The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

I can't really speak about The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) as a consumer, so my perspective is admittedly colored. Certainly I wouldn't call this season or any season a waste. There is valuable exposure for all their fighters and from what I did see from this season, Fox Sports has turned the show into arguably the most entertaining version of itself to date.

In addition, this was probably the optimal way to launch the women's bantamweight division, although the challenges that come with airing the program on a brand new network in Fox Sports 1 make the kind of exposure necessary to drive pay-per-view sales a tougher hill to climb.

There's also the use of TUF internationall as UFC expands in Australia, Brazil, China, holds position in Canada and soon other territories. What's worked domestically is hopefully going to work elsewhere.

Still - and again, I can't speak about TUF as a voracious consumer of it - one wonders about the show's viability in the aforementioned ratings regard. Some prospects come out of TUF, but the show is more about brand exposure and event promotion. Can that happen when a show is garnering roughly 600,000 viewers a week on what is otherwise an (understandably) low-rated, brand new network? No one really knows yet, but we'll likely have a better answer soon.

Star-divide

Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz

At stake: once more unto the breach. It seems unlikely either could contend for a title again, but it's not out of the question. With the champion and the top contender on the shelves for the foreseeable future, the distance to the top is significantly reduced...at least for now.

But let's say even with those obstacles out of the way, it won't happen for them. What can they get out of this? For Maynard, at 34 years of age, his chance to get wins against top competition again needs to happen now. It could lead to a title shot, but even if it doesn't, it's a chance to add impressive names to the list of victims before he calls it a day in the sport.


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Diaz isn't quite facing the same pressure in terms of the clock, but is in a similar position to Maynard: a really good fighter, once a top contender, on a bit of a down slope and needing big wins to hoist himself back where he was.

It's time both collect some scalps. They may not lead to Anthony Pettis, but they'll be part of the legacy and record and at least in the short run, put them on bigger fight cards in bigger fights.

Juliana Pena vs. Jessica Rakoczy

At stake: a piece of history and particularly helpful treatment. Given this is the first season where women are featured as TUF contestants, there is a bit of history here. This is not some insignificant piece of trivia, but one of the building blocks in foundational growth. Owning the winning side of this history is likely to make a lasting impression.

And beyond that, it also likely means the winner is going to get the same thing the men's side winner is going to get: the right kind of fights at the right time in their development to maximize their potential.

Chris Holdsworth vs. David Grant

At stake: favorable grooming. Not in the physical sense, of course, but the matchmaking, card placement sense. Again, with 18 seasons of TUF behind them, it's not clear what being a champion means anymore. That isn't to say it's unhelpful. It most certainly does confer some unique opportunities, but perhaps not the same that winning the show once did.

In any case, the winner of this bout can expect tougher challenges, but manageable ones as well. They can also generally expect to be put on cards where exposure is maximized. How far they go is anyone's guess, but winning this show can often mean getting the kind of developmental treatment a top prospect deserves.

Jessamyn Duke vs. Peggy Morgan, Roxanne Modafferi vs. Raquel Pennington

At stake: a position in the women's growing bantamweight division.

Not all of these fighters are approaching tonight's fights from the same position. Some have a .500 record in the sport, but are relatively new to the game. Others are veterans on losing streaks trying to turn things around. Still, others in this group are young, but have impressive records. The question is where they go from here.

It's often hard to decipher the UFC's plans. How much do they want to grow the women's bantamweight division? What is their ideal projected size in terms of roster numbers? At this point, we aren't privvy to those details. That makes contextualizing a loss here a shaky projection. A bad loss here could see someone cut or kept around.

The only fighter who is likely facing the strongest possibility of being cut should they lose is Modafferi, who, despite being a perennial fan favorite, is on a five-fight losing streak. If she's going to have any real future in the UFC, it has to start on the proper foot tonight.

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