LAS VEGAS—The UFC's addition of the women's strawweight division is happening a whole lot sooner than anyone believed.
UFC president Dana White announced on a Wednesday conference call that the contracts of 11 Invicta 115-pound fighters have been assigned to the UFC, and they will move into The Ultimate Fighter house on May 18 to begin filming the fall season of the reality show. In an unprecedented move for the promotion and the show, the winner of the tournament—traditionally held each December in Las Vegas—will become the first UFC women's strawweight champion.
White said that open tryouts will be held to determine the rest of the participants. He declined to speculate about the potential coaches, but he did note that male fighters will more than likely serve the roles.
The 11 fighters who had their contracts transferred from Invicta—owned by former Strikeforce employee Shannon Knapp—are: Carla Esparza, Claudia Gadelha, Alex Chambers, Felice Herrig, Bec Hyatt, Emily Kagan, Juliana Lima, Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres, Paige VanZant and Joanne Calderwood.
Esparza is the reigning Invicta strawweight champion. She was scheduled to face Gadelha at last week's Invicta 7 event, but an illness suffered during weight cutting put Gadelha on the shelf. At the event, Esparza challenged Torres in an awkward moment; now, it appears that the moment will become more awkward when the pair must live in a house together for six weeks.
"I think it's pretty damn obvious that we're in business with women now," White said. He also noted that the addition of the UFC's newest division will help Invicta's business to grow, and he also said that buying Invicta outright wouldn't do the sport any good.
Needless to say, this will be one of the most anticipated seasons of The Ultimate Fighter in many years.
“The women’s 135-pound division in the UFC has been amazing and we know there are a ton of talented women’s mixed martial artists out there,” White said in a press release emailed to Bleacher Report. “Now, you’ll see even more great women’s bouts in the UFC with the addition of the 115-pound division. We’re excited to crown the first-ever UFC women’s strawweight champion in 2014 after a historic season of The Ultimate Fighter.”