Barb Honchak (Scott Hirano/Invicta FC)

The Ultimate Fighter 26: Who Will Be Crowned the Next UFC Champion?

As an all-around sports fan, it’s great to see players compete on new teams and show their skills in a different environment with different teammates. The closest we have to this in MMA is when there’s the addition of a new weight class. Not only are these fighters able to fight at a potentially more comfortable weight, but the possibility of additional new fighters in the organization can happen, too.

Well, the upcoming 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter features a new division. There are 16 flyweight ladies, several of whom have competed at other weight classes either in the UFC or other organizations, fighting to decide the first-ever UFC women’s flyweight champion.

Some of the women competing on this upcoming season are already in the UFC, such as Lauren Murphy, while competitors like Roxanne Modafferi have fought for the organization before. Modafferi, as well as DeAnna Bennett, Sijara Eubanks, Barb Honchak and Rachael Ostovich, are currently competing for Invicta FC, an all-female combat organization.


Others, including Ariel Beck, Shana Dobson, Melinda Fabian, Karine Gevorgyan, Gillian Robertson, Christina Marks, Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson, Nicco Montano, Montana Stewart and Emily Whitmire have competed for organizations such as Legacy Fighting Championship, King of the Cage, BAMMA and the Resurrection Fighting Alliance.

Let’s do a quick breakdown of where these competitors rank in this season of TUF.

The Favorites

Barb Honchak: There is no doubt that Honchak enters the competition as one of the biggest favorites. Not only does she hold a stellar 10-2 record, but she’s won the Invicta flyweight championship and defended it successfully two times. She also never lost her belt. Honchak, 37, is a little up there in age, but even more concerning should be that she hasn’t fought in almost three years. Even with those issues, however, she still has a great chance to revive her career and be successful at the highest level.

Lauren Murphy: As one of only two fighters in this competition who has fought in both the UFC and Invicta, Murphy is an absolute shoo-in for this season of TUF. She has compiled a solid record of 9-3 and held the Invicta bantamweight title. She went undefeated through three fights with Invicta. Her UFC career has not gone very smoothly thus far — she posted a 1-3 mark inside the Octagon. However, all three losses were decisions against tough opponents, including Liz Carmouche, who fought Ronda Rousey for the UFC bantamweight title, and eight-fight UFC veteran Sara McMann. Among the fighters in this season of TUF, Murphy is one the most experienced. At age 34, she can still make a name for herself.

DeAnna Bennett: Not too many fighters in this season of TUF have started their career as brilliantly as Bennett. After going 8-0 overall and 4-0 inside the Invicta cage to kick off her career, Bennett hasn’t had the best of luck in her last three bouts. However, her first loss came to Livia Renata Souza in a fight for the Invicta strawweight championship, a weight class even lower than the one she’ll compete in on TUF 26. Her resume certainly gives her top consideration as one of the favorites in this season. She may not win it all, but she will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in this competition.

Roxanne Modafferi: There aren’t a lot of TUF competitors who get a second chance to make something of themselves. Modafferi has that opportunity. Her past experience on the show — she was a member of the TUF 18 cast — as well as her time spent in the UFC and Invicta, where she fought for the flyweight crown, should be an obvious reason to give her another shot. The 34-fight veteran came up disappointingly short on TUF 18 almost four years ago, but she’s a a valiant competitor and definite fan-favorite with a great attitude.

The Dark Horses

Sijara Eubanks: Not exactly a household name among MMA fans, this Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt might be a real threat to the rest of the TUF ladies. While she doesn’t have the best pro record at this point of her career — Eubanks is currently 2-2 — she won her only fight as an amateur very impressively. Eubanks is only 32 years old, so she still has a lot to prove. Even with her excellent ground game, both of her wins as a pro have come via TKO, while her losses have been decisions. Eubanks has the potential to make it deep in this season’s competition as long as she can put her whole MMA game together.

Rachael Ostovich: As one of the handful of fighters on this season of TUF that has competed in Invicta FC for the majority of her pro career, Ostovich could prove to be a factor in the reality series. Her pro record of 3-3 isn’t really flattering, but she has valuable experience from her Invicta run. With two wins and two losses by decision, as well as one win and one loss by submission, Ostovich will need to prove that she’s much more consistent of a winner. At the age of 26, she is still pretty young in this sport, so win or lose, she has the potential to learn and grow on the show.

Ariel Beck: Beck is yet another fighter who has competed for Invicta FC, but she has suffered as many losses as wins. This lowers the expectations for her on this season of TUF. Among Beck’s four pro wins, two came via TKO. She has suffered two submission losses. Beck lost to her TUF 26 castmate Ostovich, but the rest of her fights haven’t featured any truly notable opponents. Beck is barely a dark horse. If she hadn’t fought for Invicta, we’d classify her as a long shot.

Christina Marks: As one of the most experienced and well-traveled non-UFC and non-Invicta fighters on this season of TUF, Marks has been everywhere… almost. She has fought cross organizations like Xplode Fight Series, BAMMA and King of the Cage. Her record stands at a modest 8-8, but the experience factor cannot be denied. Marks has three wins via TKO, two by way of submission and three via decision. Six of her eight losses were submissions, so she has a lot of work to do on her defensive ground game. This could be a big problem for her on TUF, especially if she goes on to face some of the favorites.

Montana Stewart: She holds a respectable pro record of 7-4, and she’s picked up five of her wins via submission, even winning four in a row by submission at one point. Stewart trains with Team Takedown, which has also served as home to former and current UFC fighters like Johny Hendricks, Chas Skelly, Jake Rosholt and Shane Roller. Stewart has fought some good competition recently, but she lost to Mackenzie Dern and UFC fighter Cynthia Calvillo. Despite her losses in these contests, they must have been learning experiences for the 22-year-old.

The Long Shots

Gillian Robertson: Robertson’s record of 0-1 would suggest that she’s near the bottom of the TUF 26 pack. However, dig a little deeper into her career, and there’s signs of promise here. Aside from her pro loss, which came by unanimous decision, Robertson has a fantastic 9-2 amateur record. She won her last six amateur fights. She trains at American Top Team, currently one of the best fight camps in the entire world. The 22-year-old “Savage” has so much time to make herself into an amazing fighter. However, this is the UFC, and by the standards of hundreds of other fighters in this organization, Robertson is a mere baby in this sport. She has a beautiful future ahead of her. Maybe she will be champion one day. However, the chances of Robertson winning the show, where she’s training with a brand new coach for a short period of time, are awfully slim.

Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson: While there are a good chunk of competitors with 10 pro fights that are regarded much higher, it’s hard to put the California-based Kahaunaele-Stevenson too high on the depth chart at the moment. She has won her last five fights, all finishes, but she hasn’t had the best success fighting at even the most moderate levels of competition. For example, Kahaunaele-Stevenson lost in her only two appearances for King of the Cage. One of the defeats came at the hands of current UFC strawweight competitor Danielle Taylor, while her other bout was a loss via TKO. Now, there is no denying that Kahaunaele-Stevenson has a huge opportunity ahead of her, and she has a huge support base from her training partner and husband, former UFC fighter Joe “Daddy” Stevenson. However, none of this automatically makes her a favorite or even a dark horse.

Nicco Montano: The fairly short career of Montano, 28, hasn’t been too bad. She had an excellent 5-0 amateur run where all of her wins were first-round finishes. Montano has gone 3-2 as a pro while exceeding expectations. The amateur record is a nice feather in her cap, and it includes a win under the RFA banner and three wins with KOTC. She also holds a 3-1 pro mark in KOTC. Her only losses have been decisions, which shows that she’s able to stay in fights until the end and compete hard, even if she’s losing decidedly. This attribute gives her a slim chance to go far in this competition, but an extended run is unlikely. Montano shows promise, though, and while people may not expect much from her, she may very well shock some of them.

Melinda Fabian: There aren’t too many European fighters who have been able to make it on very far on TUF in the show’s history, but it looks like one of them made the cut this season. Fabian, a Hungarian-born bantamweight who fights out of Budapest Top Team, has amassed a record of four wins and three defeats. She has gotten all of her victories via submission. Fabian appears to be very crafty on the ground, pulling off an Ezekiel choke and a straight ankle lock. While she has three losses, two of those defeats came against current UFC fighters Katlyn Chookagian and Lucie Pudilova. Fabian’s chances are very slim to go all the way on the show, mainly because she’s at such a disadvantage when it comes to experience.

The Rest

Emily Whitmire: Whitmire is one of the competitors with the least chance of winning this season of TUF. She is among the least experienced fighters in the competition. Furthermore, the experience she does have has actually proven her to be far from a good fighter. In only three pro fights, Whitmire has won two decisions and lost one decision. She is above the .500 mark, which is something, but she wasn’t quite so fortunate in her amateur career. She managed just four wins in eight bouts. TUF is a competition where fighters can learn and grow, but Whitmire is one fighter that will have a lot of growing to do.

Karine Gevorgyan: Attempting to follow in the footsteps of tough UFC veterans like Karo Parisyan and Manny Gamburyan, Armenian fighter Karine Gevorgyan will have a chance to make her countrymen proud when she fights on this season of TUF. Over a 3-2 run, Gevorgyan has never gone the distance. She’s won all of her fights via submission, while her losses came from a submission and TKO, respectively. Gevorgyan will definitely be known for her toughness. Nobody really knows what she has to offer under the bright lights of the UFC, but if past Armenian fighters can give fans an idea, then she probably has a chance to go out with a bang, win or lose (most likely the latter, though).

Shana Dobson: With a record of just 2-1 and no amateur experience, this Texan is the least experienced person on the show. Every one of her fights has resulted in a unanimous decision. While her record is above .500, that doesn’t really say much for someone who only has three pro fights. Dobson could turn out to be one of the first fighters eliminated from the show, especially if she ends up facing one of the favorites or dark horses. If she’s lucky, she won’t get fed to the wolves and might draw a bout with someone at the same experience level. However, even then, she would probably have trouble really impressing.