Anthony Pettis and Angela Hill Prepare for UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 spoke with the stars of The Ultimate Fighter before the season premiere.

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The Ultimate Fighter is gearing up for its 20th season, and this time around the UFC’s Reality/Competition show will feature its first all-female cast. Fighters from around the world and a wide variety of fighting backgrounds have gathered for their shot at a position in the promotion’s new Strawweight Division. Unlike previous seasons, during which competitors fought to simply win a contract with UFC, the last two women standing in TUF’s 20th season will square off to become the first Strawweight Champion.

Two teams of eight fighters will be divided between the season’s coaches, Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis and his rival Gilbert Melendez. The new season premieres on Fox Sports 1 on Wednesday, September 10th at 10:00 PM, but before you tune in you can get a look at what’s ahead; we sat with Anthony Pettis and one of his team members, Brooklyn resident Angela Hill, to talk about the season ahead.

Anthony Pettis Ultimate Fighter debuted in 2005, and has been instrumental in building the brand and success of UFC. How does it feel to be taking on the mantle of “coach” for one of the sport’s most important shows?

Anthony Pettis: It’s actually pretty crazy, one of the reasons being I tried out for The Ultimate Fighter awhile back and I didn’t make it… and now two-three years later I’m coaching the TV show. For me it was a big accomplishment, and to be a part of this new weight class—115 pound ladies—to see the journey of the top 16 women competing and fighting for the top spot and the UFC belt. In past seasons they usually compete for a UFC contract, this season these ladies are competing to be the best in the world at their weight class.

LI: That’s incredible, both for them and for that really quick turnaround time from you—going from not making the show to coaching it for a season.

AP: Yeah it was definitely an amazing blessing for me, being a coach. I got to meet a lot of cool ladies in the process, I mean these girls are real athletes. Going into the show I didn’t know what to expect, and walking away from it, coaching it I was very impressed; I think it’s one of the most skilled seasons the UFC ever put together.

LI: What was it like to coach a team of eight fighters as they try to get into the UFC?

AP: It was definitely different. Being all women it’s funny to see the transition from them being women to fighters. I mean one day they’re giving me friendship bracelets and talking about nail polish and the next day they’re squaring off to knock each other off their toes. It’s crazy to see that transition.

LI: You are the current UFC Lightweight champion and your rival coach for The Ultimate Fighter 20 is Gilbert Melendez, the Lightweight division’s #1 contender. Will there be a Pettis-Melendez title fight for fans to look forward to at the end of the season?

AP: Yes, myself and Melendez will be squaring off December 6. [The Strawweight Championship] will be fought the weekend after, and my night will feature Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort and myself vs. Gilbert Melendez.

LI: Now this will be your first defense since winning the title last year, correct?

AP: First defense since winning the title, yeah. I had that knee injury in that title fight. It was only three minutes long, but I tore a PCL and the surgery had to happen, and recovery took longer than expected. I’m back though, I’m back 100% training so I’ll be defending my title for the first time December 6th.

LI: We’re glad to hear you’re doing better. The injuries kept you sidelined for a bit longer than anyone would have liked; how much are you looking forward to getting back in the Octagon?

AP: Ah man, I can’t wait! There’s so much going on in my division, so many people I can be fighting and competing against. I’m just excited to show the world what I’m capable of.

LI: After Melendez is there anyone in the division that you’d really like a chance fight?

AP: Honestly I haven’t even looked at everybody yet. If I looked at everybody I’d probably go crazy; right now I’m focused on Melendez, and whoever else is next after him let’s just line ‘em up.

LI: So you’re the current champion, you’ve been a coach for the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter, and I’ve also heard you’re now going to be on the cover of the Wheaties box.

AP: Correct, yeah. Wheaties had a challenge called “NEXT” and they took five athletes and they made the fans work out to vote. That’s what I liked about the competition, the fans actually had to work out they didn’t just go click a mouse, they had to put some time and sweat in, and the UFC fans showed that the sport’s one of the biggest sports in the world and it’s only growing.

LI: That’s really cool, and you clearly had a ton of support from the fans. How does it feel to be on the same box as some of the greatest athletes in history?

AP: It’s crazy. I mean Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali—a who’s who among champions on this box and now I’m added to that list. It’s amazing, I’m blessed, and Wheaties is one of those brands that people recognize everywhere. I’m excited about it and I can’t wait for the box to come out!

LI: That’s one more accomplishment to add to a growing list for you. You’re going to have your first fight in over a year in December; are you itching to get a few extras in for 2015 after being sidelined this year?

AP: Definitely, I’m looking to make up for lost time in 2015. From December to December I want to fight at least three times, four if the body’s willing. That’s the plan, just stay healthy and keep running these fights off.

LI: Thank you, we can’t wait to see the show and your next match.

AP: Thank you.

Angela Hill The new season of Ultimate fighter features a cast of top prospects from across the country and around the world. What is it like competing against so many highly skilled fighters?

Angela Hill: It was really awesome. I think more than anyone there I felt like my skills were legitimized, just because I was the one with the least amount of fights. I literally had my first fight two days before the tryouts (my first MMA fight at least), so I felt like I had a lot to prove.

