This Saturday night (Nov. 30, 2013) an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contract will be on the line when women's bantamweights Julianna Pena and Jessica Rakoczy square off at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale on FOX Sports 1 from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pena has been making waves on the show. Many of the contestants seemed to have an intense dislike for her and some of that may be due to her skills inside the cage. It's been an impressive turnaround for Pena, who had dropped two straight mixed martial arts bouts (MMA) heading into the filming of TUF 18.
As coach Miesha Tate's first pick, "Venezuelan Vixen" was matched up against Team Rousey's top pick Shayna Baszler. Pena took the fight to the experienced Baszler with authority, nailing her with a variety of punches before finishing the fight with a rear-naked choke.
Pena then fought Sarah Moras in the semifinals. The fight was a rematch of a 2012 Conquest of the Cage (COTC) bout that Moras won via technical knockout. Revenge was sweet for Pena, who submitted Moras with a second round guillotine choke.
She hasn't exactly made many friends on the show, but you can't argue with her results.
Rakoczy, an eight-time boxing world champion, has worked hard to prove she is one of the toughest women in the house. Rakoczy used her crisp striking to take out experienced grappler Roxanne Modafferi in her first fight on TUF 18.
She was then a noted underdog when facing Raquel Pennington in last Wednesday's semifinals. Pennington was thought to be stronger and have a decided advantage in the wrestling and grappling departments. However, Rakoczy showed excellent takedown defense in the fight, peppering Pennington with some great shots en route to a unanimous decision win.
Pena will be the favorite heading into this one but if the show has taught us anything, it's not to count Rakoczy out. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Julianna Pena vs. Jessica Rakoczy:
Record: 4-2-0 overall, 0-0 UFC, 2-0 TUF
Key Wins: Sarah Moras (TUF 18), Shayna Baszler (TUF 18)
Key Losses: Sarah Moras (COTC 11)
Keys to Victory: Pena, a good friend of her coach Tate, is a well-rounded mixed martial artist. She's shown a lethal gameplan of softening her TUF 18 opponents up with strikes before moving in for the kill with a submission.
There no reason to deviate from what works this weekend.
Pena will push the pace with a high volume of power punches. She may not be the most technical puncher, but her aggressiveness makes her effective. Her grappling game is just as good as her stand-up, if not better. She has three submission wins on her official record and recorded two more on the show.
To win the contract this Saturday night, Pena can't let Rakoczy's technical expertise get the better of her. It's not going to be easy to contend with the boxer's speed, so Pena should look to change levels and go for a takedown. Rakoczy is used to taking a punch and there's no reason to fight her in her glaring area of strength.
Rakoczy has been submitted one time in her short MMA career and Pena is absolutely vicious on the ground. Although Rakoczy's takedown defense has been stellar thus far, she hasn't faced a fighter with as much momentum or killer instinct as Pena.
If "Venezuelan Vixen" can get the fight to the ground early she'll take Rakoczy way out of her comfort zone. Pena should look to use ground-and-pound to set up a choke for the win.
She appears beyond motivated to win the contract. If she can keep this fight from turning into a pure boxing match, that goal will be well within reach.
Record: 1-3 (1) overall, 0-0 UFC, 2-0 TUF
Key Wins: Raquel Pennington (TUF 18)
Key Losses: Felice Herrig (Bellator FC 14)
Keys to Victory: It's hardly a secret that Rakoczy will be looking to pick Pena apart on the feet. Her striking is truly on another level after years of professional boxing experience. Pena may have more power so she'll be looking to disrupt Rakoczy's rhythm with a fight-changing shot.
To avoid that, Rakoczy needs to keep her movement level at a breakneck pace. That shouldn't be a problem for "Ragin," as she came into her fight against Pennington under the weight limit at 133.5 pounds. She's going to stick and move by mixing a high volume of jabs with her precise left hook.
Although she has an extensive boxing background, Rakoczy has been finished via knockout in two of her three losses. That means she also has to be careful when exchanging with Pena.
If and when she gets taken down, Rakoczy actually has good defense on the ground. She avoided falling into any submissions against Modafferi and fought back with elbows and punches when Pennington took her to the mat.
But, she hasn't faced a finisher even close to the caliber of Pena, who is fueled by an intense desire to come out on top as the first female Ultimate Fighter. Rakoczy will need submission defense that is almost flawless. Anything else will put her in extreme danger of being choked out.
Rakoczy also must bring some serious resiliency to stop Pena's momentum on Saturday night. If she can stay on the outside and score points with her quick combinations, she'll have a chance to shock the world.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line of this fight is that it's most likely going to come down to Rakoczy's boxing versus Pena's grappling. Pena could surprise by looking to prove a point by winning the fight standing, but she should have a more intelligent gameplan in place.
Rakoczy's striking is pinpoint and stifling. The same can't be said about her ground game.
Pena submitted Baszler so logic would say that she could easily dominate Rakoczy everywhere except striking. Pena has to stay aggressive and control the pace of this fight, as well as where it goes. If Rakoczy is allowed to get comfortable and start landing combinations, it will be a long night for Pena.
There's going to be a massive amount of pride on the line at Mandalay Bay. Pena is a good friend and favored student of Tate, something that caused animosity among the team on the show. Rousey tried to get Pena eliminated from TUF 18 first, but the plan backfired. Rousey will want nothing more than Rakoczy to score the upset and get the win for her team.
It's time to decide the inaugural female TUF contract winner. Can Jessica Rakoczy continue riding her boxing all the way to victory or will Julianna Pena's submission skills prove too much for "Ragin"?