MMA Review: #442: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XVIII Finale

-Alright, I’ll be honest, when I read that TUF 18 – AKA Team Rousey vs. Team Tate would feature both male and female fighters sharing the same house, I figured it was a cheap way to drum up publicity for what is, if we’re frank, a series that jumped the shark a long time ago. My opinion began to turn around when the cast list was announced and I actually realised that the season was an easy way to bolster the Women’s Bantamweight roster, and in a nice surprise, when the season actually began it turned out to be one of the most entertaining in recent memory. Nasty rivalry between the coaches, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate? Check. Interesting stuff going on in the house for the most part, with no LET ME BANG BRO ridiculousness? Check. Shit, we even got the best weight cutting debacle this side of Gabe Ruediger. By the time the finale rolled around I was willing to call the season for the most part a success, and with a handful of excellent prospects on the show to go with the TUF cast and a solid main event between Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard, my hopes were quite high for a fun night of fights.

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XVIII Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Kenny Florian.

Flyweight Fight: Josh Sampo vs Ryan Benoit

After some impressive wins on the smaller circuit – most notably over world-class wrestler Alexis Vila – Sampo was a guy who I was hoping the UFC would sign at some point in 2013, and eventually it came to pass here. I hadn’t really heard of Benoit, his opponent, and despite some online writers hyping him a bit, I was taking Sampo to make an impressive UFC debut with a win.

Round One and Sampo rushes forward but walks into a left uppercut. Sampo looks fine though and continues to push forward. Body kick from Benoit and he stuffs a takedown attempt. Good right hand lands for Sampo. Nice low kick answers for Benoit. Sampo comes back with a straight right that wobbles Benoit, and he follows with a single leg to half-guard. Nice elbows land for Sampo as he looks to pass the guard. Benoit looks a bit stuck on his back. Full mount for Sampo but he gets a little too loose with his base and Benoit manages to turn him over and take top position. Oma plata attempt from Sampo and he uses it to get off the bottom, but Benoit shifts out and almost manages to take the back as they end up in a really odd position. Ref decides to put an end to that when the action slows though and calls a stand-up. High kick misses for Benoit off the restart. Sampo seems to be beating Benoit to the punch now in the exchanges. Nice jab does land for Benoit. One minute to go and Sampo closes him down with a hard body kick. Right hand from Benoit but Sampo pops him with a stiff jab and then lands a body kick. Benoit’s sporting a bloody nose. Right from Sampo sets up a clinch but Benoit shrugs it off. Round ends there. 10-9 Sampo in my eyes.

Round Two and they exchange early on with Sampo landing a nice combination. Takedown follows and he hops right into side mount. Looks like he’s going for the triangle/kimura combination and Benoit looks in deep trouble, but he can’t quite lock it in and Benoit manages to free his arm. Sampo goes for the arm again and switches to an Americana, then uses that to take full mount. Good reversal from Benoit by pushing off the fence and he lands in Sampo’s guard. Triangle attempt from Sampo but Benoit escapes and manages to take the back with both hooks! He tries the rear naked choke and it looks sunk for a second, but Sampo manages to tuck his chin to defend. Escape attempt from Sampo ends with him stuck in full mount, where he eats some punches before giving his back again. This time though Benoit’s control is looser and Sampo manages to reverse and take top position in guard. This is a great fight. Hard elbows land for Sampo before he passes into half-guard. He goes for the Americana again and once again uses it to bait Benoit into giving up full mount. This time he keeps his hips much tighter and controls Benoit properly while working the body. Clean punches land for Sampo and Benoit looks out of gas to me. He gives his back and Sampo quickly locks up the rear naked choke and forces the tapout.

Fucking GREAT opener right there. Both men put in a really excellent debut performance but the difference was that while Benoit showed himself to be very explosive, Sampo seemed more polished in his technique and once he’d settled into a groove he was able to largely dominate position on the ground and then finished things off when Benoit appeared to run out of steam. But yeah, both men should have a bright future in the UFC I think. Great advert for the 125lbs division.

Welterweight Fight: Sean Spencer vs Drew Dober

This one unfortunately was one of the fights I wasn’t really excited to see, as Spencer hadn’t made many waves since his debut, scraping past Yuri Villefort in September to save his UFC career, while Dober was coming in on late notice after winning five in a row following a failed attempt to get onto TUF 15. UFC experience made me lean towards Spencer.

