Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter features UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and the first man to challenge his title, Gilbert Melendez as the coaches for eight women’s strawweights who will be competing in a 16-woman bracket for a chance to become the first ever UFC women’s strawweight champion. The show airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on FOX Sports 1. Here is an introduction to the strawweights competing in the tournament on Team Pettis… Carla Esparza gave up her Invicta FC strawweight title for a shot at becoming the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight champion. Heading into the TUF house as the favorite to win the show, she was the first pick by coach Anthony Pettis to be on Team Pettis. Being the #1 seed in the bracket, she was paired up with #16 seed Angela Hill, who automatically went to Team Melendez. “Cookie Monster” is 9-2 as a pro and rides a four fight winning streak into the tournament and her eventual Octagon debut. She is a talented wrestler who trains out of Team Oyama in Orange County, CA, and possesses great takedowns and is excellent from top position. While being in the tournament and living in the TUF house is tough on all the competitors in the tournament, Esparza has it a little easier with her best friend Felice Herrig being there with her on the same team. The now-former Invicta FC 115 pound champion defeated Angela Hill is the elimination round of the tournament via standing rear naked choke submission in the first round of action and is now set to take on Tecia Torres in the quarter-finals. Before the UFC announced the new strawweight division, Esparza was set to defend her Invicta FC strawweight title against Torres for her next outing. Felice Herrig went into the TUF house coming off a unanimous decision loss against fellow cast-mate Tecia Torres and faced Heather Jo Clark in the elimination round of the tournament. When coach Gilbert Melendez selected Clark as his third pick for Team Melendez, Herrig automatically went to Team Pettis, as Clark was the #11 seed in the tournament and Herrig was ranked higher as the #6 seed. Herrig vs Clark was a rematch, as the two had previously engaged in a hard fought battle in which Herrig was victorious via split decision. She was able to find success again, defeating Clark via unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards after two rounds of action to advance to the quarter-finals of the tournament. Herrig took on team-member Randa Markos in the quarter-finals and lost the bout via first round submission. Though she is out of the tournament, she continues to support her best friend and team-mate Carla Esparza on her quest for inaugural UFC gold. Herrig is one of the more popular fighters in women’s mixed martial arts and I expect her to be competing on the season’s finale. She will be making her Octagon debut with an official professional record of 9-5, and will be looking to extend her wins to double-digits. Tecia Torres went into the tournament and TUF house as an undefeated fighter with a record of 4-0, and was selected as the first pick by Gilbert Melendez to be on Team Melendez, automatically sending Canada’s Randa Markos to Team Pettis, as Torres was ranked the #3 seed in the tournament and Markos #14. Torres went into the tournament coming off a unanimous decision victory over Felice Herrig at Invicta FC 7 and was set to challenge Carla Esparza for her 115 pound title before the UFC announced their new women’s strawweight division. Torres fought Markos in the elimination round of the tournament and after three closely contested rounds of action, she lost via unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards. Fortunately for her, she was not depressed for too long, as a knee injury to Team Pettis’ Justine Kish forced her out of the tournament and left a slot open, which Torres was chosen to fill. Ultimately, she had to go from Team Melendez to Team Pettis, which stirred up some drama in the TUF house. Replacing Kish in her elimination round bout against Australia’s Bec Hyatt, Torres won a closely contested unanimous decision after two rounds of action and moved in to the quarter-finals, where she will be facing Carla Esparza, the opponent she had previously been preparing for. Training out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL, Torres is a well-rounded mixed martial artist who, along with Esparza, was pegged as one of the favorites to win the tournament. Justine Kish entered the tournament and TUF house coming off a unanimous decision victory over fellow cast-mate Randa Markos and is undefeated as a professional with a record of 4-0. She was the fourth fighter selected to be on Team Pettis, automatically