TUF 20: Scouting Report for Every Fighter
Last week, The Ultimate Fighter 20 cast was revealed at the UFC Expo in Las Vegas. Although we already knew the first eight participants, we were shown the other eight ladies set to join the cast on one of the most anticipated seasons of the show ever.
Coached by Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, the show will crown the first 115-pound women's champion. Of the 16 ladies on the cast, six are in Bleacher Report's top-15 rankings.
Not familiar with all the ladies on the cast? Here is an early scouting report on all 16 competitors.
Camp: Dinky Ninjas
Record: 8-0 (4 KO)
Style: Muay Thai
Strengths: Vicious knees and kicks; good takedown defense
Right now, Joanne Calderwood may be one of the favorites to win the season. She is arguably the best striker on the show and has been successful with a strong strength of schedule.
Despite being a pro since just 2012, Calderwood has dominated her opposition. Her muay thai attack has been the forefront of her dominance, utilizing incredible knees and kicks to batter opponents.
Her ground game has not been completely tested, especially from the bottom. She has shown solid takedown defense, but she really hasn't faced a power wrestler that can test her yet. Also, dragging Calderwood into deep waters could be a test to her cardio.
Her latest win over Katja Kankaanpaa really showed she belongs in the top five in the world. Ladies on the show should be advised that a battle on the feet with Calderwood could result in unconsciousness or intolerable pain in the body.
Camp: VT-1 Gym
Record: 4-1 (2 KO, 1 SUB)
Strengths: Good knockout power; easy weight cut/maintenance
One thing is certain about Alex Chambers: she will be happy not to be cutting a bunch of weight on the show.
Chambers, a normal atomweight, moves up to 115 for her chance at the six-figure UFC contract and UFC gold. It's something that will allow her to not drain herself keeping her weight down, potentially giving her more energy come fight time.
Chambers is a striker who has good hand speed, solid punching power and good technique. Her knockout of Mika Nagano was especially brutal, clipping her with a devastating knee and putting her away with follow-up punches.
Her ground game is underrated as well. Though she was tapped out by a superior Mizuki Inoue, she was able to score a rear-naked choke win over Jodie Esquibel in her Invicta debut.
She is definitely going to be an underdog this season, but she could surprise some people. She just needs to stay away from women with good offensive wrestling.
Camp: Xtreme Couture
Record: 6-4 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Strengths: Great size and strength; good top pressure and ground-and-pound
Heather Clark is a former hockey player. Boy, does she fight like it too.
Clark is a brawler with good takedowns and top position. She is able to batter her opponents from the top with heavy punches and elbows.
She is also a very large strawweight. That will help her overmatch opponents with her strength; however, it could affect her in long fights as she will have to keep her weight down. That could drain her.
She also has a heated rivalry with Felice Herrig, who will be in the house. The two fought in Bellator, where Clark battled through a broken arm early to drop a very close decision. It's a fight she likely wants to revisit.
She will be another dark horse in this competition but could earn fans with her ability to ruffle feathers.
Camp: SBG Ireland
Record: 14-5 (5 KO, 7 SUB)
Strengths: Great grappling, transitions and submissions; very experienced
There are two girls I heard were incredibly impressive at the TUF tryouts. One was Jessica Penne and the other was Irish veteran Aisling Daly.
That should come as no surprise. Daly is a longtime vet of the sport with some great grappling prowess, awesome transitions and slick submission ability.
Her strength of schedule has been very strong in the second half of her career as well. She has stepped in the cage with the likes of UFC vets Rosi Sexton, Sheila Gaff and Jessica Eye, as well as Invicta champ Barb Honchak, Katja Kankaanpaa and castmate Lisa Ellis.
Her striking has improved in working at SBG Ireland, but her striking is more applicable when throwing punches from top position. Don't be fooled, she's a grappler through and through.
She can make a good run on the show if she takes a route against girls whose ground games aren't up to par.
Camp: United Training Center
Record: 15-8 (11 SUB)
Strengths: Very experienced; great arm and leglocks
If you want to talk about veterans of the sport who have been around the block a few times, Lisa Ellis is the epitome of that. She has been a pro for over a decade and has fought everybody you can think of from established vets to prospects.
Ellis, who is the wife of TUF 16 competitor Eddy Ellis, is understandably well-rounded since she has been fighting since 2004. That said, her grappling is light years ahead of her striking, as showcased by her 11 career submissions in 15 wins.
She had been fighting at atomweight in her latest bouts, but she hasn't competed in two years because she was pregnant and had a child recently. That means she could have some serious ring rust and conditioning could be a potential problem, though I am sure she has been back in the gym since giving birth.