First round and Spencer comes out quickly throwing combinations. You can tell literally from the opening seconds that Spencer’s a lot faster. He tags Dober with some early combos while doing a good job of avoiding Dober’s punches. Takedown attempt from Dober and he drives Spencer into the fence, but he can’t get him down. Spencer breaks off and they exchange punches from phone booth range before Dober backs out. Body kick from Dober is countered with a hard straight left from Spencer. Takedown attempt again for Dober but Spencer gets his back to the fence to defend. Good job from Spencer to defend and again he tags Dober with punches while avoiding Dober’s own. Spencer is looking pretty good here actually. More of the same follows as Dober continues to swing, but he’s struggling with the speed of Spencer as well as the size and strength of the more natural 170lbs. Another takedown attempt from Dober and he drives Spencer into the fence, but again he can’t get the bigger man down, and Spencer breaks off with another combo. Pair of body kicks end the round for Spencer. Clear-cut 10-9 for Sean Spencer.

Second round and Spencer pushes forward flashing some early jabs. Dober shoots on a single leg and drives him into the fence, but yet again he can’t get Spencer off his feet. Spencer muscles off and lands with a high kick. Body shot connects for Dober but Spencer cracks him with a right cross. Pair of body kicks land for Dober. Right elbow answers for Spencer. Takedown attempt from Spencer now and he forces Dober into the fence. Crowd are absolutely dead for this by the way. Nice shots from Spencer in an exchange and he easily avoids Dober’s counters. If Spencer had any knockout power this one would probably be over. He’s landing on Dober constantly. Dober goes for another takedown and gets closer this time but Spencer again stuffs it. Ref calls a break with them stuck against the fence. Two minutes to go and Spencer again tags Dober with a right hand. Takedown attempt from Dober but Spencer stuffs it and easily breaks off from the clinch. Dober appears to be getting tired now and he’s swinging more wildly. He blows off some more energy in another failed takedown attempt too. More of the same follows until the round ends. 10-9 Spencer but this isn’t a good fight at all.

Third round picks up where the second left off with Spencer outlanding Dober comfortably although Dober does land with a couple of left hands. Takedown attempt is easily shrugged off by Spencer but he drops his mouthpiece out in the process and referee Yves Lavigne has to call time to sort it out. Nice right uppercut lands for Spencer and he follows with a knee to the body as Dober pushes in trying to land shots of his own. Another takedown attempt is stuffed by Spencer and he muscles Dober into the cage and drops for a double leg of his own. Dober defends it and they break off. More combinations land for Spencer. Single leg attempt again from Dober but of course Spencer easily defends it. Sigh. Good combo lands for Spencer and now Dober is badly busted up, pretty much wearing the infamous crimson mask. Spencer finally turns it on and hurts Dober with about a minute to go, cracking him with some flush punches and a pair of flying knees that have Dober wobbling and stumbling backwards. Big shots land for Spencer as Dober tries to survive by grabbing a clinch, and surprisingly Spencer decides to oblige and muscles him into the fence to land some shots inside. Seconds to go and they break off with Spencer continuing to land before stuffing another takedown. Call it 30-27 Spencer overall.

Judges have it 30-27 all round for Sean Spencer. Final round of this was alright actually once Dober really got hurt and went into survival mode, but before that it was really dull to me with Spencer landing but having seemingly no KO power and Dober just unable to deal with both a size and speed disadvantage which can’t be a good thing. I don’t like to knock on any fighters and the effort was clearly there here and of course they’d both kick my ass, but when people complain that UFC are watering down cards, it’s fights like this that immediately come to mind.

Heavyweight Fight: Jared Rosholt vs Walt Harris

Like Sampo, Rosholt was a guy who I was hyped to see the UFC sign, as with his awesome wrestling background (I believe he’s probably the second-best credentialed Heavyweight wrestler in UFC behind Cain Velasquez now…) and hard-hitting style he was someone I thought could make immediate waves in a relatively thin division. Harris meanwhile was a fighter I hadn’t heard of, and at 5-1 with no notable wins I figured he was a ready-made opponent for Rosholt to look good against.

