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TUF 20 Finale: Main Card Preview

Rose Namajunas

History will be made when the first ever all-female Ultimate Fighter comes to an explosive end tomorrow night at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite a lot of critical points of view towards women’s MMA, their first season of The Ultimate Fighter proved to be one of the best seasons yet. We saw a lot of talent in the house, and furthermore we saw the future of the new women’s strawweight division in the UFC. Coupling the fantastic women’s action however are some really interesting match-ups throughout this main card, so let’s break this it down:

Jessica Penne vs. Randa Markos

 If you caught my prelim preview, you’d know that there are a lot of inexperienced women fighters who will finally be getting a chance to fight in the spotlight. However, there are also some that have had experience fighting under pressure, and one of those fighters in Jessica Penne. She was the Invicta atomweight champion before she got armbar’d by “The Karate Hottie”. She’ll be putting her 11-2 record on the line against Randa Markos, a much greener fighter who showcased her potential on TUF 20.

Both Penne and Markos were able to make it to the semi-finals; Penne eventually lost to Carla Esparza where Markos lost to Rose Namajunas. Even though Penne has the experience edge in this fight, she is at a major disadvantage when it comes to her size and physicality. Penne fought at the weight class below, atomweight, and is going to be vastly under-sized against Markos who is actually big for the weight class and could probably move up bantamweight. Nevertheless, as you might expect the smaller fighter has the much more complete technical skill set whereas Markos is going to really try to use her size, aggressiveness, and power to get the victory.

The wrestling advantage definitely goes to Markos who likes to use her explosiveness to blitz in with punches, and end with takedowns. From there, Markos likes to posture up and rain down hell, but isn’t opposed to looking for submissions. She’ll have to be careful though because Penne boasts an extremely dangerous grappling game off of her back. Penne is by far one of the craftiest females on the fight card as she is constantly looking for submissions, sweeps, and reversals off of her back. The problem with this though is that she is on her back quite frequently. Her stand-up is sharp, but she’s been known to be easy to get to the mat. Penne will have to really be careful not to spend too much time on her back.

Even though Penne is the most experienced, I’m expecting Markos to really give her a tough fight. Look for this fight to be a close one and come down to how much damage Penne is going to be able to get off before being taken down. Then, on her back, how much will the judges factor in her offensive grappling on the mat. I think it’ll be Markos doing the damage and landing big shots, but it’ll be Penne going for submissions, sweeps, and ultimately being more active. I’d like to take Penne by a razor thin split verdict.

Joe Proctor vs. Yancy Medeiros

 Now we take a little break from what should be exciting female MMA action, and get to see two exciting lightweights fight to extend their current winning streaks. Even though Medeiros has more losses in the UFC than wins, he has had valuable experience facing top-ranked contenders. We recently saw what Medeiros could do when fought someone who wasn’t a perennial lightweight, and he showcased a vicious reverse-bulldog choke on Damon Jackson. Medeiros is an exciting, explosive, dangerous lightweight who is the favorite coming into this bout. With that said, he’s taking on a guy who just always figures out a way to win. Joe Proctor, a student of Joe Lauzon, shares his mentor’s toughness and heart. Proctor has a hell of a chin, and is willing to take a punch if that means getting one step closer to setting up a submission or combination of his own.

Both Medeiros and Proctor are totally willing to bang it out on the feet, which means this fight could be real fireworks. With that said, look for Proctor to have an edge in terms of crispness and overall technique while Medeiros likes to sacrifice that for power and explosiveness. The real advantage that Medeiros has though is in the wrestling department. Even though Medeiros isn’t known for his offensive takedowns, he knows how to control his opponent in the clinch and on the ground. Of course both Proctor and Medeiros have excellent submission skills, so I don’t think it’s very likely that we’ll see a submission victory.

When you factor everything in, you get Proctor who can take a punch, throw crisp combinations, and fight well off of his back against Medeiros who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, and can finish the fight anywhere. I definitely favor Medeiros in this fight, but Proctor’s heart and toughness should make it a really entertaining scrap, but it’ll be Medeiros who takes the decision.

KJ Noons vs. Daron Cruickshank

 We get more lightweight action as two stand-out strikers, KJ Noons and Daron Cruickshank, square off against each other in a fight that a lot of fans believe could be a potential barn-burner. KJ is coming off of a two-fight win streak, most noticeably a 30 second KO over long-time UFC veteran Sam Stout. KJ is renowned for his hands as he has had professional boxing experience, and boasts his punching technique in every one of his fights. For a while it seemed like KJ’s striking was seemingly overrated, but he shocked a lot of people when he put Stout unconscious in the first engagement of their fight. Noons’s hands are fluid, quick, and pack some real power.

His opponent, Cruickshank, brings a bit more diverse striking style. Daron likes to load up on his punches and kicks, and top things off with spinning attacks. Whether it’s spinning wheel kicks, back kicks, or back fists, Daron has gotten his spinning techniques down to a science where he can really hurt you in the middle of a combination. If you were to pit Daron’s hands against KJ’s hands however, Noons holds a noticeable advantage. Unless Daron can really use his kicks effectively and keep Noons on the defensive, he’s going to have to resort to other means to win this fight. Luckily for him, he has a great wrestling game to help him out.

