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TUF 20: Finally the finals, Rose Namajunas versus Carla Esparza

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esparza-namaThe last few episodes of TUF 20 have been what the hardcore fight fans were expecting this season. There was a lot of drama during TUF 20 and a couple of lackluster fights. This led to some people being very turned off by the emphasis on the drama and the antics of the season. Some are afraid of how the women are being portrayed and that it is bad for them in the sport.

I think for most fans of TUF they understand drama is just part of the show. Sure, some have used this element to attack the women as being overly dramatic and emotional. Certainly nothing this season comes close to some of the antics from previous seasons. The show and the house are setup to create drama.

The fighters are isolated and cutoff from almost everything else in the world expect fighting, training and sitting around with many of your potential opponents. It is a strange environment and it takes them out of their comfort zone. Fighting is stressful by itself. The house increases the stress especially as the show gets deeper into the season. Fortunately as the season progressed the fights just got better and better. The final two were two of the best. Lets put the drama to rest and focus on the fights.

Back to back kimuras 

Apparently for the rest of the UFC the kimura is one of the hardest submissions to execute. According to Reed Kuhn at Fightnomics, he breaks down the finishing percentages for submissions in the UFC, the Kimura (under the shoulder lock grouping) is the third most attempted submission in the UFC with the second worse finishing rate overall at 6%. Apparently Rose Namajunas knows something the other fighters do not as she wen back-to-back with the Kimura to earn her spot in the finals.

I want to pose a question and then of course answer it. If a fighter is 5-1 in their career with all of their wins coming via submission why do people keeping calling the ground her weakness? I do not mean randoms on Twitter but people like Dominick Cruz on Fox Sports 1. He actually called it her weakness.

I get that she has a long background in striking and started out at a young age. I understand that she is a strong striker. She has that unteachable fluidity Joe Rogan so often likes to speak about and you saw it in this fight with Randa Markos as she moved backwards throwing strikes. It’s something that you see among high level strikers. But calling the ground game her weakness at this point is like saying that because Chuck Lidell was a college wrestler and had trained for many years in that discipline that striking was his weakness.

I am sorry to Rose if I am revealing some big secret but she has some straight up nasty jiu-jitsu. It is so nasty because of her creativity and her fearlessness. She reminds me of Anthony Pettis and Jon Jones in the way she uses the combination of those two traits uniquely to finish fights. The really scary thing for the rest of the division is that Rose is just getting started. She is only 22 years old and is probably four to five years away from her prime.

We all saw how hard she works. How much passion she has for the sport and her desire to be the champion. That is a lethal combination when you put that kind of drive and will into a high level athlete like Rose. What we also saw that in each fight she faced moments of adversary and pushed through to get the win.

I am not a huge fan of comparing fighters too much. Each fighter has their unique style, strengths and weaknesses but it is a good way to compare greatness in athletes. In this case Rose is like Jones with her success at such a young age. Early on in his career.

Seriously, Rose can grapple

Going into this fight Alex Chambers picked Randa because of Randa’s wrestling. It has emerged during this season as the second best wrestling behind Carla’s. Again, it was most people continuing to underestimate Rose’s grappling skills. That left it up to her to continue to defy their expectations.

In the fight it was Rose who was on top went the fight went to ground. Once the fight got there it was exciting as they battle back and forth for position. Rose the predator started going for submissions and forced Randa to use some slick submission denies to escape one Kimura. However, after finding herself on the bottom Rose kept going for the Kimura and forced Randa to tap.

This gave her the third straight submission win and fifth overall in her career. Which if I remember correctly is the exact number of wins in her career. Wait, that would mean she might just be a submission specialist and not a striker. Or is it possible that she is a striker and a submission specialist? She is just a badass all-around fighter?

I am going to go with all-around badass ninja. Like a ninja she distracts you with her version of the Ali-shuffle which was all it took to set Randa off on her. Apparently she is able to use illusion like a ninja because despite all of her wins coming via a submission she has people convinced that the ground is her weakness. Granted, one of the submissions was a flying-armbar that started on the feet, but the point that people seemed to be missing is that at only 22 she is already an all-around beast.