Round One and Harris stalks forward early on with a low stance, obviously anticipating the takedown. Couple of glancing punches connect for Harris early on. Head kick is blocked by Harris. Lot of low kicks coming from Rosholt early on. Right hand lands cleanly for Harris. Flurry from Harris backs Rosholt up and he manages to avoid a clinch attempt. Combo puts Rosholt down, but he recovers quickly and pops back up, only for a follow-up right hand to drop him again! Somehow he pops back up instantly from that too and seems fine. Evidently Rosholt has a solid chin. Surprisingly Harris doesn’t try to rush him and the action slows down a little, allowing Rosholt to fully recover. Big charge misses for Harris. Not quite sure what he was trying there. Good body kick from Rosholt. One-two glances for Rosholt. Harris seems to be slowing down already. Takedown attempt is shrugged off by Harris. Left from Harris is answered by a right from Rosholt. Seconds remaining in the round and Rosholt glances on a right hand again. 10-9 Harris for the knockdowns.

Round Two and a high kick opens up for Rosholt but is just about blocked. Left hand lands for Rosholt. Harris’s output has clearly slowed down. Hard body kick lands for Rosholt. Another one follows and he follows that with a right hand. Flurry from Harris and they trade off for a second before Rosholt tags him with a right hand. Front kick to the body from Harris but Rosholt answers with a knee. Good body shot into an uppercut from Rosholt. Florian’s wondering why Rosholt isn’t shooting but why would he when he’s totally outlanding Harris in this round. Big right hand from Rosholt is followed by a left hook. Front kick from Harris. Action slows a little as both men look a little tired, Harris moreso. Low kick from Rosholt. Left uppercut lands for Harris. Left hook from Rosholt sets up a clinch but Harris quickly escapes. Good combo from Rosholt. Body kick again follows. Rosholt’s kicking game looks good actually. Seconds to go and Harris glances on a combo but Rosholt answers right back and they trade blows. Rosholt’s chin is definitely good as Harris cracks him with a clean right hand that he just shrugs off completely. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Rosholt as he definitely got the better of the striking exchanges.

Round Three and Rosholt misses with a big knee. Harris pushes forward, but he’s not really throwing much at this point. Crowd begin to boo with little happening in the first minute. Body kick glances for Rosholt. Single leg follows and he dumps Harris to his back in half-guard. Elbows land for Rosholt and he adds some body shots in too as he looks to pass into side mount. Harris just doesn’t seem to have the gas tank remaining to get up and Rosholt continues to work him over with short ground-and-pound from the half-guard. Really good shots begin to get through with about a minute to go and he’s using the threat of a guillotine to set up his attacks too. Americana attempt from Rosholt but Harris manages to avoid, only to eat some more solid elbows. Round ends with more nasty ground-and-pound for Jared Rosholt. I have it a clear-cut 29-28 for him.

Official scores are 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28 for Jared Rosholt. Quite a few people online were dogging on this fight at the time but I didn’t think it was bad at all outside of a few slow spots, as Harris started brightly but slowed down and in the end Rosholt was able to outstrike him in the second round and then use his wrestling and ground-and-pound to seal the deal in the third. Wasn’t as explosive a debut for Rosholt as I’d have hoped but I mean, not everyone can be Shane Carwin or Todd Duffee and blow away their first opponent in seconds, and I still think he has a bright future in the UFC. Heavyweight is thin enough that he could potentially use his wrestling game alone to parlay a top ten slot very soon in fact.

Featherweight Fight: Tom Niinimaki vs Rani Yahya

Finland’s Niinimaki was one of the more interesting signings the UFC made in 2013 as he was on a massive 11-fight win streak since dropping to 145lbs, including wins over Chase Beebe and Walel Watson. His style – using a lot of size and power to physically dominate his opponents – seemed to be tailor-made to beat Yahya, who was surprisingly still at 145lbs where he’s always looked wildly undersized to me.

Fight begins and Yahya opens with a leg kick. Left jab lands for Yahya. Right hand from Niinimaki as he stalks forward. Yahya tries a rush and then gets a takedown, but Niinimaki wraps up a guillotine to look to escape. He manages to scoot back for a second and then hits a nice reversal, taking top position in half-guard. Impressive stuff. Butterfly guard from Yahya and he uses it to transition to a leglock attempt, but Niinimaki stands up to avoid it and almost pulls his leg free. Heel hook attempt follows but Niinimaki frees the leg and settles into top position in half-guard. Another leglock attempt follows for Yahya, but Niinimaki rolls through to avoid it and winds up on his back holding a guillotine. Another reversal from Niinimaki puts him back on top, where he lands some short elbows to the head while trying to free his leg from the half-guard. Beautiful transition from Yahya allows him to post out and take the back of the Finn, and he almost gets a rear naked choke locked up, but Stoneface escapes, reverses to his feet and hits a takedown to side mount. Mounted crucifix for Niinimaki and then he tries for full mount, but Yahya gets back to half-guard. Yahya tries to reverse but winds up giving his back, and Niinimaki lands a couple of punches before ending up on top in an odd position, seated on the chest almost. He delivers some hammer fists from there just before the round ends. I’d go 10-10 there I think. Great round.

2nd round and Niinimaki pushes forward, but Yahya lands a good combo on him before getting the clinch. Takedown attempt but Niinimaki stuffs it and then drops for his own double leg. He dumps Yahya to the ground and passes into side mount to avoid a guillotine. Yahya uses it to get to his feet, but Niinimaki takes him down again. Yahya uses the guillotine to reverse, but Niinimaki reverses that and winds up on top in side mount. This is an awesome fight, seriously. Good elbows land for the Finn from side mount, and he also does a good job of avoiding Yahya’s attempts to get back to half-guard. Yahya manages to get half-guard back, and surprisingly referee Kim Winslow calls a stand-up. Big front kick to the body lands for Niinimaki and almost knocks Yahya down, and he follows with a takedown. Yahya tries an arm-in guillotine and really cranks on it, but the Finn seems chilled out and works his head free to a nice crowd pop. Couple of elbows land for Niinimaki and he looks to advance position as the round comes to an end. Another great round, this time I’d go 10-9 for Tom Niinimaki.

Third and final round and this could probably still go either way depending on how the judges had the first round. Niinimaki hits a takedown from the off and lands right in side mount again. Elbows connect to the head and body for the Finn, but Yahya gets back to half-guard. Niinimaki works to pass that and lands a solid knee to the body for good measure. Yahya does a good job of keeping half-guard and in the end Kim Winslow calls a stand-up. Glancing combo lands for Yahya as the Finn wades forward. Takedown attempt from Niinimaki but Yahya hits a reversal into a topside guillotine from half-guard. Niinimaki looks like he might be in a bit of trouble as the Brazilian cranks on the neck, but he manages to last it out and Yahya releases to take top control in half-guard. One minute to go and he begins to drop some elbows, then looks to isolate the left arm for a kimura. He ends up bailing on it to land some more elbows and then the round ends. 10-9 Yahya and I’d call it a 29-29 draw myself.

Judges have it a split decision; 29-28 Niinimaki, 29-28 Yahya and 30-27 for Tom Niinimaki to win in his UFC debut. Don’t see the 30-27 myself but I wouldn’t have a problem with the win as the first round was really, really close. Great fight overall – one of the best grappling-based fights in a long time as they went hell for leather and hit so many reversals and positional exchanges that it never got dull for a second. Most impressive was the fact that Niinimaki was able to outgrapple Yahya at points, as even with his size and strength advantage I didn’t expect to see that. If he can strike as well as he can wrestle – and from what I’ve heard, he can – then he could end up a contender at 145lbs. Tremendous debut.

Featherweight Fight: Akira Corrassani vs Maximo Blanco

This was an interesting clash on paper as both guys love to stand and trade, and it was a tough one to pick too as Corrassani is more of a finesse striker while Blanco is far wilder, but judging on his past fights probably packs more power. I was taking Blanco as I’ve always been a fan of his, but a Corrassani win wouldn’t have surprised me either.

