The Ultimate Fighter 20: A Champion Will Be Crowned – Week 12 Recap & Finale Talk

Last season, Dana White was so embarrassed with the effort of the TUF 19 participants that he only booked two non-finalists to compete at the finale; this season, all of the TUF 20 ladies are getting a shot to stay in with a win (with the exception of Justine Kish, who is still rehabbing her knee injury).  That’s right, all your favourites: JoJoFelice HerrigAisling DalyAngela Magaña!  Eh…

You better get used to these names, because depending on how much 115 pound talent they’re able to add over the next couple of years, the women from this season could be the top title contenders for the foreseeable future.  That’s how it goes when you cast based on merit as opposed to whatever show biz criteria they use for most seasons.  The tournament format was a smashing success, leading to matches that were high on star power, action, and intrigue.  It ended up being lopsided in favour of Team Pettis, not through any fault of coach Gilbert Melendez.  The idea to seed the fighters before their selection meant that any slip up during team picks could be costly and Gilbert learned this the hard way.

Going into the final episode, he still had one horse left in the race.  Could she go all the way?

Team Colours

Team Melendez
Team Pettis

Before we get the answer to that, we have the conclusion of the all Team Pettis side of the bracket.  Carla Esparza and Jessica Penne are two of the closest people in the house.  Friend fighting friend is a common TUF plot thread, though they usually happen earlier than this.  It had to be on their minds as soon as they saw the tournament laid out.  Before Tecia Torres came back, Carla and Jessica were the two highest seeds on their side.

We get an Anthony Pettis testimonial and I just realized that this only the second time that the coaches fought before the actual season finale (the previous time?  UFC 115, where the TUF 11 coaches Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz were supposed to face off for a third time, only for an injured Ortiz to be replaced by Rich Franklin).  That takes some of the punch out of this episode since we already know the conclusion of their heated rivalry…what’s that?  There was so little interaction between them on the show that you can’t prove they weren’t filmed in completely separate locations and brought together by clever editing and computer graphics?  Well, okay then.

Carla tries to stay focused on her business and not look over at Jessica’s side of the gym during training.  Kind of like when you used to play GoldenEye 007 with four friends on the Nintendo 64 and you had to make a gentlemen’s (or ladies’) agreement not to look at each other’s screens.  Someone always would though.

I actually found it endearing that Carla was worried about Jessica maybe not wanting to be friends with her after the fight.  Even after all the crap she’s given my girl Randa Markos, I found this somewhat touching.  Not that I can relate.  I know if that if one of my friends tackled me to the ground, beat the s**t out of me for fifteen minutes, and said beating resulted in me missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime…that friendship would be done right quick.

The fight (Esparza v. Penne)

The whole fight, Carla was getting in and out beautifully.  Jessica was able to catch her a couple of times as she came in, but overall Carla was on point.  She started off employing a completely different strategy than in the quarterfinals, not going for a single shot in the first couple of minutes.  Jessica was the one moving forward, Carla was the one dictating the action.  Someone shouted “two minutes!” and Carla finally went for a leg.  Jessica was prepared and avoided being put on her back the first time.

Jessica's DefenceOh no you don’t!

Despite that, Jessica was reacting the whole time and not countering with anything particularly effective.  Carla would get a takedown at the end of the first round (a favourite tactic of hers) and she took it comfortably 10-9.

In terms of intensity, I’m tempted to say that this fight had a high level sparring feel to it.  However, their faces told a different story.  They really laid into each other and both of them were badly bruised up by the end of it.  Jessica is tough as hell, but she was getting cracked over and over again.

Straight RightFriendship!

Her aggression occasionally paid off, particularly in the last round, though it turned out to be too little too late.  Even if you removed Carla’s takedowns, I still had her taking the fight three rounds to zip.  She really showed the extent of her striking prowess in this one, employing some nice leg kicks and elbows in addition to solid boxing.  The commish delivers the verdict, a unanimous decision win for Carla, and we have our first finalist.

