The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale marked the full debut of the women's strawweight division in the UFC, and Carla Esparza is presently the one fighter the rest of the division has to look up to. Her dominant win over Rose Namajunas was an "upset" based on betting odds but she was the #1 seeded fighter heading into TUF for a reason. Now she's the first champion at 115 lbs and she awaits her first defense. This card also featured a pivotal win for Charles Oliveira, an impressive finish by Yancy Medeiros, and an abrupt and unfortunate ending to Daron Cruickshank versus K.J. Noons.
It's time now to look at what's in store for the winners of each main card fight in our usual "Fights to Make" series. Because of the no-contest between Cruickshank and Noons, I have to include them both in this piece.
Carla Esparza. Once she settled into the fight, Esparza was in virtually no trouble after the first 2 minutes or so of the opening round. Her takedowns were way too much for Namajunas to handle, her striking in close quarters was superior to Namajunas' flashy-style of jumping knees and kicks, and her grappling gave Rose no room to work a submission off of her back. She wore Namajunas down on the ground and set up the fight-ending choke. Experience and disparity in skill sets was very evident in this title fight. Up next? In all likelihood, the winner of Claudia Gadelha/Joanna Jedrzejzcyk, which is tonight on the UFC on Fox 13 prelims.
Charles Oliveira. I picked him to lose to Jeremy Stephens, having seen his struggles in the past with hard-hitting strikers with great takedown defense, but Oliveira held his own on the feet and took Stephens down multiple times. His guard is as dangerous as ever and he's a consistent source of entertainment. However, this is all for naught if he cannot make weight, and he's failed to do so 3 times at featherweight. Beating Stephens likely gets him near or in the top 10, but I think the UFC sets him up with the winner of Max Holloway/Cole Miller.
Daron Cruickshank. It was certainly an entertaining fight up until the stoppage. Cruickshank was getting tagged by Noons' boxing but otherwise proving to be the superior fighter based on speed, diversity of his striking, and his ability to take Noons (but not necessarily hold him) down. Cruickshank was given the first round by all 3 judges and there wasn't enough to gather from the 2nd round before the eye poke. I am confident that he'd win a rematch, but the UFC likely books a rematch with K.J. Noons.
K.J. Noons. I already spilled most of my thoughts about the fight when talking about Cruickshank, so let me just say that Noons should've been disqualified. This was an accumulation of egregious fouls by Noons, whether through his multiple fence grabs or his multiple eye pokes. If we keep dismissing fouls as accidental and use it as an escape to not do as much as deduct points, then fighters should continue to abuse the system for as long as the consequences are negligible.
Yancy Medeiros. I absolutely love delayed reactions to body shot knockdowns, and Medeiros countered (supposedly) getting hit in the groin from Joe Proctor's spinning kick by perfectly placing his to the body. The guillotine choke proved to be the clinching move but the kick really did Proctor in. Medeiros still pretty "raw" as a fighter and he definitely fought as if every strike he threw had to end in a knockdown or KO, so I don't think he has any need to be rushed into bigger fights. Put him in with James Vick.
Jessica Penne. Great fight with Randa Markos, although I believe that Penne deserved the full unanimous decision instead of a split decision. Her grappling is incredibly fun to watch, and it won her the fight, because she looked a bit uncomfortable with Markos in the stand-up. They could give Penne a fight against a TUFer she hasn't fought, or set her up vs. Paige VanZant.