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The Downes Side: TUF 20 Finale Predictions

UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale, taking place Friday, December 12

That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for the first ever strawweight edition of The Downes Side! Speaking of straws, grasp at them no longer! Instead, use them to drink up all the knowledge the Nostradamus of MMA has to offer. Or use them to drink a delicious NOS (proud sponsor of The Ultimate Fighter).

Live this Friday, from the Palm Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, the UFC closes out the historic twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter. In the main event of the evening, we will crown the first ever women’s strawweight champion as Rose Namajunas fights former Invicta FC champion Carla Esparza. For the co-main event of the night, top 15-ranked featherweights Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira try to climb their way back up the 145-pound ladder (N.B. the ladder does not actually weigh 145 pounds).


We open in the women’s strawweight division with Jessica Penne and Randa Markos. After making it to the semifinal round of the tournament, Penne couldn’t find an answer for Carla Esparza’s striking. A long striker who focuses on her straight punches, Penne also possesses high level jiu-jitsu. Another semifinalist, Markos was eliminated by a Rose Namajunas kimura.

Both of these fighters’ strengths lie in their grappling. Penne does have a great reach for the weight class, but she tends to paw her jab out and leave openings for counter attacks. Markos displays a lot of aggression on her feet, but uses her strikes primarily as a way to move in for the takedown. Penne may have the technical superiority, but Markos makes up for it with tenacity and relentlessness. She can be wild on the feet, but Penne hasn’t shown the fluidity with her hands to make her pay for it. Randa comes out strong, hits the takedown and repeats for three rounds. The “Quiet Storm” wins by decision.


We shift gears to the men’s lightweight division for Joe Proctor and Yancy Medeiros. Holding two straight wins over Cristiano Marcello and Justin Salas, TUF 15 veteran Joe Proctor is a submission grappler that’s been improving his striking. After a first-round submission loss to Jim Miller, Medeiros came back with a submission win of his own over Damon Jackson at UFC 177.

Medeiros walks that fine line between aggression and recklessness. He has a lot of speed and power in his hands, but often overcommits and places himself in bad positions. The big question is, “Can Proctor make him pay for it?” My metaphorical money (the Palms took all my actual greenbacks) is on “No.” Medeiros wins by decision.


We stay at lightweight for KJ Noons and Daron Cruickshank. After a rough streak that saw him lose five out of six fights, Noons has two straight wins over George Sotiropoulos and Sam Stout. A strong boxer with above average takedown defense, nine of his career wins have come by TKO. Fighting for the fifth time this year, the “Detroit Superstar” Cruickshank draws from his taekwondo background to bring a dynamic striking attack to the table.

I’m fairly certain that Noons isn’t scared, homie. He should, however, be concerned. He has great boxing and defensive wrestling, but he often finds himself flat footed. He’s tried to add more of a kicking game to his arsenal, but his first focus is boxing. Cruickshank doesn’t have a lot of power in his hands, but he does use them to set up devastating head kicks. He’ll attack at different levels, confuse Noons and close it out with a second round TKO.


We drop to featherweight for Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira. After years middling at lightweight, Jeremy Stephens found a lot of early success after dropping down to 145 pounds. A decision loss to Cub Swanson stopped some of that momentum, but he can regain a lot of it with a win here. After two straight losses to Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar, Oliveira responded with two submission wins over Andy Ogle and Hatsu Hioki.

Oliveira likes to attack from the clinch. It’s served him well in his previous two wins, but Ogle and Hioki don’t have the same type of physical power as Stephens. The “Lil’ Heathen” may be known for his striking, but he does have underrated wrestling. The gap between their jiu-jitsu may be dramatic, but Oliveira won’t be able to bring the fight to the ground. Stephens by unanimous decision.

The 1st ever 115lb champ will be decided tonight!!! TUF Finale LIVE on @FOXSports1! #TUFFinale #NewChamp
A video posted by Dana White (@danawhiteufc) on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:39am PST


Time for the main event! A former Invicta FC champion, Esparza used her wrestling background and unyielding pace to breeze through the tournament. Only 22 years old, “Thug” Rose Namajunas has made a lot of waves for only beginning her pro career in 2013. Known for her explosive striking, she actually submitted all of her opponents on the show to earn her spot in the finale. It’s not too often a “Cookie Monster” fights a “Thug.” Well, there was that one time on the short-lived Def Jam Sesame Street series, but I heard all those copies were buried somewhere in the Arizona desert.

The most telling fight on this season was Ezparza’s semifinal contest against Jessica Penne. She dominated from start to finish, but she showed a lot of holes in her striking. Specifically, she fell out of her stance after finishing her punch combos. Where Penne was unable to capitalize, Namajunas will. She’ll use a larger variety of kicking attacks which will stall her opponent’s advance. Esparza’s wrestling attack is something that Namajunas hasn’t had to deal with before, but the former Invicta FC champ won’t be able to maintain that pace. As she fatigues, Namajunas will see an opening, exploit it and lock up a second-round submission.

That wraps up another Downes Side totally absent of straw men. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own analysis, conjecture, forecasts and favorite things built from straw on the page here. While structurally unsound, I think the first little pig was on to something here.