Carla FinalsJessica is nothing but grateful for the whole experience.  She came off as one of the most likeable women on the show and I see her having a bright UFC career.

The next fight isn’t exactly striker versus grappler since Rose Namajunas has proven to be deadly off of her back.  Still, it’s suggested that she might want to keep things standing to avoid Randa’s top game.  Is Rose a particularly small strawweight?  I know she’s got a slight build on a tall frame, but I do wonder if she’s susceptible to being neutralized by a strong wrestler.  Then again, that hasn’t worked out for her opponents so far, both of whom were finished by submission.

It occurs to me now that there hasn’t been any interaction whatsoever between Rose and Randa prior to this episode.  Are they friends?  Enemies?  The latter seems likely due to Rose getting along with mostly everyone, including Randa’s nemeses Carla and Felice.  Maybe they just stayed out of each other’s way.

Randa gets a birthday surprise, a phone call from her sister.  She’s in tears as soon as she hears the dial tone.  We’re not privy to the phone call, which probably wouldn’t be all that interesting to us anyway.  It’s gratifying for her just to know that her loved ones are okay.  Pettis wants to make sure that she keeps in mind what she’s fighting for: herself, her family, her husband, her…

…wait…Randa is married?

*sigh*

The fight (Namajunas v. Markos)

Everything is calm until Rose does a fancy foot shuffle and that sets Randa off!  She goes in wild with Rose managing to avoid taking any major shots.  They grapple and go down to the mat.  Rose initially ends up on top, but Randa tries to just power out of Rose’s half guard.  Dana is blown away by their raw strength and so am I.

Randa smartly stays wrapped around Rose’s leg when she tries to posture up and the result is a takedown for Randa.  Undeterred, Rose goes for the same kimura she used to beat JoJo.  At first, Randa flips right out of it, but Rose is focused on the hold and she gives Randa no chance to reset into a more comfortable position.  They roll and Rose is on top now where she works the hold for another submission win!

Jump For JoyA subdued celebration by her standards.

Rose says they’re going to party tonight!  I gave the “Breakout star” award to Randa last week, but Rose has done just as much to get her name out there with her cool personality and thrilling finishes.  Pettis points out that she won all of her fights on the show by submission even though she has a reputation as a striker.  The first time I heard of Rose was because of her famous boyfriend; after this week, we might be referring to Pat Barry as “that kickboxer who is engaged to Rose Namajunas”.

ThugThe girl is scary.

Rose Finals

*****

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give at least a cursory overview of the TUF 20 Finale strawweight bouts.  Keep in mind that I’m the worst person in the world at picking fights, especially tournament finales.  The only recent winner I can recall picking correctly (not including international editions, though I suck at those too) was Chris Holdsworth.  Place your wagers accordingly.

Emily Kagan (3-1) v. Angela Hill (1-0)

Normally, I would lean towards the younger fighter with the greater upside.  You have to think they cast Angela H. for reasons beyond her prodigious gastrointestinal aptitude.  Even so, I’m going to say that Emily’s experience and grappling are going to be too much for her in this situation.  Plus, Emily is with Jackson-Wink and I don’t take that lightly.

The pick: Kagan

Aisling Daly (14-5) v. Alex Chambers (4-1)

I hate that Aisling missed weight and I hate even more that she apparently looked like the zombie bride of Travis Lutter up there.  Still, she is a beast and I didn’t see enough from Alex to think that she’ll be able to pull off the upset here.  Better luck next time, Astro Girl.

The pick: Daly

Tecia Torres (4-0) v. Angela Magaña (11-6)

As fun as it will be to see Tecia smash Angela’s obnoxious face in, how could they not set up the Angela M./Heather Clark grudge match?  Was it that important for them to stick to the inane Team Pettis v. Team Melendez format?  Should Angela M. and Heather both lose tonight and get released, I’m hoping the fight happens somewhere.  Shannon Knapp, make this happen!

