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The Ultimate Fighter 20: TUF Impressions, Mean Girls, and the Future Strawweight Champ

Bloody Elbow's Fraser Coffeen and David Castillo sit down and discuss their impressions of a memorable TUF 20 season thus far. Who has made the best impression, the least impression, and who ends up winning the belt?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We haven't quite hit the finish line for what has been the best season of TUF since the one with Kyle Kingsbury semen spamming Dave Kaplan's sushi, but what fighter has stood out the most?

David: Rose Namajunas, and by a wider margin than I'm comfortable admitting. Her win over Alex Chambers, who isn't a bad fighter, was easily the most dominating of anyone in the house, and all of her talents were on full display, from the kickboxing, to the grappling. It sucks that we have to see Rose vs. JoJo so soon.

Fraser: Completely agree about Rose vs JoJo. Those are, by a mile, the two fighters I am most interested in seeing more from, and if I could magically choose the finals, I would pick that. That said, Randa Markos impressed me in a lot of ways in her win over Felice Herrig, so add her to the list. Obviously, #1 seed Carla Esparza should stand out more, but so far she hasn't. I'm hoping her quarterfinal fight leaves more of an impression than her first fight, which I honestly can not even remember right now.

David: To be fair to Carla, she did what you should do to overmatched fighters: beat them quickly, and walk away like it never happened.

What fight impressed you the most? Usually we get fights that make Weizorek-Shipp look like the Morales/Berrera trilogy, but not this season.

David: Randa Markos, easily. It's not that she's looked like the most talented. But she's looked confident, and poised, and I thought had to really dig down against Torres and what was a very solid scrap between two talented fighters. Watching her brush off Felice Herrig like a June Bug, unsure of where to land on your arm, was just the pugilistic icing on the Mean Girls cake. In terms of sheer talent, Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas have to be the two favorites on paper.

Fraser: There has yet to be a singularly great fight, but that's OK - there really hasn't been any stinkers either and after last season's complete nightmare, that's a good thing. What has impressed me more than any fight is the performances of individual fighters. Rose fought with a confidence and poise that is sometimes lacking in WMMA fighters (including many of her classmates). She reminds me a bit of Corey Anderson last year in that you can just tell she is someone who is in this for the long haul. You left out Calderwood, which is a crime, as she too looked great. My dark horse pick for impressive fighter? Angela Hill. She had an incredibly tough out in the first fight (oh yeah - that's who Esparza beat!), especially for someone with her limited experience. But she showed a real fire and determination. Give her some fights against fighters who are NOT the #1 in the world, and I suspect she'll show a lot. Very interested to see her career develop.

David: I do regret leaving out Calderwood and her knee high socks (that's not crossing the objectification line is it?). I think my problem with JoJo is that I don't see her efficiently dealing with solid grapplers. She didn't impress against Kagan, except when she picked it up on the feet. Very good at shot selection, but like I said, less so on the ground. Agreed on Angela Hill. Tough matchup. A serious wildcard with only one professional fight.

I guess we need to talk about the drama because humans in general are not immune to gossip. Gossip is a fast food morality filter, so we're not on the same page unless we both agree that Angela Magana has come off horrible, and nothing about her tweets referring to herself as "Your Queen" has convinced me she's only the victim of bad editing. Thoughts on Mean Girls: the Fight Club years?

David: It's pretty much no different than any of the crap we've seen from shows with all male casts. After a certain point, the tribal nature of the show becomes emphasized, and so do all of the negatives of hivemind thinking. Still, the Markos/Esparza exchange after Randa submitted Herrig was good for a 6 out of 10 on the Enquirer scale (speaking of, I'm no technique expert, but is it just me or was that both brilliantly executed by Randa, and dreadfully defended by Felice?).

I think I'd rather talk about the positives though. Credit to Tecia Torres for being inexplicably restrained through it all. And also, I never thought I'd say this, but credit to the crew for some solid directorial cues. Especially during the Rose vs. Alex episode. A little overwrought, but nice close up shot of Namajunas' tears, and there was a very human moment showing Alex behind Rose, both getting their wraps cut off, both being consoled, one in victory, and one in defeat. Good stuff all around, and one of the few times TUF has been compelling instead of just entertaining.

Fraser: I'm not going to lie here - the Mean Girl stuff has made this season borderline unwatchable for me at times. Yes you are correct, it's not ultimately different from what we have seen from the guys. And I am as guilty as anyone if getting sucked into the guy stupidity - "Let me bang bro!" ("I do. I do let you bang.") remains one of my all time favorite TUF moments. But this season really bothers me. Why? I think it's because there are so few positive, strong female role models out there who girls can look up to and who are NOT mean girls. There is still an imbalance of power between men and women in our society, and often times it gets presented to girls that the way to overcome that imbalance is to be awful to other females. Not to be strong, powerful, and independent and yet, at the same time, NICE. Why is nice bad? Joanne Calderwood seems nice. Aisling Daly seems nice. This is not an insult - it's a good thing. Girls could use more positive role models who show them what they should aspire to be. Should they aspire to be Herrig, or Mangana, or Esparza, or Rawlings? All have many positive attributes, but sorry - I don't see the behavior they are exhibiting on the show (or, at least, that the show is presenting us with - which is a key distinction) as being something worthwhile to emulate.

I recognize that I am stepping into a big old minefield here, and also that I am creating a double standard. And I am sorry about that. But this is the honest truth about my struggles with this season. I don't like watching Bad Girls Club, and I don't like watching all of this drama.

Although brief impressions, unlike previous seasons, this season will actually have a major impact on the division by virtue of functionally creating it. Mr. Coffeen, do you think there are prospects who could come in and clean this particular dysfunctional house?

David: Some of the more obvious candidates are women like Jessica Aguilar, Claudia Gadelha, Katja Kankaanpaa, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and even TUF injury report victim, Justine Kish...who owns a victory over Randa Markos.

Esparza is probably the best fighter on TUF right now, so Aguilar's stock carries a little more weight. I like Jedrzejczyk's (thank god for copy and paste) style a lot, but I don't know that she'll be able to handle what is looking like a division with a surplus of grappling centric fighters.

Fraser: Aguilar is indeed the obvious pick. I'm also interested to see if once the UFC brings this division in, you get women in the neighboring divisions moving over to 115. It's a move that would make sense - fighting at 115 gets you in the UFC, fighting a division above or below does not. There are a lot of interesting talents at Flyweight who would be interesting if they could make the cut - Barb Honchak, Jennifer Maia, Vanessa Porto; while down at 105 you have Michelle Waterson as a clear standout. Will be interesting to see what the UFC's next move for the Women is. If they stick to two divisions, I suspect we'll see some of these players try to move.

Last question: time to put it on the line - when all is said and done, who will be the first ever UFC Women's Strawweight champion?

David: Carla Esparza. I feel like Rose is a pretty good shot to take the upset though. Her diversity on the feet should be an uphill battle for Carla, who had a tough time dealing with Aguilar's quick combinations. Granted, Rose is nothing like Aguilar, but a specialist on the feet is probably her only weakness, which even then, isn't all that pronounced.

Fraser: Carla Esparza. I don't think is so dominant that she'll have a Mighty Mouse style reign, but she has what it takes to get through everyone left in this tournament. For now at least.