(This story was originally published on 11/30/16.)
(UPDATED on 11/30/2017 at 4:30 p.m. ET to reflect the main-event change.)
The UFC crowns its first women’s flyweight champion tonight at The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale.
In a bit of a surprise, Nicco Montano faces former Invicta FC title challenger Roxanne Modafferi in the title bout. Montano, who was the No. 14 seed in the “TUF” tournament, was set to face No. 12 seed Sijara Eubanks, but Eubanks was hospitalized on weigh-in day and subsequently pulled from the card. With that, the No. 1 seed, Modafferi, whom Eubanks defeated in the semifinal round, moves in to the main event and gets a shot at UFC gold.
Montana punched her ticket to the title fight with upset wins over higher seeds in each round of the tournament, with her biggest win being her decision victory over former Invicta champion Barb Honchak in the semifinal round.
Honchak, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, now faces No. 3 seed Lauren Murphy, who weighed in as an alternate.
In the co-main event, Sean O’Malley meets Terrion Ware in a bantamweight bout.
The TUF 26 Finale takes place at Park Theatre in Las Vegas. The card airs on FS1 following one early prelim on UFC Fight Pass.
Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.
1. And new
Montano knew she was fighting for the inaugural UFC flyweight title at the TUF 26 Finale, but she didn’t know until weigh-ins that she was facing Modafferi.
Montano (3-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) took a tough path to the title fight. She opened the tournament with a decision win over Murphy before beating No. 6 seed Montana De La Rosa by decision. In her semifinal bout, Montano topped Honchak by decision. Modafferi (21-13 MMA, 0-0 UFC) earned her way to the semis with first-round TKO victories in her first two fights of the tourney. Eubanks upset her in the semis when she earned a unanimous decision win over the veteran fighter.
Modafferi, best known for her ground game, has made significant strides in her striking over the past few years. A pro since 2003, she has a major experience advantage in this matchup. She will also have a chip on her shoulder after missing out on a UFC deal following “TUF 18” and losing her shot at the Invicta FC flyweight title by split decision.
Montano is a powerful fighter who showed a very well-rounded skill set. She’s proved extremely hard to take down and displayed excellent cardio. The 28-year old former King of the Cage flyweight champion also showed outstanding situational awareness for a fighter with only five pro bouts.
2. Exciting, but some questions
O’Malley scored an impressive knockout win on a Dana White’s Contender Series card. The victory, the seventh stoppage of his eight-fight career, earned the 22-year-old a UFC contract. As impressive as the knockout was, O’Malley (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) displayed some traits that a more seasoned opponent might exploit. He gets that type of opponent in Ware (17-6 MMA, 0-1 UFC). The 31-year-old has nearly three times as many fights as O’Malley.
Ware lost his UFC debut to Cody Stamann by unanimous decision. During that fight, he showed good boxing skills that could give O’Malley trouble. The younger fighter was exciting to watch in his July bout, but he was reckless at times and showed little in the way of striking defense.
This bantamweight fight should play out on the feet, and it should give everyone a better idea as to where O’Malley stands early in his career.
3. Coming up short
Tournament seeding is an inexact science, but when the UFC seeded Honchak (10-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at No. 2 and Murphy (9-3 MMA, 1-3 UFC) at No. 3, it felt right. But upsets happen. Now the veteran combatants face off for pride, a spot in the flyweight rankings and a job in the UFC.
Honchak made it to the semis before she lost a decision to Montano. Murphy, who expected to face Honchak at some point in the “TUF” tournament, was bumped in the opening round by Montano.
Like the other fighters not competing for the title, these veterans have to be heartbroken over their missed opportunity. However, they need to move past that pain and strive to deliver their best so they can work toward the title shot that evaded them during the filming of “TUF.”
4. Will the grapplers grapple?
Eric Spicely has lived and died by the choke as a UFC fighter. He has two first-round submission wins, one via rear-naked choke and another by triangle choke. Unfortunately, those victories are bookended by a guillotine loss to Sam Alvey and – in his most recent bout – a rear-naked choke submission defeat to Antonio Carlos Junior. Spicely, a BJJ black belt faces Gerald Meerschaert in a middleweight bout.
Like his opponent, Meerschaert knows something about submissions. Nineteen of his wins have come by tap-out, and he has been on the wrong end of submissions seven times in his career. His most recent fight, a July loss to Thiago Santos, was his first knockout defeat. Before the Santos bout, Meerschaert was riding a seven-fight winning streak.
