After a few years trying to breathe some life into The Ultimate Fighter franchise, which has grown a bit stale over its eight-year run, the UFC may have finally found its answer.

The promotion has added a wild-card fight, briefly taken the show to Friday nights and even attempted to air the show live for one season, but the UFC is making its biggest change yet with the upcoming TUF 18. It’s going co-ed.

TUF 18, which is expected to air this fall, will spotlight UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in a head coaching spot against the winner of an April fight between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano. The show will have both male and female contestants at 135 pounds.

With UFC President Dana White and company recently diving head first into women’s MMA (and Rousey in particular), it isn’t all that surprising to see the UFC put its fastest rising star in the position to get a few minutes of primetime television exposure every week. Rousey’s first fight inside the Octagon was successful in all areas, with Rousey getting out of trouble early in the bout and eventually securing the win with her patented armbar inside the first round. The win must have been sweet for Rousey, but after the event pulled in a solid pay-per-view number, it looks like everyone involved ended up being a winner.

Now that Rousey has proven to be one of the UFC’s most valuable commodities, it’s becoming more and more important for the UFC to provide challengers to “Rowdy’s” belt that fans can get invested in. The UFC’s 135-pound women’s division is still in its infancy at the moment, and the promotion needs an opportunity to add a few members to its newest weight class in order to help bolster the roster. TUF 18 is likely going to do just that.

And while the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division is slowly building itself from the ground up, its male counterpart is going through a major transitional period of its own. Current champion Dominick Cruz has been stuck on the sidelines for over a year now, and as interim champ Renan Barao slowly takes out the top contenders in the division, it has become clear that bantamweight is lacking depth in both the men’s and women’s divisions.

With both bantamweight divisions in need of a quick influx of talent, it only made sense to make TUF 18 the first co-ed edition in the show’s history. Now, MMA fans just have to wait and see how adding females to the mix is going to affect the show.

The current season of TUF, which features Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen as coaches, has been one of the most fight-oriented seasons of the show in quite a while. In other words, we’ve seen a lot more about the fighters and their preparation for each bout, as opposed to the inside-the-house shenanigans witnessed in the past. For those who watch the show for nothing other than the fight at the end of the hour and to scout a few future UFC roster members, this season has probably been one of the most rewarding in recent memory. It’s doubtful that those fans will be thinking the same thing about TUF 18 when it kicks off later this year.

Over the years, the TUF house has earned a reputation as a reality-show frat house, where a lack of distractions and 16 guys filled with testosterone inevitably leads to a few guys cracking under pressure and losing their composure. Throwing half of the guys out and replacing them with women isn’t exactly going to calm anything down.

In all likelihood, at least a couple people inside the how will start some sort of relationship, and whether it’s something serious or just the TUF version of a one-night stand, odds are that at least one giant blow up in the house is going to happen as a result. If reality television has taught viewers anything, it’s that sex equals drama, and since everything done by MMA fighters seems to bring the intensity level up a bit, we can probably expect some serious drama next season.

However, if we put house antics aside, the show is still going to primarily focus on fighting, and even the fighting aspect of the show is going to change a bit with females being added to the cast. Even if the in-house stuff ends up getting a bit more attention, the fights and the training that leads up to them will still get their fair share of television time, and training in particular is going to open up a lot of new angles for the show to look at.

By the time fighters enter the house, there will be four males and four females on each team, and with all the competitors and the head coaches lingering around 135 pounds, there’s likely going to be some sparring between men and women at some point. Obviously, sparring is nothing like throwing a man and a woman inside the cage for an actual fight, and it’s not uncommon for top female fighters to train with their male counterparts when preparing for a fight. However, it will be interesting to see how the general public reacts the first time we see a female fighter trying to escape a choke being applied by a man in training. For the average MMA fan, this isn’t likely going to cause any problems, but it could cause potential new viewers to look down upon the show.

Another fun wrinkle this season is going to add to the training sessions will be seeing how the men react to Rousey and whomever the other coach is that is giving them direction. It’s 2012, and one would hope that we could get through a coed season of TUF without any misogynistic breakdowns, but there’s always the small possibility that one of the male fighters won’t deal well with having to take directions from a woman.

Season 18 of TUF is likely going to create a lot of firsts for the UFC’s premier television show, but at the very least it is going to help fill out three of the promotion’s weakest divisions. Both the male and female bantamweight rosters seem set to gain at least one or two new members, and since fighters on TUF have a tendency to cut more weight once they leave the show, expect the men’s flyweight division to add some talent as well.

Overall, this could end up being one of the most entertaining seasons of TUF in a very long time, even amidst all of the chaos that will likely be going on inside the house. The level of talent on the screen is going to make TUF 18 must-see TV for both fight fans and reality-show junkies.

Photo: Miesha Tate (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.