sending Bec Hyatt to Team Melendez. Kish was the #9 seed and Hyatt was the #8 seed. A knee injury forced her out of the tournament, and she was replaced by eliminated fighter Tecia Torres. Kish has yet to see any time inside the Octagon, official or not, but if her injuries have been able to heal in time, I expect she’ll be appearing the season’s finale. Joanne Calderwood is the most notable women’s mixed martial artist out of Scottland and is an undefeated strawweight at 8-0. She is an incredibly talented striker who has outstruck all of her opponents, finishing 50% of them by way of T/KO. She was the second selection for Team Pettis, automatically sending Emily Kagan to Team Melendez, as she was the second seed in the tournament and Kagan was the 14th. Calderwood was not impressive in her elimination round bout against Kagan, but was able to do enough to outstrike Kagan over two rounds of action to pick up a majority decision victory on the judges’ scorecards. Heading into the quarter-finals, she is set to square off against fellow Invicta FC veteran 115 pounder Rose Namajunas. Aisling Daly went to Team Pettis automatically when coach Gilbert Melendez opted to select Angela Magana as his fourth and final pick for Team Melendez. Angela was the 12th seed in the tournament and Aisling was the 5th, so they were paired against each other for the elimination round, where Daly defeated Magana via third round TKO. Being the last fighter to be picked in the tournament when she was the #5 seed, she certainly had a chip on her shoulder and something to prove heading into that elimination round bout. Now going into her quarter final bout tonight (Wednesday), she will be taking on former Invicta FC atomweight champion Jessica Penne. Daly has been open about her battles with depression, ultimately playing a role model for others dealing with the illness. She is the most notable women’s mixed martial arts out of Ireland and is a pioneer for Irish MMA, as well as a training partner of Conor McGregor’s. Heading into her official Octagon debut, she will be carrying with her a professional record of 14-5. Jessica Penne is naturally a 105 pound fighter but she stepped up a weight class to the 115 pound division for a chance to become the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion. She is the former Invicta FC atomweight champion, having lost her title to current champion Michelle Waterson. Penne is one of the best 105 pounders in the world and it is going to be interesting to see how she fares at strawweight. She was chosen by coach Anthony Pettis as his third selection for Team Pettis, automatically sending Lisa Ellis to Team Melendez. Penne, despite naturally being an atomweight, was ranked the #4 seed in the tournament, while Ellis was ranked #13. In their elimination round bout, Penne walked through Ellis, defeating her via rear naked choke submission in the very first round of action. Heading into her quarter final bout against Aisling Daly tomorrow (Wednesday) night, the Reign MMA product will be looking to pick up another win on her journey towards inaugural UFC gold. Making her eventual UFC debut, she will be doing so with an official record of 11-2. Alex Chambers has a professional mixed martial arts record of 4-1, and she went to Team Pettis automatically when coach Gilbert Melendez selected Rose Namajunas as his second pick. They were pitted to square off against each other in the elimination round, as Rose was ranked the #7 seed in the tournament and Chambers was ranked #10. The Australian is well-rounded but was not able to overcome Namajunas’ crafty submission attempts, as she eventually got caught in a rear naked choke at the tail end of the very first round and was forced to tap. While unsuccessful in the bout, she showed potential and likely has a future in the UFC’s newborn division. Randa Markos automatically went to Team Pettis when coach Gilbert Melendez selected Tecia Torres as his first pick for Team Melendez. Torres was the #3 ranked seed in the tournament, with Markos being ranked #14. In their elimination round bout which Torres was expected to win, Markos gave her real trouble and took the fight to a third sudden death round, where she got the better of Torres and ultimately picked up a unanimous nod from the judges to advance to the quarter-finals of the tournament. In the quarter-finals, she faced foe Felice Herrig and won the bout via first round submision and advanced to the semi-finals, where she will take on the winner of Namajunas vs Calderwood. Markos is a well-rounded grappler who fights out of Canada, and regardless of the outcome of this tournament, I expect her to have a bright future in the UFC’s 115 pound division.
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