The Ultimate Fighter 18: Previewing All 8 Female Fighters Who Made the Show
The premiere of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate has come and gone and fans have gotten their first taste of what this season's competitors are capable of. The women we will see in the house this season are as follows:
Shayna Baszler (15-8 professional record)
Jessamyn Duke (2-0 (1) professional record, 5-2 amateur record)
Peggy Morgan (2-0 professional record, 2-0 amateur record)
Jessica Rakoczy (1-3 (1) professional record, 31-3 boxing record)
Julianna Pena (4-2 professional record, 2-0 amateur record)
Sarah Moras (3-1 professional record, 3-0 amateur record)
Raquel Pennington (3-3 professional record, 7-1 amateur record)
Roxanne Modafferi (15-10 professional record)
For most fans, these eight ladies are a total mystery. That's where we come in.
Welcome to our guide to TUF18's women's division. Provided is an in-depth look at each woman, their experience, fighting style, strengths, weaknesses and chances on the show.
Here, you can better acquaint yourself with the historic cast that spent six long weeks together in Las Vegas. Learn the highs and lows of this crew, and get prepared for a sure-to-be exciting season of the long-running reality show.
At 5'11”, Jessamyn Duke has a substantial height and reach advantage over most 135-pound female fighters. She knows how to make the most of it too, using her length to land biting knees in the clinch and locking up Stefan Struve-like submissions on the ground.
Watching her, she is clearly still a work in progress. However, at age 26 and looking over what she's shown so far, she is among the top prospects in women's MMA. It was this high ceiling that made her a valuable commodity for Invicta FC, who signed her to fight in three of their events.
She showed off both of her strengths in her fight to get into the house, working her opponent in the clinch before locking up a tight triangle choke and forcing a first-round tapout. As stated though, she isn't quite complete as a mixed martial artist. She has shown some weakness in her striking, and she seems to lack speed in scrambles on the ground.
While she has the tools to beat a lot of people right now, she will be a bit susceptible against the savvy veterans in the house. Even so, if she can hone her physical gifts, she could very easily end up being a major player on TUF and at the top of women's MMA for years to come. The fact that her fight was shown in its entirety would agree with that.
You can check out her two Invicta FC victories here and here.
In terms of pure striking, Jessica Rakoczy is likely the best in all of women's MMA. She owns an impressive 33-3 professional boxing record, and is ranked as the fifth-best super bantamweight in the world. She is the current WBC lightweight champion.
That extensive boxing experience got her woefully overmatched early on in her MMA career, fighting Team Quest's Michelle Ould in her MMA debut, followed by a fight with Bellator women's champion Zoila Gurgel and then kickboxing ace Fellice Herrig. She got a win on the board by beating Jennifer Scott into retirement (though that win was turned to a No Contest after failing a post-fight drug test due to pain killers taken for a back injury), and followed that up by knocking out Kristen Gatz.
Any boxer that transitions into MMA will always have their grappling skills questioned. While she didn't dominate her first TUF opponent, Revelina Berto (who comes from a grappling background), she showed some solid submission defense. Take that, add in her ability to deliver absurdly quick combinations out of the clinch and sprinkle in the likely best gas tank of anybody on the show (not excluding Rousey and Tate) and you have a serious dark horse to end up in the finals.
Looking past TUF, however, her potential is somewhat limited. At 36 years old, there is a clock hovering over her, counting down towards retirement.
Still, there's no reason she can't end up being the women's equivalent of Dan Severn or Randy Couture. You can check out one of her boxing matches here, and watch her most recent MMA fight here.
With Jessamyn Duke, I stipulated that she “has a substantial height and reach advantage over most 135-pound female fighters”. The 6'1” Peggy Morgan is one of the few exceptions.
Morgan, perhaps wrongly, is best known for the miniature feud between her management and transgender fighter Fallon Fox, rather than being one of the strongest women fighting at 145 lbs. Now fighting at 135 lbs, she has the distinction of being the most physically-imposing fighter in her weight class.
Her TUF fight with Bethany Marshall showed this off nicely, as she almost literally shrugged off the takedowns of the 125-pound Marshall, stepped into mount position and threw a boatload of strikes. She has used that raw power to bully many of her opponents thus far, similar to Yushin Okami.
The big problem with Morgan is that she doesn't use her length nearly as well as she could (or even as well as Jessamyn Duke). She hasn't yet demonstrated the sort of bait-and-switch submissions that lanky fighters like Nate Diaz own. She has yet to demonstrate any sort of Jon Jones-like reach-focused kickboxing.
Granted, comparing somebody with just two professional fights to technically excellent fighters like Diaz and Jones is a bit unfair. Even so, she is perhaps the most unrefined contestant on the show. Technique isn't everything, though, because she already has the gifts to beat many, many 135-pound women with her size alone, and will be very capable of tossing around the should-be-flyweights in the house.
You can check out her amateur MMA debut here.
Looking down the list of women set to appear on TUF, there were a few names that seriously popped out. The 15-10 Roxanne Modafferi was one of them.
A 10-year veteran of professional MMA, Modafferi has stepped into the cage with some incredibly formidable opponents. Former Strikeforce champions Marloes Coenen and Sarah Kaufman, current UFC competitor Rosi Sexton and fellow TUF18 contenders Shayna Baszler and Tara LaRosa all appear on her record.
