Tonight witnessed the concluding episode of “The Ultimate Fighter” season 18 and fittingly, it was a fight between to solid female fighters, and a competitive bout at that.
The story and victor of the night turned out to be Jessica Rakoczy (Team Rousey).
Considered an underdog going into the fight, Rakoczy proved her doubters and detractors wrong, as she skillfully moved about the ring, demonstrating her championship boxing skills. Jessica’s opposite in the ring, Raquel Pennington (Team Tate), was out classed on the feet, as Rakoczy stepped in-and-out, both scoring and keeping range at the same time, while taking no discernable damage. On that point and to the point, there was no moment in the fight at which Pennington had Rakoczy in trouble or was she in danger of finishing the fight. In a nutshell, Pennington was never a real threat.
That said, Pennington had her moments and either challenged or could have challenged more, throughout the fight, which is to say, she was not dominated or pushed around. It would be fairer to say, that she opted to enforce a boxing based strategy, as against a world class boxer and paid for it.
When her stand-up was thwarted, Pennington switched it up to a clinch and takedown strategy, but to limited success. Yes, Raquel was able to get Jessica to the ground a few times; however, she failed to do anything with it once on the mat. Indeed to the contrary, she ate a number of Rakoczy’s defending shots for her efforts and alas, and by the tally of the judges’ cards (30 / 27 across the board), it was all to a losing cause.
However, a Pennington fan would argue that she flat out blew it. That she could have easily won that fight, but she failed to execute a game plan. To the point, Coach Tate and even Pennington herself would agree. The fighter hesitated, never found a rhythm and wasted a great deal of time securing takedowns that never went anywhere.
The fact of the matter was the Pennington had to turn this into a brawl and not a boxing match. To the specific, she needed to turn it into a kickboxing match, with the emphasis on kicking.
Raquel was having good success with her kicking game and the success of it was borne out in the redness on her opponent’s lead leg. Further, it might've even become apparent in her opponent becoming tentative in putting her weight on it. There for a bit at least, it did seem that way.
However, Raquel failed to push the issue. Every time she’d hit Jessica with some nice inside kicks to the knee, she’d relent and begin to trade hands with her advisory; as if there was some point to prove. More to the point, what was odd about the whole thing was that Pennington hurt her right hand (sprained?) in practice, and would have been well advised to turn this match into a kicking war, and not an affair of pugilism. To be honest, one has to wonder how many Team Tate fans / Pennington fans were watching the show, and yelling at the TV “kick, kick, kick”?
In review of Raquel’s performance, I think it might be fair to say that she blew it.
However and with that said, nothing should detract from Rakoczy’s performance in tonight’s show. In a word, she was great. Not only did she demonstrate he remarkable boxing skills, but also a significant takedown defense, as well as the ability to get back up and attack, throughout the process.
Further, she proved that she was coachable. Coach Rousey gave Jessica some sage advice prior to the match and it was this, “Be the capital and the period, on every exchange.” And that she was. She followed her coach’s advice to the letter. As such, she has the victory to show for it.
As a footnote of irony on this match the following should be noted:
That on Saturday night, when Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard square off in their trilogy bout, the drama and backstory all of which were borne out on TUF season five, 2007, it will be ironic, if, in the year 2019, likewise six years later, fans are watching a similar affair, between Rakoczy & Pennington.
Win or lose tonight for both of these fighters, and regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s finale bout between Julianna Peña & Jessica Rakoczy, it's most asuredly a fact that we haven't heard the last from from these three WMMA warriors.
As a final thought, its fair, fitting and dramatically stage setting, for their December 28th showdown in Las Vegas, that both coaches placed two fighters in the show’s finale. It’s even more fitting that it would be both a woman and a man.
Saturday’s show promises to be a lot of fun, particularly for those fans that have followed TUF throughout its season.
The final bouts for Saturday night’s FOX telecast are as follows:
Julianna Peña (Team Tate) vs. Jessica Rakoczy (Team Rousey)
Chris Holdsworth (Team Tate) vs. David Grant (Team Rousey)