The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale is a sign of things to come if the UFC plans on continuing to increase the number of live events they put on moving into 2014. There are going to be more events like this one, which was basically full of prospects getting their first shake in the UFC.
The UFC is running its own minor league without separate branding. The cards are becoming more regional as the UFC has sets of fighters they only use when they travel to Europe, Asia, or Canada - expect this to continue as well. The UFC is going to have to figure out how to handle these lower tier of events, but last night was not the model they want to follow.
I am all for fewer fighters per event and 10 fight card is an excellent idea for the UFC moving forward, but they cannot try to force 10 fights into the same time slot they use for 13 fight cards. The pace of last night's event was brutal as the card averaged less than two fights per hour. It was painfully slow on a day and night full of intensive college football action in the United States, so it is likely the ratings will be less than thrilling as only the most hardcore of MMA fans likely stuck it out for the entirety of this card.
On to thoughts on the fights:
- Nate Diaz looked amazing in his quick win over Gray Maynard. For Diaz it is a bounce back after dropping two straight and a good reminder that he is still a force at Lightweight to be accounted for. For Maynard it seems likely that, at 34 years old and now 1-3-1 since beating Kenny Florian for a title shot in 2010, his days as a title contending Lightweight are likely done.
- Yves Lavigne did a horrific job as he allowed Maynard to take a huge amount of damage on the feet seemingly just because he didn't drop, despite clearly being out on his feet. Then instead of supporting Maynard, Lavigne grabbed Diaz, allowing Maynard to stumble away and fall as he was still badly hurt. Lavigne has a history of being a poor judge of when top stop a fight on the feet but this was particularity egregious.
- Julianna Pena was clearly the superior grappler, fighter, athlete and pretty much anything else having to do with MMA in her fight with Jessica Rakoczy. She is similar to Liz Carmouche in that Pena relies on athleticism to get fighters down and then punish them with ground striking, but will unlikely be able to use that against the very best of the division.
- Chris Holdsworth is an interesting Bantamweight prospect. Hailing from Marc Laimon's Cobra Kai jiu jitsu he was clearly the best male fighter on the card as the season progressed. It is impossible to really gauge how he will fair in the division however because he is so green and untested it is likely the UFC will have to bring in fighters for Holdsworth to cut his teeth with before giving him real members of the division.
- Jessamyn Duke had a fairly one sided win over Peggy Morgan with the use of angling on the feet and throwing combinations. Duke did show her inexperience when she pulled a school yard head lock that allowed Morgan to take her back and almost work in a choke, so clearly some growing to be done by both fighters.
- Raquel Pennington is looking to move her young career forward as she got tossed to the wolves very early with her Invicta losses to Leslie Smith and Cat Zingano. She is just 25 years old, physically strong and is improving as a fighter. She could develop into a solid fighter but she still needs some polish before she is ready to tangle with the elite of the division.
- Roxanne Modafferi is a lovable fighter, but she is not a high-level Women's MMA fighter anymore, as evidenced by the fact that she is currently riding a six fight losing streak. The WMMA game has become more athletic and Madafferi's crafty grappling just isn't enough to get by anymore. A fan favorite, a trail blazer, a solid but not great fighter.
- Maximo Blanco was rightly disqualified for his knee strike on a downed Akira Corassani. Mario Yamasaki made good use of the technology at his disposal, watched the replay, and then correctly disqualified Blanco for a clearly illegal strike.
- Tim Niinimaki showed no fear of Rani Yahya's grappling and went right at the Brazilian on the ground, and got the win for it. Niinimaki used his size to muscle Yahya a bit, but also technical grappling to earn a well deserved win, despite it being a split decision. An accomplished fighter, Niinimaki's UFC debut has been overdue and he made a statement with his grappling in this first UFC fight.
- A match between two interesting Heavyweight prospects turned ugly as Jared Rosholt struggled mightly with Walter Harris in stretches. It looked early that Harris was going to score the upset as he very nearly knocked Rosholt out, but clearly tired as the fight wore on. Rosholt was able to scratch out a round with his striking and then finally turned to his wrestling to ice the third round. Rosholt is actually a skilled fighter, but did very little to impress in this fight.
- It wasn't a great showing for Josh Sampo, as he missed weight coming in as a highly touted Flyweight prospect. He struggled with the athletic Ryan Benoit on the ground, who relied on explosive scrambling more than technical grappling. Sampo adjusted well and caught Benoit in a rear naked choke, and is still a fighter to watch in the division, but weight problems will need to be solved.