The Ultimate Fighter - S23 Wrap-up and Finale Preview

This week is a big week for the sport and Women's MMA, in particular. The 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter has wrapped up and the finale event (tonight at 10PM EST) will showcase a Women's Strawweight Championship bout and four finalists fighting for a UFC contract, a boatload of cash, and the accolade of the Ultimate Fighter.

Season 23 Wrap-up

On S23E10 "Friends Hurting Friends," Eric has what looks like an anxiety attack during training, when faced with the prospect of fighting his friend Andrew. Andrew, who also finds the situation regrettable, does not let that hold him back, and finishes Eric by KO very early in the first round. Additionally, Cory Hendricks has to drop out of the competition due to his back pain, and he's replaced by Khalil Rountree.

On S23E11 "A Bump in the Road," we saw Amanda Cooper almost forfeit her match from not making weight. It's a topic of debate among fans today whether weight classes are even meaningful or good for the sport, and if the risks to the athletes (dehydration, increased risk for brain injury) are simply too much to continue. Even in the safest conditions, when the risks are mitigated, the physical toll on the athletes is enough to diminish their ability to perform; we're simply not seeing the best fights we could be. Amanda, however, was able to make weight (1 1/2 lbs. lost in only one hour!) and go on to win, in a dominant performance against my season favorite, Lanchana Green, submitting her in the first round.

On S23E12 "Fight of the Season," we saw friends Khalil and Josh temporarily abandon their friendship to deliver a heart-filled slugfest, dropping bombs and staggering each other, until Khalil Rountree landed with a big left hand, and ended the fight by TKO in the first round. It's been a long road for Khalil, struggling with weight issues and personal tragedy, but he's made it to the finale.

Season 23 Finale Preview

Andrew Sanchez has shown he has a broad skill set that Khalil Rountree might be unable to compensate for. I like Khalil; he's got heavy hands and a great personality but alas, personalities don't win fights.

My Pick: Andrew Sanchez wins by unanimous decision

Tatiana is very strong and a superior wrestler, but Amanda was the best striker in the house and showcased solid jiu-jitsu. Amanda boasted that Tatiana's wrestler skills will only determine where Amanda will finish the fight. Big words, but it feels foolish to wager against Tatiana. Amanda used her slight size advantage to bully her opponents but that isn't going to work with Tatiana, who is just as big and strong as she is.

My Pick: Too Close to Call

Once the two Ultimate Fighters are awarded their prize, we'll see the fight everyone has been waiting for: Coach Claudia Gadelha versus her rival and nemesis, Women's Strawweight Champion, Coach Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Women's MMA simply hasn't seen a champion with the kind of striking excellence that Joanna "Champion" has displayed. And yet, her previous win over Claudia was a razor-thin judges' decision, so if any competitor can take Joanna and the Women's Strawweight division to another level, it's going to be Claudia.

Claudia Gadelha tossing around training partner and former UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barão
Claudia can't afford to be safe and let the fight go to a judges decision again; Joanna would likely have an advantage in strikes. Therefore, Claudia is going to feel the Champion out, pressure her, and take the fight to the mat, where Joanna is less-proven. Joanna is undefeated and I have to wonder if her win streak has gone to her head. Their feud certainly has gotten to her emotionally, while Claudia seems more at ease.

My Pick: Claudia Gadelha wins by submission (probably by the fourth round).

I'll finish by admitting my bias: I want Claudia to win because I would love to see a third fight between them in the future. Their feud has been so intense, I would simply hate to see it end so soon. That being said, I honestly believe she has all the necessary tools and advantages to pull it off.

UFC President Dana White struggles to keep the peace between Joanna (left) and Claudia

Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.