Experience can be huge in the TUF house. That means Ellis holds an edge over many of the other ladies.
Camp: Team Oyama
Record: 9-2 (3 KO, 3 SUB)
Strengths: Great takedowns and top control; heavy ground-and-pound
Invicta strawweight champion Carla Esparza is another favorite coming into the season. That's obviously because she is the champion coming into the show and a top-three fighter in the world at 115.
There's no secret to Esparza's game. She is an All-American wrestler from Menlo College and uses that background heavily in fights.
Her ground-and-pound from the top is nasty, and she suffocates opponents with her heavy positioning. She is like a wet blanket when on top, not allowing opponents the opportunity to get back to their feet.
She owns victories over two housemates already in Felice Herrig and Bec Rawlings. Plus, when you look at Esparza's only two career losses, they come to the two best 115ers in WMMA history in Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii.
She is as legit as they come.
Camp: Team Curran
Record: 9-5 (1 KO, 2 SUB)
Style: Muay Thai
Strengths: Good physical strength and dirty boxing; underrated top game
Felice Herrig may be one of the most popular fighters coming into the show because of her social media status and her outgoing personality. That is also the reason fighters have been calling her out throughout her career.
Herrig is a muay thai striker who was a professional kickboxer before entering MMA. Since entering MMA, she has hooked up with Jeff Curran and his team in Illinois, where she has really worked hard to improve her ground game.
She is still susceptible to takedowns and being held down, but she has also improved her wrestling to a point that she is willing to take down her opponent. In fact, when on top, Herrig has very good ground-and-pound, including vicious elbows.
She is also solid in the clinch due to her muay thai skills and physical strength. She has good uppercuts and hooks from the clinch while throwing knees to the legs and body to soften up her opponent.
She will be sharing the house with massive rival Heather Clark, whom Herrig holds a win over in Bellator. That could make for some very interesting TV.
Camp: Evolution Muay Thai
Record: 1-0 (1 KO)
Style: Muay Thai
Strengths: Powerful and athletic; good kicks; small weight cut
If there is an underdog of underdogs this season, Angela Hill has to be that lady. She is just 1-0 as a pro MMA fighter, though she has a very reputable muay thai kickboxing background.
Her muay thai skills are sick, though she will have some competition for best muay thai striker from other ladies such as Joanne Calderwood, Justine Kish and Felice Herrig. She is quick, athletic and explosive, which sets her apart from many who stand opposite from her in the cage.
Her ground game is untested, which could be her biggest bugaboo here. She hasn't been working MMA as long as many of the other ladies and could find herself exposed if put on her back.
That said, she fought at atomweight before the show, so she could be another that doesn't have to cut much weight. That could make her more fresh, which is important in a short series of fights like this.
Camp: Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA
Strengths: Good takedowns and top position
Emily Kagan will be one of the lesser-known fighters coming into this show. That could play into her favor, though, as she may be tougher to game-plan.
Kagan is a grinder who gets great training and training partners out in New Mexico with Greg Jackson's camp. It has allowed her to be successful as both a pro and an amateur.
She is not a finisher, though. That is something that is troubling, especially in a house full of knockout artists and submission stylists. She will need to find her finishing ways if she plans to be successful in the house.
She is also known for her close fights. She owns four split-decision wins in 11 pro and amateur fights, with all of them being able to go either way.
She is definitely a big underdog this season.
Camp: Black House
Record: 4-0 (2 SUB)
Style: Muay Thai
Strengths: Powerful and technical striker; underrated submission game
Resurrection Fighting Alliance has a great eye for talent. That is no exception when it came to them showcasing Justine Kish, a champion muay thai striker who has worked at Black House to make her MMA transition smoother.
Kish is an unnoticed favorite going into this season. Most fans are focused on Tecia Torres, Joanne Calderwood and Carla Esparza, but Kish is incredibly skilled and will use this show to get herself into the spotlight.
Her striking is excellent. Her kicks and punches are beautiful technique-wise, and she has power to hurt girls with those strikes.
She also has an unheralded ground game. Though she is a striker, half of her pro wins come via submission against some tough opposition.
Take my word for it: Kish is talented and will be a contender to win the season. She is that good and will make you a believer.
Camp: Phuket Top Team
Record: 11-6 (2 KO, 6 SUB)
Strengths: Good top position; armbar is go-to move; good strength of schedule
Angela Magana is going into TUF with some people not liking her. She is a personality who has drawn ire from other female fighters since her time on Ultimate Women's Challenge.
Outside of her personal relationships, Magana is a veteran who has moved her training camp to Phuket, Thailand, to tighten up her striking. She still has a way to go in that regard, but her grappling is solid enough to make her competitive.