This fight really gets interesting when you take a look at their movement preferences. KJ likes to be the one moving forward as he often walks his opponents down and puts his hands on them. However, Cruickshank likes to move his feet and have space to get his flashy kicks and combinations off. If KJ can continually back Cruickshank up, then Cruickshank’s bread and butter – his kicks – become much less of a threat. However, if KJ is moving forward then that opens him up to Cruickshank’s takedowns. If KJ plays cautious in fear of being taken down, then he lets Daron have space to throw his kicks. In my opinion this is Cruickshank’s fight to lose, and I think he should be able to out-point KJ every step of the way.

Jeremy Stephens vs. Charles Oliveira

 Sitting at the co-main event spot is yet another fantastic lightweight tilt between the hard-hitting Jeremy Stephens, who is coming off of an admirable performance against Cub Swanson, and the submission wizard, Charles Oliveira. This is really a match-up that showcases a drastic contrast in styles as you have Jeremy, a powerful slugger with a solid wrestling base, against Charles, a lanky Muay Thai striker with one of the most dangerous submission arsenals in the featherweight division. This is a very interesting fight, but because both of these guys gun for the finish, I expect an explosive display on one side or the other.

On the feet, Stephens holds a significant edge in his power. He has knocked fighters out with punches, but also kicks as well, so that’s something to keep an eye on. He will be fighting the longer, taller opponent in Oliveira, so Stephens is going to have to work on closing the distance and exploding forward with his punches, but he is already pretty good at that. Oliveira touts some sharp technical striking, and a very good kicking game, but it’s safe to say that he doesn’t really have the same kind of one-punch KO power that Stephens does. Oliveira has struggled against power strikers in the past though as he was KO’d against Cub Swanson, and also Donald Cerrone. Every second Oliveira stands with Stephens he has a chance of getting blasted to the head or to the body and finished, but with that said, the same applies to the ground, but in favor of Oliveira.

Charles is really a submission wizard when it comes to the grappling department. No matter what position he’s in, he has techniques he can pull off that can leave you tapping instantly. On the ground, Oliveira’s lankiness really becomes his biggest weapon as he can wrap his arms around you in ways that normal fighters can’t. His long arms allow him to sink chokes in deeper, and his long frame gives him leverage to combat a disadvantage in strength, and that’s a huge x factor in this fight. Stephens is the physically stronger man and is going to be looking to use that strength to not just potentially get him out of dangerous positions on the ground, but to avoid going to the ground in the first place. Oliveira is going to have to really be sneaky with his takedowns and trips if he wants to put the slugger on the mat because Oliveira can’t hide behind his reach and length when he’s trying to clinch up with Stephens.

In conclusion, this is a very intriguing fight that I can’t wait to see play out. Oliveira is a young, crafty guy who is constantly adapting and tightening up his game, whereas Stephens is more of a veteran who is making a bit of a resurgence. We’ve seen Stephens fight this type of fighter before in Joe Lauzon, and he succumbed to an armbar in the first round, but Stephens is better now and Oliveira doesn’t have the toughness that Lauzon has. Expect Stephens to fight a very smart fight and avoid Oliveira attempts to clinch up; he should be able to use his strength to thwart takedown attempts, and muscle his way out of submissions if need be. On the feet, look for Stephens to headhunt with big shots, and I think eventually he’s going to get it. I’m going with Stephens by TKO in the second.

Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

A champion will be crowned. That was the title of TUF 20 and it’s true, the winner between Namajunas and Esparza will be the official UFC women’s strawweight champion. Both Namajunas had memorable campaigns during show as Rose tapped out all of her opponents while Esparza has put on dominating displays and powered through her three opponents. Much like the bout between Oliveira and Stephens, this too is a stylistic intrigue, and I’m very interested to see how it all plays out.

Namajunas is definitely the greener fighter of the two, but she resembles raw potential and star power. She is incredibly fun to watch, and always goes for the kill no matter what position she’s in. Most of the show featured fights that went the distance, but Namajunas was out there tapping everyone out. Even though Rose doesn’t have the gym time and experience, she definitely has the skills and mentality to become the best in her division. Her opponent, Esparza thrives at everything Namajunas doesn’t however. Carla is a physically powerful fighter who excels at taking her opponents down and absolutely dominating them. Controlling posture, raining down punches and elbows, and also going for submissions.

On the feet, both fighters have their advantages. Esparza can throw some tight combinations and has the basics down, but she is very hittable. Namajunas on the other hand can get wild and sloppy, but has dangerous kicks that could really be a threat to Esparza on the feet. In the end, both fighters tend to get hit a lot and let their defenses fall when their amidst in the battle. This could make for some very exciting exchanges on the feet.

At some point you have to figure that Esparza is going to want to take the fight to the ground, and she most likely will. Once she has Namajunas down though, she can’t rest and take a break. Rose is extremely active off her back and is constantly looking for ways to submit her opponent, or sweep and get on top. I think it’ll be Rose’s non-stop attacking that is going to carry her to a win. I see Esparza really putting some damage on Rose early on in the fight as her more technical punches find their mark against a sometimes sloppy Namajunas, but once Esparza looks for the takedown to get a breather, it’ll be Namajunas who is ready with either a guillotine, or some other submission off her back. It might not happen at first, but eventually Namajunas will continue her submission streak, and become the first UFC strawweight champion.

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