On Friday evening, UFC fans witnessed the crowning of the first ever strawweight champion in the culminating moment of a night mostly dedicated to launching the newly-minted division. As expected, the strawweights fights on display during the TUF 20 Finale ranged from mediocre to high quality and gradually increasing in standard as the night progressed. Some lived up to their touted reputations and showcased their talents on the big stage, while others will likely never get another opportunity to fight for the UFC.
With that in mind, let us delve into the real winners and losers from Friday night's fight card.
Carla Esparza succeeded in becoming the first ever UFC strawweight champion when she submitted Rose Namajunas in the third round of their title fight on Friday night. It was an impressive performance from Esparza, one that would win her the coveted title in historic fashion. Having dominated her division for the past few years, Esparza will now look to further that streak inside the octagon.
Charles Oliveira may not have managed to find the elusive submission against Stephens, but he did earn a decisive victory over the durable featherweight to remain undefeated in 2014. The Brazilian won all three of the fights he was placed in this year following his loss to Frankie Edgar at UFC 162.
Yancy Medeiros picked up a late submission stoppage in the opening round of his main card fight against Joe Proctor. It was an impressive showing despite not getting any recognition from the referee for an unintentional low blow from Proctor. He eventually ended the fight with a fantastic spinning back kick to the body that brought about the guillotine choke.
Jessica Penne displayed her enthralling ground game in an exciting main card match-up against Iraqi-Canadian Randa Markos to win a split (?) decision in her official UFC debut. It was one of the more competitive and high-quality fights on the card and only added to Penne's value as a contender in the coming months.
Felice Herrig weathered an early storm in her preliminary match-up against Lisa Ellis to pick up a second round submission in her UFC debut. It was one of the more entertaining fights on the preliminary card and brought about the only finish on the FOX Sports 1 prelims. Herrig has now won five of her last six fights and is in a good position to work her way up the strawweight ranks.
Joanne Calderwood had a tougher fight on her hands than many expected but she ended up passing the stern South Korean test in successful and entertaining fashion. Calderwood started slow and was tagged repeatedly by Ham, but quickly figured out her opponent's game and focused on working her leg kicks, elbows and clinch work. She took full control of the fight in the final round, put on a clinic that included a picture perfect front kick to the face, and closed out the fight on top of her opponent landing blows. The Scottish contender moves to 9-0 in her pro career and edges one step closer to an eventual title shot in the division.
Heather Jo Clark came in as the underdog against Rawlings but managed to overcome the odds en route to a clean sweep on the scorecards. After overcoming a tempestuous period on the reality show, where she was shown in a less-than-appealing light, Clark can take solace in the fact that she will begin her UFC career in the winner column.
Tecia Torres looked fantastic in her official UFC debut. The American Top Team product unleashed an impressive arsenal of strikes on Magana, including some beautiful sidekicks, to earn a clear unanimous decision. While she may not have looked great on the reality show, Torres looked refreshed and confident in her first octagon outing and is still a fighter to watch out for in the strawweight division.
Angela Hill opened up the proceedings on Friday night with arguably one of the most lopsided victories of 2014. She battered Kagan for the better part of three rounds in a fight that became difficult to watch as it neared the 15-minute mark. After going winless during her time on TUF 20, Hill looked excellent in her UFC debut for a fighter who was 1-0 prior.
Rose Namajunas failed to complete what she started on the TUF 20 show and was forced to tap to a rear-naked choke against a relentless Carla Esparza. It was a disappointing end to the odds-on-favourite's night and will likely set her back in the division. Namajunas, however, is still just five fights into her professional career and more than capable of continuing an upward trend in her evolution as a fighter.
Jeremy Stephens may have fended off some tight submission attempts from the relentless Charles Oliveira, but he was unable to turn the tide in his favour and eventually lost a lopsided decision to the Brazilian. Stephens falls to 1-2 in 2014 and is currently on a two-fight losing streak, which is never a good sign for his future with the promotion.
Bec Rawlings produced one of the more disappointing performances on the fight card when she failed to remain competitive in her grudge match against Heather Jo Clark. She had several impressive bursts in the final round but it was far from enough to sway the final decision. The Australian drops to 5-4 with two consecutive losses.
Seo Hee Ham put forth a fantastic effort against her Scottish adversary on Friday night in Las Vegas, and even though she lost a unanimous decision to Calderwood, she still managed to look impressive in defeat. Given her success with the boxing in the pocket against the lanky ‘JoJo,' one can imagine this would have been a more competitive fighter had there been less of a noticeable size disparity.
Angela Magana may have added to her twitter followers over the past few months by posting nude photos of herself and calling her fans "peasants," but it did little to shield her from a proper beating at the hands of Torres. Considering Magana has not won a fight in over three years, one wonders whether she will get another fight in the UFC.
Randa Markos may not have been victorious in her UFC debut but she certainly made a few fans along the way with her competitive performance against Penne. After making a surprising run to the semi-finals of the TUF 20 season, Markos proved that she is one of the fighters to watch out for in the division. Against Penne, however, Markos showed glaring holes in her game. Over time she will continue to develop and will likely become one of the least sought after opponents in the division.
John McCarthy's poor performance in the Noons vs. Cruickshank match-up led to him call a no-contest after an eye poke compromised Darren's vision. Initially, McCarthy's refused to pause the proceedings when Cruickshank was poked in the eye for the second time in the fight but did so once he was persuaded by the blood pouring from his eye. So instead of handing Noons any form of punishment for his two eye pokes and fence grabs, which could have easily given Cruickshank a DQ victory, he decided to deem it a no-contest; a questionable decision at best.