As we know, when two grapplers meet, the fight tends to stay standing. Luckily, both of these men can strike, as well. Spicely (10-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) has two knockout wins while Meerschaert (26-9 MMA, 2-1 UFC) has five KO victories.
5. Former title contender looks to get in the mix
Bennett was 4-0 when she joined Invicta FC in 2014. After four more wins, she found herself in a title fight against strawweight champion Livia Renata Souza. Souza ended Bennett’s unbeaten streak with a first-round TKO. Bennett’s losing skid continued with split-decision losses to Modafferi and Jodie Esquibel.
Bennett (8-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC), an upbeat personality with a decent ground game, lost to Eubanks via first-round TKO in the quarterfinals of the “TUF 26” tournament. Her opponent, Melinda Fabian (4-3-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who dealt with a leg injury during the show, was submitted by Rachael Ostovich-Berdon in the opening round.
Fabian, one of the better strikers in the “TUF” house, has losses to UFC fighters Katlyn Chookagian and Lucie Pudilova on her record.
Like several other “TUF” fights on this card, this one will likely come down to where the scrap takes place.
6. Extend the streak
Joe Soto was fighting for his life at UFC Fight Night 89. The California-born fighter was 0-3 in the UFC heading into his matchup against Chris Beal. Soto submitted Beal in the third round. He followed that victory with two more wins. His most recent outing was a decision victory over submission ace Rani Yahya.
Soto looks to make it four in a row when he meets Brett Johns, a bantamweight rankings honorable mention on the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings.
Johns, a former Titan FC and Cage Warriors champion, is unbeaten. The Welshman racked up 14 takedowns in his two UFC bouts. Johns (14-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) faces an opponent with solid takedown defense in Soto (18-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC), who has stopped 70 percent of his opponent’s takedown attempts.
7. Different strengths
De La Rosa entered “TUF 26” with a pro record of 7-4. Her most notable fights during that run were stoppage losses to Mackenzie Dern and Cynthia Calvillo. De La Rosa’s run in the “TUF” tourney came to an end with a bloody decision loss to eventual finalist Nicco Montano. A good wrestler with five submission victories, De La Rosa does her best work on the ground.
De La Rosa (7-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is matched up against Christina Marks. We didn’t get to see too much of Marks (8-8 MMA, 0-0 UFC) on the show since Emily Whitmire eliminated her via a quick submission. A pro since 2009, Marks is 8-8. Like De La Rosa, Marks’ biggest fights, against Alexis Dufresne and Sara McMann, ended in stoppage losses. A striker by trade, Marks’ weakest work comes on the ground.
8. Keep an eye on the cardio
Andrew Sanchez looks like he has the tools to become a player in the middleweight division. The “TUF 23” champion has good takedowns, a heavy top game and a strong clinch game that he uses to take the fight to the mat. If there’s one knock against him, it’s his cardio.
Sanchez slowed in the third round of his most recent fight, and that might have been a contributing factor in his knockout loss to Anthony Smith. If Sanchez hasn’t shored up his cardio, he could find himself in trouble against Ryan Janes.
Janes (9-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, but he is aggressive and active on his feet. He also has a deep gas tank. If he can keep Sanchez (9-3 MMA, 2-1 UFC) at distance and avoid takedowns, Janes, who has lost his two most recent bouts, could give Sanchez trouble.
9. There’s no quitting in MMA
Whitmire injured her rib training for her first fight on “TUF.” Despite the injury, the 26-year-old was able to earn a quick submission win over Marks. Whitmire drew top-seeded Modafferi in her second bout. That fight ended with Whitmire on the wrong end of a first-round TKO stoppage. After the loss, she lamented that she gave up on herself, something she said she had done in the past.
Whitmire (2-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) faces the more experienced, but younger Gillian Robertson in this contest. Robertson (3-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) dropped her opening round fight to Honchak via TKO, but unlike Whitmire, she hung tough even while Honchak laid into her with ground strikes.
Both of these women are better on the ground than on the feet, but the real key might be confidence. Knowing Whitmire has a history of breaking, don’t be surprised if Robertson pressures her opponent early in this contest.
10. What about a challenger?
We know the UFC will crown the first women’s flyweight champion on this card. What we don’t know is if the UFC will name the first challenger for that title at this event. With the division slowly developing and a number of current UFC fighters mulling a move to 125 pounds, there is a possibility the new champion will find out who her first title defense will be against after she is awarded the belt.
For more on The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie