Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas
Anton Tabuena: I've never watched a full season of TUF, ever... except for this one. It still has a tremendous amount of useless ‘house drama', but the deep talent pool and the title on the line made the whole tournament much more important, hence making it a little more bearable for me. Mostly just based on their performances on the show -- which admittedly with a full camp could mean absolutely nothing -- I think Rose will take this. Carla will have a tough grinding style, but like her bout against Penne, an aggressive guard game like what Rose possesses could make her think twice about staying on the ground on an extensive period. It could be a coin toss on who wins on the floor, but on the feet, it's all Rose. She's the more unpredictable and dynamic striker, while Carla still throws basic combinations without much power. Namajunas seems to have grown leaps and bounds since she started her young career, and I do believe it culminates with the UFC belt on this one. Rose Namajunas by Submission.
Mookie Alexander: I am utterly ignorant as to how TUF 20 played out -- actually I've stopped acknowledging TUF for the most part since season 6 -- and don't have any particular grasp of the women's 115 lbs division. I am of no use here, so I will literally only pick who Fraser picks for all of the TUF bouts. My prognosticating powers are in his hands. Carla Esparza by decision
Fraser Coffeen: Tough, tough call here. Carla is the obvious choice, as she has the significant experience edge, but Rose is incredibly polished for her age and fights with a relaxed confidence that is really great to see. I have no doubt at all she's a world champion - the question is, is she ready to be a world champion today? But gut says yes, but I just have a hard time seeing it. Carla will get the takedowns, and should have the grappling chops to avoid the submission. I see her grinding out the win, but man this is close. Carla Esparza by decision
Zane Simon: Rose Namajunas has come through this season as the woman that the UFC would like to win, but it's really unlikely given that she has all of one year of experience as a professional fighter. Unless she's the strawweight Jon Jones she just shouldn't be in a place to beat a much more meat and potatoes type of fighter in Esparza. Could it happen, sure, Esparza's game is not very complicated. But I don't think it will. Carla Esparza by decision.
Staff picking Esparza: Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Phil, Stephie
Staff picking Namajunas: Anton, Karim
Jeremy Stephens vs. Charles Oliveira
Anton Tabuena: I see it this way, Jeremy Stephens will be able to avoid going to the ground long enough for both men to land a decent amount of strikes. This is where the power difference will come in. Jeremy Stephens by KO.
Mookie Alexander: I hopped on the Oliveira bandwagon when he was a lightweight and then I hopped off after his win (!) over Jonathan Brookins at featherweight. Maybe I'm hesitant to get back on because I've been burned before, but I feel that even with Stephens' generally limited game he is powerful enough to starch Oliveira. Charles' head movement isn't where I'd like it to be and he generally does not react well to getting hit. Ideally, he does everything he can to snatch a submission, otherwise I see Stephens being too explosive and too strong for him to handle. Jeremy Stephens by KO, round 2.
Rainer Lee: Two years ago I would've readily picked Stephens by knockout. However, beginning with his great (if ultimately losing) performance against Frankie Edgar, Oliveira has looked stronger and stronger. Oliveira, Submission, Round 2
Zane Simon: Jeremy Stephens looks a lot more like the kind of fighters that have been able to beat Charles Oliveira, than Oliveira looks like the kind of fighters that have been able to beat Jeremy Stephens. It's taken Stephens a long time, but I believe he's in the midst of something of a career renaissance, finally meeting all that potential he was seen to have years ago. He's still a power punching kickboxer, but he's become a much, much more technical one and a more comfortable counter wrestler as well. I think he could have beat Cub Swanson, had he not broken his hand early. Oliveira has developed a lot since his UFC debut, but he's still a function over form Muay Thai striker with a fantastically aggressive ground game. If he can't get the fight to the ground though, his striking isn't enough for him to depend on taking rounds or keeping him out of trouble. Jeremy Stephens by KO, Round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: I went back and forth on this one. In the end, I think Oliveira's frailty is a bit too overstated, and he can win this two ways: he can keep Stephens out with kicks and volume (which he is...ehh, OK at), or he can fight in the clinch and try to take Stephens down, where he owns a galactic advantage in ground grappling. Stephens only has one way to win- close and beat Oliveira up, while staying exactly in the midrange sweet spot. While I think Oliveira has a very good chance of getting tagged up (he had a bout with Andy Ogle which was semi-competitive at times!) I think this match ends up like a more evolved version of Stephens-RDA. Minus the Sendo Smash at the end. Charles Oliveira by decision.
