The UFC has reached the 18th season of its flagship reality program, The Ultimate Fighter. And, for the second time in the last four seasons, it will have a new home, Fox Sports 1. It also has a new night, as the show will debut on Wednesday, Sept. 4, following the completion of UFC Fight Night 28.

That’s not all that’s new for TUF 18, as women join the show for the first time. The cast will be split between 16 bantamweights of each gender, with each vying for a six-figure contract with the promotion. Also a first, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and bitter rival Miesha Tate will be the first female coaches in the show’s history. The pair will clash on Dec. 28 for Rousey’s 135-pound strap at UFC 168 in Las Vegas.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the cast heading into the elimination fights to get into the TUF house. The MMA Corner’s Bryan Henderson takes a look at the men’s side of the roster, while Rob Tatum shines the spotlight on the ladies, with each revealing which fighters should be considered favorites and longshots to win the show.

The Favorites

Cody Bollinger (14-2)
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Age: 22
Height: 5-foot-10
Twitter: @CodyBollinger

The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native is 22 years old and trains out of Millenia MMA. Bollinger has also spent time at Cobra Kai and with Greg Jackson and Donald Cerrone. Despite his young age, Bollinger has been competing professionally since 2006. He wrestled in high school and college. The 5-foot-10 bantamweight holds a notable decision victory over TUF alum Cameron Dollar, but he has suffered two losses and a no-contest within his last nine bouts. One of the losses came under the Bellator banner against Shahbulat Shamhalaev via TKO and the other was a 2010 defeat by way of submission against Strikeforce vet Magno Almeida. “Bam Bam” has four wins by some form of knockout and five via submission.

Rafael de Freitas (6-0-1)
Albuquerque, N.M.
Age: 29
Height: 5-foot-6
Twitter: @Baratafreitas

Every season of The Ultimate Fighter features at least one fighter who is competing outside of his natural weight class. This season, 29-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., native Rafael de Freitas is that man. The highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt is a hot prospect at flyweight, but he will compete on the reality series as a bantamweight in the hopes of getting his foot in the Octagon door. Undefeated through seven fights, the 5-foot-6 Gracie Barra New Mexico product has squared off with the likes of UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos and Bellator vet Nick Mamalis. He fought to a split draw with the former, but submitted the latter. Having made his pro debut in 2007, de Freitas has not fought with much regularity. He fought just once a year through his first four years as a pro, then twice in 2011, not at all in 2012 and once, under the Legacy FC banner against Banuelos, in 2013. “Barata” is probably best known for the “Baratoplata” shoulder lock. In BJJ competition, he captured a 2007 brown belt World championship and a 2011 Pan American championship. In MMA, he has finished five of his opponents via submission, including four in the first round. Size could be the only thing holding “Barata” back in this competition.

Emil Hartsner (4-0)
Luberod, Sweden
Age: 23
Height: 6-foot-0
Twitter: @EmilHartsner

The 23-year-old Swede fights out of Frontier MMA, but has also spent time training stateside at Alliance MMA. He made his pro debut in 2012 and has tallied three submission wins and a unanimous decision victory through his four-fight career. Three of his four opponents currently sport winning records. A hockey player in his youth, Hartsner has a well-rounded background in MMA and has captured national championships in shootfighting and amateur competition.

Josh Hill (9-0)
Binbrook, Ontario, Canada
Age: 26
Height: 5-foot-6
Twitter: @gentlemanjhill

The 26-year-old Canadian has paired Muay Thai and powerful wrestling to great success through his first nine outings. Since the NAGA grappling champion’s pro debut in 2009, he has notched win after win on the regional Canadian circuit. The knock on Hill is his lack of finishing ability. The 5-foot-6 House of Champions product has just two TKO victories and one submission finish. His other six fights, including his five most recent outings, have gone the distance, though he has always earned the unanimous nod. He has faced a healthy number of fighters who currently sit above the .500 mark and possesses notable victories over Score Fighting Series veteran John Fraser and Dream vet Federico “Kiko” Lopez.