The pick: Torres

Joanne Calderwood (8-0) v. Seo Hee Ham (15-5)

I don’t know anything about Seo Hee Ham, but Seo Hee Ham is in trouble.

The pick: Calderwood

Bec Rawlings (5-3) v. Heather Clark (6-4)

On the other hand, I guess there’s the small chance that Heather beats Bec, then she can call out Angela M., and then maybe she can convince Felice to fight her a third time, and…

The pick: Rawlings

Felice Herrig (9-5) v. Lisa Ellis (15-8)

Maybe the toughest preliminary bout to predict.  Felice and Lisa have both fought a who’s who of women’s MMA, to varying degrees of success.  It was impossible for me to get any kind of read on Lisa’s capabilities based on her work on the show since she was dealing with numerous distractions including a long layoff and the anxiety of being away from her baby.  I’m a little more familiar with Felice, so I’ll go with what I know.

The pick: Herrig

Jessica Penne (11-2) v. Randa Markos (4-1)

I had this great write-up prepared for Randa if she made it to the finals to face Carla, you should have seen it.  It was something about “favourite versus underdog, mean girl versus shrinking violet, big name versus unknown” all that jazz.  I might have even thrown a Hemingway reference in there or something.  Alas.

Jessica lived up to her hype on the show and frankly, her fight with Carla may as well have been the finale.  I’m riding with Randa anyway.

The pick: Markos

Carla Esparza (9-2) v. Rose Namajunas (2-1)

You’re 22 years old.  You’re in your first UFC fight.  First UFC main event.  First five rounder.  For a UFC title.  You’re Rose Namajunas.

Anytime an unlikely contender emerges, you have to constantly ask if what’s happening is substantial and if it isn’t, when will reality come crashing down?  For all we know, Rose is peaking at the right time, or at least hitting the first major peak of her athletic prime.  There’s still no blueprint as to how or when one is supposed to be their best in MMA, so who’s to say that it isn’t Rose’s time now?  She has been an absolute killer, having finished three tough opponents to make it to the end, including JoJo, who is widely considered to be top five in the weight class.  Disregarding the unorthodox circumstances of TUF fights, there’s no denying the results.  Rose is a winner and she earned her spot.

That said, you have to think this is the end of the road.  Before even stepping foot in the TUF house, Carla owned wins over Felice and Bec, and she took current WSOF champ Jessica Aguilar to a close split decision back in 2011.  Her credentials dwarf Rose’s and her performances on the show only validated them further.  She used sound strategy and timely takedowns en route to winning round after round.  She also showed excellent striking against Jessica, the one area where you might think Rose could catch her.

You can’t rule out Rose snagging something from bottom position considering we’ve seen her do it several times, but Carla just seems too technically sound and patient for that to happen.  Rose projects as a legitimate money making star for the UFC someday.  Just not this Friday.

The pick: Esparza

Esparza v. NamajunasHistory in the making.

Friday, December 12, 2014: It’s the TUF 20 Finale!  Watch it!  Who are you kidding, you know you don’t have anything better to do.

The Ultimate Fighter 20: A Champion Will Be Crowned – Week 11

We’re in the home stretch now, which means it is all action from here on out.  There won’t be much to write about as far as in-house drama goes.  We know all the players, we know their dynamics, and we know what’s at stake.  At this point, all they have to do is roll the balls out.  I, your faithful TUF chronicler, refuse to do the same.  I never take a day off!  (Except, you know, when a take a day or two off before actually posting these).

Looking back at the season, it started off with a lot of promise that wasn’t entirely fulfilled by the subsequent episodes.  The extra insight into the fighters’ lives and the footage of the Vegas tryouts were thrilling for TUF acolytes like me.  It made me curious to see what other tweaks to the format they might make; as it turns out, not many.  They don’t need to reinvent the wheel every week, but they could at least rotate the tires every now and then.

Thankfully, they were blessed with a cast that is lively enough to spark discussion and interest in the show on their own.  Love them or hate them, this has been a memorable bunch.  Rather than just provide you with two fight recaps, I’ll be using this space to hand out some fictional awards.  Hey, they can’t be any more dubious than making it into the UFC Hall of Fame.