Her opponent in the finals is the top seed Carla. While I did pick Jessica Penne to win this fight I called it upset. I am not surprised I was wrong on that call. In her win over Jessica she used her best striking of the season.

The wrestler can strike

While Rose has an extensive striking background she showed her formidable grappling game in her first fight with fellow Team Melendez teammate Emily Kagan. Carla has been more dominant in her career with her wrestling. There is no debating who is the best wrestler on the show but in her last two fights she has struggled to get the takedown. She still got them but only a few and at a very low percentage.

It is her fault that the takedowns are coming harder for her. It is what happens when a fighter in her position has the belt and the ranking because of her dominance with her wrestling she has forced the other fighters to improve their wrestling. It is how the sport has worked since it quickly moved away from style versus style based on what Royce Gracie did in the octagon. He forced anybody that wanted to be a serious title contender to train jiu-jitsu. The same with Carla, if you want to challenge her as an opponent your wrestling had to be on-point.

Going into this fight one of Carla’s problems was the danger of getting the takedown against Jessica because of her strong submission skill set. Normally the game plan for Carla is simple; take the fight to the ground, maintain top position and use her strong ground-and-pound to get the win. Her approach to this fight was to use her striking first and then look for the takedown.

It was the best her striking has looked in her career. Consistently throughout the fight she was out landing Jessica in the exchanges or at least matching her. The most surprising element was the speed advantage she had over Jessica. We also some slick combination work with excellent footwork to get in land her strikes and get out. One of the best examples of that was a quick combo in the first round. Carla slipped a jab and countered with a right to the body, then a left to the body, righthand to the head and exited out.

Another strong element was her fakes and feints. It was a masterful blend of mixing in faked takedowns and strikes into combinations. Between Carla’s footwork, head movement, fakes, feints, combinations and blending together of grappling and striking, she was able to keep Jessica off-balanced and get the UD win.

It was a great fight from both of them. They fought with heart and took it to each other with both of them baring the marks of the other’s strikes. Jessica did a great job of targeting Carla’s right eye using both her right and left on it. The eye was pretty swollen but not as much as her smile. Carla came in as the top seed and the favorite. She handled all of the pressure and showed why she is a champion. Now she faces Rose to be the first UFC strawweight champion.

Who wins?

I said before the Rose and Joanne Calderwood fight that the winner of this fight would take the whole thing and be the first champion. I picked Rose in that fight and I have not seen anything to change my mind. If anything Rose has just re-inforced for me that she is the best fighter in the house.

It is hard to see many ways for Carla to win this fight. While her striking looked good against Jessica and she enjoyed a quickness edge in that fight, itt will be very different against Rose who is just as fast if not faster. Rose is also at a different level of striking than Jessica while being more dangerous on the ground. Rose also will have a significant height and reach advantage against Carla and she is good at using her length.

For Carla to win she has to get the fight to the ground, do some damage and not get caught in a submission. If she tries to stand and strike with Rose she will get picked apart. When the fight goes to the ground she has to be very careful. Carla is tough, tenacious and capable of winning the title but I think Rose is one of those special athletes like a Jones, like a Ronda Rousey or like an Anthony Pettis.

Rose fights in her own unique style that is still developing as she continues to add new skills to her bag of ninja tricks. Right now she is poised to seize the UFC strawweight title. Look for an exciting night of fights at the finale and one absolutely amazing Pat Barry reaction when Rose wins the title. It has been quite a season.

image via Sportv.Globo/Evelyn Rodrigues

An avid lifetime fight fan who loves to write about it. So kick back, get comfortable and let's have some fun! "Wants me to tell him something pretty." Al Sweargen "Going wrong is not the end of fucking things, Johnny. Fuck no! I have comeback from plenty of shit that looked like it was going wrong." Dan Dority "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Bill Munny

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