Female fighters drive the opening episode of Season 18 of 'The Ultimate Fighter'

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Not one for understatement, UFC president Dana White calls Season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter" monumental.

The addition of women as coaches and fighters is a first for the long-running reality TV show. Whether they help make this season great TV remains to be told.

The show's format — locking up fighters in a gilded cage of a Las Vegas mansion and denying them access to the outside world other than to venture outside to train and fight — has been tired for some time now.

Putting men and women under the same roof will undoubtedly lead to new hijinks.

But the show tends to live and die on the relationship between the coaches and the talent of the fighters.

Bad blood between the coaches always ups the ante. Still the series can also succeed when it shows a fighter in a new light as coach.

The brash Chael Sonnen became more human and likable through his obvious affection and concern for his athletes. Brazil's Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a big teddy bear of a man, also shone as a coach.

At the other end of the spectrum, a seemingly disinterested Roy (Big Country) Nelson probably lost fans as a result of his lacklustre stint as coach.

Judging from Episode 1 of the new season and teasers shown from later episodes, the antipathy between coaches (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey and Miesha (Cupcake) Tate will be front and centre although the two do their best to ignore each other after their initial meeting.

At first blush, it seems like Tate will be handling the drama with less stress. She also seems to have the better handle on the background of the female fighters she is watching.

The first hint of drama comes when Tate, the No. 3 contender among 135-pounders, is shown entering the UFC Gym where she encounters a surprised Rousey, the current UFC women's bantamweight champion.

"Surprise, surprise," Tate says with a smile.

"What are you here for?" asks Rousey, who won the Strikeforce title off Tate when they first fought in March 2012.

Tate thought Rousey disrespectful the first time they met and their relationship has gone downhill since. The two will get to settle their differences in the cage at UFC 168 in Las Vegas on Dec. 29.

Rousey, who beat Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in the UFC's first women's bout, was due to coach against No. 1 contender Cat Zingano, who beat Tate in April.

But when Zingano blew out her knee, the UFC summoned Tate as a replacement, bypassing No. 2 Sarah Kaufman of Victoria.

The initial show introduces 32 fighters — 16 men and 16 women — who have to fight their way into the final cast of 16.

The TUF female roster contains such veteran fighters as Shayna (The Queen of Spades) Baszler (15-8), Tara LaRosa (21-3), and Roxanne (The Happy Warrior) Modafferi (15-10).

Then again, the organization is still building its fledgling 135-pound division. The UFC currently lists 38 men's bantamweights but just 14 women's 135-pounders on its website.

Baszler and Modafferi both win their qualification fights but LaRosa loses a decision to Sarah Moras of Kelowna, B.C.

Modafferi chokes out Montreal's Valerie Letourneau, who trains at the same gym as Georges St-Pierre.

In all, three of the five Canadians on display make the final cast of 16.

Jessica Rakoczy, a native of Hamilton and former pro boxer who now makes her home in Las Vegas, submits Revelina Berto. And Hamilton's Josh Hill outwrestles Ireland's Patrick Holohan, earning some less-than-stellar reviews in the process.

Winnipeg's Louis Fisette puts on a good show but is submitted by Chris Holdsworth, a member of Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male.

TUF producers resort to the same device used in Season 17 of having loved ones visit their hotel room prior to their qualification fight to flesh out their back story.

For some reason, it does not work as well this time. The short intros seem unsatisfactory, even though less time is seemingly devoted to the opening round of qualification fights on the two-hour debut episode titled "History in the Making."

The show comes with a mea culpa from White, who used to argue there wasn't enough talent among the women to warrant their admission into the UFC.

"I'd said for a long time that I would never let women compete in the UFC," said White. "But I was very wrong. .. the women that we have this season are legit and they've been waiting for this moment their entire life"

The women seem to offer some of the better storylines, including former model Jessamyn Duke. The five-foot-11 former model displays strength and a prickly game from the bottom en route to a first-round submission win over a five-foot-three Brit in the first ever female bout on the show.

The Amazon-like Peggy Morgan is an adjunct college professor who teaches literature. The six-foot-one Morgan can also administer a good beating, it seems.

Julianna Pena is another woman you wouldn't want to be locked in a cage with.

"This girl comes in to finish you and to inflict some damage," White said admiringly. "I like her."

The show does little to boost some of the men, with White summing up one bout by saying "It sucked ... I lost 15 minutes of my life."

"Pretty uneventful" is how Tate describes another men's bout.

One of the better contests comes late in the show when Cody Bollinger stops Rafael de Freitas in an action-packed contest.

"Awesome fight," said White.

Unbeaten Chris Beal also impresses.

Iowa's Tim Gorman is the early favourite to be the class clown, mugging in the cage and then saying he has never heard of Tate.

Expect fireworks in the first fight, slated to be shown in next week's episode.

After Rousey wins the toss and chooses the right to pick the first fight, Tate selects training partner Pena first overall. Rousey then chooses Baszler.

Rousey opts to match strength against strength when it comes to the first fight, picking a battle of first picks in Pena and Baszler.

As for the Canadian women, Moras goes third overall to Tate while Rakoczy is Rousey's last pick.

Bollinger goes first overall to Tate in choosing the men's teams ahead of Beal with Team Rousey. Hill is taken fifth overall by Tate.

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