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It's going to be a Herculean task for the bantamweight men to bring the fire in their final two fights the way that Raquel Pennington and Jessamyn Duke brought the house down with their epic, back and forth, three round war of a week ago.
Pennington and Duke threw everything at each other - as well as the kitchen sink - over the course of 15 minutes. When it was over, Pennington stood proud as the victor, yet even in a moment of sportsmanship when coach Miesha Tate approached the opposing team offering to shake hands, she was met with the unfriendliest of greetings from Ronda Rousey, telling her that she's No. 1 (read between the lines on that one).
The women of The Ultimate Fighter have been nothing short of dazzling, and UFC president Dana White warned the men that they may end up being outshined by the ladies, and those words have been nothing short of prophetic for what we've seen so far.
With the control back in the corner of Team Tate, which is now up 3-2 in the season series, they decided to put grappling ace Josh Hill against Team Rousey's British prospect Michael Wootten in the next fight between the bantamweight men. With Hill facing Wootten, that leaves the final matchup among the guys pitting Team Tate's Cody Bollinger against Team Rousey's very loud Anthony Guitierrez in two weeks time.
The tension between Rousey and Tate was simmering for a couple of weeks after White warned the coaches that things were close to boiling over and that the antics needed to stop. Rousey's unflattering gesture towards Tate could have easily sent things back over the edge, but credit goes to the former Strikeforce women's champion for not taking the bait. Instead, Tate has been killing Rousey with kindness and it probably doesn’t hurt much that she's got bragging rights with a great chance to close out the season series with her team up as well.
Rousey needs to get a win this week to make sure her team can at least tie the overall season series by the end of the preliminary round fights, so the pressure is on to get a win before the final women's bout takes place. Her emotions have been running high all year long, and the more Tate smiles at her the more it's raising her ire. The roles have been reversed from their first fight, and now it appears Rousey is the one sitting on pins and needles like an egg about to shatter into a million emotional pieces.
The matchup in this week’s episode will pit Hill against Wootten in an intriguing bout between two fighters that failed to impress much during their elimination round fights to get into the house. Funny enough, both Hill and Wootten were berated by White for their individual performances with words like 'boring' being tossed and bantered about.
Now the two fighters with something to prove to White and the rest of the cast members on The Ultimate Fighter will face off in the Octagon.
Hill is an experienced grappler, as noted by his coach Miesha Tate, who also quoted his record in NAGA grappling tournaments as 36-1, which is an impressive feat for anybody that's ever competed in submission competitions. The young Canadian was one of the top bantamweight prospects expected to make his way to the UFC in the next year, so he probably should have been one of the favorites on The Ultimate Fighter this season, although his style, while dominant, can be less than exciting.
It doesn't matter how he gets the job done, however, just that the work is finished. Hill is a solid wrestler with great ground and pound skills, and he's very aggressive while on the ground. He will look to pass guard, and won't just sit in an opponent's defense waiting for something to happen. Hill does have a number of decisions on his undefeated record, but considering he's only been fighting professionally for a couple of years, he's still very much a work in progress.
Joining the top prospect ranks is Team Rousey's Wootten, who hails from Liverpool, England with a background specific to MMA. While Wootten actually studied Japanese jiu-jitsu as a kid for the better part of 10 years, his formal fight training was always in mixed martial arts. He was never specialized as a striker or wrestler or even a submission fighter. Wootten was just an MMA fighter, born and bred.
Wootten is a well-rounded competitor with surprisingly good grappling for a fighter out of England, and, as noted by his coach Ronda Rousey, he also possesses a great chin. The biggest issue with having a great chin is the fact that it means Wootten also has a tendency to get hit. In this matchup, Wootten may not have to worry as much about Hill's power as he will his takedowns, but being open on defense means it also leaves him susceptible to his opponent's wrestling.
With the women stealing the show so far and being criticized heavily for their early performances, Hill and Wootten have a lot to prove in this fight, but it's not a good time to gamble. There are still a couple of more fights to go before either competitor can punch their ticket to the finale, so the key here is get a win by any means necessary.
In those circumstances, Hill has the advantage in this fight.
His wrestling, grappling and top control could give Wootten fits, and being put on his back constantly could systematically dismantle him over the course of two rounds. Hill doesn't have to make it pretty or flashy, he just has to get the job done here, and he should do that effectively to move into the next round of the tournament.
No matter who wins this week, we already know next week's fight will be the final bout in the women's bantamweight division, as Team Rousey's personal Redwood, Peggy Morgan, takes on Canadian Sarah Moras. Team Tate has already put two of their female fighters - Julianna Pena and Raquel Pennington - into the next round, and a win by Moras would certainly help one up Team Rousey for the season. Tune into the Ultimate Fighter next week to see how that whole situation unfolds, and we will have more on that fight after we see Hill and Wootten throw down.