Fight begins and they circle before Blanco attempts a jumping kick and then tags Akira with a flurry. Takedown follows and he lands in half-guard. Akira gets his back to the fence and gets up, but Blanco NAILS him with a blatantly illegal knee and some more punches that fold the Swede. Referee Mario Yamasaki quickly steps in and calls time. Doctor comes in to check Corrassani and apparently he can’t see, so the quack throws the fight out. Somehow Blanco thinks he’s WON due to the stoppage and starts leaping around in celebration. This guy is pretty fucking ridiculous with the fouls at this point. Poor Mario has to explain that Maxi is DQ’d and lord only knows if the guy understands given I’m not sure if he speaks English.

Shitty ending to what looked like it might’ve been a fun fight. In an ideal world it’s a TKO for Maxi because those knees ought to be legal at this point, but I mean, they’re NOT and you have to follow the rule book, which somehow seems tricky for poor Blanco who is just a wildman when the fight gets going. Not really the best trait to have when you’re in a sanctioned sport as MMA is nowadays. Blah.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Raquel Pennington vs Roxanne Modafferi

Both of these women had been on Team Tate on the reality show and both had been eliminated by finalist Jessica Rakoczy; Modafferi by TKO and Pennington by decision. Despite Roxy’s massive experience advantage – 25 fights against the likes of Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen as compared to Pennington’s 6 – I was picking ‘Rocky’ here as Roxy is really small for 135lbs and seems to be past her prime at this stage.

Round One and Modafferi is wildly over with the crowd due to her awesome personality on the show I guess. They trade some feeler strikes to begin before Pennington tags Roxy with a hard right hand. Lot of strikes from Roxy early on but they’re not really landing. Good low kick from Pennington. Pair of counter rights land clean for Modafferi to a big pop. Couple of glancing shots from Pennington are followed by a hard right. Combo answers for Roxy. Right hand again connects for Pennington. Good leg kick follows that. Low kicks from Pennington and Roxy misses on a spinning backfist. Good one-two from Raquel. Combo from Modafferi and she clinches, but Pennington gets the plum clinch and lands with a knee and an uppercut. They muscle for position and Modafferi can’t get Pennington off her feet. Nice elbow breaks for Pennington but Roxy rushes back in with a combo. Nice double jab lands for Pennington. Striking exchange continues and Raquel ends the round with a big right hand. Close round to score but I’d lean to the activity of Modafferi over the cleaner shots of Pennington. 10-9 Modafferi.

Round Two and Modafferi misses a spinning backfist to open. Couple of stiff jabs land for Pennington to back Roxy up. Flurry from Roxy and she shoots for a takedown, but Pennington blocks it and also avoids a trip attempt. Good knee to the body from Pennington inside the clinch. Nasty combo breaks for Pennington. Roxy appears to be slowing down now and Pennington tags her hard with a one-two. Heavy right lands for Pennington and Modafferi shoots, but Pennington sprawls and grabs a front facelock. Roxy pulls guard from there, but Pennington postures up to land some forearm shots to the side of the head. Triangle attempt from Modafferi, and she throws in some elbows to the head for good measure, but it doesn’t come close to being locked in and Pennington postures up to land a couple more shots. Armbar attempt from Modafferi but Pennington stays calm and works her arm free. Big right hand lands for Pennington from the guard. Roxy tries to kick her away and so Pennington stands over her until ref Chris Tognoni calls a stand-up. Seconds remaining and Roxy circles out, but she looks out of steam and gets rocked by a left hook. Stiff counter right lands for Pennington too and she follows with a hard knee to the body. Exchange ends the round. 10-9 Pennington to even things up.

Round Three and Pennington avoids a flurry to begin. Roxy keeps pushing forward but she’s eating cleaner counters at this point. Takedown attempt is unsuccessful for Modafferi. Leg kick from Modafferi lands but Pennington counters with a right. Good right hand coming forward from Pennington. Nasty left hook from Raquel and she follows with a right hand. Clinch from Modafferi but she can’t get Pennington down and they break off. Another combo lands for Pennington. Takedown attempt from Modafferi and she ends up pulling guard again when Raquel sprawls. This time Pennington passes into half-guard before Roxy gets back to full guard. Body shot from Pennington appears to hurt her and she tries to sit up to control the posture before going to a high guard. Pennington gets free and lands some hammer fists to the body and then stands to pass the guard. Good shots from Pennington from the top and it looks like Roxy’s struggling. Nasty shots land for Pennington as Roxy tries to reverse free, and then she grabs a guillotine as Modafferi stands. It looks quite tight and Roxy drops to her back, finding herself stuck in a mounted guillotine. It looks for a second like she’s tapping, but it might’ve been a punch and the buzzer sounds to save her. 10-9 Pennington, however, for a 29-28 win.

