Last week’s episode of TUF 18: Rousey / Tate was a ho-hum affair to say the least. For all intents and purposes it was a two hour snooze fest, which featured few fights and a whole lot of highlights and warm fuzzy, family moments.
The show itself did poorly in the ratings and garnered only 762,000 viewers; an historical low for a season premier.
That said and in my opinion, the series premiere episode has never been much of a fan rousing event or riveting television. The show simply tries to pack too much into its debut and wastes too much time on fighters (16 of them) that don’t make it into the house.
Last night, episode two of TUF aired on FOX Sports 1 and what a difference a week makes.
If you missed last night’s broadcast then you missed a great episode and more particularly, a great fight between the number one and two female picks, Julianna Pena and Shayna Baszler.
Pena is the younger and considerably less experienced fighter, and at age 24, has but six professional fights to her credit (4 & 2). She is a personal friend and training partner of Miesha Tate’s, and as such, became Ronda Rousey’s first target.
As Rousey won the coin toss last week and opted to pick the first fight, she selected her number one choice, Shayna Baszler, as the fighter to take out Tate’s friend. The 33 year old Baszler has considerably more experience than does Pena (18 & 5) and as such, was a heavy favorite to not only win the bout with Pena, but to also win the whole tournament.
In lead up to the fight, Baszler was nothing but confident and even remarked how Pena didn’t belong in the same ring with her; that ostensibly, she viewed a fight with Pena as an insult.
For her part, Pena seemed to be unsure of herself and a little tentative about taking on a fighter of Baszler’s status and record.
However, with words of encouragement and a game plan from Tate, Pena stepped into the ring to face the wrestling savvy and submission happy, Baszler. Her instruction from coach Tate was to go out and punch Baszler in the face; to be aggressive from the get go and keep the pressure up.
On the other hand, Baszler had no game plan from Rousey. Rousey didn’t see the need for one, as Baszler had been trained for different scenarios and as such, would simply react to whatever transpired in the ring.
The bell rang and Pena came out executing her game plan and masterfully. She immediately took the center of the Octagon and began punching the more experienced Baszler in the face, and Baszler didn’t like it.
What ensued was just a great bout. Back and forth they went, with Pena trying to be the aggressor and Baszler doing her best to have none of it. As the round traveled from cage to canvass, Pena more than held her own and definitely got Baszler’s attention, but by round’s end Baszler had won the five minutes.
As the second round broke Pena appeared to be the fresher and more confident fighter. With wild and heavy punches, Pena once again came forward and took the fight to Baszler, and in doing so, was landing the more punitive shots. In an effort to tie it up, Baszler went for the clinch, but Pena reversed her on the fence and took her down. Once there, Pena controlled and dominated the tiring Baszler. After a minute or so on the ground, Pena took Baszler’s back and submitted her opponent by rear-naked choke, at 1:52 of the second round; upset victory, secured.
With that, there was a scream of “are you ****ing kidding me” from coach Rousey and nothing but smiles and jubilation from Tate. Her fighter had beaten her nemesis’s number one choice and the sting of it was obvious on Rousey’s face.
In exiting the gym, Rousey passed Tate and remarked "Just so you know, you smiling at my girl's pain today is one more reason I'm going to f---ing destroy you, again." With a smile, chuckle in her voice and a buoyant stride in her walk, Tate simply laughed and said “She’s my friend”.
In synopsis, Baszler lost because she looked past her opponent and Pena won, because she didn’t. She demonstrated true heart and determination in her victory, and now becomes the odds on favorite to win the 135 pound (women’s) tournament.
Up next in the house is a bout between two more number one (men’s) picks, as Chris Holdsworth (team Tate) takes on Chris Beal (team Rousey).
Finally and on a sad note, fighter Tim Gorman has been removed from competition due to a nasty, pre-existing hamstring injury and has been replaced by Louis Fisette. Fisette hails from Canada and took a submission loss to Chris Holdsworth in episode one.
All in all, it was a good show and a great fight, and the most enjoyable TUF episode I've seen in years.