Strikeforce: Tate v RouseyThe anticipated eighteenth season of the UFC’s flagship reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter” started filming last week, and opened with some shocking news.

Number 1 women’s bantamweight contender Cat Zingano had suffered a severe knee injury – a torn ACL and injured MCL, to be precise – in training, and the undefeated “Alpha” would be unable to challenge UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey or coach against her on the show.

Making the best of a bad situation, the UFC opted to insert former Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate as the new coach opposite Rousey.

Rousey and Tate have quite the history. After Miesha captured the Strikeforce belt in November 2011, Rousey campaigned to challenge her for the belt, despite having just four pro fights on her résumé. Some serious trash talk followed between the two, culminating with a heated staredown at the weigh-ins and a tremendous tussle over Tate’s championship on Showtime. Tate escaped Rousey’s initial armbar attempt and fought valiantly – even taking Ronda’s back at one stage – before ultimately succumbing to Rousey’s signature hold, her elbow dislocating gruesomely as she relinquished the belt. Rousey kept the rivalry alive in her post-fight interview, claiming that she “didn’t feel that bad” about breaking her foe’s arm.

However, this follows a rather disconcerting pattern from the UFC in 2013; that of handing title shots to fighters coming off losses. Chael Sonnen, Nick Diaz and Frankie Edgar have all challenged for UFC gold this year despite losing their previous outings in the Octagon, and now Miesha Tate finds herself in the same position. Tate was last seen in April, losing to the very woman she is set to replace as a coach on TUF 18. In that fight, which admittedly Tate was probably winning up until the third round, Zingano TKO’d “Cupcake” with a sequence of brutal knees to the head.

Because of this, some fans and members of the media have questioned the fairness of the move, noting that a fighter such as Sara McMann would have been more deserving of the high profile TUF 18 coaching opportunity. As a title challenger, McMann is arguably the more compelling choice, given her strong wrestling background and the fact that, like Rousey, she is an Olympic medallist.

However, this decision was not one made purely on athletic terms. The fact is that The Ultimate Fighter is a reality TV show and the eighteenth season is a very important one for the UFC. Ratings for the show have dipped in recent years, and the quality of the show has declined. With a fresh format of male and female bantamweights competing under the tutelage of female coaches, the UFC have made a clear effort to freshen up the format of TUF, which was becoming stale.

In the same vein, the existing rivalry between Rousey and Tate is likely to make for compelling television. The seasons of The Ultimate Fighter which have been the most successful, have often featured star coaches with an existing – and usually bad-blooded – rivalry. Add in Tate’s boyfriend Bryan Caraway, who will be part of Tate’s coaching set-up on the show and whom Ronda arguably despises even more than Tate, plus the rumoured inclusion of Tara LaRosa as a contestant (another Tate adversary) and you have the makings of some great television.

The UFC kept Zingano’s injury, which actually occurred on May 16th, a secret. Even Rousey was kept in the dark on the coaching switch, finding out at the TUF training centre in front of the television cameras. Initially, the reigning UFC champ was furious and stormed out of the centre, in search of UFC President Dana White.

After cooling off, however, Rousey seemed enthused about the prospect of facing her biggest rival once again.

“This is what we really wanted all along,” said Rousey. “Everyone said an Ultimate Fighter between me and Miesha would be the best. We have a personal history with each other and this is a personal show. For some reason, me and Miesha are intertwined in fate like Ali and Frazier or something like that.

“I think people will look back at this as one of the monumental rivalries and look back at this as one of those things that really cemented women’s MMA.”