I had amazing training partners, I had amazing coaches, I was actually able to make friends there which is something I wasn’t planning on doing. It was just really cool to have so many great fighters under one roof, as well as to be able to just train and pick the brains of such accomplished coaches.

LI: So you have one professional victory to your name, was that the fight two days before the tryouts?

AH: Yeah, I literally had my first fight on April 26th and then the tryouts were on April 28th, so I flew from North Carolina to Vegas and did that, and just hoped and prayed that I made it. Then I got the text that I made it onto the show and the rest is history.

LI: I understand that you’re also a talented artist and animator and went to Cooper Union art school. What made you want to put down the pencil and focus on becoming an MMA fighter?

AH: It was funny. I had just started living with my husband at the time, and I was working in the animation studio—I was used to bartending and moving around a lot—so once I started doing those 12 hour days in the studio I started feeling really antsy and out of shape and wanted to get a sweat going. I always wanted to learn how to fight too, I just never got a chance to do it—my mom was scared I would get hurt and all this other stuff—so it was always something I wanted to do and we ended up doing it together.

So while I was working at the animation studio I just started training and I had my first couple of fights there. Eventually, just because the job market was pretty rough at that point, the studio ended up laying off a bunch of people; after that I just decided “Hey, I really like what I’m doing and I seem to be good at it, so why don’t I take it to the next level?” So I bartended just to pay the bills and I trained as much as I could. When I did that I ended up going 14-0 as an amateur in Muay Thai and 2-0 as a pro.

LI: So outside of MMA you already had a couple of professional victories?

AH: Right, it is a different sport though, but I feel like Muay Thai is the best striking martial art to prepare you for MMA. All the weapons are there when it comes to striking: you can throw all sorts of kicks, you can throw elbows, knees to the face—all the things that say a boxer wouldn’t be prepared for.

So I think it’s the best striking martial art to prepare you for MMA, and I feel like the transition was really smooth. In my first MMA pro fight I actually ended up taking the girl down and beating her up from the ground for a long time; I was able to show that I’ve been working really hard on my ground game as well. It was a pretty smooth transition, I feel, and I’m just gonna’ keep improving from there.

LI: You moved to Brooklyn in 2003 to attend Cooper Union; have you ventured east to Nassau or Suffolk

AH: Not really, I do have a good relationship with the guys over at American Top Team on Long Island, though. A lot of their guys come into the city to train with us as well at Evolution. Every now and then we’ll have an open sparring day and a lot of people will come through.

LI: What is your favorite part of living in Brooklyn?

AH: Probably the diversity, it’s definitely its own place. There’s good parts and bad; it prepares you for anything I feel. I’ve really enjoyed my time there. I lived in Bushwick at 1st which was a little crazier. I mean it was definitely very safe when I lived there, but I don’t know, I feel like an old person now; if somebody plays music too loud I’m like “turn off that racket!” I’m ready to get the broom and start banging on the ceilings and stuff.

I like the neighborhood I live in now. I live in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and it’s really quiet, very West Indian, so I like it. I’d much rather here like Reggae blasting through the walls than Merengue—just a little bit more relaxing.

So I like it out there, and the park is amazing—Prospect Park it’s such a great place. I’ve only just started running there and hanging out there, but I wish I had done it since I first got to New York, it’s a really beautiful park. It’s nice to people watch too.

LI: Alright, back to UFC: Ronda Rousey has gotten a lot of attention and developed a large following as the UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Do you think that the new Strawweight Championship will draw even more interest to the women’s divisions?

AH: Oh yeah, I feel like there’s a lot more completion in the Strawweight weight class. You see a lot of girls who are either really good at one thing or really well rounded. And I can say this from experience, just from seeing the fights and training with everyone, I don’t think that any one person is leaps and bounds ahead of any other person.

There’s definitely going to be a few stars born after this fight; some people do stand out better than the rest. But I don’t think there’s just going to be one person who’s untouchable, I think there’s going to be a bunch of people who are just like monsters. It leads to more interesting fights and a definitely more interesting weight class, as opposed to anyone who fights Ronda is like the sacrificial lamb. So yeah, I think it’s going to be a really exciting weight class to watch and keep track of.

LI: Obviously you can’t tell me who made it to the final round of the show, but a number of previous competitors have still earned themselves UFC contracts even if they did not win The Ultimate Fighter. Do you believe that some of the people from this season who did not make it to the final match will appear in UFC in the near future?

AH: Oh yeah. Just the fact that there’s no weight class in the UFC for Strawweights right now—it’s pretty much us and whoever else has fought while the show is airing—that in itself makes it promising for all the fighters who didn’t make it.

On top of that, I feel like there wasn’t one boring fight. All the fights were exciting, there were a lot of unexpected finishes—it was just exciting! Every time we saw Dana White his eyes were bright and smiling; I think that you’re going to see a lot of the people in the show over and over again on cards in UFC. I can’t see it happening any other way.

LI: Sounds like it’s going to be a really exciting season, we can’t wait to watch. Thank you for talking with us today.

AH: Thank you.