The cast for The Ultimate Fighter 18 was revealed last week, much to the delight of fans of both the long-running reality show and prospects of the sport. Of course, this season boasts a male and female cast for the first time ever.
The season is coached by women's champion and general superstar Ronda Rousey, along with her arch-nemesis Miesha Tate. Tate, of course, got the coaching job after Cat Zingano dropped out due to injury.
From watching the previews, this looks like it will be an explosive season for both the fighters and the coaches. The last time we had 135-pounders in the house was Season 14, which is universally seen as one of the most exciting seasons in the show's history.
With that, let's take a look at the three favorites from both the men's and women's brackets who have the best chance at winning the show.
You know what they say: "Ladies first." The clear favorite of the show so far definitely has to be Shayna Baszler, a fighter who many believe shouldn't have had to use this show to get into the UFC.
Baszler is ranked in the top 10 at 135 pounds in most women's rankings and is one of the most experienced ladies on the show. Because women's MMA is still young in its output, women with more experience on this show are obviously going to be the favorites.
Baszler, a decade-long pro, holds a 15-8 record while fighting some of the top women in the world. She already boasts wins over UFC fighters Julie Kedzie and Alexis Davis, as well as castmate Roxanne Modafferi and Invicta mainstay Sarah D'Alelio.
Baszler is an exciting finisher as well. Of her 15 wins, all but one have come via submission, showing that the Queen of Spades is not to be messed with on the mat.
With her experience and submission expertise, there is no wonder why she is the early favorite among most fans.
The UFC likes to build Julie Kedzie up as a pioneer of women's MMA, and rightfully so. However, to leave Tara LaRosa out of that talk is almost criminal.
LaRosa was doing MMA when WMMA wasn't even cool yet. Banging since 2002, LaRosa has faced damn-near everybody. Plus, in coming onto this show, she moves back to 135 pounds from 125, where she struggled from the weight cut.
LaRosa already has a psychological advantage over some of her housemates. Though she lost a barnburner to the aforementioned Modafferi, she does have a win over her, plus wins over fellow housemate Baszler, Japanese star Hitomi Akano and fellow UFC vets Kedzie and Davis.
LaRosa is definitely well-rounded, but like Baszler she has shown to be a great submission fighter. At 21-3, LaRosa owns 15 finishes, including 12 by tapout.
The 35-year-old veteran may be a little bit past her prime, but even in that state she is better than 90 percent of the opposition she will see in the cage. That's certainly saying something.
The third and final favorite spot was a toss-up among a few women, but ultimately experience became a factor. Despite moving up from 125 pounds, Tonya Evinger is a game competitor who is going to be hard to knock off in this tournament.
A member of Team Quest boasting an 11-6 record, Evinger brings a well-rounded game that has seen her knock out five opponents and tap out four. Among her victims include UFC vet Kedzie and Carina Damm, the sister of UFC vet Rodrigo Damm.
Evinger's losses have all come to top-notch females. She has fallen to Gina Carano, Sara McMann and has two losses to the aforementioned Davis.
Her biggest flaw has been her submission defense, which hurts her stock a bit. However, she truly is scrappy and will give pure grapplers a fit on the feet.
As for the men, my top favorite at this point hails from Canada and goes by the name of Josh Hill. "The Gentleman" is a guy whom I have called for the UFC to sign for a while, and he finally gets a chance to prove himself on the show.
Undefeated at 9-0, Hill brings an extremely balanced attack that has seen him dominate most of his fights. His most recent win, a decision victory over fellow Canadian prospect John Fraser, really put him ahead of the pack at 135 pounds.
His main home has been at Score Fighting Series, a respectable promotion run out of Canada. This show can really boost him into stardom, but first he has to run through a field of hungry opposition.
Rafael de Freitas
Although Rafael de Freitas is relatively new to MMA and primarily a jiu-jitsu practitioner, he has the MMA world buzzing about his potential.
The Brazilian, who trains out of New Mexico, is 6-0-1. The draw on his record comes from a razor-thin fight with UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos, whom de Freitas brought to the limit.
His jiu-jitsu is so good that according to Brian Stann at the UFC weigh-ins show, he was brought in by Diego Brandao to work with him during his training camp. Think about that: Brandao, a submission fighter in his own right, asked De Freitas to come in and work jiu-jitsu with him.
That's saying something. Plus, with five of his six wins coming via tapout (including an inverted omoplata), nobody is going to want to battle this guy on the ground, even for a second.
I always like to pull the experience card, so there is no wonder why Danny Martinez is one of the favorites as of right now to win the show. He's had 20 professional fights, four more than the second-most experienced guy on the show (Cody Bollinger).
While that may not mean entirely much, consider the fact that Martinez is not just fighting cans. He has stepped in the squared circle with UFC veterans such as Joseph Benavidez, Jussier da Silva and Mark Hominick in his time, which, despite losing those fights, brought him great experience and a level of fighting to work up to.
The Alliance MMA product is also a finisher. He has only won decisions in four fights, as the other 16 were finished by knockout or submission. He has solid wrestling and good hands, which may help the fact that in all four losses he has never been finished.
"The Gremlin" hasn't fought in a year, which could help or hurt him. He'll either be really rested and refreshed or he will bring some ring rust to the cage with him.