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Shayna Baszler vs. Julianna Pena
The Ultimate Fighter season 18 kicked off last week, and if there's one thing we learned for sure - the women are going to bring the fire this year.
For the first time ever in Ultimate Fighter history, the ladies came into TUF with a mission to prove to UFC president Dana White and everybody else watching at home that they belonged.
Through eight matchups in the elimination round, every female fighter went out there with something to prove and the final cast list is stacked with contenders.
So with the first choice in the fight selections at her control, coach Ronda Rousey threw down the gauntlet by choosing her No. 1 pick Shayna Baszler to take on coach Miesha Tate's No. 1 pick Julianna Pena in the opening round Wednesday night.
While several veteran fighters (Tara LaRosa, Tonya Evinger) did fail to make it into the house, Baszler suffered no such letdown, as she looked extremely impressive in her first fight and became the instant favorite to win the show.
Baszler is a true veteran of the women's MMA fight scene and a legit bantamweight fighter who has fought at 135 pounds for most of her career. Her record is littered with top ten names and she is a submission specialist who trains under UFC heavyweight Josh Barnett.
Baszler is like a pitbull in the cage, and when she smells blood she knows how to get the finish. She's won 13 of her 15 career fights by submission, and has only one decision victory to her credit.
On the other side of the table is Tate's first pick and training partner Julianna Pena.
Pena was a fighter that may have surprised some with her performance in the opening fight, where she dominated Gina Mazany, but Tate knew her teammate could get the job done. Pena is a fighter that has typically competed at 125 pounds in the past, but she's a strong fighter with a solid wrestling base and, as we saw in her first fight, some devastating ground and pound skills as well.
The biggest issue is that Pena might be one of the underdog picks to do very well in the show, but she got the spotlight put on her Day One when Tate chose her No. 1 overall to represent her team. Tate certainly has faith in her training partner, but she may have chosen with her heart over her head in terms of talent and experience going into the competition.
Rousey obviously recognized that fact and immediately chose her top pick Baszler to face Pena in the first fight on the show.
Pena is a very aggressive fighter, as she showed in her first fight, but that could be a recipe for disaster against somebody like Baszler, who not only has the craftiness to turn that style against her, but finish the fight from anywhere on the mat. Pena also has to know that while she was the No. 1 pick on Team Tate, Baszler didn't end up as the No. 1 pick on Team Rousey by accident.
Now there is a paramount kind of pressure that comes along with being the top choice, but Baszler carries her experience into the show in a similar way that John Dodson did in season 14 and Roy Nelson did in season 10 - they've been to the show, they've seen the lights, now it's just time to earn the spot.
Expect Baszler to come out on top here, potentially with a first round submission.