clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale - Toe to Toe Preview: Rose Namajunas vs Carla Esparza

In a transatlantic, timezone-crossing scramble to get this preview out after they found out who was going to be fighting in it but before the event actually happened, David and Phil discuss what's different and what might be the same in the first contest to crown a UFC Women's Strawweight Champion

Esther Lin

The Match Up

Women's strawweight (115 lbs)

"Thug" Rose Namajunas
Odds: -175

Carla "Cookie Monster" Esparza
Odds: +165

History / Introduction

Phil: Rose Namajunas announced herself to the world with only her second pro fight. Her flying armbar (and subsequent insane spaz-out celebration) over Kathina Catron won her multiple "Submission of the Year" Awards in 2013. Despite being one of the least experienced fighters in the house, there was definitely the feeling that she was the woman that most were looking forward to seeing fight. I'm not sure if that many picked her to make it to the finals though.

David: There was a time when Rose was only known as Pat Barry's girlfriend. Safe to say, the roles are utterly reversed at this point. At 22 years of age, I'm only expecting big things for Rose, win or lose. She's got an expansive skillset, immense will, and is exactly what the division will need if it wants even an ounce of hype. Otherwise...

Phil: Esparza was the Invicta belt holder, and the favourite to win the tournament. While she didn't always set the world on fire with her victories in the house in the same way Namajunas did, she put forth solid, workmanlike decisions (and a first round RNC over Angela Hill).

David: ...It turns into Flyweight, but with a baby Askren instead of a baby Mad Max (how awesome does this film look?) ala Demetrious Johnson. Esparza is a solid fighter, so I'm just talking optics. I could barely watch her fight against Torres, but she bounced back with a respectable performance against Penne. Also, is choking out Angela Hill worth mentioning? I couldn't tell if you wanted to note it for book keeping sake, or if you're just bored and accidentally typed all that out to pad the word length.

Phil: Hey, best believe that RNC is going on the highlight reel! But yeah, there are two very differing narratives waiting to be born here, and one which is obviously a lot, lot more saleable than the other one. Zuffa have got to be praying for a Namajunas win.

Zuffa made an interesting play here: has TUF put more heat behind this title fight, or do you think they would have been better off running their strawweights through the "UFC proper"?

David: Can we talk about this new Mad Max trailer some more? It looks like the brainchild of a man who owns Michael Bay's right hemisphere to Alejandro Jodorowsky's left hemisphere.

Phil: Did I see Mel Gibson in there somewhere? The storm looks particularly awesome. Looking forward to it. Tom Hardy is almost always watchable (Although "This Means War" is a notable black spot) and I haven't seen a decent post-apocalypse road movie since...Doomsday?

David: As for your excellent question, I think they finally stumbled onto a solid little formula. Sports fans crave narrative. You're not giving them one when even the least discerning sports fan can tell that half the cast are doomed to an MMA milk carton, and the rest will be stars of Fight Pass, and or occasional gatekeepers. However, this show was set up as the creation of a division. Not only is the winner the division champ, but you will see most of these faces again.

On the one hand that can look like a cynical indictment of the division's lack of depth, which misses the point completely. Middleweight was once ruled by Matt Lindland, Falaniko Vitale, and David Terrell for an earth's single rotation. You have a lot of fighters at the top in Esparza, Rose, Markos, Jedrzejczk, and Gadelha. Then you have fighters who need more seasoning like Calderwood, or could further develop into premier gatekeepers like Torres. Basically Zuffa finally used television as a vehicle for a division's narrative instead of as a distraction for a division's narrative. This time the public gets to watch the fighters liberated as masters of their own destiny from house guest turned champion instead of watching the champs be imprisoned by Dana White's toilet paper cash as foreground to the ‘super soaker dodgeball' background.

Phil: The lack of depth has been greatly helped by the season: you understand that these are young fighters, and that many of them have a lot of growing to do. It's given viewers a solid prospective base to view the development of the division. For once, it's all come together for TUF. Context, great fights, a compelling final. I've been pleasantly surprised by the degree of discussion and buzz around the upcoming showdown. There's even been some "mainstream" attention in the form of this article, which I thought was frankly awesome.

Tell me not to pick Namajunas, David. CONVINCE ME!

Phil: Also, am I wrong in thinking that this fight is somewhat similar to the Pettis-Melendez fight we previewed last week? A strong, athletic kicker with a dynamic submission game against a more meat-and-potatoes "box into the clinch" fighter?

David: Pretty much. Rose has that Pettis like capacity for ‘spotlight fighting'. Creating offense with singular high risk, high reward moves. Esparza just wants the win however she can get it. If it means hamster ankle munching like against Tecia, so be it.

However, Esparza is more committed to strategy than Melendez. Gilbert is not a dumb fighter so don't misunderestimate me. Melendez offers up a good template for himself, but can go of off course. Carla won't have that problem. She'll be able to land whatever takedowns she wants. The real question is whether or not Rose can threaten off her back. Most submissions nowadays are scored with commotion. As good as Namajunas is, it'll take some very glaring mistakes from Esparza to get caught working top control while Rose sets up like an instructional manual. And Carla doesn't have the history of making those mistakes.

Phil: In general, TUF finales tend to go along the lines of "one fighter has been wrecking everyone with dynamic offense and one fighter has been quietly just moving along", and the attention almost always goes to Fighter A. It's very notable that Fighter A (Uriah Hall, Dhiego Lima, Brendan Schaub, Philippe Nover, Vinnie Magalhaes) really rarely actually wins. Plus, Esparza has a massive amount of experience over Namajunas.

However, "Thug Rose" has two things working for her: one is physics. Across the entire UFC, it becomes harder and harder to hold opponents down with top control as the fighters get smaller. Allometric scaling basically says that smaller fighters can lift their own body weight (and their opponents) from far more positions than bigger ones. These are very small fighters, so Namajunas should be able to effectively scramble.

Secondly is that she's by far the more potent finisher. If she has to roll the dice to attempt to finish Esparza, she will at least get a lot of opportunities to roll them over 25 minutes.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: The two women both fought Tecia Torres. Torres beat Namajunas doing the kind of things which Esparza should probably focus on. She boxed in, took her down, and fought her way out of submissions. Meanwhile, Esparza mostly beat her at her own game.

David: I can't really add to that. Esparza should be able to fend off Rose's submissions. Unfortunately this fight may have less in common with Pettis/Melendez and more in common with Escudero/Nover. Or rather, somewhere in the middle.


Phil: TUF Finales tend to play out absolutely nothing like the fights in the house. Away from the claustrophobic weirdness of being locked up with 16 other people, not having to fight every week, with access to their own trainers and able to more easily manage weight cutting, fighters tend to look drastically different. In addition, this is the first time we normally see them where they have been really financially incentivized to train full-time.

David: Seems like a good time to delve into analytics. After all, you have multiple fights in a short span of time. How highly does work rate increase or decrease transitioning from TUF to the UFC? Are more punches thrown? Less, et cetera? Numbers probably won't tell as much. After all, the competition changes too drastically, as many TUFers end up getting their pink slips IF they get a UFC contract, but still.


Phil: Wouldn't be surprised to see the win from the more offensive, athletically gifted fighter, but headkicks and submissions are a championship-winning combo for a rare breed. The style clash should hopefully lend itself to high-paced, scramble-heavy fun, but Carla Esparza by unanimous decision.

David: Carla Esparza by unanimous decision