The Ultimate Fighter 18 is underway, and thus far we have seen nine female fights.
16 women went to Vegas to compete to get in the house, and there were some surprises in those preliminary bouts. Tough veterans such as Tara LaRosa and Tonya Evinger were ousted before they could get into the house.
Of the eight women who made the show Shayna Baszler was instantly marked as the woman to beat. Julianna Pena took out the favorite in the very first fight with a second-round rear-naked choke. The stunning defeat of Baszler made it a wide-open season for the ladies.
Who is the new favorite to win it all? If I were a betting man I would place my money on Jessamyn Duke.
If she is to win it all her path to victory will be difficult. Julianna Pena is already through to the next round, and Roxanne Modafferi is scheduled to fight Jessica Rakoczy on Wednesday's episode of TUF. That leaves her first-round opponent to be either Sarah Moras or Raquel Pennington. Two of the toughest women on Team Tate.
Should she win that fight, she will have eliminated one of the best women in the house.
Duke is one of the rangiest women in the sport, and she has long been one of the top prospects in the division. Being on Team Rousey was a blessing for her development as a fighter. It will be incredibly interesting to see her, and the rest of the cast as well, develop over the course of the season.
Three of Team Tate's female roster are strong, stout women. Pena, Moras and Pennington can do damage with hard strikes, and they have excellent bases on the ground. The other Team Tate fighter, Modafferi, is a natural flyweight who is more of a jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Modafferi is the best matchup for Duke to advance, but time will tell if she gets by Rakoczy to make that fight a possibility.
The remaining fighters on Team Rousey offer their own set of skills. Rakoczy is a talented boxer who is still working on her ground game, and Peggy Morgan is one of the most powerful women in the sport. Morgan also stands above the 5'11'' Duke at 6'1''.
One advantage for Duke and Team Rousey is that they don't have to alter their game plans that much for Team Tate, whereas there is more of a difference in Team Rousey's women for which to tailor specific game plans.
Duke is one of the fastest women in the house, and that will play to her advantage.
Duke's biggest threat may be her teammate Morgan. They would only meet in the semi-finals if all three Team Rousey ladies sweep the remaining quarter-final fights. A possibility, but certainly no guarantee.
Duke's well-rounded skills make her the most difficult to prepare for, and that bit of edge will help Duke advance deep into this tournament. The 27-year-old fighter will have the best chance to hoist the trophy in December.
The route to the finals will not be easy for anyone. As Pena showcased in the opening fight, this is a wide-open field. On any given day anyone can win. I just happen to think Duke will see more of those days than her competition.
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