The historic season of The Ultimate Fighter 20 has come to a great end, and the strawweights to advance to the show’s Finale this Friday, December 12th at The Pearl theater in the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas have been revealed. In last night’s final episode of the regular season, Carla Esparza faced Jessica Penne while Rose Namajunas faced Randa Markos for a spot in the fight that will crown the very first UFC Strawweight Champion of the World.
Team Pettis’s Carla Esparza beat Jessica Penne in a great fight comprised mostly of standup exchanges throughout the three rounds from two fighters mostly known for their prowess on the mat. The semifinals saw Carla Esparza take the win home by way of judges’ unanimous decision.
Team Melendez’s “Thug” Rose Namajunas, on the other hand, scored her third submission finish in the tournament. Stalking each other for seconds before making a first move, both women quickly fired every shot they had at each other in an exciting standup exchange until Rose was able to bring Markos to the ground. On her back, the always innovative Rose was able to finesse a crazy kimura that ended the fight just seconds after.
There are some things to keep in mind when turning on the show on Friday evening. Carla Esparza is the veteran in this fight. At 27-years-old, “Cookie Monster” has a mixed martial arts record of nine wins evenly split over three knockouts, three submissions and three decisions, and only two losses. Owner of a very robust wrestling game, Esparza is also a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, having trained in college under Ralek, Rener and Ryron Gracie. Last year, she won the inaugural Invicta FC Strawweight Championship belt.
Carla Esparza is also a better wrestler. If the fight goes to the ground the advantage will be Esparza’s, but Rose Namajunas has been as unpredictable as some of the most creative fighters in the UFC this season. “Thug” Rose Namajunas has taken the world by storm with her performances in this season of the show. To get to the Finale, she submitted Alex Chambers by rear-naked choke she submitted Joanne Calderwood with a kimura, and then, again, finished Randa Markos with a kimura. The 22-year-old has a four win and no loss amateur mixed martial arts record, and has had two wins and one loss professionally. That loss came to Tecia Torres, who was highly favorited to win the tournament when the season began, by unanimous decision, at Invicta FC 6. But what she lacks in experience she certainly makes up with her skills.
Namajunas has a sharp advantage on her feet as she is quicker, has more reach and is more unpredictable and overall more dynamic than Carla Esparza, who although powerful, lacks a sharper striking game. But while Namajunas has the striking advantage, Esparza has a great advantage in her wrestler. She could easily grind Namajunas to a win. Namajunas will really have to protect against Esparza’s powerful wrestling. Her top game was unrivaled this season.
But off her back, Namajunas is a wizard. Even if Rose’s wrestling isn’t as strong as Esparza’s, if Esparza isn’t mindful of how slippery Rose can be, Thug might be able to conjure an artful submission attempt that Esparza might just not be able to get out of. Remember the kimuras against Joanne Calderwood and Randa Markos. And the Rear naked choke over Alex Chambers. And that insane flying armbar over Kathina Catron at Invicta FC 5.
Needless to say, this fight can go both ways—it’s a classic striker versus grappler matchup.
The night’s preliminary card is host to what will most likely be a very exciting set of fights: Emily Kagan will face Angela Hill in another striker versus grappler encounter. Hill, a kickboxer, will have to be very wary of Kagan’s takedown attempts, as Hill’s ground game isn’t up to par. Women’s mixed martial arts veteran Aisling Daly will face Alex Chambers and attempt to show the world her staying-power in the UFC. Daly is by far the better-fighter—over her 19 fights she’s been able to develop a robust, well-balanced game. Coming off to a loss to Rose Namajunas, Alex Chambers showed a lot of her weaknesses that she’s hopefully since resolved.
As a boxing purist, Bec Rawlings will display some of the best striking in the game against Heather Jo Clark, who is a tough fighter with the ability to keep going when most can’t. Her gas tank is infinite, and Bec Rawlings is unrelenting, so expect an unforgettable storm from these two.
One fight we’re really excited about is Joanne Calderwood versus Seo-Hee Ham, better known as Hamderlei Silva. The South Korean’s UFC debut will be tough as she’ll have to face Calderwood, who is highly touted as one of the best fighters in her division. But Hamderlei Silva didn’t get her name from nowhere, so expect a really, really exciting fight.
Tecia Torres, who was an early favorite in the show, will face Angela Magana and Felice Herrig will face Lisa Ellis, and with Herrig being striker with ground game that could be improved, Lisa Ellis will certainly look to take the fight to the floor. Jessica Penne will face Randa Markos in face-off between grapplers. Expect both of these women to put on a powerful display on the mat.
Don’t forget there are also a few men’s fights: Joe Lauzon associate Joe Proctor takes on the Skrap Pack’s Yancy Medeiros, and KJ Noons will take on Daron Cruickshank. Noons is one of the most notorious knock-out artists in the sport, while Cruickshank’s brand of striking has earned him a place among the UFC’s most exciting fighters to watch. This fight’s sure to tear the roof down.
The co-main event features Charles Oliveira versus veteran Jeremy Stephens, who’s coming off a loss to Cub Swanson. At 25-years-old, Oliveira is a fast-rising star in the sport, with two recent spectacular submission wins over Hatsu Hioki and Andy Ogle. If Stephens can keep his limbs protected from this submission specialist, he might score a win, but Oliveira’s savvy and youth make him a formidable opponent.
Catch the fights on UFC on FOX this Friday, December 12th.
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