Team Colours

Team Melendez
Team Pettis

*****

Most likeable

JoJo!  I can neither confirm nor deny that this whole awards concept was just an excuse for me to say more nice things about the Scottie Hottie, Joanne Calderwood.  All I know is that I adore everything about her, from the remorse she felt over eating Emily Kagan’s carrots (because she was scheduled to face Emily in the tournament) to her nearly kicking Anthony Pettis’s arm off to her Terminator-esque fighting style.  JoJo never stopped entertaining us and no matter what happens I’m willing to bet that will hold true for the rest of her fighting career.

*****

I can’t stress enough what a huge match-up we have this week in Tecia Torres v. Carla Esparza.  Tecia mentions that Carla is the Invicta Strawweight champion.  Get hyped, lineal title fanatics (I’m looking at you Janecek).

They should send Shannon Knapp a check for laying the groundwork for this fight a year ago.  After Tecia won a decision over Felice Herrig at Invicta 7, she became the de facto title challenger.  The promotion even went as far as to have Carla enter the cage to make it official.  Fortunately, it didn’t result in Rampage/Rashad or Mayhem/Shields antics.

Invicta HistoryThey couldn’t have planned it better.

*****

Most heinous

Despite a late charge by BFFs and patty cake enthusiasts Felice and Carla, this award has to go to Angela Magaña who headed the campaign to bring down the hapless Heather Clark.  For most TUF participants, that would have been enough, but she had to go even further by booing former teammate Tecia after Tecia’s big win over Bec Rawlings.  Add in her entitled attitude and her reputation for being one of the most difficult women on an entirely different women’s combat sports reality show and Angela M. takes the whole cake.  She joins the hallowed halls of previous TUF dirtbags, Josh Koscheck, Gabe Ruediger, and Junie Browning.  Congrats Angela!

SombreroDamn it Angela, just…stop.

*****

Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Carla looks primed to win this whole thing.  She looks strong, crisp, and focused.  Add in the motivation of possibly facing Randa Markos in the finals and you have the makings of the next UFC champion.  It’s actually a good thing that they don’t revisit her beef with Randa in this episode as that feud should be left to simmer on its own.  For now, the focus is on Carla the athlete.

*****

Breakout star

Speaking of Randa, nobody saw their stock rise faster as a result of being on the show than the gritty Chaldean-Canadian.  Shamefully, I didn’t know much about her prior to the show and I worried that she would be lost in the shuffle.  She was given a modest fourteen seed, an indicator that she wasn’t supposed to make it out of the first round much less become a contender.  But here we are in week 11 and Randa is one fight away from an official UFC title shot.  The journey to get there has already caused her skills and her fan base to grow exponentially.

*****

The fight (Torres v. Esparza)

It was looking good for Tecia early on.  She was quicker and her takedown defence was on point.  That confidence allowed her to stay upright and to throw hands freely.  It wasn’t until Carla took it up a notch and finally snagged a takedown that the storyline for the fight became clear.  Tecia could defend herself and get back to her feet, but Carla stayed locked on at all times.  The Invicta champ scored with a headlock takeover and a beautifully timed takedown at the end of the first round to tip it in her favour (10-9).

Tecia cracked Carla with a hard right early in the second round!  It wouldn’t be enough to slow down Carla, who was on her hands and knees chasing Tecia’s leg like a pitbull.  Hmm…“Pitbull” would be a great nickname for an MMA fighter.  Someone should use that.

Just when I think Tecia had found her rhythm, Carla shot for an explosive double leg and Tecia went down!

Carla's ShotRelentless!