Staff picking Stephens: Mookie, Anton, Zane, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Oliveira: Rainer, Fraser, Phil
Daron Cruickshank vs. K.J. Noons
Mookie Alexander: This is a terrible match-up for Noons. Unless Cruickshank suddenly plays directly into Noons' boxing style, he's much too athletic and crafty as a striker to be troubled by anything KJ does. He's a superior fighter everywhere and it will show tomorrow night. Daron Cruickshank by decision
Rainer Lee: Noons looked good dispatching two faded talents in George Sotiropoulos and Sam Stout, but in Cruickshank he's facing an actively competitive lightweight. Noons's game, to my eyes, remains oddly porous, and I think The Detroit Superstar will make the most of that. Cruickshank, Unanimous Decision
Zane Simon: As Mookie said above, this is a terrible, terrible matchup for KJ Noons. Noons is a good, fun in-and-out boxer on the feet, but he generally needs a lot of time to settle into a rhythm, and even at his best tends to get hit a lot and fight at an uneven pace. If you can't pressure Cruickshank inside consistently, he's going to light you up from the outside, and he's started mixing in his wrestling to keep venomous strikers on their toes. Unless Cruickshank screws up big, or Noons lands another one punch KO, this is Cruickshank all the way. Daron Cruickshank by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Noons looked much improved last time out. However, big speed and range striking advantages to Cruickshank. When was the last time Noons was competitive with someone as good as Masvidal? Or beat someone as good as Koch? Noons also has a noted and complete inability to make in-fight adjustments of any sort, which speaks poorly for his chances against a guy who can mix up boring and dynamic offense as well as Cruickshank can. Daron Cruickshank by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Cruickshank: Rainer, Mookie, Fraser, Anton, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Noons:
Joe Proctor vs. Yancy Medeiros
Mookie Alexander: Joe Proctor was clearly losing to Justin Salas before his dramatic TKO win. He easily defeated Cristiano Marcello but effectively made that fight look every bit like "friend vs. friend". Medeiros is pretty damn powerful for a lightweight and if he can refine his game he could be at least a fringe contender. I think Medeiros beats him standing and gets the TKO in the middle of the 2nd round. Yancy Medeiros, TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Ugh. This is the kind of fight I hate picking. Medeiros has done little to maintain the feel of a prospect in his UFC stint. His most recent win, came over a late notice replacement, fighting on a week's notice, up a division. So, it's hard to take much from that win. Otherwise he's 0-2-1 (although that includes an overturned KO of Yves Edwards in a fight Medeiros was losing). On the other side is Joe Proctor, who is winning, but hardly making it exciting. He's got a durable, good everywhere, great nowhere style. Still Proctor consistently does functional things in the cage that win him fights. Medeiros hasn't shown anything that would make me trust him that far yet. Joe Proctor by Unanimous Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Tough, generic lightweights that a computer might produce if you asked it to give you "solid Hawaiian brawler" or "gritty American scrapper." Both have decent power, slight edge to Proctor in the takedowns, slight edge to Medeiros in dynamism and durability. Neither have much in the way of defense, so why not? Yancy Medeiros by TKO, round 1.
Staff picking Proctor: Zane, Karim
Staff picking Medeiros: Rainer, Mookie, Fraser, Anton, Phil, Stephie
Randa Markos vs. Jessica Penne
Anton Tabuena: Randa turned some heads and scored some impressive upsets during the show, and while it will be tough to pull off another one against someone like Penne, it is doable. Penne has a good guard and should have the more refined boxing, but Randa will have a significant advantage in the takedown department. I think she can grind out a decision, but it will depend on who wins the ground battle and controls top position. Tough pick really, but I'll pick the fighter who can dictate where the fight takes place. If she fights smart and avoids being swept to dangerous situations, I think this could very well end up with Randa Markos by Decision.
Fraser Coffeen: Markos is the total surprise breakout from the season, as she was not on the radar at all and came in as a #14 seed, but walks out top 5 in the division. Crazy. I'd like to say Penne is a tough match up for her, but at the same time, I think Markos brings a lot of the same skills as Esparza, who just beat Penne. I think that wrestling helps her pull off a 3rd upset. Randa Markos by decision
Zane Simon: I honestly think that Randa Markos may have the most upside of anyone on this TUF show. She has real, actual technical wrestling, and the power and athleticism to dominate with it in fights. She may have gotten subbed out by Namajunas in the semi-finals (a testament to Namajuna's own athleticism and aggression) but I don't think Penne is the woman to repeat that performance. She's an undersized strawweight, and while she's crafty, I just don't think she can match Markos in power and speed. Randa Markos by decision.
Staff picking Markos: Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Penne:
Anton Tabuena: As much as I hope I am wrong here, I do believe Felice will take this easily. Felice Herrig by Decision.
Rainer Lee: Given all the strange circumstances that TUF contestants have to compete under, I don't think it always makes sense to draw conclusions about a fighter's true potential based on his or her in-house performance. Televised lack of focus aside, though, Lisa Ellis is coming back from a lengthy layoff following a 1-3 stretch, while Herrig's gone 4-1 since the last time Ellis stepped in the cage. It's possible that her time on TUF gave Ellis's fighting spirit a jolt, but I'm going to go with Herrig, who has momentum on her side. Herrig, Unanimous Decision
Fraser Coffeen: As a Chicago based MMA fan, I've been familiar with Felice Herrig for a long time. She absolutely deserved to be on TUF, and I'm glad she's a part of the UFC now, but I think she's kind of not quite as good as you might think. She has some serious deficiencies in her game, as Markos showed. I don't see a big upside in the UFC for her, but she can dispatch someone like Ellis with ease. Felice Herrig by decision
Zane Simon: Felice Herrig may not be a mind blowing talent in the cage, but she's a functional volume kickboxer. Ellis is far too dependent in opponents engaging her in a grappling match to get the win, and I don't see her making Herrig play that game. Felice Herrig by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Sigh. Felice Herrig by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Herrig: Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Ellis:
Tecia Torres vs. Angela Magana
Anton Tabuena: Even if most people dislike the way she does it, being controversial on twitter is a smart way to try and get attention and keep her UFC job longer. She will need it too, because I think Torres will completely dominate this one. Tecia Torres by One Sided Decision.
Rainer Lee: Torres has performed consistently well against stiff competition, while Magana's record, while more extensive, is far spottier. Don't be fooled by that win over Barb Honchak, either; Magana, then 8-4, fought Honchak when the future Invicta champ was only 1-1 (and even then, only managed to do it by split-decision). Torres, Unanimous Decision
Fraser Coffeen: Torres already seems to have her niche in the division carved out: gatekeeper. Markos and Esparza beat her, and they're the division's real contenders. Herrig lost, and she's not. (And yes, Rose lost too, but she was 2-0 at the time, and is improving rapidly with every fight). So the question in a gatekeeper fight is simple - is this opponent a contender? Tecia Torres by decision
Zane Simon: For a very very young fighter, Tecia Torres already has a surprisingly complete MMA game. She's got decent takedown defense (considering she fought the two best wrestlers in the TUF tourney) and a deep technical striking game. She can get a little form over function crazy on the feet, but in general, she's a volume kickboxer who knows how to stay upright, and has enough pop in her hands to keep opponents honest. Tecia Torres by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Torres is a solid, three-dimensional fighter who basically checks every box, including decent aggression and athleticism. Magnana is an OK athlete but very little else. Tecia Torres by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Torres: Rainer, Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Zane, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Magana:
Joanne Calderwood vs. Seo Hee Ham
Anton Tabuena: This will be an entertaining scrap. Ham will come guns blazing, but Calderwood should be the bigger and more technical of the two. Joanne Calderwood by TKO.
