The Ultimate Fighter - S23E02 "Friends and Foes" - Recap

The fighters have moved into the co-ed TUF house, the first match is scheduled, and the drama has begun on cue as friendships are tested, space is negotiated, and rivalries deepen.

The TUF house is like most reality TV houses, filled with fun amenities like pool tables, a swimming pool. The house is packed with eight Strawweight (115 lbs) female fighters and eight light heavyweight (205 lbs) male fighters. The bedrooms are lined with bunkbeds and the women and men mostly self-segregate to gender-specific rooms, but one of the dudes Abdel Medjedoub is the odd one one out and is left to bunk with the ladies.

Jamie Moyle claims her bunk, "I choose you, Pikachu!"

At first, the ladies tease him about it, but become sympathetic when they learn Abdel is married, Muslim, and very uncomfortable with the idea of bunking in the same room as women. Andrew, who also feels sleeping in a lady room would be inappropriate, volunteers to sleep on the floor so Abdel can have a bed in a men's room.

Finally, Cory Hendricks "takes one for the team" and bunks with the ladies. The ladies insist he is now "in the most badass room in the house" and is now required to participate in late night girl-talk rituals. In a co-ed house, most reality shows try to play up romances or petty disputes. While those are sometimes unavoidable, it's refreshing to see the competitors cooperating and ensuring everyone is feeling comfortable.

Cory helps out Abdel and bunks with the ladies of Team Joanna

Cory has a larger challenge ahead of him; he's slated to fight in the first match, against his friend and training camp partner, Khalil Rountree. Fighters who train side-by-side will commonly avoid fighting each other, out of trust and loyalty to their shared camp. Faced with this situation, Cory and Khalil spend the next few days at the house talking about it, committing to stay friends, despite having to compete against each other.

Khalil's easygoing nature comes through again as he counsels Helen Harper when illness forces her to sit out of training. Khalil has known trials of his own. In his early youth, Khalil struggled with weight issues, and often felt like somewhat of a misfit, being a skateboarding punker. Watching TUF inspired him to become an MMA fighter, leading him to where he is now, happier and achieving his goals.

Khalil listens to Helen's frustrations and thoughtfully postulates that life throws small trials at you and how you come out on the other side is what's important; Helen appreciates his positivity, feeling charmed and supported. Later, Helen is hot, shaking, and feeling weak. When she loses her balance, Khalil helps her to lay down before they get her to the hospital. Dehydration. A common challenge for even experienced fighters, neophyte Helen gets back on track, feeling otherwise happy and supported not just by Khalil but by the rest of the competitors in the house.

This is where most of the niceties end, because while the competitors are making friends, the coaches are at each other's throats.

By design, both teams must share a training facility, so there's always a chance for conflict. The second Coach Joanna walks in, her and Coach Claudia are in each other's faces. While both coaches are speaking in English, neither woman is a native English speaker, so their banter is a bit stilted. It makes it hard to determine just how much is posturing, how much is acting, and how much is real beef.

When the coaches get physical, Khalil and Joanna's assistant coach break things up

Joanna is confident to the point of cockiness, projecting toward Claudia whenever they meet. Claudia thinks Joanna is a bully. The next day, Joanna reinforces this when she peacocks around the gym with her Championship Belt, teasing even Claudia's boxing coach Nenzão (who doesn't speak English and can't talk back). Claudia steps in to defend her assistant coach, and coaches are at each other again.

After expending another battery of insults, they stare each other down. Claudia caps it off with a comment, "I know I'm beautiful, but you don't have to keep looking at me all the time."

This little jab is tricky. Sexual tension can be a funny way to rib someone when both participants are willing, but Joanna doesn't appreciate the implication, and identifies herself as straight. The jab, intended to suggest Joanna harbors a same-sex attraction, is meant to embarrass her, making this problematic. Casual homophobia has no place anywhere, and in MMA, which has its share of LGBTQ+ athletes, it's especially problematic for one of the coaches to set this kind of example.

They leave the verbal sparring at that, but their animosity has only deepened.

MATCH: Cory Hendricks vs. Khalil Rountree

Training buddies Khalil (left) and Cory put their friendship to the test

Despite Khalil having an extremely dangerous boxing repertoire, Cory stands toe-to-toe with him and they bang it out, both guys landing big shots. Eventually, Cory takes Khalil to the mat, mounts his back, and secures a rear-naked choke. Khalil is forced to tap out in the first round. Khalil admits after the match that he avoided attacking Cory's injured foot, which could have given him the advantage. Despite this, they both hug and express love for each other, feeling like they've both grown as fighters, friends, and human beings.

If only Joanna and Claudia could follow the example being set by their students.

Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.