanne Modafferi at Invicta FC 23
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

I’ll admit, I’ve been fooled before. I had high hopes for The Ultimate Fighter 25: Redemption, only to be let down after the show devolved into “more of the same” territory. Yet there were a number of things about last night’s TUF 26 season opener that were quite promising.

First and foremost: in episode one, we got right to the point. Gone was the drawn-out, two hour premier. Thankfully so: over the next few weeks, we’re going to get to know these fighters anyway. Two hours to them auditioning to get into the house would have been too much.

Fifty or so fighters tried out. Sixteen made it. We’ve known who for a while now, but it was still interesting to get a wee bit of backstory. A fighter from overseas selling her car to make it to the audition? An American flyweight buying a one-way ticket as motivation? Roxanne Modafferi getting props from Dana for upping her game? These little mini-stories worked.

Dana White next appeared via video link to remind the fighters that they were on the show to win the title. Then it was on to the selection of teams, and picking the first fight, set up as usual by a coin toss. Eddie Alvarez won the toss, and picked the first fighter: Barb Honchak. Not a bad pick, even if she’s been inactive for a while. Justin Gaethje, as a result, got to pick the first fight, and for his first fighter chose Modafferi. As fighters were chosen, their seed for the tournament was announced — that’s right, opponents were predetermined based on the seeding. That meant that choosing the first fight literally just meant choosing which two fighters went first. Roxy, it turns out, was seeded first overall. She was matched up with Shana Dobson, the 16th seed, 2-1 as a pro.

Ultimately, Gaethje decided that Modafferi would fight first.

We then got the usual scenes of the cast exploring the TUF house, followed by some training snippets. Coach Alvarez opted to focus on Dobson’s standup, figuring that Modafferi has been training far too long for him to be able to teach Dobson to survive her ground game. Over on Team Gaethje, the coaches were focused on keeping Modafferi positive (which shouldn’t be too difficult a task with someone named “The Happy Warrior”).

In what seemed like the quickest episode in Ultimate Fighter history (and that’s not a bad thing!), the fight was then upon us. Ultimately, while Dobson showed some promise on the feet, Modafferi was able to get her to the ground and unleash an unholy fury of elbows the mounted fighter could not escape from. Modafferi by TKO, and a statement was made: new Roxy is still adorably nerdy, but she’s more dangerous than ever before.

Maybe it was the wise decision to cut down on the episode length. Maybe it was the complete lack of drama in episode one. Maybe TUF just gets better when a belt is being introduced (TUF 20, which introduced the women’s strawweights, was a standout season). Regardless of reason, it was a strong start for a show desperately in need of a boost.

The only negative? The preview for the rest of the season unveiled a whole lot of drama to come. Hopefully it won’t be as trite and manufactured as some previous years. Come on UFC, you’ve learned your lesson right?