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Fortunes changed for five at TUF 18 Finale

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Saturday night's UFC show ended on a concerning note. Gray Maynard, who three years ago had the world lightweight championship within his sight and smell, but fell just short of the taste, looked like the latest victim of how quickly the inevitability of time can come.

Maynard went from nearly finishing UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in the first round on Jan.1, 2011, a fight that ended in a draw, to losing his second straight fight in less than three minutes. In doing so, he suffered his third knockout in four fights.

It wasn't so much that the 34-year-old Maynard lost to Nate Diaz in their third fight, but it was the second straight fight where Maynard failed to recover from shots that three years ago he would have walked through. With T.J. Grant, it was a fighter with significant power in his punches, a longtime welterweight moving down and Maynard seemed to not respect his stand-up game as much as he should have. Knockouts happen in UFC and one quick loss is usually not something to judge an entire career around. But in this case, the same thing happened with Diaz, a volume striker not known for one-punch power, who delivered a short left to the nose that Maynard never recovered from.

What was more concerning was when it was clear he was out on his feet, that he took several more shots flush in the face when it was clear he was not able to defend himself. It got to the point even Diaz didn't want to hit him again, and had to, before the fight was stopped.

It's been nearly four years since the previous meeting between Maynard and Diaz. It was a rather uninspiring standing battle that Maynard won by split decision. At the time, a win by Maynard was to give him a shot at B.J. Penn's lightweight title. But Dana White overruled it.

The nature of the fight left nobody clamoring for Penn vs. Maynard, and White instead went with Edgar as challenger. Maynard then had to get past Kenny Florian to get his title shot. It wound up with two shots, in two exciting wars, both of which saw Maynard nearly finish Edgar in round one. In both fights, Edgar came back, to where he got the draw in the first fight, and won via stoppage in the second.

Going into Saturday's show, it was expected to be a night where the women would take center stage. There were an unprecedented three main card women fights out of five. The situation was unique. The show was the Ultimate Fighter finals, and the women largely outshined the men all season. There was more interest in seeing the women from this season fight in the finale.

My feeling is that on an 11-to-13 fight show, a women's fight, or two, at different times on the show, is a good change of pace for the crowd. It's already been proven that under the right circumstances, a female fighter can headline successfully and a woman can be one of the company and sport's biggest stars. But as a general rule of thumb, three women fights out of four is probably not the best thing for a UFC show and is likely not something you'll see a lot of.

None of the fights stole the show, but Julianna Pena, in finishing Jessica Rakoczy to win the TUF season, came out of the night as more of a star than most recent TUF winners. She also has the shot to be more of a factor in UFC than any TUF winner since John Dodson, given a combination of how impressive she looked in running through the season, and the relative lack of depth in the women's bantamweight division.

Still, she is untested. Shayna Baszler, who she beat early in the season, is the only major name fighter win on her resume. While Rakoczy did have a strong technical boxing pedigree and a number of championships in that sport, she's 36 years old and was only 1-3, with one no contest, in MMA fights, coming into the house. She couldn't keep the fight standing, which was her only shot at winning.

In looking at how fortunes changed, we're going to include a unique twist, because this includes someone who didn't fight on the show.

NATE DIAZ - Coming off a one-sided loss in a title match with Benson Henderson, and the first time he was ever stopped in his career by strikes against Josh Thomson, Diaz (18-9) had talked all week about moving up to welterweight after the fight.

The problem is making 155 is becoming harder for Diaz. But at 170, Diaz has in the past had trouble matching up with wrestlers in that division. And the top of the welterweight division is loaded on the wrestling side.

Then, after his win, he proclaimed that he and training partner Gilbert Melendez were the two best lightweights in the world.

In picking up a best knockout bonus, it was his 11th career performance bonus, placing him behind only Anderson Silva and Joe Lauzon (12 each) in UFC history.

There is something about the Diaz brothers, whether fighting or talking, where you get the feeling that a train wreck can come at any moment and you simply can't turn away. Between that and the excitement he brings, as the number of bonuses show, makes Nate a more compelling fighter than his record would indicate.

But as far as the championship situation goes, he's simply unlikely to be able to get past the bigger wrestlers at 170. At 155, a good next step is Rafael dos Anjos, as far as a fighter where a win can get him back into the top echelon.

