Women join men in first co-ed TUF

Brad Royster had on a silver Spartan helmet as he stood in line ahead of Tyler Bialecki, who wore a white cowboy hat. Nearby sat Davey Grant in his Union Jack dress complete with a blonde wig.

As usual, there were certainly a few among the more than 200 fighters seeking to be part of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter who attempted to sell more than just their MMA abilities. But there was something different about the composition of fighters inside the Palace Station Hotel and Casino’s Grand Ballroom on Monday.

Females. For the first time in TUF history, next season’s run on FOX Sports 1 that debuts on Sept. 4 will feature a co-ed household.

“If it doesn’t work out with the guys, I’m going to try out with the girls,” Grant joked. “It’s worth a shot. Looking at some of the girls, I think I’d have a better shot trying out against the guys, anyway.”

UFC president Dana White said previously that the talent pool isn’t quite deep enough to have an exclusively women’s household. Fifty female competitors tried out on Monday, the first step in a weeklong process that will help select the new TUF cast of 135-pound fighters.

UFC women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano, who beat Miesha Tate at Saturday, will be the coaches. The house is expected to be split evenly between men and women.

“I’m actually excited,” said Sarah “Cheesecake” Moras, a 23-year-old prospect from British Columbia. “I think a house full of girls would drive me nuts. It’s definitely going to be better with males and females. Guys will at least keep it sane because there are girls there and they want to impress them.”

None of the women’s competitors donned any outlandish attire as they weighed in and got registered. The field was pared down some after a grappling session before the striking portion of the tryout — which was off-limits to the media — began.

Jessica Rakoczy, a 36-year-old championship boxer, was one of the more impressive grapplers, forcing her opponent to tap out twice. Other highly ranked females included Tara LaRosa and Shayna Baszler.

“You women are crazy,” White quipped during one of the more heated grappling sessions.

Matchmakers Sean Shelby and Joe Silva will pare down the list of men and women in the coming days. The cast isn’t expected to be announced for a few weeks.

UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon, a cast member of Season 5 of the show, said what the UFC is looking for in TUF cast member has evolved over the years.

“In the past, The Ultimate Fighter was more about shock and awe,” said Lauzon, who attended the tryout with a couple fighters he trains. “Guys were acting like idiots in the house. Last season, it was more of a documentary. UFC wants more serious guys. Everybody knows about the sport. There’s no need to be shocking.”

The most recent and also youngest TUF winner — clinched at the finale on Saturday — was also in attendance.

“None of the guys who tried to stand out and look goofy made it into the house,” said Kelvin Gastelum, who beat Uriah Hall via a decision to claim the $100,000 UFC contract. “The Ultimate Fighter is stepping their game up with the level of talent. You saw that in the last season. I’m pretty sure they are going to do it again.”

UFC fighters Julie Kedzie and John Dodson were also at the tryout to cheer on their teammates from Jackson’s MMA.

“I’m sure this is nerve-wracking,” Kedzie said. “I’m sure the girls who have more experience will know how to handle themselves. Being reality show ready and fight ready are two different things. The girls that I know who have being doing this forever will be fine.”

Beyond the obvious potential for illicit behavior, Kedzie said she expects something else TUF has never had before.

“If they keep it without sex and not crazy, they can form training partners they can rely on the entire season because they won’t fight each other in the end,” she said. “That’s a huge benefit.”

TUF 18 hasn’t officially begun taping, although that didn’t mean there wasn’t drama on Day 1 of the tryouts.

“It was awesome,” said one dismissed female competitor as tears welled in her eyes. “It was the greatest experience ever. It was tough. I knew my weak spot was the ground, but I didn’t get submitted. I’ll try out again.”