Note: This is a column I wrote for MMA Latest
MMA fans who are hoping to see new faces in the octagon won’t have to wait long as the UFC is entering “The Ultimate Fighter” season. To go along with “TUF 21” – where fighters from Blackzillians will take on American Top Team, UFC announced a new season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” with Kelvin Gastelum and Efrain Escudero serving as coaches.
Gastelum and Escudero will each coach a team of lightweights and welterweights whose names will be released in the weeks ahead.
This is interesting as this the first time that two previous “TUF” winners will coach opposite of each other. In the past fans have seen several “TUF” winners in the coaching spot, including Forrest Griffin, Matt Serra, Roy Nelson and Rashad Evans but they were always against former champions or well-established faces.
Gastelum (10-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC), who is of Mexican descent, competed on “TUF 17” under the guidance of Chael Sonnen and defeated Uriah Hall to win the middleweight tournament. Since “TUF 17,” Gastelum dropped to welterweight and won his next four fights. His unblemished record was broken after a split-decision loss to Tyron Woodley at UFC 183.
UFC President Dana White ordered Gastelum to move back up to middleweight after missing weight in two of his last four fights.
Escudero (23-9, 4-5), a native of Mexico, has had a longer and different road than Gastelum. He appeared on “TUF 8” as a member of Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera’s team and won the lightweight tournament. He has had his difficulties over the years, including being released from the UFC roster twice and fighting in Bellator and regional promotions.
He returned to the promotion in 2014 is 1-1 in his current stint. Escudero has never lost outside of the UFC.
I think both Gastelum and Escudero are good fits as coaches. They not only bring octagon experience, but also know the trials and tribulations that come with competing on the “TUF” program. They’ll also bring some of the techniques and tips from their respective gyms.
The UFC had success with “TUF: Latin America,” which featured UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and interim titleholder Fabricio Werdum as coaches. Yair “Pantera” Rodriguez and Alejandro “El Diablito” Perez won the featherweight and bantamweight tournaments, respectively. According to a UFC press release, the first season drew an average of seven million viewers per episode in Mexico and millions more throughout Latin American countries.
According to MMA Fighting, it’s unlikely that Gastelum and Escudero will face each other in a traditional coach vs. coach bout but they may compete on the bout.
When UFC President Dana White announced that “TUF” was going to include international talent I was thrilled. It gives competitors from around the world to compete on a big stage and earn their places in history with the likes of Forrest Griffin, Matt Serra and T.J. Dillashaw. It also gives fans a chance to see a new batch of fighters. Not every competitor will make it to the UFC, but if some fans get attached to a particular fighter, they can continue to follow his career after the show.
I’d say the concept has been successful so far. Since 2012, the UFC has aired seven international “TUF” seasons. “TUF: Brazil 4” is scheduled to air in April with Nogueira and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua as coaches.
“TUF: Latin America 2” will begin filming this month and air on UFC Fight Pass in August. The finale is scheduled to take place in the fall.