With Tecia’s offence nullified, the time ticked away with Carla pulling ahead.  She got another buzzer beating takedown to close the second.  It’s a majority decision win for Carla, though I had her taking both rounds.  Her attack is completely one dimensional, but that one dimension is superb.  Her wrestling is the most powerful weapon in the house.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Carla’s style losing fans.  What I see is a fighter who has gone through this competition the smartest way possible: playing to her strengths and avoiding injury.  Her post-match celebration could use some work though.  Felice has to carry a bucket for her to vomit in, the aftermath of an extraordinarily taxing contest.  Gif not necessary, I assure you.

Carla Moves On*****

Most diplomatic

Emily Kagan.  Poor Emily.  She’s well-spoken, mature, and caring, and her reward is minimal camera time compared to the malcontents in the house.  I know, I know, there’s only so many hours in a day and the squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that but damn, isn’t there something to be said for good behaviour?  I think Emily is cool.

*****

It’s funny that the JoJo/Rose Namajunas fight is second, because if this were an official card, Tecia and Carla would surely have been the main event.  They recognize who the stars of this particular program are though.  JoJo and Rose have had to battle through hard times to get their current notoriety, with JoJo being a foreigner and Rose being the youngest cast member.  Now it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that they’re the two most popular cast members.

Gilbert Melendez worries that they’re throwing too much stuff at Rose.  He hopes she is able to figure out techniques are comfortable for her and implement them accordingly.  She gets frustrated and needs some alone time.  There has been a lot of pressure on all these women from the get go.  It only got worse for Rose when her teammates were picked off one by one, leaving her as the lone survivor in the competition.  Gilbert tells us that he has faith that Rose can win, though he doesn’t say he’s confident.  Bad coach!

Things are slightly calmer on the Team Pettis side.  The only tweak they have is for JoJo to be looser than she was in her first fight.  They want her to “let it go”.  Hmm…that would be a nice sentiment for a song.  Someone should use that.

*****

Most flatulent

Angela Hill.  Apparently, she’s a dirty bird in general.  According to Bec, Angela H. admitted to masturbating “until my finger gets wrinkly”.  How could they have left that one on the cutting room floor?

*****

The fight (Namajunas v. Calderwood)

I can’t tell if there was a miscommunication over the opening glove tap, because JoJo walked right into a face kick from Rose.  Then again, that’s probably just due to Rose’s aggressive style.  JoJo had said earlier she expected the action to start right away.

It BeginsThe best part: JoJo’s expression barely changes the whole time.

JoJo is imposing in there.  She walked through everything.  Her resilience led to her shoving Rose down to the mat, which wasn’t a problem at all for “Thug”.  Rose never let JoJo get comfortable on top.  Once they were back up, Rose didn’t slow down.  She went for a flying armbar, but JoJo shrugged it off.

Flying Armbar AttemptJoJo ain’t havin’ that s**t.

Rose continued to get after it and she was rewarded with a takedown against the cage.  On the sheer volume of her grappling techniques, she was possibly winning the round.  I gave it to her 10-9 for constantly threatening from every angle.  Hell of a first round for both women.

Team Pettis’s plan to have JoJo let loose didn’t work out too well so they ask her to rein it in.  Her second round was better.  She got nasty in the clinch, clipping Rose with an elbow and slamming knees into her.  Some of the shots were cringe inducing.  Rose went for a takedown, which JoJo avoided with what looked to be liberal use of the cage.  That didn’t matter because Rose was again happy to work from the bottom.  She searched for a kimura and secured it for the submission win!

Rose KimuraBlink and you missed it.

Team Melendez reminds Rose that that was JoJo’s first loss, making her even more giddy if that’s even possible.

Rose Moves OnOn the other side, JoJo is crying.  F**K THIS SHOW

JoJo: The losing doesn’t matter.  It’s more that I didn’t…that I tapped.  I didn’t perform, obviously.  I’m just gutted that I lost, but it’s part of the game.  As long as it was a good fight.

It was a great fight.  Thanks, JoJo.

Next Week: The last episode of the season!  We find out who will be fighting at the finale as Jessica Penne takes on Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas battles Randa Markos.  Any combination of those fighters would make for a great final, but Carla v. Randa = $$$