On Wednesday, Dec. 10, the UFC aired the 12th and final episode of the 20th season of its famed reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
The show is serving as a title tournament for the first time in its history, showcasing the 115-pound, women’s strawweight division.
The roster for The Ultimate Fighter 20 started to take shape late last year when the promotion announced its acquisition of a number of strawweight fighters from the Invicta FC roster, including reigning champion Carla Esparza, unbeaten Tecia Torres, Bellator veteran Felice Herrig, undefeated Scottish fighter Joanne Calderwood, Australians Bec Rawlings and Alex Chambers, Rose Namajunas and Emily Kagan. On April 28, the UFC held tryouts to find eight additional cast members who would join the Invicta imports and round out the field of 16 on the show. On July 3, the promotion revealed those additions: Heather Jo Clark, Aisling Daly, Lisa Ellis, Angela Hill, Justine Kish, Angela Magana, Randa Markos and Jessica Penne.
The season filmed for six weeks beginning in July. The season was coached by former Strikeforce champion and UFC title challenger Gilbert Melendez and current lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Pettis and Melendez will fight for the 155-pound title following the show’s conclusion.
For the show’s opening round fights, the fighters were ranked from No. 1 to No. 16 by UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby and matched accordingly.
*Due to the ACL injury suffered by No. 9-ranked Justine Kish, Kish and Torres switched teams.
For the first semifinal bout, No. 1 seed Carla Esparza took on her Team Pettis teammate Jessica Penne.
The pair wasted little time exchanging on the feet. Penne scored at range, but Esparza countered well with combinations. The right hand of Esparza found a home multiple times to slow Penne’s advance. With two minutes remaining in the round, Esparza sought and achieved her first takedown. However, Penne quickly scrambled back to her feet, absorbing a knee on the way up. Esparza continued to land her overhand right, turning the left side of Penne’s face red. Esparza scored with a double-leg takedown late in the frame.
Round two began with another big right hand from Esparza. Penne landed with her jab, causing the right eye of Esparza to swell. The volume increased as the round progressed, but it was Esparza that got the better of the exchanges. Esparza started to mix in leg kicks before earning another takedown in the center of the cage. She allowed Penne to return to her feet briefly before planting her on the mat once more. Penne was able to neutralize Esparza from her back, prompting the referee to bring the fight back to the feet. Despite the repeated right hands from Esparza, Penne’s forward march never waned.
In the final stanza, the pace slowed a bit, but Penne kept advancing. Esparza mixed elbows into her attack, but Penne was able to avoid them. Penne looked to clinch, but Esparza shrugged her aside. Esparza pinned Penne against the cage for a moment, but chose to disengage. Esparza’s output dipped dramatically in the final minute, as Penne’s jab found its mark over and over. Esparza cemented the win with a final takedown as time expired.
All three judges gave Esparza the nod, earning the first spot in the final.
The other semifinal bout saw Team Melendez’s Rose Namajunas lock horns with Team Pettis fighter Randa Markos.
Namajunas came out firing left hands. Markos flurried hard to close the distance. Namajunas scored a trip takedown along the fence. Markos tried to power into top position, but Namajunas maintained half guard. Markos scrambled free and worked into the half guard of Namajunas. Namajunas attacked the left arm of Markos with a kimura. Markos rolled but was forced to tap.
Esparza and Namajunas will fight for gold at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale on Dec. 12 in Las Vegas.