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The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale: Jessica Rakoczy vs. Julianna Pena

The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale: Jessica Rakoczy vs. Julianna Pena

Jessica Rakoczy (1-3-1) vs. Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Pena (4-2), at the TUF 18 Finale

The 18th season of TUF is now officially a wrap. All that remains is the finale this Saturday when these two ladies will look to keep the momentum going after a season in which the women out did the men on just about every front. With so many talented WMMA representatives featured on the show it should come as no surprise that these two set to throw down on Saturday are especially tough, and violent, and mean, and wonderful, and should provide us with some great entertainment.

Jessica Rakoczy came to the show a very skilled, successful, converted boxer in the midst of a shaky start to her MMA career. After such a successful decade long run in boxing where Jessica captured and defended no less than 4 titles and built a 33-3-1 record, it says something about her competitive spirit that she would enter an entirely different combat sport and start from scratch at 36 years old. Having already faced respected WMMA fighters Zoila Frausto and Felice Herrig shows Jessica is taking this new venture seriously and intends on making her presence felt. Compared to her 5 MMA fights outside of the TUF platform Jessica showed tremendous improvement during her time on the show and took full advantage of the top notch coaching and facilities available to her. The finished product ready to tackle the WMMA world brings the following strengths:

–          Obviously Jessica’s hands are her biggest weapon, displaying everything you would expect from a champion boxer and looks to have even adapted to the timing and distance differences presented in MMA. A nice crisp jab to the head and body, a mean lunging left hook, and the trusty jab-straight right-left hook combo are all there, as are the footwork, head movement, and outstanding counter punching that can make good boxing so effective in an MMA fight.

–          Another strength that Jessica likely carried over from boxing that has worked well for her in MMA is patience. She sticks to her game plan and doesn’t get caught up in the heat of the moment throwing caution to the wind getting all careless. Her ability to maintain strategy in the Raquel Pennington fight was very impressive. It wasn’t the barn burner that most expected but we later found out from her coach Ronda Rousey that this was all part of the plan going in, to slowly and steadily pick Pennington apart and take over the fight. This is EXACTLY how it went down and by the 3rd round Jessica had her foe frustrated, tired, busted up, and all but defeated. This will be an invaluable asset going forward and will allow Jessica to make in fight adjustments when she needs to switch gears.

–          Also quite impressive was the physical strength and creativity displayed by Jessica. Most BJJ coaches will tell you that trying to slam your way out of an arm bar or triangle choke is a bad idea (unless your name is Quinton Jackson) but when you are still green in the submission game and don’t yet posses the technical ability to counter such moves you have to find a way to survive and that is just what happened in Jessica’s fights with Roxanne Madafferi and Revelina Berto.

Still being a newcomer to MMA means Jessica still has much work to do before she is a “complete” fighter. She would be smart to address the following concerns:

–          Unsurprisingly her wrestling is still very much a work in progress and we saw this in the fact that each of her opponents so far has succeeded in taking her down. She makes them work for it and even makes them pay for it with occasional sneaky strikes in the clinch, but weak wrestling will cost her big time in the eyes of MMA judges. She can defend well from the bottom and is decent at forcing a stalemate and regaining guard but that will not be enough going forward.

–          An extension of the wrestling concern, Jessica’s comfort level while on the ground will also need to improve. Not in the sense that she panics or gasses out down there, but more so in that it will make her more effective offensively. If she can get a little more comfortable she can let loose with ground n pound from top and submission attacks from bottom.

 

–          And then there is the issue of her size. Weighing in for all of her bantamweight fights well under the allotted 135 lbs means she will be at a serious size disadvantage. She can overcome this on the feet but in the grappling exchanges where she is weaker as it is, giving away 5-10 lbs will just compound the problem. Hit the weights or drop a division, I suspect that with the UFC adding a women’s flyweight division she will choose the latter.

Julianna Pena was Team Tate’s number one overall pick and not just because she is pals with Coach Miesha, the girl can scrap! She brings an intense drive and tenacity to the cage that is honestly very impressive. She showed she’s got guts too when she was totally on board with Team Tate’s genius plan to go directly for the heart of the opposing team and try to take out the dangerous veteran Shayna Baszler right off the bat. Crazy right? Wrong! Pena executed the plan to perfection and after the fight Baszler was a non issue in the contest. Like I said, the girl can scrap.

–          Pena’s biggest asset for sure is her tenacity. She just fights so damn hard that you cannot help but be impressed by the girl. From the word go she is going a million miles a minute and has no fear, no hesitation, and no breaks! She has an extremely high work rate and puts out a ton of offense. It’s pretty fun to watch.

–          As far as her actual skills are concerned, Pena is a very effective grappler. Basic but effective, Pena engages aggressively, tries to secure a body lock/double under hooks, and then clinches her way to the fence. Once there it is usually a Greco type takedown or a slick trip that takes the fight to the floor where Pena is an absolute HAMMER on top! Once in dominant top position be it full mount, in half guard, or side control, Julianna goes to work on opponents pretty much beating them to a pulp with GNP until they break and either give up a submission or lose a decision. Basically, when Pena gets on top of chicks they don’t usually get up.

With just 6 pro fights to her credit, Julianna still has much room for improvement and the following could use some work:

–          The downside to being such an active, aggressive, action fighter is that if you’re technically not at a very high level the more seasoned fighters will see openings a mile away and will not hesitate to capitalize on them. As Pena advances in her career she will start to encounter this more and more and if it is not fixed it could be a problem. At just 24 years old Julianna still has time to remedy this.

–          Juliana’s striking could also be much better, or cleaner, if you will. While she does throw straight punches she has a tendency to just bum rush forward throwing right-left-right-left at her opponents head all while leaving her chin right out there in the open. The more aggressive she gets the more awkward these attacks appear and again will be very easy for a good fighter to counter. She should also mix up the variety of her strikes more, adding more leg, head, and body kicks to the equation to keep opponents guessing and set up her clinches more effectively.

These two fighters are quite different but pretty evenly matched when you consider that one’s strength is the others weakness and vice versa. Both improved dramatically while filming TUF and I am sure they both have improved even more since. But as is often the case between two relatively one dimensional fighters it is usually the grappler who controls the fight. With this in mind I am picking Julianna Pena to win an outstanding fight and the contract that comes with it.

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