The UFC will crown their first-ever strawweight champion on Friday night as the finale of the twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter takes place. Division powerhouse Carla Esparza takes on surging contender Rose Namajunas for the strap while the rest of the card features lighter weight fights as well as bouts among fighters on the show.
Where: The Pearl at the Palms, Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Friday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 6 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 main card starts at 7 p.m. and the five-fight Fox Sports 1 card kicks off 9 p.m.
Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas
Going into this show, I would've never thought I'd pick Namajunas over Esparza, but here we are. The fact is 'Thug's' development and progress - not to mention the hot streak she's on - is just impossible to ignore. She presses the attack constantly. That doesn't mean she's flying into things bezerker style all the time, although there is still a little bit of that. Instead, she's mostly managed to bring her technical prowess on par with her existing ferocity. That combination is hard to ignore.
Sure, Esparza's skills are as legitimate as they come. She has a fantastic blast double and efficient punching combinations on the feet. She can grapple with the best of them. But over five rounds, Namajunas will find an opening. She'll find several of them. I suspect she'll eventually make it count.
Oliveira is massively improved and a big part of me wonders if I'm not giving him his proper respect. Perhaps I'm not. Whatever the case, I'm siding with Stephens here. The American's got his own limitations, but for the purposes of his bout, I wonder how prevalent they'll be. Stephens' traditional takedown defense is good, his scrambling is underrated and while his jiu-jitsu is nowhere near Oliveira's level, it may not have to be. For me, the x-factor is the clinch. Stephens might be too willing to rely on his power and punching his way out of tie-ups while he's fed a knee from the massively improved clinch game of the Brazilian. That's not enough for me to side with Oliveira, but this is a close, close fight.
The problem for me is Noons just gets hit a lot. Everyone talks about his reflexes and peek-a-boo style of boxing. I do see some evidence of it, yes, but not enough to think he can make it work over a bout's long haul. Cruickshank has his own issues, but he can strike at range and move. If Noons can stay in the fight, he might be able to wear Cruickshank down later as 'The Detroit Superstar' is known to fade. But early on? I see Cruickshank building a commanding lead, so much so that Noons can't catch up.
Proctor surprised me his last time out, but I don't see much of a hope for him here. Medeiros will stuff his takedown attempts and blast him to pieces. Proctor might get the fight to the floor, but Medeiros can scramble if need be. I've been wrong before, but I don't see much more to this fight than that.
A very tough call here. I'm going to side with Penne, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Markos' only real chance to win is on the floor and she'll likely be able to establish the takedown when she needs it. From there, though, Markos is no slouch, but Penne is a nightmare. Penne's submission game is capable from a wide variety of spaces and positions where the concern of getting finished isn't usually that high. She changes that calculus. Markos can submit, too, but can be a bit more of a positional control-GNP fighter. It's a difficult call to make, but I have a bit of a difficult time envisioning Penne having no success on the place in the fight where she is normally very dominant.
From the preliminary card:
Felice Herrig def. Lisa Ellis
Bec Rawlings def. Heather Clark
Joanne Calderwood def. Seo Hee Ham
Tecia Torres def. Angela Magana
Aisling Daly def. Alex Chambers
Angela Hill def. Emily Kagan