Sixteen top stawweight women entered The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned hoping to emerge with a shot at the inaugural UFC women’s 115-pound title. After the twelfth and final episode of the season, only two women remain.
The two semifinal bouts took place with top seeded Carla Esparza taking on No. 4 seed Jessica Penne and No. 14 seed Randa Markos hoping to keep her string of upsets going as she faced No. 7 seed Rose Namajunas.
The Fight: Carla Esparza vs. Jessica Penne
In a bit of a surprise, Esparza, who is known for her wrestling, came out striking with Penne. She landed combinations and lead right hands. Penne moved forward, but had trouble finding her range. The Invicta FC strawweight champion out threw and out landed Penne. She also secured a takedown late in the round.
Esparza continued to land right hands and combinations in the second frame. Penne landed shots, but not at the volume of Esparza. Midway through the round, Esparza changed levels and took the fight to the ground. The referee stood them up, and Esparza went back to landing combinations.
Penne picked up the pace in the final round. She pressed forward as Esparza moved on the outside. Esparza threw punches in volume while Penne loaded up with one shot in the exchanges. With seconds remaining in the round, Esparza took Penne down. After fifteen minutes of fighting, the judges scored Esparza the winner by unanimous decision. All three scorecards read 30-27.
“I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot as a fighter here, so I’ll take a lot of positive things from this experience. A loss doesn’t’ define me,” said Penne after being eliminated. “This has been a really amazing experience that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do. But I’m really proud of myself that I made it through to the end.”
“I feel so emotional. It’s just amazing because people expected me to make it his far and to be in the finals, but I didn’t know if I could do it,” said Esparza after the win. “Now it finally happened. I can’t even put it into words.”
The Fight: Rose Namajunas vs. Randa Markos
Both women were careful in the early going. Namajunas shuffled her feet like Muhammed Ali and Markos exploded forward with a flurry. They clinched and Namajunas took Markos down. Markos scrambled and reversed the position. Namajunas worked for a kimura, but Markos rolled free. Namajunas isolated an arm and tried for a kimura again. Markos rolled, but could not escape the submission. She was forced to tap out.
“I’m feeling speechless, like spectacular,” said Namajunas after securing her spot in the finals. “It’s really nice to know that hard work does pay off.”
“I think I rushed everything. She’s got some great punches and is a (expletive) awesome fighter,” said Markos following the loss. “This was a great experience. It helped me get my name out there. Nobody knew anything about me. It’s just (expletive) hard. I’m not going to give up. I’ll be back stronger.”
The Finals Are Set
Esparza will face Namjunas on Dec. 12 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas for the UFC women’s strawweight championship. Penne and Markos will kick off the main card.