Already a trailblazer in the world of women’s mixed martial arts — and women’s sports as a whole, for that matter — Rousey, the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight champion, and arch nemesis Tate will headline “The Ultimate Fighter 18,” which premieres Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
With Rousey and Tate serving as the long-running show’s first-ever female coaches, the series will also feature another first in that it will showcase female fighters, along with male fighters fighting in separate 135-pound tournaments. But leading up to the airing, there has been much ado about the Rousey-Tate feud, producing fireworks aplenty during the tapings — which concluded the first week of July.
“Wait ’til you see the season,” UFC President Dana White said July 30 at the UFC’s World Tour press conference in Los Angeles. “It’s nonstop, it’s never-ending, it’s crazy.”
While those involved in the show are bound to secrecy, one spoiler alert for the first episode has long been public, as Rousey was stunned to find out she would be coaching against Tate rather than Cat Zingano. Zingano defeated Tate to earn a title shot against Rousey in December and a spot coaching against her on the show. However, Zingano suffered a knee injury just before taping began and Tate replaced her. Thus, the histrionics began from the moment filming started, as Rousey and Tate have been rivals for more than a year dating back to their time in Strikeforce when the two eventually clashed with Rousey wrestling away the company’s 135-pound strap.
“It was challenging in a lot of ways,” Tate said in July. “Obviously, Ronda Rousey and I, we’re not the best of friends. Dealing with each other every single day was challenging in itself for both her and I. But we did it and made the best of it. I think it’s gonna be one helluva season.”
As aforementioned, details aren’t readily available, but nobody involved seems shy about conveying how badly the rivalry between the fighters and their camps boiled while cameras were rolling.
“I can’t blame Ronda for not liking her,” Glendale Fighting Club trainer Edmond Tarverdyan said, “and I don’t like her either.”
Tarverdyan, Rousey’s head coach, led Rousey’s coaching staff, which included UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, wrestling coach and former MMA fighter Andy Dermenjian and Marina Shafir, a former judo standout like Rousey and a current undefeated amateur MMA fighter.
“It’s gonna be [expletive deleted] crazy. It’s gonna be epic,” Gamburyan said. “I can’t wait to watch it.”
Gamburyan got his start in the UFC coming off the fifth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” in which he advanced to the finals. He wasn’t the only former contestant to take up a coaching spot, though, as Tate’s boyfriend and current UFC fighter Bryan Caraway is on board.
Caraway has been at the forefront of plenty of the ill will in the feud, going on a Twitter rant before the rivals’ first bout in March of 2012 in which he unleashed some outlandish comments, including that if Rousey, “wants to challenge a man I’ll knock her teeth down (sic) her throat the (sic) break her arm!” Since then, Caraway has become a controversial figure and the subject of plenty of smack talk from Rousey and her camp.
“Her and her boyfriend are all nice in front of the cameras. But they do a lot of things behind the scenes. … They’re two-faced people,” Tarverdyan said. “When they got into ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ they knew they didn’t even deserve to be there. That’s why they were being so nice.”
Rousey, and her camp, might not come off so nice, however.
“It maybe shows Ronda being not so nice,” Tarverdyan said. “I don’t know how they’re gonna show us.
“We’re crazy against them, because they were very disrespectful.”
In seasons past, coaches such as Ken Shamrock, Matt Hughes and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, among others, have come off in a rather unflattering light after their respective seasons aired.
Rousey hasn’t hesitated to admit she might not come off in the best light, thus, her current stay in Bulgaria during the filming of “The Expendables 3,” in which she co-stars, could be perfect timing.
“I’m happy I’m gonna be out of the country while it’s playing so hopefully it blows over a lot more by the time I get back,” Rousey said in July in Los Angeles. “It’s just gonna show a lot that that was not really my best environment for me to be in. I was focusing way more on being the best coach that I possibly could and if you ask anybody on my team, they will say that they were completely happy with how I was as a coach and that’s all I really care about. How I came off personally wasn’t really my biggest goal. Miesha might come off better, her hair might look a little better, but my athletes love me more and that’s all I care about.”
Always loyal, Gamburyan, Rousey’s longtime friend and training partner, said, to the contrary, that the UFC titlist handled it as such.
“She handled it like a champion, 100%,” Gamburyan said.
During a recent media scrum, White said it’s only natural to be a bit worried about how one will be perceived after taping a reality TV show.
“She’s being overly critical of herself,” White said in a recent interview. “You have these girls, ya know, Miesha’s not saying it publicly, but Miesha … is nervous about it, too. When the season’s over, you start thinking back.
“[Rousey’s] never been on TV before in that kind of situation. It freaks you out.”
Either way, it promises for intriguing television.
“All of it is entertaining,” said Tarverdyan of the fights and the drama outside of the cage. “It was exciting.”
With Rousey taking the lead this season and Gamburyan back, it’s not the first time a fighter with Glendale ties has been on the show. Gamburyan was on the show in the fifth season, followed by Roman Mitichyan in the sixth season and teammates Sako Chivitchian and Sevak Magakian were in the 12th installment.
Tate and Rousey got their start as rivals leading up to their initial championship tilt in March of 2012.
Then the Strikeforce women’s 135-pound champion, Tate took offense to Rousey, a former two-time United States Olympian in judo and a 2008 bronze medalist, getting a title shot after just four fights — all of them at 145 pounds — due in large part to Rousey’s brash talk and good looks, according to Tate. Rousey, as usual, made no apologies, saying that women’s MMA needed a little shaking up. What followed was a cavalcade of trash talk, a weigh-in dust-up and a much-hyped title bout March 3, 2012 in which Rousey continued her undefeated start with a championship victory via armbar submission.
White later said the bout convinced him to bring women’s MMA into the UFC for the first time, which culminated with Rousey defending her newly christened UFC title against Liz Carmouche on Feb. 23 in the first-ever women’s bout in company history.
Rousey (7-0) and Tate (13-4) are set to renew their rivalry inside the caged confines of the octagon one more time Dec. 28 at UFC 168 in Las Vegas.
Until then, “The Ultimate Fighter” — in addition to introducing the world to a stable of new male and female 135-pound fighters — will serve as a vehicle to build up the championship tilt. And by all accounts, there will be plenty of build-up to talk about.
“It’s gonna be great for the fans, great for the UFC,” Gamburyan said. “You guys have to watch it. There’s a lot to talk about, but I can’t talk about it.”