Official scores are 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Raquel Pennington. Fun fight for the most part as both girls were active throughout. The difference seemed to be power as Roxy landed a lot in the early part of the fight but didn’t have the power to hurt Pennington and once she ran out of steam, Pennington completely took over, particularly once she started doing damage from the top position on the ground. It’s unfortunate because Modafferi is a really great personality but she just isn’t UFC-level at this stage in her career sadly.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Jessamyn Duke vs Peggy Morgan

Where the previous two fighters had both been on Team Tate, these two had represented Team Rousey – both girls being eliminated in the quarter-finals by Sarah Moras and Raquel Pennington respectively. This seemed a tough fight to call as the 6’1” Morgan’s usual reach advantage wasn’t there for her against the 5’11” Duke. I was leaning towards Duke just based on the fact that she’d been training with Rousey after the tapings finished.

First round begins and the women exchange strikes, and it looks like Duke is the crisper striker as she lands some good shots in and out early on. Good knees from the plum clinch land for Duke as Morgan ties her up and forces her back into the fence. Duke uses a whizzer to almost land a takedown, and then she gets an arm-in guillotine and pulls guard in an attempt to finish. Joe Rogan would be going wild about her leaning back rather than forward and that probably allows Morgan to survive in fact. Duke smartly gives up on it when Morgan looks like she’s about to get free, and from there she goes for a triangle choke, stopping Peggy from landing any shots from the top in the process. Triangle almost looks synched in, and Duke lands some shots to the head for good measure. Morgan seems to be in trouble as the triangle now looks sunk in properly, but there seems to be a little too much room for Peggy and she manages to last it out despite eating elbows to the face. Round ends with the triangle still locked up. 10-9 Duke.

Second round and Duke tags Morgan early on with some combinations. Morgan is a horrendously sloppy striker, particularly with her defense. Good body kick from Jessamyn. Morgan clinches again, but takes a couple more knees and decides to break. Good counter uppercut lands for Duke in an exchange. Morgan is swinging but she’s eating counters every single time while barely landing any shots of her own. Couple of jabs do land for Peggy but she continues to eat counters. Good movement from Duke allows her to continue to land. Morgan’s face is pretty marked up. Good knee from the plum clinch for Duke and they break shortly after. More of the same continues as Morgan eats punches from the outside and then knees from the plum clinch. Heavy combo lands for Duke. Morgan evidently has a good chin to be taking all these shots and not getting stunned. Round ends with more shots landing for Duke before she lands with a takedown. Outside of a couple of jabs from Morgan the round was literally all Duke. 10-9 Duke.

Third round and Duke looks much fresher too. Morgan again pushes forward but walks right into two sharp left hooks. Good body kick from Duke. Another one lands and she’s mixing it up with body kicks and combinations. Morgan clinches but takes knees again, and then Duke nails her with a huge combination as they break. Either Duke has no KO power or Morgan has a ridiculous chin as these punches are landing FLUSH. Back into the clinch and Morgan attempts a trip, but she can’t get Jessamyn off her feet. Bulldog choke (!) attempt from Duke and she uses it to drag Morgan to the ground, but risks giving her back in the process. Sure enough Peggy frees herself from the ultra-rare choke and gets both hooks in, looking to work for the choke. Duke is totally flattened out here and barely moving. Mount from Morgan and she lands a couple of shots, but Jessamyn manages to get to half-guard. Little action follows from there as Morgan keeps a low base to deliver some short strikes. Referee Kim Winslow decides to stand them up with thirty seconds to go and Duke comes forward with combos, pouring it on and tagging Morgan with some more shots. Morgan’s face is a MESS, holy shit. Round ends with a Duke right hand. 10-10 round for me as Duke did tons of damage but also gave up a really bad position due to the bulldog choke attempt. 30-28 Duke overall.

