My enthusiasm for this one was diminished ever so slightly when I saw a headline with more fights announced for the TUF finale. Obviously, the fighters with new matchups are the ones who lost in this episode. Note to self: Just stay up and watch this show live.
But we’ve got two fantastic matchups here. This could’ve been a viable Invicta pay-per-view main event and co-main event. We’re getting it free. Cheers.
1. The two quarterfinals today are:
- Carla Esparza-Tecia Torres (winner faces Jessica Penne)
- The one I’ve been waiting to see for weeks, Rose Namajunas-Joanne Calderwood (winner faces and probably beats Randa Markos).
2. The cliques are:
- The “Skrapettes,” named after coach Gilbert Melendez’s “Skrap Pack” but united here by losing early and hating Heather Clark. In order of hostility to others: Angela Magaña, Bec Rawlings, Angela Hill, Namajunas, Emily Kagan (unofficial member?)
- The “Chumpettes,” the rest of Team Melendez (including Torres who went to Team Pettis). In order of hostility received: Heather Clark, Tecia Torres, Lisa Ellis
- People Who Hate Randa Markos: Carla Esparza, Felice Herrig
- Penne and Kish (not really hostile toward anyone): Jessica Penne, Justine Kish
- People Who Seem to Get Along with Almost Everyone: Joanne Calderwood (but also Namajunas, Kagan, Penne and Kish, plus the next two)
- More Withdrawn But Not Controversial: Aisling Daly, Alex Chambers
- Controversial: Randa Markos
Remember all that for later.
So anyway … we first see Torres talking about upcoming opponent Esparza. Torres says she has a history with the current Invicta 115-pound champion. In her last fight, Torres beat Herrig, only to see Esparza walk in with the belt and immediately call her out. Awkward, but Torres respects Esparza as a well-rounded fighter. The Torres plan: Keep it standing.
Esparza says Torres is a tough opponent and someone she though could make the final. Esparza, who apparently has never seen The Ultimate Fighter in her life, thinks it’s unfair that Torres got a second chance in the bracket after losing. And there are no secrets here: Esparza wants to take Torres down. She likes wrestling.
We immediately skip ahead to Fight Day. Not much time for drama in the house when you’ve got two fights in an episode.
Tale of the tape: Each woman is 5’1”. Esparza has a more experience. Referee Herb Dean gives the long version of the “two five-minute rounds, then the inaccurately named sudden victory round” speech (where’s Dana White this season?), and we’re off.
Torres looks sharp on her feet and shrugs off a couple of Esparza’s takedown attempts. But Esparza hangs on to her ankle, and when Torres turns toward her to punch a few times, Esparza gets more of a grip. Esparza still struggles to get Torres down, but she’s able to control Torres’ body long enough to get in a few shots. They stand after a while, but Esparza shoots and gets a full-fledged takedown to set up some ground and pound until the horn sounds. Round 1 to Esparza.
Second round has a tentative start. Esparza shoots for a takedown from too far away. Then again. On the third try, she gets Torres’ ankle and lifts it like a really overbearing yoga teacher. Torres escapes, but it’s clear she’s going to have a hard time getting close enough to establish her striking game. Esparza finally gets both legs and gets Torres down. Torres gets to the cage and tries to walk her way up, but when she gets up, Esparza is on her back. Esparza lands a couple of knees to the head at awkward angles. But that’s the only offense anyone has in what’s otherwise a grappling stalemate.
Coaches say to prepare for a third round, but no. We have a decision.
Fight recap: Anthony Pettis is impressed that Torres managed to evade Esparza’s takedowns, but he knows Esparza wasn’t going to give up.
Decision: Majority decision (mild surprise, I would have said unanimous) to Esparza.
No bad blood anywhere. Torres and Esparza slapped hands at the final horn, Torres applauded the decision, and both fighters had kind words. The only drama: Esparza races to a bathroom to vomit. And she’s a little sad to be facing a friend in Jessica Penne.
Next up, perhaps the two most likable fighters on the show. Joanne Calderwood speaks in a soft, high-pitched Scottish lilt, like a character out of Scottish mythology, sometimes with a little smile. Rose Namajunas had a hardscrabble childhood and has grown into a tough fighter whose sense of humor is evident in videos with her boyfriend, former UFC heavyweight Pat Barry.
