Last week news leaked that the next season of "The Ultimate Fighter" would launch a new women's flyweight division (125 pounds). At the time, UFC president Dana White said those rumors were premature.
But that news has been confirmed to espnW exclusively. Season 26 of "The Ultimate Fighter" will crown an inaugural women's flyweight champion at the season's conclusion. The previous casting call for female strawweights and bantamweights as well as male middleweights has been canceled.
"Women's fighting has become very popular," White said. "I waited for a while to pull the trigger on this division, and I think it's time. I'm ready to do it now."
Women ages 21-34 with a winning record and at least three professional fights are invited to attend the open casting call. Strawweights and bantamweights on the UFC's roster are also eligible, provided they can successfully make the 125-pound weight throughout the season.
The division marks the fourth women's weight class the UFC will promote. It is also the second weight class added for women this year, as the UFC crowned Germaine de Randamie its first female featherweight champion at UFC 208 in February.
For women currently on the UFC roster, it marks an opportunity to shine where they fit most naturally.
"This is the true chance to be the 125-pound champ I always knew I was going to be," current bantamweight Jessica Eye said. "For all the women that fight at 125, it's the true chance at stardom and the true chance at being able to be a world champion. It's a very large jump from 115 to 135, so I'm happy they finally found some middle ground for us."
"We need this division in the UFC," strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk said. "There are more good female fighters coming into the UFC. Some fighters from 135 will drop to 125 because the division is too big for them, and some fighters from 115 will go up because they are starving themselves. We need to think about our future."
"The Ultimate Fighter," which debuted in 2005, has launched the careers of multiple fighters on the UFC's roster and has produced six champions: Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping, TJ Dillashaw, Carla Esparza, and Matt Serra.
"There are a lot of 125-pound women out there fighting already," White said. "Now they'll get the opportunity to fight in the UFC. We'll have four women's divisions, and as far as I'm concerned we can't have enough."
The season will begin filming in July and premiere on Fox Sports 1 later this year.