Judges score it 30-27 all round for Jessamyn Duke. This was a really impressive showing for her as she showed crisp striking and decent groundwork in the first round, although a big mistake almost gave the fight away in the third. Morgan showed heart but was way too sloppy with her defense standing and it’s understandable I think that the UFC didn’t keep her on after this showing. Duke however is a solid addition to the roster at 135lbs. Decent fight overall.

Ultimate Fighter XVIII: Bantamweight Finals: Chris Holdsworth vs Davey Grant

Fighting out of Team Alpha Male, Holdsworth was the favourite coming into the season and didn’t fail to live up to the expectations, tapping all three of his opponents en route to the finals. Brit Grant meanwhile had an odder route – he cleanly won his first two fights but actually made the finals via forfeit after Anthony Guttierez failed to make weight. Despite Grant showing himself to be a talented, gritty fighter throughout the tapings, I was siding with the favourite Holdsworth as his ground game had looked really slick in all of his fights.

Fight begins and Grant opens with a sharp leg kick. Couple of punches glance for Holdsworth as Grant throws another leg kick. Crowd seem to be behind Grant. Clinch from Holdsworth and he tries to get Grant to the ground, but the Brit does a good job of stuffing it and breaks with a nice combination. Holdsworth desperately looks for a takedown and forces Grant into the fence, but again the Brit breaks off. Leg kick from Grant but a big right from Holdsworth backs him up. Left hand lands too and sets up the clinch again. Again Grant works to defend and does a good job of it, and they exchange knees along the fence. Grant looks for a takedown of his own, but Holdsworth blocks it and they continue to exchange in the clinch until Grant breaks. Big exchange sees both men land. Combo from the Brit backs Holdsworth up a little. Another follows but Holdsworth gets the clinch and drops for a takedown. Grant’s wrestling looks very good for a Brit though and he manages to avoid. They break with just over a minute to go and Grant lands with a quick combo into the clinch again. This time Grant goes for the takedown, but Holdsworth reverses and lands on top in the guard. Right away Holdsworth works to pass the guard, but can’t quite manage it before the round ends. 10-10; really even round.

Into the 2nd and Holdsworth opens with a head kick that lands, but Grant takes it and almost gets a single leg. Holdsworth avoids but Grant doesn’t seem stunned and he connects on a good leg kick and a body shot. Left to the body from Grant but Holdsworth gets the clinch and drops for a single leg. This time he manages to get Grant onto his back and as Grant looks to reverse, Holdsworth slips into side mount. Grant manages to hip escape to half-guard but then gives his back as he tries to crawl free. Both hooks in for Holdsworth and then he slaps on the body triangle. Grant looks in trouble as he tries to turn out, but Holdsworth manages to slap on a perfect rear naked choke that forces the Brit to tap out.

Very good fight as Grant put up a hell of an effort, but he wasn’t good enough on the feet to really hurt Holdsworth at any point and on the ground Holdsworth looked on another level and didn’t take much time at all to get the Brit out of there. I think Holdsworth’s got a massive amount of potential at 135lbs given his age and experience, but I don’t think it’d be smart to rush him up the rankings – his upcoming fight with Chico Camus seems like a good test though. Grant for his part shouldn’t be disheartened by this loss – Holdsworth’s one of the top prospects in the world at 135lbs – and I suspect he’ll be around for a long time given the UFC’s current push into Europe.

Ultimate Fighter XVIII: Women’s Bantamweight Finals: Julianna Pena vs Jessica Rakoczy

Miesha Tate’s first pick, Pena had made herself into the early favourite with an upset win over the tournament’s most experienced fighter in Shayna Baszler, while Ronda Rousey’s last pick Rakoczy – a former pro boxer – had made the finals by beating Roxanne Modafferi and Raquel Pennington. Despite Rakoczy’s stand-up advantage I felt Pena was too big and strong for her to handle and would be able to dismantle her once the fight hit the ground.

