Ultimate Fighter 20 Quarterfinals preview and predictions

***UPDATE: I'm 2-0 in my picks now! WOOHOO!!!!!

(I wrote this before today's episode, so my pick for the first fight was not influenced by the outcome at all. Hell, I just started watching the episode!)

About two and a half months ago, one of the most hotly anticipated Ultimate Fighter seasons in series history made its debut. Being a women's MMA fan for over a decade, I was anticipating this season for almost a year.

Thus far, quite a few things have happened. Sob stories have been told, villains have been established, occasional drama has risen, and there have been some pretty solid fights as well.

To this point, the season has been a success. The decision to grant the inaugural UFC Women's Strawweight Championship to the tournament winner was a great idea, and the tournament-style seeding has been terrific.

In the preliminary round, the first fight was a stunning upset, as fourteenth-seeded Randa Markos edged out third-ranked, and preseason favorite Tecia Torres, in a three-round fight. But since then, every fight has resulted in the favorite being the victor. And, as a result of Justine Kish's knee injury, Torres got a chance at redemption, of which she took full advantage against Bec Rawlings. As a result, the top seven fighters are all advancing to the quarterfinal round.

The matchups are all pretty exciting on paper, and should result in a nice melting pot of styles per fight. The matchup between fifth-ranked Aisling Daly and fourth-ranked Jessica Penne is the most likely to be a grappling match, while the bouts between top-ranked Carla Esparza and third-ranked Torres, as well as Felice Herrig vs. Randa Makos is a matchup of contrasting styles. Meanwhile, the Calderwood/Namajunas fight could go any which way, but is almost a guarantee to be a fight of the season candidate. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the next round.

#14 Randa Markos (4-1) vs. #6 Felice Herrig (9-5)

The first quarterfinal fight of the season should be a burner. Herrig is one of the most well known fighters in the house, best known for her controversial demeanor and marketing, instead of her MMA and kickboxing prowess. As a kickboxer, she went 23-5. She's pretty good in the cage as well, with her lone losses, barring the first two of her career, came against Invicta champions (Carla Esparza and Barb Honchak), and the always formidable Tecia Torres. The Torres fight was her last bout, as well as the one that snapped her four-fight winning streak.

Meanwhile, Markos was a relative unknown prior to her upset win over Torres. She's the better finisher of the two fighters, having won three fights via armbar. By the way, did anyone else notice her first name is almost the same as a UFC champion?

Anyways, both fighters have had mixed success in decision fights, with Herrig going 6-5 in such bouts, while Markos is 1-1. In fact, Herrig has not seen a fight end within three rounds since March 2011, in a span that includes seven fights. I believe that Herrig is a solid fighter, but has a history of underwhelming against notable opponents. Whenever she has fought anyone elite, she has floundered.

Granted, nobody knows if Markos is elite yet, especially when considering that she has lost her only fight against recognizable competition (she was decisioned by Justine Kish this past January,) but I have a hunch that she will pull out the victory. At least from the episode preview, Herrig came off as an instigator. Who knows if that's what actually happens in the episode, but I see Markos upsetting her. Prediction: Markos via split decision.

#5 Aisling Daly (14-5) vs. #4 Jessica Penne (11-2)

The next bout features two of the most seasoned fighters in the competition, and it really catches my attention. Both fighters, from a personality standpoint, come off as likable and relatable. Prior to her third-round tko victory over Angela Magana in the house, it was revealed that Daly suffers from depression. Meanwhile, a month earlier, prior to her rear-naked choke victory over Lisa Ellis, it turned out that Penne was subjected to bullying in her past. These obstacles allow fans to sympathize with both fighters.

From a fighting perspective, both fighters are finishers, and more specifically, submission specialists. Penne, the former Invicta Atomweight Champion, has fought to one decision since late 2008, in a span of eight fights. Each of her last five fights, including her loss to current Invicta Atomweight Champion Michele "Karate Hottie" Waterson, have ended via finish. As for notable opponents, she owns wins over housemates Angela Magana and Lisa Ellis, while falling to Zoila Gurgel and Waterson.

Meanwhile, Daly has been fighting since May 2007. She owns an impressive win over current UFC Women's Bantamweight Jessica Eye, but has fallen to every other notable opponent. Those losses came against housemate Lisa Ellis, Invicta champions Katja Kankaanpaa and Barb Honchak, as well as former UFC fighters Rosi Sexton and Sheila Gaff.

Granted, Daly is the bigger fighter. But, I have a hunch that Penne will pull it out. She has a better track record, and is a dark horse to win the whole thing. I see both fighters evading each other's submission attempts, en route to a fairly exciting ground battle that the former Invicta Champion will win. Prediction: Penne via unanimous decision.

#3 Tecia Torres (4-0) vs. #1 Carla Esparza (9-2)

The next tilt features a pair of early favorites, as grappler Carla Esparza takes on the lone woman who got a second chance in the competition. Torres has never lost a professional fight, boasts black belts in Taekwondo and Karate, as well as a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and owns wins over two current quarterfinalists (Felice Herrig and Rose Namajunas).

Meanwhile, Esparza is a wrestler with finishing ability. She won her first two Invicta fights via tko, a feat she has completed three times. She also boasts as many submission victories, which is exactly how she made quick work of Angela Hill in the preliminary round. Her lone losses have come against the best female Strawweights in MMA history, Megumi Fujii and Jessica Aguilar. The latter was a split decision.

I see this fight being a slow one to start off, with each fighter feeling the other out. It sucks that this fight is happening so early, but it should be a treat for fans, despite my statement written above. That said, I expect things to escalate quickly, with each fighter putting on a terrific performance. I wish I didn't have to pick a loser, but since I do, I believe that will be the woman that's already lost in the house. Prediction: Esparza via split decision.

Joane Claderwood (8-0) vs. Rose Namajunas (2-1)

Without question, this is the fight most fans are waiting for. Heck, I've been waiting for these two young women to fight since I became aware of Namajunas in her January 2013 pro debut against housemate Emily Kagan. Namajunas has never gone the distance, while Calderwood, a former Kickboxer with a 19-2 record, has as split her undefeated mark with as many knockouts as decisions. Three of her last four fights have gone the distance, and I see the same happening here. She's the more mature fighter, and I see her taking advantage of Namajunas' rawness. Namajunas is very good, but Calderwood will edge her out. Prediction: Calderwood via split decision.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.