The seven-year veteran loves using the armbar on the ground. Her takedowns are good, and she can achieve mount and snag an arm from there.
She will definitely rev some engines in the house. That could cause her to be a common target of people looking for a fight in the cage (or outside).
Camp: Maximum Training Centre
Record: 4-1 (3 SUB)
Strengths: Slick grappling; tough as nails; armbar is go-to move
The only Canadian in the house, Randa Markos enters the show on the strength of a win that erased her only career loss. That loss was to housemate Justine Kish.
Markos is tough as nails. She took a great deal of punishment in her bout against Kish and never quit. In fact, she stayed in the fight and was constantly looking to get the finish when possible.
Her best work is done on the ground. She has some slick techniques on the ground, including the armbar, which is her go-to move. All but one of her pro wins came via submission, showing that opponents may want to avoid the mat with her.
She is definitely another underdog in the house. However, it's not always the best person who wins TUF, it's the one who peaks at the right time and is in great fight shape.
Camp: The Academy
Record: 2-1 (2 SUB)
Strengths: Technical striking with good kicks; flying submission artist
"Thug" Rose Namajunas could become a breakout star on the show. She already has a cult following due to her status as being Pat Barry's girlfriend and her fun personality.
Namajunas is a striker by trade, performing martial arts from a young age. She has great kicks to the legs and head, which may be overshadowed by the fact that there are a lot of strikers on this cast.
She is also known for performing a flying submission out of nowhere. In fact, the flying armbar is one of her favorite techniques in MMA. She even has a victory in Invicta over Kathina Catron via flying armbar.
Her inexperience is going to be her biggest detriment. However, she is not the only inexperienced girl in the house, so it may not be that big of a deal.
She is definitely a dark horse in this tournament.
Camp: Reign MMA/Kings MMA
Record: 11-2 (2 KO, 7 SUB)
Strengths: Great grappling and submission; underrated standup; smaller weight cut
Jessica Penne was the other very impressive showing at the TUF tryouts. Her grappling really stood out, as she dominated who she rolled with.
She is very strong, especially for a girl who has been competing at 105 pounds. In fact, she was the Invicta atomweight champion until she lost it in one of the best WMMA fights I have ever seen against Michelle Waterson.
She works with Rafael Cordeiro on her striking, which is grossly underrated. She can bang on the feet, as she may be one of the more well-rounded girls on the cast.
She was a massive 105er, so her weight cut could still be in effect to 115. That said, saving 10 pounds during that weight cut will make her feel more fresh and energized throughout her fighting experience on the show.
Penne could be considered a favorite. She is that well-rounded and that good.
Camp: Gamebred Combat Club
Record: 5-3 (1 KO, 3 SUB)
Strengths: Granite chin; aggressive grappling skill; wild, powerful punches
Bec Rawlings will be another fun personality on the show. She already has a cult following in the MMA community because she is fun, interesting and a social media darling.
Rawlings has one thing that you cannot teach: heart. In watching her fight against Carla Esparza, she took a severe beating but never quit and was always looking to finish the fight.
She can take a serious shot as well. Her chin is one of the better chins in the 115-pound division, meaning she can take damage to dish out damage of her own.
The one concerning thing is her strength of schedule. I think Rawlings is a tad overrated because of her resume. She hasn't really beat any stars and has faltered when stepping up in competition.
This show will be great for Rawlings, as it will allow for her to get reps with world-class coaches and continue to evolve her ever-improving game.
Camp: American Top Team
Strengths: Physically strong and technically sound; jack of all trades
A martial artist from a very young age, Tecia Torres has used her lifelong fighting experiences to turn into a very successful professional fighter. Not only is she undefeated as a pro, but she was 7-0 as an amateur against notables such as Amber Stautzenberger, Sarah McLeod and Ashley Greenway.
Torres has an impressive resume in just four pro fights. She has wins over castmates Felice Herrig and Rose Namajunas already, which could be a psychological advantage going into this series. She also has a win over UFC signee Paige VanZant, showing that Torres is another front-runner to win the show.
On the feet, she is technically sound and quick. She does not have the most power in the world, but she accumulates damage throughout the fight and never lets her opponent breathe.
On the ground, she is most comfortable controlling from the top and throwing ground-and-pound. She is not the most prolific submission artist, so don't be shocked if she isn't finishing the fight with a choke or joint lock.
The one problem with Torres is she doesn't finish fights. You can dominate people all you want, but if you let a fighter stick around, there is always the opportunity to get finished by even making one mistake.
All in all, though, Torres is a fighter to watch out for here.
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