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Ashley Yoder, UFC Strawweight, TUF 23 Alumna, Team Quest

My Octagon debut at may still be a week away, but with the TUF 24 Finale happening this weekend, I wanted to share a bit about my experience on the show.

has been instrumental in the careers of so many MMA fighters. And months after my run on reality-TV, my time on the show continues to pay dividends.

Sure, I didn’t end up winning the grand prize. And, it was heartbreaking to have to go through my loss in the quarterfinals twice -- once in the cage, and then a second time when the episode aired on TV -- but The Ultimate Fighter was major turning point in my development as a pro fighter.

Before I even got the call the call from Sean Shelby to face Justine Kish on December 9, I was training with Lanchana Green and Jamie Moyle -- who fights at the TUF Finale on Saturday -- to prepare for my fight at 20. Sure, Lanchana was on Team Claudia Gadelha, while Jaime and I trained with Joanna Jędrzejczyk, but the bond we all shared on the show helped us develop a camaraderie that will last far beyond the TUF house and gym.

I’ve actually kept in really close contact with everyone from my team. It’s been really beneficial as I progress as a fighter.

Just the other week, J.J. Aldrich and I fought on the same Invicta card, and I actually keep in regular contact with Helen Harper and some of the guys from Team Joanna. We’ve all been pushing each other since the show; we were all so close to the UFC earlier this year, so there’s no reason we can’t motivate each other to finally realize that dream.

And Joanna’s been there every step of the way ...

When I initially heard that Joanna was going to coach our season of The Ultimate Fighter, I knew I wanted to be on her team. There’s no better way to learn techniques and strategies than training with the best in your weight class at the highest level, so I was really excited when Joanna Champion selected me.

Everyday in the gym was an intense learning experience, and following the show, I managed to convince the UFC and the TUF producers to let me keep a massive life-size picture of Joanna that I now have hung up inside my house. It’s a special piece of inspiration and motivation.

Training with Joanna was amazing for my standup game, and that’s really where I’ve seen my biggest improvements as a fighter. She even brought in UFC 206 headliner Max Holloway as a guest coach; he showed me a few things that I use almost everyday in training.

Joanna was a great coach like that. She helped us with the important things, and showed us new ways of training, preparing, and strategizing. And she still checks in with me regularly to make sure I’m staying focused. Even after her five-round war with Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205, Joanna texted me to wish me luck for my Invicta fight the following week.

Hopefully the guys on this season of The Ultimate Fighter will have a similar experience, especially the ones who aren’t fighting in Saturday’s finale because there is still a great chance for many of them to make it to the UFC.

So while I know what it’s like to come up short on reality TV -- and boy does it sting -- I know that there’s a clear-cut path to the Octagon for everyone who makes it into the TUF house, even if it feels like seeing a door shut in your face with your dreams right there. But if it’s something want you, you have to suck it up and get back on the workhorse and grind it till you get it.

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