What a long, strange trip it has been.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will tie a ribbon around The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 with a live finale on FOX Sports 1, which takes place later tonight (Dec. 12, 2014) inside the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. That's where the promotion will crown its inaugural 115-pound champion with a strawweight headliner pitting Carla Esparza against Rose Namajunas.
That's not all.
With the exception of Justine Kish, sidelined by an untimely knee injury, the rest of the mixed martial arts (MMA) hopefuls who laced up the gloves this season will return for a second shot at UFC superstardom. Joining them on the cable television network are are handful of familiar faces, including Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira, to help round out the show.
As always, our resident "Prelims" medium Patty Stumberg previewed the first half of the UFC Fight Pass and FOX Sports 1 offering right here, which included the bulk of the women's strawweight match ups. That leaves your old pal Nostradumbass with the main card balance.
Let's get to it.
115 lbs. Carla "Cookie Monster" Esparza (9-2) vs. "Thug" Rose Namajunas (2-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Carla Esparza set the tone early by disposing of Angela Hill by submission. Unfortunately, her two-round stinker against Tecia Torres was one of the worst fights of the entire season. She also went to the scorecards against Jessica Penne, but this time, her performance was spectacular.
She demonstrated much-improved striking and mixed up her takedowns fairly well.
There is no doubt she can take Rose Namajunas to the ground. The question is, does she want to? "Thug" faced three opponents on TUF 20 and subbed them all. We're not talking about chumps, either. She's a dangerous finisher and I was equally impressed by her striking, as she clearly understands how to use her considerable size and length.
She's just so damn funky.
I think that's the narrative of this fight. Esparza is a fierce competitor and very durable. But her offense is terribly predictable and paint-by-numbers boxing isn't going to cut it against an opponent who mixes in kicks as well as -- if not better -- than anyone in her division.
I would expect Esparza to fall back on her wrestling after getting lit up on her feet and it will only take the smallest of windows for Namajunas to capitalize. If and when she does, this fight is over.
Final prediction: Namajunas def. Esparza via submission
145 lbs.: Charles "Do Bronx" Oliveira (18-4) vs. Jeremy "Lil' Heathen" Stephens (23-10)
Nostradumbass predicts: Charles Oliveira is the type of fighter who easily beats the bottom tier of UFC fighters, then gets easily beaten by the upper tier. Considering Jeremy Stephens is somewhere in the middle, that makes this a fairly interesting fight.
Offensively, "Do Bronx" has some of the finest submission skills in his class. The Brazilian is just 25 years old and it's scary to think what kind of destruction he'll be capable of in another five years, assuming he continues to train and compete full time.
Until then, he has to make due with what he has. Stephens is a tough out and won't be intimidated by the ground game. "Lil' Heathen" -- also a lightweight import -- has been around the block with mixed results, but his ability to pressure Oliveira in the stand up, something that has troubled the grappler in previous fights, will likely give him the edge.
Ultimately, this may come down to conditioning. Oliveira sacrifices a considerable amount of power to make the featherweight limit and after the first few minutes of action, he may find it difficult to get Stephens to the mat. If that's the case, he's going to be outgunned in the latter half of the fight.
Final prediction: Stephens def. Oliveira via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Daron "The Detroit Superstar" Cruickshank (16-5) vs. "King" K.J. Noons (13-7)
Nostradumbass predicts: KJ Noons was one loss away from being cut and now he's just one win away from collecting three straight. It's a great story for longtime fans of the sport, who remember his days chewing dirt in EliteXC and Strikeforce.
Further helping his cause is Daron Cruickshank, who not coincidentally, has just one submission win in 21 professional fights. That means we're guaranteed a bangfest, also known as the "wheelhouse" in "King Karl's" neck of the woods. Noons has pro boxing experience and took great strides to tidy up his ground game.
Not that it's needed here.
Cruickshank holds wins over recognizable names like Erik Koch and Yves Edwards, but he hasn't faced the same caliber of competition as Noons, who twice did the dance with Nick Diaz, and also threw hands with Donald Cerrone and Josh Thomson.
I believe "The Detroit Superstar" is too tough to put away tonight on FOX Sports 1, but he's going to have a hard time going punch-for-punch with the "King," and will likely find himself on the wrong end of the "Sin City" scorecards.
Final prediction: Noons def. Cruickshank via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Yancy "The Kid" Medeiros (10-2) vs. Joe Proctor (10-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: Yancy Medeiros had one helluva tough stretch from April 2013-14, losing two fights and getting popped for weed. But at the same time, the promotion threw him to the wolves, pairing him off against Rustam Khabilov, Yves Edwards, and Jim Miller.
That's a pretty tall order for a guy who at the beginning of that stretch, had just nine professional fights.
The good news is, he was able to rebound against Damon Jackson and showed some of the potential which made him such a promising prospect when UFC signed him over from Strikeforce. He's got a great build for this division and uses his range well.
That could be problematic for Joe Proctor, a competent but unspectacular striker who won't be afforded the opportunity to get this fight to the ground. "The Kid" has formidable takedown defense and sneaky submissions. That means a stand-up battle for all or most of the three rounds.
Proctor has done his fair share of winning in the short time he's competed under the ZUFFA banner, but without a signature victory over a prominent name, I think this night belongs to Medeiros.
Final prediction: Medeiros def. Proctor via technical knockout
115 lbs.: Jessica Penne (11-2) vs. Randa "Quiet Storm" Markos (4-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: Jessica Penne is a terrific fighter with well-rounded skills and to her credit, already holds a pair of wins -- and finishes -- over fellow TUF contestants Angela Magana and Lisa Ellis. But the former Invicta champ performs her best when she's in control of the fight.
What bothered me about her loss to Carla Esparza to lose her spot in the finale was how she essentially gave it away. Penne was clearly being outstruck and showed no sense of urgency in the second half of the fight. In addition, she took way too much punishment for a competitor with her experience.
That could be a problem against Randa Markos.
Nobody gave "Quiet Storm" much of a chance coming into the TUF house, but then she flipped the script and polished off both Tecia Torres and Felice Herrig, and was bringing the fight to eventual winner Rose Namajunas before getting trapped in a kimura.
That's a danger present against Penne, too, but I think Markos learned her lesson against "Thug" and I wouldn't be surprised to see this bout unfold like the one against Torres. Penne may be a more technically-sound fighter, but Markos will keep her off balance with constant pressure and a mix of striking and takedowns for what I believe will be a sweep on the judges' scorecards.
Final prediction: Markos def. Penne via unanimous decision
There you have it.
Wanna lay some cheddar on tonight's fights? See the latest odds and betting lines for TUF 20 Finale right here.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 20 Finale fight RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 7 p.m. ET and then main card action -- also on FOX Sports 1 -- slated to begin at 9 p.m. ET.
To see what you missed this season on TUF 20 click here.