One sentence summary
Phil: This is certainly a fight, in Australia, between Australians.
David: Not your average co-main event, for better and for worse.
Record: Bec Rawlings 7-6 | Jessy Rose-Clark 7-4-1 NC
Odds: Bec Rawlings -135 | Jessy Rose-Clark +115
History / Introduction to both fighters
Phil: TUF 20 was not a season where many of the women on it came off looking particularly great. Basically, only JoJo and Rose did. Rawlings was something of the Leben of that season: someone for whom "rough around the edges" and "damaged" can't really be separated out. Since then, she's largely been famous for going on a rant against the evils of third wave feminism, and getting posterized by a Paige Van Zant jumping switch kick.
David: Like a lot of TUF fighters who get lost in the shuffle post-show, Rawlings flirted with modest success, but her presence in the octagon is more a function of c-level “star” cachet than anything focused on her pugilism. In fairness, she had a couple of wins following her loss on the show’s finale. It was fine. Her losses were tough. And she’s probably UFC material in a wheat thin division. So now we’re here.
Phil: Jessy Jess is one of those fighters that I think the UFC would very much like to be good at MMA. She projects an appealing mixture of wade-forward Muay Thai violence and charm. As in a lot of these cases, though, whether she's going to sink or swim in the UFC is difficult to tell until she actually gets in there. Her most recent fight since (I believe) a move to Australian Top Team in Sydney showed genuine growth, which is encouraging.
David: The fresh faced Jessy Rose-Clark has done what all fighters do away from the UFC in a foreign land - smash some cans, and hope for the UFC’s scan. Watching older tape, Rose-Clark never stood out except as a project to put on TUF: Australia vs. Liechtenstein or something. She had a blue collar quality that I think takes fighters far in the glorified parking lots of Unarmed Combat Unleashed 2 and Mud with Blood Mixed Martial Tarts 15, or whatever unoriginal algorithm these shows use to get people watching this stuff. Durability tends to separate the strong from the weak at the lower levels. Jessy has evolved over time. She’s improved a lot, but whether that turns into a UFC career is a question mark.
What’s at stake?
David: Nothing much. Jessy can raise her stock in a big way. Even if her talents keep her matchups subdued, she’s like a Aussie PVZ in that respect - the UFC will push her profile, give her soft matchups, and hope they have a minor star when the boomerang circus rolls into town.
Phil: Surely "comes back around"? Wait, let's save the boomerang puns for the main event.
Where do they want it?
David: Stylistically, Rawlings is something like fight goulash. She plods forward with a heavy foot, attacking wide for an overhand right, combinations upstairs and down, and then attempts to turn that offense into grappling exchanges. Rawlings is the perfect example of a fighter who is “good” on the ground by virtue of being comfortable. She doesn’t force much, and doesn’t try much, making the tunnel vision of gradually applying pressure on the ground enough to catch opponents in compromising positions. She has a pretty good whipping left hook. Other than that there’s not much else going on. Without strong legs and movement, her aggression can be stifled, and even within that I’d never bet against a more dynamic fighter. Again; see the PVZ karate kid knockout.
Phil: Rawlings is a fighter who wants to be aggressive, but lacks the tools to actually be aggressive. Her punches rarely come off step-ins, and she always throws planted, so she often ends up simply following her opponents around and scowling at them. I think a decent (although far more technically skilled) analogue here would be Paul Felder. At her best, she's an aggressive counterpuncher, who pressures people into throwing then comes back with more and harder punches. She's an underrated clinch fighter and dirty boxer, but that inability to move and attack simultaneously often leads her trying to figure out what is going on. It allowed Tecia Torres to carve her up by coming in and out, and it left her just watching while PVZ tried that switch kick about three separate times before landing it.
David: Watch Jessy fight “back in the day,” and you begin to realize why so many amateur fighters simply stagnate and become meat for the cabaret backlot abattoir - you can get away with bad fights. This fight with Kate De Silva is a “good” example. Here, Jessy gets away with classic Street Fighter trolling, spamming strikes like a teenager on so much Mountain Dew he can only see two buttons. OK, I need a punch entry? How about straight right, straight right, straight right. She’s coming forward! Straight right. I got her in the clinch! Straight right, straight right. It’s the pugilist translation for comic book pow, kaboom, and thud. But then watch her fights with Carina Damm and Sarah Kaufman. It’s not quite night and day. More like night and dusk. But her movement has improved immensely. I think she’s still figuring out how to connect that movement with her boxing into a stronger synthesis, and the flaws show. But so does her ceiling. We’re not talking about a potential superstar or anything (although her story is a delight), but with the right coaching, she has the skills to be a UFC mainstay,
Phil: This is really the thing which jumps out, isn't it. When I first saw that fight with De Silva in Ryan's piece, I was relatively sure that Rose-Clark was going to get killed. Three short years have made a world of difference. She's calmer with distance, her footwork... she has footwork now! Whereas before she was terribly plodding. Her ability to control range with the jab, and disrupt footwork with the leg kick make her look like a veteran at times. So, basically, co-sign on everything you said. She's not going to be beating Valentina Shevchenko any time soon, or probably ever, but overall is a pleasant surprise.
Insight from past fights
David: Jessy’s fight with Kaufman was eye-opening for me since I was never able to track her progression in real time or anything. I mean, nothing against Roshambo and External Totally Real Combat, but it’s just not something I can fit into my schedule. Anyway, not only has her game evolved into something more movement based, and “angular,” but even against a very good veteran in Kaufman, she was able to adjust as the fight wore on. Hell, not even good fighters are all that good at adjusting. Rose-Clark went from being taken down, controlled, and neutralized on the feet in the first round to staying on the feet, working the jab, and patiently wait for openings. It didn’t work, and Kaufman’s leg work and classic boxing earned her a decision win, but it’s a strong gauge for a so called “regional fighter.”
Phil: Rawling's record looks underwhelming, but it's worth pointing out that she was probably beating VanZant before staring right into that head kick. She got dismantled by Torres, but there's a decent argument that Tecia Torres might be the best strawweight in the world at the moment.
David: These are the things that UFC fans want to know! Is Jessy some kind of sinister “third wave feminist”? Did Rawlings ever properly digest the world’s hottest burger? X-Factors - we has ‘em.
Phil: Not much of an X-factor, but I'm curious how Rawlings looks when she's not the slower person in the octagon. She's always been a massive strawweight, and is one of those fighters that I think will genuinely benefit from moving up a division simply because everyone isn't going to be so much quicker than she is.
David: Honestly, this is a pretty tough fight for both women. Rawlings has enough durability and moxie to make the evening tough for Jessy. Meanwhile, Jessy has the raw talent to pull away if she can stay active. I think one of the stories of this fight will be how Jessy deals with the clinch. She’s strong, but has a tendency to ‘get stuck’, if you will. Granted, how her newfound movement negates these tendencies is something I still anxiously await. But for the most part, I like Jessy’s movement. Basically, I’m banking on her progression. She doesn’t have a lot of knockouts, but she has strong mechanics, and good speed. If she’s better integrating that knuckle napalm into everything else, I like her to eek out a hard fought decision. Jessy Rose-Clark by Decision.
Phil: In the Kaufman and Damm fights, Jessy showcased a strong jab and leg kick. Rawling's still has that Alliance-trained tendency to just move aimlessly on the outside, which should leave her open to moments of distance control. Much like you, I'm still not sure whether I trust Rose-Clark's wrestling and clinch games, particularly as Rawling's may actually have the proportionate footspeed to be able to close her opponents down at this weight class. Still. Jessica Rose-Clark by unanimous decision.