Calderwood has been training hard. Namajunas is thrilled to be facing good competition, saying it’s actually better to fight when your opponent knows what she’s doing. As we saw last time, Namajunas sometimes battles her nerves and has self-confidence issues leading up to a fight. Didn’t seem to bother her once she got in the cage last time.
Pettis, finally able to return to a fighter’s corner now that it’s not a battle of two fighters from his own team, says he’s going to hold back on instructions and just let JoJo do what she does best.
Then at last, it’s the fight I’ve wanted to see for weeks …
And in the early going, it doesn’t disappoint. Namajunas walks out and throws a kick. Calderwood immediately starts backing her down as they exchange punches, then gets through her defense for a takedown. Namajunas has her legs up near Calderwood’s neck, giving Calderwood something to think about before unleashing any strikes. Namajunas also lands some elbows from the bottom. Calderwood tries to improve her position, and Namjunas scrambles up. But Calderwood lands a nice knee that sends the off-balance Namajunas tumbling. Namajunas is quickly back to her feet and gets the better of a close-range exchange, then works Calderwood down to the mat. Calderwood stands and tosses Namajunas, who works for just about any submission known to grapplers, including an ankle lock that just looked nasty.
With a minute left in the round, Namajunas starts cranking on the arm of Calderwood, who grimaces as she’s forced to give up position to the tenacious Namajunas. The round ends with Namajunas on top, literally and figuratively.
Round 2, after Namajunas gets a very simple question in the corner: “Want to be a champion?” “Yes I do!”
Calderwood comes out aggressive again with a variety of kicks. She’s taller than Namajunas, and keeping her distance seems to be a good idea. But she also looks good in a clinch, landing a few knees and elbows. Through nearly 90 seconds, it’s Calderwood’s round, and Namajunas goes for a takedown to break the pressure. Calderwood counters and ends up on top.
But as we’ve already seen, Namajunas is really dangerous off her back. We hear “Watch the kimura” from a corner. She’s also working her legs up toward Calderwood’s neck again. The end comes suddenly — from the angle we’re shown, it’s hard to see what kind of grip Namajunas has on the arm or even Calderwood’s tap. Namajunas briefly yells in excitement, then immediately embraces Calderwood.
The fight recap shows how much damage Calderwood was inflicting before Namajunas fought back in the second round.
Calderwood is upset, being comforted by Irish fighter Daly in a bit of Celtic sympathy. She hopes it was a good fight. Oh yes, JoJo, it most certainly was.
Semifinal “announcement” formality:
– Esparza vs. Penne, and they’re all smiles at the staredown.
– Markos vs. Namajunas. Markos tries to look mean, but Namajunas seems pretty serene and tired after such a huge win.
Let’s be clear: If Namajunas faced Markos in a UFC fight with proper training time, Namajunas would win handily. But we’ll have to see how much of a toll the Calderwood fight took on Namajunas.
So let’s get to the finale fight card as announced so far:
– Tecia Torres vs. Angela Magaña. A little bit of hostility from the house, and probably a test to see if Torres — originally the third seed but beaten twice in three fights on the show — can live up to her hype. Magaña took Aisling Daly to the third round, so you can’t count her out.
– Joanne Calderwood vs. Seo Hee Ham. Interesting test for the excellent Calderwood against one of the top fighters from Asia.
– Felice Herrig vs. Lisa Ellis. Can’t remember any flareup between them in the house.
– Angela Hill vs. Emily Kagan. Might be fighting to keep a spot in the UFC.
– Aisling Daly vs. Alex Chambers. Curious one here. Chambers is practically the invisible fighter in the house. Daly has a pretty big rep.
– Bec Rawlings vs. Heather Clark. Well, Rawlings clearly doesn’t like Clark. The issue may be how Clark looks after healing her knee.
Justine Kish must not be fully healthy yet, so she’ll wait for her debut. Then we’ll surely have the losing semifinalists and the winning semifinalist.
I think Namajunas will be champion at some point. Whether she does it right away depends on how well she holds it together in the house after a really tough fight.