The essence of three months of reality television was whittled down to one very real three-minute live interview.
There was Miesha Tate at Las Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night, smiling, gracious, and witty.
To her right, separated by interviewer Jon Anik, was UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere except where she was at the moment.
If this was professional wrestling, they’d call it a double turn, in which the hero becomes the villain and the villain the hero, all in one fell swoop.
But really, should anyone be surprised? Saturday’s Ultimate Fighter Finale card was Tate’s crowning accomplishment, as her fighters went 2-0 in head-to-head championship matchups against their Team Rousey counterparts. Julianna Pena became the first TUF women’s champion by finishing Jessica Rakoczy in the first round of their bantamweight bout; and Chris Holdsworth won the men’s bantamweight crown with a submission win over underdog Davey Grant.
Rousey is an excellent winner. It’s something she’s used to, seeing as she came home from Beijing with an Olympic judo medal and has torn through the competition to become the first UFC women’s champ.
But losing? That’s something she’s yet to prove she can handle gracefully. This was on display Saturday night, as Rousey displayed a teenager’s petulance during her interview.
Asked what would make the difference between their rematch on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas and their first fight – in which Rousey beat Tate last year for what was then the Strikeforce title – Rousey said “I don't think I've seen as good a performance from her since I won the title and she's fought a few times since then. I feel like I have so many advantages I don't even know what is the difference." She then turned her gaze toward the upper deck while Tate responded.
Later, Tate was asked how she could better emotionally prepare for the rematch. "I got a lot of practice those six weeks [in the TUF house]," Tate said. "I'm trying to stay as emotionally un-invested as possible."
As Tate responded, Rousey made a point of yawning on camera.
While Tate has treated Rousey’s scorn with smiles, Pena, the show’s breakout star, makes no secret of her contempt for Rousey. Pena set the tone in the season’s first fight, scoring what at the time was considered a stunning upset of veteran Shayna Baszler, which prompted Rousey’s first on-camera tantrum of the season.
The Team Tate fighter continued to look impressive in the Finale, as she was simply light years ahead of Rakoczy, pummeling her with ground and pound until the fight was stopped.
At the post-fight news conference, Pena made it clear she hasn’t gotten over Rousey’s cold shoulder.
"Whether Ronda has one penny or $10 million, the point I was trying to make there is she has her nose in the air and she acts like she's better than everyone else," Pena said. "She went on the show being like, ‘I'm Team Real Mean versus Fake Nice.' Well if she was so real, why didn't she tell me that I didn't deserve to breathe the same air as Shayna Baszler? Why didn't see tell me that to my face instead of saying it on camera behind my back?”
Then, there was the men’s side of the equation, which lacked much of the drama of the women’s tournament. It also lacked ratings. It didn’t take long to establish that TUF episodes featuring women’s fights drew more viewers than episodes featuring the men. Indeed, before the season was through, UFC president Dana White announced the company plans on adding a 115-pound women’s strawweight division with an eye on a future TUF season.
That TUF 18’s eight-man field was lackluster was underscored by the fact the Holdsworth-Grant final was the only men’s bout on the Finale card, as none of the other men’s bantamweights were given a slot.
But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that Holdsworth looks legit. A member of Sacramento’s well-respected Team Alpha Male gym, Holdsworth was head-and-shoulders above the men’s pack, as he won all three of his tournament fights via submission.
While it’s much too soon to project stardom on the kid, he’s at the right gym – training with the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes – and displays both sound fundamentals and a noticeable killer instinct to his fights.
“[UFC backstage coordinator] Burt Watson said [Friday] at the fighter’s meeting, ‘It’s harder to stay here than it is to get here,’ the unbeaten Holdsworth said. “So I’m just going to work my hardest to do my best and keep becoming a more complete fighter and just keep winning fights.”
As it was, the heated Rousey-Tate interview came down before either Pena or Holdsworth won their fights. So Rousey was in a real mood when they were reconvened on Fox Sports 1’s post-fight show. This time, Rousey claimed she had not watched a minute of the series, and railed against the concept of reality television and the often-inaccurate images of the people they portray.
She has a point. Everyone knows reality TV shows are heavily edited to fit storylines. But there’s no doubt that at the start of The Ultimate Fighter 18, Rousey was the UFC’s golden girl, and Tate the perpetual runner-up. At the end of a six-month process (dating back to the show’s filming), Tate was all smiles and Rousey was all snarls on live TV. And that’s one she can't blame on an editor with an agenda.
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter @DaveDoyleMMA