The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale Results: The Real Winners and Losers
The second leg of a UFC triathlon of MMA fighting excellence went down Friday night from the Fight Capital of the World, fabulous Las Vegas.
Tonight, it was the finale of The Ultimate Fighter's 23rd season. And let me tell you, the two coaches this season? They don't like each other very much. Strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk has earned a large following for an extremely high-level muay thai game, which she pairs with swaggering gamesmanship. She's undefeated at 10-0, but her stiffest challenge to date was Claudia Gadelha. And you want to know something? Gadelha was the other TUF coach!
Jedrzejczyk escaped that fight, back in 2014, with a split decision. But she was taken down often in that fight, and it seems that experience still lingers. Gadelha has been equal and then some to the champion's intimidation tactics throughout the show, and the sparks have been flying and tantalizing all season.
Speaking of the season, the undefeated Khalil Rountree got an injury substitution and a technical knockout to make his way through the light heavyweight side of the bracket, and he'll face a tough opponent in Andrew Sanchez. On the women's strawweight side, Amanda Cooper takes on Tatiana Suarez.
There were nine other fights on the card as well, and as always, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers of the TUF 23 Finale.
For reference, full card results appear on the final slide.
Winner: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Jedrzejczyk is currently No. 12 on the UFC's official pound-for-pound rankings. And she...I mean, she's got to be higher.
If you weren't sure before Friday, you're sure now. The champion outlasted and outfought Gadelha to take a unanimous decision in their rematch and retain her strawweight title.
Give credit to Gadelha, who definitely won the first and maybe the second round. But Gadelha's gas tank began to empty, and even as it did, the champion diabolically, unmistakably began to up her attack.
In the championship rounds, Joanna's sizable edge in stamina made the difference, as did her hands, which are the fastest in the UFC. The swagger was there, too, as she turned away from a grounded Gadelha more than once, impatiently waving over her shoulder for the challenger to stand so she could punch her some more.
Toward the end, Gadelha was so tired she couldn't keep her hands up, and the champion pieced her up with punch combinations. Gadelha was game to the end, but when a fighter is exhausted, there's only so much she can do.
Who knows what's next for Joanna. Does it matter? Until further notice, she's competing against herself, and that's just fine.
Winner: Claudia Gadelha
Jedrzejczyk won going away, but Gadelha was still game to the end.
Her approach of hitting a takedown and holding the champ down while she worked ground-and-pound was effective early, but it burned through energy like dry kindling.
In the end, she was too exhausted to mount a credible defense. Hard to blame her, given the onslaught from Joanna.
Gadelha is still an excellent fighter, but with two losses now to Jedrzejczyk, she may not see another title shot for a while. But tonight she earned respect for taking at least one round from the champ and staying game until the end. If nothing else, she can console herself with the $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus she's sure to receive.
Loser: Will Brooks
True, Will Brooks won his UFC debut by unanimous decision. But it wasn't quite the statement he was probably hoping to make.
A significant favorite against Englishman Ross Pearson, the former Bellator champ fought conservatively, perhaps overthinking a bit at times. He did enough to score points but did not impose his will or seriously endanger Pearson.
Pearson then mounted a late comeback, pounding the body from close range and working uppercuts to which Brooks didn't seem to have a confident answer.
Brooks' long-range striking game and better wrestling and grappling won the day. And as Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting observed on Twitter: "Considering how often elite talent changing organizations fall wildly short of expectations, Brooks looking mostly good is huge achievement."
Fair enough. I'm not sure it justified a date with new lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, whom Brooks called out in the cage after the fight. In so doing, Brooks pointed to their mutual past in Bellator, where they never crossed paths. That call-out was smart but didn't exactly spread across social media like wildfire. Sort of the like the actual fight.
Winner: The Korean Superboy Doo Ho Choi
What I'd like to have right now is for everyone out there to give it up. Give it up for the newest member of the UFC official featherweight top-15 rankings, The Korean Superboy Doo Ho Choi.