GRAY MAYNARD - It was only a few months ago, before his fight with Grant, where Maynard was still viewed as a championship threat. Long known for his durability, strength and wrestling technique, he had also shown improved striking with knockout power. He was 11-1-1 for his career (a loss to Nate Diaz in the Ultimate Fighter house was not listed in his career record) going into the UFC 160 bout over Memorial Day weekend.

The loss to Grant hurt. He was favored, and a win would have gotten him a shot at then-champion Benson Henderson. He'd never been stopped by strikes, or really even been on the verge of it, until Edgar finished him in their third fight. Even after the Grant loss, a win over Diaz would have still kept him in a strong position. But the nature of his two prior losses, coupled with this, leads to obvious questions about where he can go from here, or even if at this point it's wise to keep going.

JULIANNA PENA - Pena (6-2), won three of her four TUF fights via stoppage. As something of an outcast to the rest of the fighters in the house, and portrayed as a teacher's pet as a training partner of coach Miesha Tate, Pena will walk into UFC with more name recognition than all but a few fighters in her relatively new division.

As far as potential next opponents, Jessamyn Duke (3-0, 1 no contest), who defeated Peggy Morgan Saturday, would give her a next fight against someone with people know. Her fight that would garner the most interest would be a rematch with Baszler (15-8), but I would think Baszler would have to get a UFC win before being considered for that fight. Another direction could be to wait a week and see what transpires in the Bethe Correia vs. Julie Kedzie fight on Dec. 7 in Brisbane, Australia (Dec. 6 U.S. time) and consider her for a fight with the winner.

CHRIS HOLDSWORTH - The Team Alpha Male product blew through the competition this season, winning four fights, all by submission, three in the first round. Still, at the top level of the UFC's bantamweight division, the submissions are not going to come so easy, and opponent Davey Grant was able to get through with punches in fighting a competitive first round.

The level of his domination during the season may give Holdsworth (6-0) more interest than most of the recent TUF winners. But on the flip side, with the lower ratings on FS 1, fewer people saw that domination. The question becomes whether UFC is going to give him lesser early tests and hope he passes, or immediately put him against people at his level.

He's from arguably the best camp in the world for fighters of his size, so he's already used to battling the top level fighters. He also appears to have the dedication necessary to be a top star. But until he faces more experienced opponents, it's impossible to really gauge where he stands.

If the idea is to immediately put him in a significant match, an intriguing battle would be with another recent debut, 20-year-old Sergio Pettis (10-0), who debuted two weeks ago.

RONDA ROUSEY - More than any of the fighters, the biggest and most talked about personality on Saturday night's
show was Rousey (7-0), the women's bantamweight champion. And little of it was positive.

The irony is that Rousey's appeal outside the cage is what not just made her a star, but opened the door for women in the UFC. Sure, it was her record of first round armbars that got her the championship after she talked her way into the shot, and allowed her to keep it. But if she hadn't played her cards right outside the cage, she could easily be Sara McMann (another Olympic medalist who is an undefeated fighter) and women's fighting on the big stage could be limited to the occasional Invicta shows.

Rousey appears to have forgotten what got her to the dance based on her demeanor when being interviewed. Her obvious hatred of Miesha Tate, under normal circumstances, would have helped built their Dec. 28 title fight into the biggest woman's fight in history. And there were at least glimpses of that cleverness, such as her yawning when Tate was talking during the first of their two interviews together.

But for the most part, instead of being a female Chael Sonnen, she was closer to a Jon Jones. The worst thing a performer can ever be when interviewed is to come off like they are bothered to be there. Rousey, better than anyone, should be aware that interview time is where you sell yourself and your fight to the public.

There is nothing wrong with being insanely competitive or caring about fighters that you coached who lost on the show. But she made it uncomfortable for the interviewers, and for the fan at home watching, particularly as part of her group interview when the show was over.

She didn't talk passionately about winning her own fight, or how what happened on this show gives her added motivation. She dismissed talk of the season of Ultimate Fighter and how some saw her come across. Instead of having something to say to Tate, she wouldn't look at the camera, and just came across bothered. Instead of being able to laugh at her own intensity in hindsight, she chose to act as if she didn't care.

While such a tactic may work for Nick Diaz, for all the talk of her being a female Diaz brother, her appeal is completely different.

There are even ways of saying she would rather not be near Tate and can't wait to get to the fight a few weeks away without putting off the viewer at home. She came off like someone who became the face or her sport, and is hating every minute of the ride. And even if that's true, it's not the message to send to the viewer at home when you've got the highest profile fight of your life you are trying to sell in a few weeks.

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