Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has plenty of kings. Tomorrow night (Fri., Dec. 12, 2014) it's time to add a second queen.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 and its Strawweight tournament come to a close tomorrow evening as Team Anthony Pettis's Carla Esparza faces Team Gilbert Melendez's Rose Namajunas at the Finale from Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada.
The co-feature will see a pair of dramatically-different Featherweight finishers battle it out, Jeremy Stephens pitting his power punching against the elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu of Charles Oliveira, while K.J. Noons looks to build on the momentum gathered by his stunning knockout of Sam Stout against Daron Cruickshank.
We've got six "Prelims" under card matches scheduled, two on Fight Pass and the rest on FOX Sports 1 alongside the main card. Here's what we've got:
115 lbs.: Felice Herrig vs. Lisa Ellis
The outspoken Felice Herrig (9-5) grappled her way past Heather Clark in the opening round, picking up Team Pettis’s fifth straight win in the process. In the quarterfinals, "Lil’ Bulldog" found herself unable to stop under dog Randa Markos, tapping to a scarfhold armlock midway through the first round.
She has won four of her last five professional fights, losing only to Tecia Torres in that span.
Perhaps best-known for her bloody bout with Jessica Penne, Lisa Ellis (15-8) got a shot at revenge in the opening round as a representative of Team Melendez. It wasn’t quite as carnage-filled as the first time, but Ellis came up short once again after tapping to a first-round rear-naked choke.
Though she has lost three of her last four fights, they were against a Murderer’s Row, including Megumi Fujii, Jessica Aguilar and the aforementioned Penne.
Though Herrig may be known primarily for her…"showmanship," she really isn’t a bad fighter. She’s durable and a capable grappler, which seems a solid skillset against Ellis, who struggled in the wrestling against the smaller Jessica Penne. Herrig ought to be the one dictating position.
Felice has had trouble with the divisional elite, but Ellis is not among their number. Herrig uses her size to control the fight in the clinch, scoring takedowns as needed for the decision win.
Prediction: Herrig via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Bec Rawlings vs. Heather Clark
Bec Rawlings (5-3), originally slated to face Justine Kish, wound up with a much stiffer test when Kish was replaced by old teammate Tecia Torres. Despite a solid effort, "Rowdy Bec," couldn’t quite edge the "Tiny Tornado," losing the decision after two rounds of action.
She has scored submissions in three of her five wins, including two by armbar.
Team Melendez’s Heather Clark (6-4) faced a familiar foe in the opening round in Herrig, whom she had lost a split decision to last year in Bellator. She came up short once again in the rematch, struggling to counter Herrig’s grappling attack.
She has only gone the distance once in victory, submitting three.
Selective editing or no, Rawlings really came off as a jerk on TUF, so it pains me to say she’ll probably win this. She hung in well with Torres’ striking and seemed like a capable enough grappler to deal with Clark on the mat if needed. Plus, Clark will be coming off of a torn ACL, which is not a fun injury to recover from if you’re looking to grapple.
It would be wonderfully poetic if Clark manages to run over Rawlings, but karma is an inconsistent bugger and I don’t expect her favor. Rawlings pieces her up at range for a decision.
Prediction: Rawlings via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Joanne Calderwood vs. Seo Hee Ham
Joanne Calderwood (8-0), a former Muay Thai world champion, entered the show ranked No. 2, defeating Team Melendez’s Emily Kagan in the first round of the tournament. In the quarterfinals, she squared off with Rose Namajunas in the best fight of the season, eventually tapping to a kimura in the second round.
She is four inches taller than her opponent and owns a win over current Invicta champion Katja Kankaanpaa.
Known as "Hamderlei Silva," Seo Hee Ham (15-5) trains out of Team MAD alongside the likes of Dong Hyun Kim and Kyung Ho Kang. A world-ranked Atomweight, she enters UFC having won six straight and nine of her last 10.
She has five years’ more MMA experience than Calderwood and actually beat the great Hisae Watanabe in her professional debut.
