I guess I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Peggy Morgan. I’m the giant Amazonian red head who beat the bag out of the cute little 125-pounder on the premier episode of The Ultimate Fighter 18 to earn my place in the house.
I’m not all that well versed in TUF trivia, but I’m fairly certain that if I’m not the least experienced mixed martial artist in the show’s history, I’m close. I’ve been involved in MMA for a little over a year and a half. I have a professional record of 2-0, and I went 2-0 as an amateur as well. Before getting into MMA, I was an amateur boxer and kickboxer. For a few years, I was ranked second in the 152-pound division by USA Boxing.
Then I quit fighting and had a kid. I intended never to get back into fighting, but I started learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and got talked into giving MMA a try. And now here I am.
Outside of the cage, I’m an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University, where I teach composition and literature. I’m also a single mother, a terrible driver, and the worst cook ever. My socks never match, I’m constantly losing my keys, and I like to sing Taylor Swift in the car. Loudly.
That’s about all you need to know about me.
I imagine that for everyone who’s ever fought to get into The Ultimate Fighter house, walking into the UFC training center for the first time feels surreal. I mean, we’ve all seen it on television, but actually walking through the double doors and seeing Dana White waiting by the cage to greet you is something nearly every fighter has dreamed of. For those of us who were among the sixteen women to fight to get into the house for TUF 18, though, the experience was especially surreal.
It wasn’t long ago that Dana White said women would never fight in the UFC, and a season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring female fighters seemed like a pipe dream. For years I’ve heard my male fighter friends talk about their plans to make it onto “the show,” but it never even crossed my mind that such a thing would be possible for me. Yet, there I was in the UFC training center along with fifteen other female contestants and two female coaches, listening to Dana White deliver his pre-elimination fight pep talk. It was weird and exciting and awesome and absolutely overwhelming.
Adding to the sense of confusion was that instead of walking in to see Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano, as we had expected, we found Ronda and Miesha Tate waiting for us. The world of Women’s MMA is relatively small and many of the fighters there knew Miesha personally. Some were happy to see her there. Others were not. If you think Ronda’s reaction to learning that Miesha would be coaching opposite her was extreme, you should have heard Tara LaRosa: “What the (expletive) is that (expletive) doing here?”
I was personally a little disappointed because I’d hoped to be on Cat’s team. I’m relatively new to the WMMA (women’s MMA) scene and didn’t know the coaches personally, but I felt like Cat’s style might be more compatible with my own. At that point, I looked at Ronda as someone who fell naturally into MMA and to whom the sport came easily. Cat, on the other hand, struck me as a grinder – someone who worked hard and pushed relentlessly – which is more or less the way I view myself. However, when I realized it was between Ronda and Miesha, I immediately switched tracks and started praying to the great spaghetti monster that I would win my elimination fight and end up on Ronda’s team.
Before the elimination fights, we were each assigned randomly to a corner. I was in the Team Rousey locker room. I remember sitting on the sofa and looking at the empty nameplates above ￼the lockers and thinking, “My name is going to be in one of those.”
Although my opponent is a skilled fighter and had more MMA experience than I did, I was aware that I am not only significantly bigger and stronger, but also a better striker. I was confident that I would win. My biggest fear going into the fight wasn’t that I might lose, but that I wouldn’t put on a good performance.
I knew that looking sloppy wouldn’t reflect poorly on just me, but on WMMA as a whole. I sat in the corner with my head down and tried to visualize how I wanted the fight to go. It wasn’t easy to focus. With sixteen people fighting out of each corner, it was cramped and chaotic in the locker room. There were fighters rolling on the mat in the middle of the floor and fighters shadowboxing in the hall and fighters sitting on the sofa with their elbows resting on their knees and fighters napping in the corner.
About half an hour after I got there, Ronda walked in and the atmosphere in the room shifted. Say what you want about Ronda Rousey, but that woman has a presence. Immediately a group of people ran over to introduce themselves, but I hung back because I didn’t want to be like, “Hey, Ronda! Look at me! Look at me!” I did eventually sidle over to her and introduce myself, though, and I was surprised by how personable she is. Seeing her on TV, I used to think she was stand-offish and even a little bitchy, but in person she’s funny and relaxed and easy to talk to.
Standing behind the double doors waiting to walk out for my fight was the first time that it really, really hit me: Holy crap, I’m on The Ultimate Fighter!
This same thought continued to pop into my head randomly over the next few weeks, but it was never more powerful than at that moment. I could feel the camera behind me as I waited for the signal to walk out. When it came, I pushed the doors open. Instead of loud music and a screaming crowd, I walked out to silence and a smattering of applause from the small group of people on the bleachers. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a sparring session, but a fight. I honestly can’t tell you what went through my mind once I was in the cage. It was hot under the lights and the canvas felt rough under my feet. Once the fight went to the ground, I heard my coach yell, “Don’t take the armbar! Hip in and punch!” I saw the ref starting to step in, so I dropped in as many hammer fists as I could as hard as I could. When the fight was over and my fist was raised, it occurred to me again: Holy crap, I’m on The Ultimate Fighter!
After Ronda won the coin toss and chose first fight over first pick, I fully expected Miesha to choose Shayna Baszler. I knew that Julianna Pena is Miesha’s friend and training partner, but Shayna’s experience made her the frontrunner in the eyes of pretty much everyone there and it seemed a no-brainer that she would be the first one picked. I was surprised when Miesha chose Julianna and honestly thought it was a stupid decision.
I think almost everyone there, including me, was hoping to be on Team Rousey. Every time it was Meisha’s turn to choose, I thought, “Please not me; please not me.” I was happy and relieved when Ronda picked me. I was also happy when Ronda chose to pit Shayna against Julianna in the first fight. I honestly believed that Julianna was a waste of first pick and that Shayna would absolutely obliterate her in the cage.
“This,” I thought, “is going to be a blood bath.”