The Superboy took care of business with extreme prejudice Friday, earning his third first-round knockout in three UFC appearances. This came as they all do: swiftly, powerfully, at the end of the thunder bolts The Superboy has where everyone else has only fists.
This one took a little longer than others, drawing out for an excruciating two minutes and 42 seconds. That was thanks to opponent Thiago Tavares, who worked takedowns and position grappling against the fence.
But it was to no avail. The Superboy returned to his feet, and he made Tavares pay.
"People think of Koreans as being humble," The Superboy told Jon Anik through a translator in the cage after the fight. "But once the fight starts, I'm full of confidence."
Indeed. The 25-year-old featherweight with the 13-year-old's looks and the comic-book hero's punching power is now 14-1 as a pro. Also after the fight, he called for the winner in the upcoming fight between Cub Swanson and Tatsuya Kawajiri. And you know what? If I'm a UFC matchmaker, I give it to him.
Loser: Viewers of the FS1 Prelims
Sorry, Fox Sports 1. The large majority of your undercards are perfectly fine. But with three UFC cards in three consecutive days, and with the UFC making a concerted effort to beef up its own Fight Pass offerings, and with an undistinguished variety pack of current and former TUF contestants pitching camp on the slate, the cupboard was a little sparse for your portion of the finale.
Silver lining: If you like low-output decisions, you were a pig in slop! First we had a unanimous decision, when Cezar Ferreira out-pawed Anthony Smith. Then there was a majority decision, when TUF season also-rans Josh Stansbury and Cory Hendricks did battle (Stansbury squeaked it out, with one judge calling it a draw). In the third match, someone named Matheus Nicolau took a split over former contender John Moraga in a fight that contained, by my own back-of-the-envelope calculation, four total strikes thrown.
In the undercard headliner, veteran Gray Maynard brought it all back home. In his featherweight debut, he brawled with Fernando Bruno for one round then control-grappled him for two en route to our old friend, the unanimous decision victory.
For the record, obviously a decision in itself doesn't mean the fight was bad. But these were bad. Hey, they can't all be gems. Here's to better days.
Winner: Kevin Lee
When 23-year-old underdog Kevin Lee pounded out 21-year-old favorite Jake Matthews inside the first round, he became the best young lightweight on the UFC's roster.
Matthews, who has fought as high as middleweight, appeared to have a size advantage on Lee. No matter. Lee was able to work his strong wrestling game and ply ground-and-pound to get a pretty one-sided stoppage.
The Australian, meanwhile, turtled up quickly, seeming almost stunned for some reason. In any case, he falls to 10-2 overall and 4-2 in the UFC. He's still a young and promising fighter and will probably recover from this setback.
Lee is now 13-2, including 6-2 in the UFC. Looks like The Motown Phenom is ready for a step up.
The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale Full Card Results
Joanna Jedrzejczyk def. Claudia Gadelha by unanimous decision (retains UFC strawweight championship)
Andrew Sanchez def. Khalil Rountree by unanimous decision (TUF 23 light heavyweight winner)
Tatiana Suarez def. Amanda Cooper by submission (D'arce choke), 3:43, Rd. 1 (TUF 23 strawweight winner)
Will Brooks def. Ross Pearson by unanimous decision
Doo Ho Choi def. Thiago Tavares by TKO, 2:42, Rd. 1
Joaquim Silva def. Andrew Holbrook by TKO, 0:34, Rd. 1
Gray Maynard def. Fernando Bruno by unanimous decision
Matheus Nicolau def. John Moraga by split decision
Josh Stansbury def. Cory Hendricks by majority decision
Cezar Ferreira def. Anthony Smith by unanimous decision
Kevin Lee def. Jake Matthews by TKO, 4:06, Rd. 1
Li Jingliang def. Anton Zafir by KO, 2:46, Rd. 1
Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more stuff like this, follow Scott on Twitter.