Round One and they circle quite tentatively early before Pena rushes Rakoczy and forces her into the fence. Takedown from Julianna follows and she lands in half-guard. Immediately she works to pass and stacks up to land some shots, but Rakoczy pushes off and explodes to her feet. Pena stays right on her and muscles her back into the fence, and they exchange knees. Looks like Pena is the stronger fighter physically as she muscles Jessica around and then trips her down with a beautiful takedown to half-guard. Good elbows from Pena as she works to pass. Rakoczky does a good job of keeping half-guard but she’s taking some punishment in the process. Full guard now but Pena postures up and delivers a series of nasty hammer fists before passing to side mount. This is a whitewash so far. Full mount for Julianna and immediately she opens up with some big shots. Rakoczy tries to buck out but Pena’s mount is too strong and she continues to land blows. Really heavy punches and hammer fists start to get through and Rakoczy gets desperate, trying to use her legs to hook over Julianna’s body rather than look for a hip escape. More BRUTAL SHOTS land for Pena and this is close to being stopped. Seconds remaining on the clock but referee Mario Yamasaki decides he’s seen enough and stops it with about three seconds to go.

Tremendous performance from Julianna Pena and I think after this and her run on TUF beating Shayna Baszler I’d be willing to call her a legit title contender already. I mean sure the division is relatively thin compared to all of the men’s ones outside of Flyweight, but still, for TUF to produce such a legit fighter in 2013 is wildly impressive. It’s such a pity that she’s wrecked her knee as badly she has because I’d say after this she was probably only two wins away from a shot at Ronda Rousey and now it’s a question mark as to whether she even makes it back to this form. Hopefully she can because I think with her personality and looks as well as her fighting skill she’s potentially a future big star.

Lightweight Fight: Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard

I was slightly confused when this – the rubber match between the two – was put together as their second fight in 2010 had been truly awful, one of the worst UFC main events ever in fact. Still, with both men coming off big KO losses they were both in desperate need of a win and so the likelihood of a dull fight seemed pretty low. I was taking Diaz to win as after seeing Maynard slaughtered by TJ Grant I was beginning to think he might be a shot fighter at this stage.

Round One and Diaz begins to work punches from range as Maynard pushes forward. Single leg from Maynard and he gets Nate down into butterfly guard. Diaz immediately works for a reversal and Maynard surprisingly forces him into the fence. Diaz turns his back and uses it to stand. BEAUTIFUL throw from Diaz follows but Maynard lands on top. They pop back up and Diaz breaks free. Good right jab from Diaz. Maynard’s cut over the right eye. Massive crowd chant for Diaz. Striking exchange continues and Diaz lands with a left that drops Maynard! He pops back up but Diaz is on him instantly with a combo. Big knees and a HUGE RIGHT HOOK have Maynard badly hurt, and he stumbles all over the place as Diaz continues to pour it on. More shots land and Maynard looks out on his feet, and Diaz is RELENTLESS and smacks him around some more while taunting him too. Holy shit. More shots land for Diaz and finally referee Yves Lavigne decides to call it with Gray still standing. In a nasty scene literally as Yves pulls Diaz off, Maynard stumbles and then falls face-first. Incredible finish.

Well, I think you’ve got a tale of two things here. Number one is that this was probably the best I’ve ever seen Diaz’s striking look, as once he had Maynard hurt he just kept on coming with some incredible combinations, showing more punching power than he usually tends to too. Not to take anything away from Diaz though as this was a great win, but I think Maynard’s done as a top-level fighter and it’s time for him to hang it up before he ends up in a real mess after his career’s done. I mean that’s three absolutely brutal knockouts he’s taken in his last four fights, which isn’t good for anyone’s health. It’s just a pity we’ll probably see Maynard back in the Octagon before we see Diaz fight again because of this ridiculous issue he has with his contract. I know the UFC pay isn’t amazing but shit, you signed the contract, dude. Blah. Great main event at any rate!

-Highlight reel rolls and that’s it for another season of TUF.

Final Thoughts….

TUF 18 itself gets an easy thumbs up from me as probably the best season since the Fox move in 2012, but what of the Finale? Somehow the show got a bad rap at the time I guess due to the lack of star power, but I completely disagree. Not only was it an entertaining show with one lone shoddy fight (Spencer/Dober) but I mean, TUF is supposed to find prospects for the UFC, right? And while not all of the prospects on this show actually came from the reality show, there were a ton of them here (Sampo, Rosholt, Niinimaki, Holdsworth, Duke, Pena) and they all basically delivered. Throw in a cool finish for Nate Diaz and this is worth a recommendation for sure.

Best Fight: Niinimaki vs. Yahya
Worst Fight: Spencer vs. Dober

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: