With only a few fights remaining in the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter tournament, former Invicta FC champion Barb Honchak will make her first appearance this week as she takes on up and coming prospect Gillian Robertson.
The latest fight takes place a week after Sijara Eubanks pulled off a considerable upset as the No. 12 seed, as she knocked off No. 5 seed Maia Stevenson by submission to move into the quarterfinal round of the tournament that will crown the first ever UFC women's flyweight champion.
Eubanks' performance may serve as inspiration to Robertson, who enters the competition at just 22 years of age - the youngest on the show - with five professional fights on her resume, which all took place within the last year and a half. With a 3-2 record overall, Robertson may seem like one of the more inexperienced fighters on the show, but that doesn't speak to her overall veteran savvy after an extensive career spent on the amateur circuit, where she put together a very impressive 9-1 record.
Robertson has faced some tough competition during the early part of her career, including a fight with current top 10 ranked UFC strawweight competitor Cynthia Calvillo in late 2016. Robertson is best known for her Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, where she prides herself on a great grappling pedigree with a slew of submissions at her disposal. That being said, Robertson's nickname is “Savage” because she always goes for the kill and that's evident whether she's locking up the submission or just looking to pound her opponent out on the mat. Robertson may be the No. 15 seed but she's got a ton of skill and could be another candidate to pull off an upset in this tournament.
Of course, Robertson is facing tough odds by drawing Honchak as her first opponent in the tournament.
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At 37, Honchak sits on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Robertson because she's the oldest competitor in the tournament while looking to make good on her promise after serving as the first ever Invicta FC flyweight champion. Honchak is 10-2 with a laundry list of wins over notable opponents, including the current No. 1 seed in the tournament, Roxanne Modaferri, as well as current UFC fighters Felice Herrig, Nina Ansaroff, and Leslie Smith. Following a win over Takayo Hashi in 2014, Honchak decided to take an extended break from the sport to focus on her life and try to decide if she wanted to keep fighting or move in a different direction.
The end result was a more than two-year break from the sport as Honchak got her mind and body back to full health following a rigorous fight schedule throughout her career. When the UFC decided to add a women's flyweight division, Honchak seemed like a natural fit and the perfect candidate to appear on The Ultimate Fighter this season to vie for the inaugural title. If not for her long layoff, it's probable that Honchak would have been the top overall seed going into the show - a fact that her coach Eddie Alvarez has pointed out numerous times throughout the season as he rates her as the best flyweight in the competition.
Of course, with a ton of hype comes big expectations and Honchak will have to live up to that when she steps into the Octagon this week. Honchak has to be considered one of the favorites to go deep into this competition, if not an early pick to become the first ever UFC women's flyweight champion. Honchak has the opportunity to set the bar with her performance this week, but following a couple big upsets in the tournament, including the No. 3 seed Lauren Murphy and No. 5 seed Maia Stevenson both falling in recent weeks, anything is possible in this particular matchup.
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Another moment to watch out for this week is seeing one of the fighters who hasn't yet competed dealing with an injury while also letting a little bit of self doubt creep into her mind ahead of the competition.
Earlier this season, Ariel Beck suffered through a panic attack during a training session as she got ready for her bout against Montana Stewart while dealing with the same kind of emotions. It's not uncommon at all throughout the history of The Ultimate Fighter for an athlete to suddenly begin to doubt themselves, especially when it seems like every fight on the show is do or die. The intensity is ratcheted up even more this season because there's so much on the line with a champion being crowned at the end.
Needless to say, fighting through those emotions won't be easy, especially when dealing with a nagging injury on top of everything else happening in the competition.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the fight this week as Honchak takes on Robertson for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Honchak is an extremely well rounded fighter with a solid striking base, which she uses very well to set up her takedowns and ground game, where she's been very dominant throughout her career. Honchak has a devastating ground attack, especially when she's on top, as she uses her punches and elbows with extreme aggression, which often sets up submissions as her opponents attempt to avoid the damaging shots coming from above.
As for Robertson, she's best known for her Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, and she is comfortable working on top or from the bottom. Robertson has shown great flexibility in the past where she uses her hips very well to set up submissions from the bottom, so if Honchak does get on top. expect her to give the former Invicta FC champion plenty of problems maintaining that control. Of course, Robertson knows she's a big underdog in this fight and that kind of mentality could give her an edge because she's got nothing to lose while facing a fighter in Honchak who is supposed to be in the finals when this whole competition is finished.
Can Honchak return to top form after more than two years on the sidelines, or is Robertson ready to pull off another massive upset in this tournament? Tune in to the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1 to find out.