It seemed like 2013 was the year of firsts in women's mixed martial arts. From the first UFC pay-per-view headlined by a women's fight to the first co-ed season of The Ultimate Fighter, the debuts kept on coming.
As it turns out, there are a couple more big firsts left for 2014. On a Wednesday conference call, UFC president Dana White said that the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter will feature an all-women's cast. And for the first time, TUF will be used to crown a UFC champion, as the Finale winner will become the first UFC strawweight champion.
"Invicta FC, the women's mixed martial arts organization, has assigned the contracts of 11 women strawweights," White said. "The 135-pound division has been very successful for us, the fans like it, I'm thrilled with it, and we're going to dive into the 115-pound division now."
White announced the full roster of the fighters coming over from Invicta, the world's leading women's MMA promotion: Current Invicta champion Carla Esparza, Alex Chambers, Claudia Gadelha, Felice Herrig, Bec Hyatt, Emily Kagan, Juilianna Lima, Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres, Paige Van Zant, and Joanne Caldwerood.
In the conference call, White indicated that the show would begin taping on May 18 in Las Vegas. He also indicated the season would likely be coached by men, although the decision isn't final. The final five roster spots will likely be filled in upcoming open tryouts.
"The landscape changes quickly," White said. "We'll figure out who will coach them as we get closer to the date. More than likely it will probably be men, but it could be women."
White said the decision to add women's strawweights is unrelated to the company's international expansion plans for 2014. But he didn't rule out fighters being cut to make room for the women's strawweights.
"It's tough to live here, man," White said. "This is where all the best fighters in the world fight. It's no different than the NFL or any of those other sports, man. You have to get in there, and you have to deliver. Guys get cut from the NFL all time time. Guys get cut who are great players. It's part of the sport.
The UFC boss also insisted that the company has no interest in buying Invicta, stating that the difference between Invicta and companies that the UFC has purchased, such as the WFA and Strikeforce, were on their last legs.
"When we've gone in and acquired companies, they were companies that were dying," White said. "They were in the hole millions and millions of dollars. The guys who invested in it needed to be rescued and we saw value in the companies. Those were the companies we purchased. Invicta is an up-and-coming organization that deals in just women. Buying it wouldn't do the sport any good or wouldn't do anybody any good. There's no sense in buying a company that is still growing and still prospering."
Update: On Wednesday night's late edition of FOX Sports Live, MMAFIghting.com's Ariel Helwani added further details. According to the terms of the deal, which had been in the works for about a month before being finalized, all the fighters received pay upgrades to $8,000 to show/$8,000 win bonuses. The exception was Esparza, the reigning Invicta champion, who will make $10K/$10K. All fighters under contract will be paid both their show and win money twice between now and the time they enter the TUF house, which means Esparza will earn $40K and the rest $32K to stay on the sidelines and stay in shape for the first half of 2014. The show will premiere in September.