She used that experience to handily demolish TriStar product Valerie Letourneau in her debut fight, working her to the ground and submitting her without issue. Almost unfortunately, her ground savvy actually prevented her from showing off the striking skills that she used to out-point opponents early in her career. What is perhaps most impressive out of all of this, though, is that Modafferi achieved this level of skill fighting part-time.
While the live-and-breath-nothing-else training of TUF could very well hone her into a wrecking machine, she is going to be sacrificing a size advantage to many women in the UFC. Modafferi is trim and lean at bantamweight, and has most consistently found success at flyweight. This was best shown in her fight against Kaufman in Strikeforce, who bullied her in the clinch before scoring a big slam KO.
That works against her this season, as she will be facing some formidable competition that cuts a lot of weight to make 135 pounds. Her sheer experience, though, makes her a scary opponent for anybody in the house.
You can check out some of her classic fights on her YouTube channel here.
Raquel Pennington comes from a boxing background, but you wouldn't know it by looking at her record. Combining her amateur and professional records, she has 10 wins with six coming by submission and one by TKO via knees.
Framed in that, her strengths and weaknesses are precisely what you would expect. She demonstrates legitimate ferocity, has incredibly heavy hands and owns grappling skills that are good enough to keep her from being a constant lay-and-pray victim. On the flipside, we've seen her get out-worked by wrestlers on a few occasions now.
That said, the sky is the limit for Pennington, who is as gritty and tough as any female fighter out there right now, which she showed in both Invicta FC, and in her fight to get into the house against wily veteran Tonya Evinger. At age 24 with the raw skill she already possesses, she could very easily become an enduring star for the UFC.
With her tenacity, she can very easily be favored over many of her fellow castmates. She does, however, find herself at a definite stylistic disadvantage to both Shayna Baszler (whose fearsome catch-wrestling would likely be too much to handle at this point) and Jessica Rakoczy (who is a world-class female boxer).
That said, she could very easily work her way to the finals, and take home that trophy. You can check out her victory over now-teammate Sarah Moras at Invicta FC 2 here.
Shayna Baszler, like Roxanne Modafferi, is a fighter who has already been there and done that. This is somebody who has faced Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Sarah Kaufman, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis (twice), Julie Kedzie and Tara LaRosa. It was this experience that got Baszler picked early by Ronda Rousey.
A long-time protege of heavyweight veteran Josh Barnett, Baszler has been one of the scariest submission artists in women's MMA for years now. She has been so scary, in fact, she was forced to take 2011 off because of three opponents withdrawing from fights.
The knock against Baszler is that, in spite of her solid camp, she has always struggled against top competition. The vast majority of her losses come from the aforementioned fighters. Her only win against that lot was in her first fight against Alexis Davis.
Still, you can't imitate experience, and "The Queen of Spades" has plenty of well-honed skill to go along with it. Baszler can easily go deep into the season, and should be regarded as the favorite to win it all. Her presence could very well end up being a Roy Nelson-esque “why did somebody like this even have to fight on TUF?” situation.
You can check out her victory over Invicta mainstay Sarah D'Alelio here.
In terms of making a strong first impression, Julianna Pena probably sent chills down the spine of everyone who saw her first fight. She came out, and likely made Gina Mazany regret ever putting on gloves. It was that lopsided beatdown that got her the honor of being the first overall pick of the season.
Pena is a downright fearsome finisher, and has kept the judges out of the picture in all four of her professional wins. As with many fighters on the show, however, she is a true flyweight that will be sacrificing a size edge to many fighters in the house.
The greatest thing she has shown in her game thus far is her grappling, which she expertly uses to maintain top position over wounded opponents. Her striking is highly unrefined, but what she lacks in technique, she compensates for with a pure desire to hurt her opponent.
That said, her lack of size combined with spotty striking will put her at a serious disadvantage against many TUF competitors on paper. While she may become a solid, polished contender with some time, she finds herself against the almost-unanimous favorite to win, Shayna Baszler, in the very first fight of the show.
That's a tough challenge, but we'll have to see if she can pull off the upset. You can check out her most recent professional win here.
Most people who saw the list of TUF contenders probably read over Tara Larosa's name and instantly thought “well, there's your winner.” Imagine the surprise when Sarah Moras ended up beating her, seemingly with ease. It's possible she had a bit of help from the editors, but walking away with a win over somebody as savvy as Larosa is a huge accomplishment regardless.
Moras owns a 3-1 professional record (3-0 in amateur fights). Two of those professional fights actually come opposite her fellow Team Tate members. She beat first overall pick Julianna Pena by TKO via doctor stoppage, but her lone loss came from Raquel Pennington at Invicta FC 2.
“Cheesecake” trains with the Toshido Mixed Martial Arts gym, original home to Rory MacDonald before he moved to TriStar, and is a former training partner of current UFC fighter Rosi Sexton. Her primary strength lies in her ground game, which she has used to either submit or pound out most of her opponents.
She is a legitimate talent, but it remains to be seen how impressive her grappling really is. While she went as far as to say she wants to fight Ronda Rousey after making it into the house, her loss to Pennington makes it tough to gauge how she would hold up against her opponents in the house.
You can check out her most recent fight, a win over Christina Barry, here, as well as the previously linked loss to Pennington here.