When the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Wednesday night, the two teams of middleweight and light heavyweight hopefuls will be led by a pair of former champions and familiar foes.
BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar are set to rekindle their rivalry - first as opposing coaches, and then when they step into the Octagon for a third time, headlining this season’s finale on July 6 in Las Vegas to close out International Fight Week.
Though Penn and Edgar don’t have the same kind of heated rivalry as recent coaches Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen or Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, the duo definitely have a history together which should make things interesting this season.
Their first meeting took place at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.
At the time, “The Prodigy” was at the height of his dominance, coming off his one-sided beatdown of Diego Sanchez at UFC 107. It was one of the most impressive performances of Penn’s storied career, and solidified him not only as the undisputed UFC lightweight champion, but also the greatest lightweight in mixed martial arts history.
Edgar, meanwhile, seemed like an afterthought heading into the contest. Many believed unbeaten contender Gray Maynard was next in line to challenge for the belt, but instead, the UFC selected the scrappy unknown challenger from Toms River, New Jersey, and the course of the weight class was altered.
For 25 minutes, the two went back and forth inside the Octagon, Penn holding the center as Edgar worked angles from the outside. Every round was close except for maybe the fifth, where the challenger used his superior conditioning to outwork the champion in the final five minutes.
Though the final scores varied, the victor on each scorecard did not, as Edgar was awarded a unanimous decision win to become the new UFC lightweight champion.
An immediate rematch was booked for UFC 118 in Boston, Massachusetts four months later, and while the outcome was the same, the second fight was drastically different.
Many debated the decision in the first fight, and watching it back on replays, it’s a much closer contest than the scores indicate. The second time around, however, Edgar was clearly the better man, widening his edge over the former champion with each successive round to secure another unanimous decision victory and solidify himself as the top dog in the lightweight division.
A little under four years later, they’ll share the cage again, the familiar combatants standing at very different points in their respective careers.
Edgar remains in the hunt for the featherweight title, having made an unsuccessful bid to unseat champion Jose Aldo in his divisional debut at UFC 156. He subsequently rebounded with a victory over Brazilian Charles Oliveira, and looks to move one step closer to a second title opportunity by adding a third win over Penn to this resume.
For Penn, it is a new chapter - his first appearance south of the 155-pound weight class and an opportunity to halt the longest winless streak of his career. Penn talked about retirement following his last appearance, but the chance to potentially avenge his earlier losses to “The Answer” drew him back into action.
While their eventual battle on the finale card stands as one of the most must-see bouts of the summer, their time coaching their respective teams and interacting with each other on the show should be entertaining as well.
Penn has been here before, coaching opposite his first UFC rival, Jens Pulver, on Season 5, where the opening episode remains one of the most iconic moments in the program’s long history.
As the two prepared to pick their teams, Penn asked the contestants to raise their hands if they wanted to join his team, with 10 of the 16 lightweight hopefuls raising their hand. Though teams were still picked one-by-one, it was an awkward start to a tense season that culminated with Penn avenging his earlier loss to Pulver in the main event of the finale.
Penn was no-nonsense during his first run as a coach, kicking one of the contestants (Andy Wang) off his team for being “insubordinate” and sharing his thoughts and opinions with his fighters in a frank and honest fashion. A little older and perhaps more mellow, it will be interesting to see if Penn operates with the same candor this time around.
One thing that has definitely changed heading into his second stint as a coach is his tactic when it comes to building the staff that will help prepare the member of Team Penn for battle.
After using his own coaches back in Season 5, his supporting cast on Season 19 is as decorated a group of coaches as the show has ever seen, including Nova Uniao leader Andre Pederneiras, The Pit’s John Hackleman, Penn’s longtime boxing coach Jason Parillo, and former UFC heavyweight champion and Hall of Famer Mark Coleman, who will serve as the team’s wrestling coach.
In contrast, this is Edgar’s first opportunity to lead a team on TUF, though it shouldn’t be hard for him to rally his troops around him. In the proud East Coast tradition, Edgar is a down-to-earth battler who turned hard work, constant improvement and an ability to maximize his talent into a championship reign that lasted nearly two years, and he’ll be looking to get his team to buy into the same approach this season.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that Edgar will be relying on the team that brought him to the top of the lightweight division to help bring his team to victory, enlisting his personal 1-2 punch of Mark Henry and Ricardo Almeida to handle the boxing and grappling, respectively, as well as Muay Thai coach Anderson Franca and legend Renzo Gracie to serve as his jiu-jitsu coach.
While there has never been any bad blood between the combatants turned coaches, dropping them into a competitive environment where pride is at stake prior to having them square off for a third time could produce some tense moments and interesting interactions.
With several potential standouts included amongst this season’s hopefuls and a dormant rivalry between the coaches rekindled, you’re not going to want to miss a minute of Season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Edgar vs. Penn: A Rivalry Rekindled
Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn meet again on the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter, premiering on Wednesday night on FOX Sports 1...