Chris Holdsworth (4-0)
Woodland Hills, Calif.
Age: 25
Height: 5-foot-11
Twitter: @holdsworth135

The 25-year-old native of Woodland Hills, Calif., is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who has spent time training with some of the world’s best. He started out with Royce Gracie in California and trained under members of the Gracie family until he was a purple belt. Holdsworth then moved to Las Vegas to become an instructor at Marc Laimon’s Cobra Kai gym and advanced to black belt under Laimon. He also trained with Team Takedown while at Cobra Kai and has since moved back to California to train with Team Alpha Male. He competed in grappling tournaments as a teenager and capped a six-fight amateur MMA career with a win over TUF 18 castmate Anthony Gutierrez. He made his professional debut in 2010 and has submitted all four of his opponents, including three in the first stanza. His most notable victory came in his Resurrection Fighting Alliance debut, his most recent outing, when he submitted prospect Tyler Shinn in the second round.

Danny Martinez (16-4)
San Diego, Calif.
Age: 28
Height: 5-foot-5
Twitter: @dannymma125

The 28-year-old Alliance MMA product from San Diego is among the most recognizable names from the cast list. “The Gremlin” is a WEC veteran who went the distance against current UFC flyweight contender and former bantamweight competitor Joseph Benavidez. Martinez’s other three losses? Also decisions, and against the likes of UFC veterans Mark Hominick and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, plus Adrian Wooley. He holds a notable win over Nick Honstein. Martinez made his pro debut in 2006 after wrestling in college. He has eight wins by some form of knockout and four via submission. The 5-foot-5 fighter’s biggest disadvantage in this competition is his size. Martinez is a flyweight, but he’s moving up to 135 pounds for the reality series.

The Longshots

Davey Grant (8-1)
Bishop Auckland, England
Age: 27
Height: 5-foot-8
Twitter: N/A

One of England’s two male representatives this season, the 27-year-old was bound for Cage Warriors before making the TUF cast. Grant held numerous titles in England, including the Total Combat and Shock N Awe bantamweight straps. The North East Top Team product suffered losses in two amateur outings and his 2009 pro debut, with two of the losses coming by way of submission. He has since turned his career around with eight straight stoppage wins, including seven submissions and six first-round finishes. He has primarily faced fighters at or well below the .500 mark, though he does hold a win over prospect James Pennington.

Chris Beal (7-0)
Somis, Calif.
Age: 28
Height: 5-foot-7
Twitter: @RealDealCbeal

The 28-year-old cancer survivor trains out of the Knuckleheadz Gym in Ventura, Calif. He competed in wrestling during his high school years and captured a CIF Championship and took second place at the Junior FILA State Championships. Beal is undefeated since making his pro debut in 2009. The BAMMA USA veteran has seen the scorecards in six of his seven outings and eked by with split decisions in two of his wins. His only victory via stoppage came by way of a first-round TKO against Jose Morales. “The Real Deal” has primarily fed on veterans with losing records, but he has defeated a pair of fighters who sit above the .500 mark. Beal had signed on with the World Series of Fighting before joining The Ultimate Fighter cast.

Matt Munsey (4-1)
Hollywood, Fla.
Age: 26
Height: 5-foot-8
Twitter: N/A

The 26-year-old from Hollywood, Fla., is one of the only fighters entering the TUF house off a loss. In March 2012, the C4 MMA product dropped a unanimous decision to Bellator veteran Bryan Goldsby. Prior to the loss, Munsey, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade, had been perfect through four fights, with three stoppage victories. He has won two fights via TKO and one by way of submission. His most recent victory came on the scorecards against sub-.500 fighter Matt Covan. In fact, outside of Goldsby, Munsey has not faced a fighter with a winning record.

The Rest

Louis Fisette (6-1)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Age: 23
Height: 5-foot-8
Twitter: @lfisetteMMA

The Canadian contingent of the TUF 18 cast includes 23-year-old Winnipeg native Louis Fisette. “Petit Pain” trains under the tutelage of Curtis Brigham at the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts. After losing his pro debut in 2011, Fisette surged back with six straight stoppage wins, including five in the first round. As a pro, he has four submission wins and two victories by some form of knockout, but one of the submissions was due to strikes. As an amateur, Fisette was also a quick finisher, with three stoppages (two TKOs and one submission) in three total outings. Fisette has mostly fought middling competition, with his best opponent currently sporting a 6-3 mark.

Tim Gorman (4-4)
West Des Moines, Iowa
Age: 30
Height: 5-foot-4
Twitter: N/A

The 30-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa, started wrestling when he was just five years old. He went on to wrestle in high school and finished third in the state. The 5-foot-4 Des Moines MMA Academy fighter debuted in 2005 and scored knockout wins in 15 and 19 seconds to start his career at 2-0. In just his third fight, he lost via guillotine choke against WEC and IFL veteran L.C. Davis. After three more wins, Gorman suffered a split decision loss to Bellator and RFA vet Jared Downing. He has reeled off three more wins since that defeat. Gorman has six wins by some form of knockout and one via a submission due to strikes. The MCC featherweight champ has only notched wins over two fighters that sport winning records.

