The penultimate episode of this season of The Ultimate Fighter featured a pair of battles, but only one took place inside the Octagon.
As Amanda Cooper prepared for her showdown against teammate and training partner Lanchana Green, she also had the fight of her life against a weight cut to get down to 115 pounds for the matchup. Cooper explained during the latest episode that prior to The Ultimate Fighter, she had never fought at strawweight and instead competed at 125 pounds.
When the opportunity came up to compete on the show, Cooper jumped at the chance and she made the move down to 115 pounds without much problem through her first two fights, including her last win to get into the semifinals. Unfortunately, to make it to the finale, Cooper would have to cut down to strawweight yet again just a couple of weeks later and her body hadn't re-adjusted to the new division.
So Cooper had to fight her own body as she prepared for the showdown with Green or risk being booted from the competition for not making weight, which would clearly be a miserable end to an otherwise fantastic start to the season for the young up and comer.
Prior to Cooper's battle with the weight cut, women's bantamweight champion Miesha Tate stopped by the gym this week to help Team Claudia in one of their final training sessions before the semifinals started again. Tate spent a season coaching the show opposite Ronda Rousey and she was an invaluable addition to the team in those last days before the fight between Cooper and Green.
In fact, Green felt like Tate's advice would be a big help as she prepared to face a very well rounded opponent in Cooper, who is known for having a good boxing game and a devastating ground attack as well.
"I'm here to win and I want this so much," Green said about the fight.
The training session may have been the highlight for the fighters during the day, but after a visit with the champ, it was time for Green and Cooper to begin the arduous task of making weight. Green had no problem making the cut down to 115 pounds, but Cooper was struggling in the worst way possible.
As the process started, Cooper maintained a level of positivity while sitting through scalding hot baths to start the weight cut the night before hitting the mark. For many athletes, the weight cut starts weeks ahead of time, for others it's a matter of days, but almost every UFC fighter will do a big portion of the cut in the final 24 hours before hitting the scale. Typically, it's just a matter of weight management, proper nutrition and water intake, but for Cooper, the struggle was getting the last few pounds to fall off her body despite her best efforts to get rid of the weight.
When Cooper woke up the next morning instead of dropping weight overnight, she barely lost anything, and that meant she was going to have to sit in the sauna and hope that she could sweat out the remaining few pounds needed to tip the scale at 116 pounds. Strawweight fights take place at 115 pounds, but for non-title bouts, competitors are given a one-pound allowance by the athletic commissions.
A long session in the sauna still didn't yield the results Cooper wanted and after Green hit the scale and made weight with no problem, her opponent came in at 117.5 pounds. That gave Cooper one hour to make weight but luckily she had the full support of her team, including head coach Claudia Gadelha. The tough weight cut also put Cooper in the unenviable position to know that if she couldn't hit the mark the second time around, she would get booted from the competition entirely.
"This is really where you find out who's mentally tough enough to be here," UFC President Dana White said about Cooper.
Another trip into the bathtub before sitting under some towels gave Cooper enough sweat to feel like she might make weight. When she stepped onto the scale sans her clothes, Cooper hit the mark and her fight with Green was official. As Cooper said, she wasn't about to miss out on the chance to win The Ultimate Fighter and make her dreams come true by joining the UFC roster thanks to a couple of pounds that she refused to lose.
"I don't want another opportunity. I want to win this fight and I want this opportunity," Cooper said.
The next day, Cooper and Green went through final preparations before the fight and it was time for Team Claudia's first two strawweights to face off in the Octagon.
As the fight started, Green showed good quickness on her feet and she seemed to have a slight speed advantage over Cooper with her punches and kicks. It all changed when Cooper uncorked a huge head kick that rocketed off Green's head and then led to a big takedown that put the fighters on the mat.
From there, Cooper showed her true dominance by staying patient on the ground while constantly working to advance her position. Eventually, Cooper ended up in side control before taking Green's back and that was the beginning of the end. Cooper got her legs locked around Green's body and then started fishing for the rear naked choke.
With under a minute to go in the round, Cooper locked up the submission and Green had no other choice but to tap out. Cooper immediately erupted in celebration because all the hard work to make weight paid off and now she's the second finalist for The Ultimate Fighter season 23.
"I am very impressed with Amanda Cooper," White said about the latest strawweight contender from the show.
With Cooper punching her ticket to the finals, there are only two more bouts left to go this season and they will both take place next week in the last episode of the season. In the women's strawweight division, top ranked fighter Tatiana Suarez will face battle tested Brit Kate Jackson while Josh Stansbury will face his friend and teammate Khalil Rountree, who gets a second shot in the show after replacing Cory Hendricks.
It all goes down in The Ultimate Fighter season finale next Wednesday night at 10pm ET on FS1.