This is it...the final episode! They saved the ladies fight for the last episode (even though it was actually the first semifinal fight that happened, so seeing things go down in this order on the show was kind of weird). And we were rewarded with technical striking match between two great fighters.
My thoughts going into this fight were very mixed. Raquel and I had fought barely two weeks prior, and for both of us, the damage of that battle was only just starting to heal. I knew that Raquel was banged up from our fight, She was struggling with some injuries, and they were affecting her training. I also knew that Jessica Rakoczy was still nursing an injury she received in her fight to get in the house that had affected her training from Day 1.
This made things interesting when it comes to the fight. It made it more of a mental thing.
Almost every fighter that steps into the cage on fight day is dealing with some sort of injury. Sometimes, injuries are minor; sometimes, they are major, but it's part of the sport. With experience, you learn how to deal with those obstacles and train to your full potential.
Physically, I felt that Raquel had the advantage in this fight. On the ground, I felt that she had the advantage. Standing, I felt that Rakoczy had the advantage. She may be one of the smaller 135ers, but she's a professional boxer with almost 40 fights and eight world titles. She hits hard, hits fast and has superb accuracy.
However, this advantage can be taken away by a fighter who has superior wrestling and ground work, and I was sure that Raquel's strategy going into this fight would be to take it to the ground right away and just smother Rakoczy. We worked a lot with Jessica on getting back to her feet, defending the takedown and using her superior speed and footwork to keep the fight in the range she wanted.
That's exactly what she did.
Jessica made Raquel fight in her range and on her rhythm. She was calm and composed and never lost focus. Despite having a serious shoulder injury, she went out there and fought exactly the fight she needed to to win. She never let the fact that she could barely throw her right hand affect her strategy and her composure going into the match.
This is where I felt like Raquel struggled. She was injured and hesitant, which affected her performance. This isn't to say that if Raquel hadn't been injured that she would have necessarily won the fight, but it certainly played into the fact that she clearly wasn't fighting like herself that day.
I couldn't have been more proud or happy for Jessica. She truly deserves this, and Ronda Rousey wasn't kidding when she said that Rakoczy was the most improved fighter on the show. It was an amazing thing to see a fighter with so much experience and seasoning still find ways to grow and evolve.
So that leaves us with the first overall pick fighting the last overall pick for the title of the first female Ultimate Fighter. Call me biased, but I believe 100 percent that Jessica Rakoczy is going to beat Julianna Pena and take that title on Saturday night.
She's a better striker than Pena in all aspects. I also think that her ground game is severely underrated. She's scrappy and never stops moving, and she's had many months to prepare for this fight in optimum conditions. Her experience will help her here. She knows exactly what she needs to do to win this fight and what it takes to be a champion.
So you heard it here first—get on the #TeamRakoczy train right now and be prepared to see history in the making as she becomes the first female Ultimate Fighter.
Not only that, but you will get to see yours truly make an official UFC debut! It was announced on Monday that I'm fighting Peggy Morgan on the main card of the finale.
This is a matchup that I'm extremely excited for. I actually thought I was going to have to fight Peggy to get into the house. When we both won our elimination fights, I thought, "We will definitely fight on the show," and then we ended up on the same team. After Peggy and I lost our preliminary fights in the house, we actually had a conversation one morning over coffee about how we both had a strong feeling we would be fighting each other on the finale.
Peggy and I are homies. We trained together every day. Because of our size, it was convenient for us to be regular training partners. We lived together for six weeks. Cut weight together. Slept in beds right next to each other. As I've said before, everyone on Team Rousey bonded during our experience on the show.
We were a family.
When we all talked about getting the "Every Single Second" tattoo after the show, Peggy and I were the first to get them as soon as we got home. We even got them in the same spot: a script band around our forearms.
However, we are also both fighters. We have the same dream and goals in this sport. I would rather fight people I like. I feel like it brings out the best in you. Anger and hate don't cloud your performance. Peggy and I were friends before this fight, and we will be friends after, and I have nothing but respect for dear Pegatron.
I know that she's going to bring her very best against me, and I'm going to do the same. But make no mistake: We are both coming for blood on Saturday night.
Note: All quotes and material were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report through a one-on-one between Jessamyn Duke and Bleacher Report's Riley Kontek.
**Tune in Saturday to watch the live conclusion of The Ultimate Fighter 18. Also, we at Bleacher Report would like to thank Jessamyn Duke for partnering with us to produce this excellent series of reflections on the show!