Rainer Lee: Calderwood looked pretty underwhelming on the show, but will be riding into her bout with wrecking ball Hamderlei Silva with a full fight camp and a massive size advantage behind her. Calderwood, TKO, Round 2
Fraser Coffeen: Calderwood has some of the best real Muay Thai in the UFC. Her elbows and knees from the clinch are awesome and beautifully violent. And if you know me, you know I don't pick against the Muay Thai fighter if I can avoid it. Joanne Calderwood, KO, round 1
Zane Simon: As one of the bigger strawweights out there, I can't imagine TUF weight cutting did Calderwood any favors. Add to that that she has slowly gravitated towards a lower output, more technique heavy pace, and it's not surprising that her stint in the house didn't go exactly as planned. Hamderlei is a little wrecking ball, but she tends to walk herself out of kickboxing range (where she's her most technical) and into the clinch, where Calderwood is incredibly technical and much bigger. Seems like a recipe for disaster. Joanne Calderwood by Decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Hamderlei is skilled and durable enough to think that this won't be a walkover, but she's the smallest person in the entire UFC, by a big margin. In general I think WMMA fights are decided by who has the best clinch / inside offense, and that's Calderwood by a country mile in this one. The stature difference just instinctively seems to indicate that a barrage of knees is forthcoming... and knees stop fights. Jojo Calderwood by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Calderwood: Rainer, Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Ham:
Bec Rawlings vs. Heather Jo Clark
Anton Tabuena: They will trade, and Bec will be the scrappier fighter with better hands. Bec Rawlings by Decision.
Rainer Lee: Four of Rawlings's five victories have come against opponents who were, at the time, 0-0. Clark's slate of conquests is better, if only slightly. Add to this the fact that Clark is training with Jackson's MMA (I think?) while Rawlings is coming out of the nascent Australian MMA circuit, and I think that, while it's close, Clark should be able to edge it out. Clark, Split-Decision
Fraser Coffeen: As much as I would like to see Heather win based on the show, I just don't see it happening. Clark just seems to not have the physicality, aggression, and overall skill level needed at this level of the sport. Rawlings is not perfect, but she's got enough skill to hang in the division. Bec Rawlings by submission, round 2
Zane Simon: Bec Rawlings is a scrapper. She's not the most athletic woman in the division, but she makes up for it with a limitless supply of aggression and a lot of pressure. Heather Clark just isn't as consistent and doesn't have the tools to be as overwhelming as Rawlings can be. Bec Rawlings by decision.
Staff picking Rawlings: Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Clark: Rainer
Aisling Daly vs. Alex Chambers
Anton Tabuena: Chambers is 36 years old, and has significantly less experience than Daly. She will also likely have a huge advantage in the striking department. Aisling Daly by TKO.
Rainer Lee: I don't think either Daly or Chambers got to show their best on TUF. Chambers was immediately matched up with buzzsaw Rose Namajunas, while Daly seemed to struggle mightily with the unfamiliar training conditions (but nevertheless laid a pounding on Angela Magana). Having said that, Daly has long been one of WMMA's toughest strawweights, and her best is probably better than Chamber's. Her 0-3 year in 2012 is troubling, but I think Daly will maintain a certain level of excellence. Daly, Submission, Round 2
Zane Simon: Chambers looks like a pretty good athlete, with a careful, but powerful shot selection style. That matches up incredibly poorly with an aggressive creative fighter like Rose Namajunas, but against a grinding grappler like Daly... it's not so bad. Daly is just not a great athlete. She's tough and she has some skill, so it's not like she can't be competitive, but I'm going to take a flyer on Chambers here. She's quite a bit older, but her career is quite a bit younger and I think she'll show a lot more development.
Staff picking Daly: Rainer, Fraser, Mookie, Anton, Phil, Stephie, Karim
Staff picking Chambers: Zane
Anton Tabuena: Hill's striking looked incredibly crisp, and she looked pretty good for a young fighter at the start of her career. She's likely to have developed even more after taking the experience and months of camp, plus it also helps that Kagan is certainly no Esparza. Angela Hill by TKO.
Fraser Coffeen: Hill is a whooping 1-0, and, understandably, was pretty easily handled by Esparza on the show. At the same time, she showed an incredible fire in that losing effort that really stood out to me. She's got some nice kickboxing experience, and a very clear will to win. As she gets more experience, I see her being a fighter to watch in the division. Excited to see her development. Angela Hill, KO, Round 1
Zane Simon: Angela Hill has the look of an incredibly raw athletic specimen. Someone who will be improving a lot and quickly. Emily Kagan has a few years and some experience on Hill, but she's hardly a crafty vet. I'll take Hill to get an exciting win here. Angela Hill by KO.
Staff picking Kagan:
Staff picking Hill: Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Phil, Stephie, Karim