Anthony Gutierrez (4-0)
Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Age: 22
Height: 5-foot-11
Twitter: @Sharkbait816

Lee’s Summit, Mo., native Anthony Gutierrez trains out of K2L Grindhouse, but has traveled to California to work with Team Alpha Male to further improve his skill set. The 22-year-old Titan FC veteran is undefeated in his pro career with four first-round stoppages, including three submission wins (one via strikes) and a TKO. The 5-foot-11 “Sharkbait” has previously competed as a featherweight, which may lend him a size advantage against a majority of his bantamweight foes in this competition. He holds a notable win over prospect Cody Land. All four of his pro bouts took place in 2011.

Patrick Holohan (9-0-1)
Dublin, Ireland
Age: 25
Height: 5-foot-10
Twitter: @PaddyHolohanMMA

Perhaps the UFC is hoping it can make a second trip to the well by including Conor McGregor’s SBG Ireland teammate in this season of The Ultimate Fighter. The 25-year-old Irishman, known as “The Hooligan,” has seen the scorecards just twice in his 10-fight career, with a draw and a unanimous decision victory to show for it. His other eight appearances have resulted in a knockout victory and seven submission wins. He holds notable wins over Artemij Sitenkov and Damien Rooney. His draw came against a fighter whose record sits at 1-4, but the 5-foot-9 Holohan won via first-round submission in a rematch. Seven of his fights have ended in the first round.

Sirwan Kakai (9-1)
Coconut Creek, Fla.
Age: 23
Height: 5-foot-6
Twitter: @Sirwan_Kakai

The 23-year-old is based out of Coconut Creek, Fla., and trains with Brad Pickett at American Top Team, but he originates from Sweden, where he trained alongside fellow prospects Assan Njie and Akira Corassani with GBG MMA. “Zohan” has five wins by way of submission and three via some form of knockout. He debuted as a featherweight in 2008 at the age of 18 and suffered his lone loss via unanimous decision. Kakai has been fighting competition at or above the .500 mark in his last several fights and holds notable wins over Jose Luis Zapater and James Doolan.

Lee Sandmeier (8-0)
Knoxville, Iowa
Age: 30
Height: 5-foot-8
Twitter: N/A

Iowa’s Sandmeier is 30 years old and trains out of the Knoxville Boxing Club. Sandmeier has a background in boxing, but prefers submissions in MMA competition. Since making his pro debut in 2009, he has finished all eight of his opponents within the first round and has needed less than a minute to conquer his foe on two occasions. Sandmeier forced seven of his opponents to tap and has also scored a knockout victory. The Extreme Challenge veteran has fed mostly on veterans with significant losing records. He is legally deaf, with only 20 percent hearing in one ear.

Michael Wootten (7-0)
Liverpool, England
Age: 24
Height: 5-foot-10
Twitter: @mikewootten

The 24-year-old is considered a top prospect in his native England. He trains out of MMA Academy Liverpool, but his roots in martial arts extend to his time spent training in Japanese jujutsu at the age of 16. Not long after, he found his way to MMA. Since debuting in 2009, the Brit has four wins by some form of knockout and two by way of submission. His last two fights have come against opponents who sport winning records. Wootten does have 16- and 67-second TKO wins, but he has not consistently finished opponents within the first round.

Photo: TUF 18 Cast (Zuffa, LLC)

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  • Kris

    Hartsner is a talent but his opponents so far has been very medicore. Best so far is Akhtar that’s a good kickboxer but lacks mma training and experience. Wouldn’t make him favorite based on 4-0 against weak oppostion. Nice kid though!

    • Bryan Henderson, Editor-in-Chief

      Almost all of the fighters on the show on the men’s side have faced mediocre competition. I factored in other things in listing him as a favorite – his mediocre competition included fighters with winning records (whereas some fighters on the list have mainly faced guys who have records well below the .500 mark), he’s also done well in related competitions like shoot fighting and amateur MMA, and he’s been training at Alliance MMA to further develop his game. Those things as a whole lead me to believe he’ll have a good showing on TUF.

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