Though she lacks the knockout prowess her nom de guerre would suggest, Ham is a very skilled and fun fighter to watch, which is the reason it’s a shame that they’re throwing her in against a beast like Jojo. She’ll be facing a considerable size disadvantage and, stylistically, just doesn’t match up well with Calderwood. Her steady aggression and lack of defense make her a tempting target for Calderwood’s kicks and jabs, while any attempts to bully her way inside will leave her at the mercy of Calderwood’s vicious clinch.
Ham has some pop despite not having a pro knockout and I think she’ll do well in UFC, but she’ll have a rough start as Calderwood chops her up at close and long range.
Prediction: Calderwood via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Tecia Torres vs. Angela Magana
Tecia Torres (4-0) wound up on the wrong end of the season’s biggest upset as she dropped a decision to No. 14-ranked Randa Markos in the Round of 16. An injury to Justine Kish gave her a second shot in the tournament, which she used to defeat Rawlings before losing a decision to Carla Esparza.
True to her nickname, "Tiny Tornado" will give up three inches of height to Angela Magana (11-6).
Magana made few friends on the show due to her bullying behavior, primarily towards Heather Clark. Worse yet, she lost her very first fight to Aisling Daly via third-round ground-and-pound.
Six of her professional wins are by submission.
As someone with a history of being bullied, I very much dislike Magana and I hope she loses badly. Luckily for me, that looks like a possibility. Despite Tecia’s losses, she’s still the superior fighter be a fair margin. She’s incredibly fast and makes up for her lack of power with volume and accuracy, while having takedown defense that’s proven difficult to consistently crack.
I’m really not seeing an avenue of victory for Angela. Tecia’s young, always improving and the superior athlete. Expect her to run circles around Magana for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Torres via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Aisling Daly vs. Alex Chambers
A veteran of the game despite being just 26, Aisling Daly (14-5) used her trademark scrappiness to put away Magana in the third round of their preliminary clash. Jessica Penne proved a tougher nut to crack, grappling her way past Daly in a three-round quarterfinal battle.
"Ais the Bash" has finished twelve professional opponents ... seven by submission.
Alex Chambers (4-1), representing Australia, took on Team Melendez standout Rose Namajunas in her first fight on the show. Unfortunately for her, "Astro Girl" had no answer for the eventual finalist, submitting to a rear-naked choke late in the first round.
She is 10 years her opponent’s senior and has only lost professionally to top prospect Mizuki Inoue.
Aisling is fun to watch, but I don’t think she’ll go terribly far in the division. She makes up for her technical deficiencies with grit and will, which can work against limited opponents like Magana, but would cost her dearly were she to face someone like Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Calderwood.
Luckily, it should be enough here.
Chambers is looking at a major experience disadvantage in both quantity and quality of opposition, plus the issue of being 36 in a weight class that historically isn’t kind to older fighters. Daly will find herself in a few bad positions just because that’s how she fights, but she’ll find herself dropping punches from top position enough to earn the nod.
Prediction: Daly via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Emily Kagan vs. Angela Hill
Emily Kagan (3-1) faced a tough assignment right off the bat, squaring off with No. 2-ranked Joanne Calderwood in the show’s second fight. Kagan had difficulties on both the feet and the ground with the Muay Thai champ en route to a unanimous decision loss.
Kagan’s only professional defeat came at the hands of Namajunas two Januarys ago.
Angela Hill (1-0), entering the show with two Muay Thai wins in addition to her sole MMA victory, took on first-seed and Invicta champ Carla Esparza in the elimination round. Her lack of experience proved her undoing as Esparza submitted her in the latter part of the first round.
At 26 years old, she is seven years younger than her opponent.
Both of these girls are so early in their careers that massive improvement between fights is not only possible but expected, making it a pain to try to accurately predict their fights. Hill is a very good striker, as her pedigree would suggest, but she debuted in April of this year and I’m not sure she can pick up the necessary grappling in such a short time.
Kagan will need to wrestle immediately and often to exploit Hill’s greenness, and her experience with Calderwood seems to show she’s willing to mix it up and take knees and elbows if needed. This is quite close, but I’ll lean towardthe more experienced girl.
Kagan grapples her way to a decision.
Prediction: Kagan via unanimous decision
The best 115-pound female fighters in the world and some entertaining match ups to round it out. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
See you tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 20 Finale fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under- and main-card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET.