The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 Strawweight Ultra Preview Extremely – Part 1 of 4
The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 will be crowning the UFC’s first ever Strawweight Champion of the world, coming right on the heels of the division’s soft launch this summer. While not composed of the literal top 16 Strawweights in the world, this is still an all-star tournament with a ridiculous amount of talent. The median fighter is ranked in the Top 20 in the world, and even the fighters who at first glance seem to be slightly confusing additions are absolutely solid prospects.
What’s more, the UFC even went the extra mile by holding one of the worst seasons in the history of the show immediately prior with TUF 19. Whether this was by accident or design, the gesture has not gone unappreciated, as there’s now nowhere to go but up.
In evaluating this remarkable line-up of talent, I will be joined by several other writers, including Jessica Hudnall of Leg Kick TKO, site editor Sydnie Jones, and Tim Burke formerly of Bloody Elbow. It was originally Jessica’s idea, and I agreed to work with her partly because she’s a better writer than me, but mainly because I don’t get paid for this and now I could share the workload.
It’s important to remember that this is not just a normal tournament. It’s specifically a tournament where everything but the finals will be held on reality television. Thus, special considerations have to be made, such as who will be best able to adapt to rapid back-to-back weight cuts, and who will most easily deal with the pressures of being isolated in a house for six weeks with no connections to the outside world and no music, but all the alcohol you can drink.
First however, is who will not be on TUF 20, who previously had a spot: Claudia Gadelha (could not make massive back-to-back weight cuts), Paige “12-Gauge” VanZant (too young to legally get drunk on camera; to be fair Jon Jones was rejected for the same reason once), Juliana “Ju Thai” Lima (fala não Inglês). All of these are very talented fighters however, and all of them still have UFC contracts, and Gadelha may well end up the first title contender.
Anyway, going alphabetically, since that is the best measure of a person’s worth, we present the athletes of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20:
The Athletes – Part 1
Joanne “Bad Mofo Jojo” Calderwood (8-0 MMA, 19-2 Kickboxing/Muay Thai)
ISKA World Flyweight Champion (kickboxing)
Team: Dinky Ninjas Fight Team | Height: 5’6” | Age: 27
Glasgow, Scotland | Last 5 Fights: – W W W W W
Unified Rankings: #4 | FightMatrix Ranking: #3 | Tapology Ranking: #3
Notable Wins: Katja Kankaanpää, Norma Rueda Center, Sally Krumdiack, Ashley Cummins
Style: Styling and Muay Thaiyling, Centrifuge | Intangibles: Speaks in tongues, deceptively adorable
Jessica Hudnall: Joanne Calderwood, aka the Och Murderess, aka the Mayor of Kneeville, aka Da Clench Mob Capo, aka about a billion other nicknames, is one tiny, scare-dorable fighter. I’m pretty sure she’s the result of a mad scientist mixing DNA from Buakaw and a blender and then raising that child to HATE FACES. Also, since she’s Scottish, it makes it even better when she knocks someone out and I say “JOJO CALDERWOOD JUST KILT THAT LADY!” I see JoJo making it to the semi-finals 9 times out of ten, but I just don’t know if her grappling is good enough to get to the finals. LEARN SOME WRESTLES AND SPRAWL N BRAWL YOUR WAY INTO THE WORLD’S HEARTS, PLEASE.
Intangible: Composed of a mimetic poly-alloy, a liquid metal capable of reforming into the most destructive configuration at a moment’s notice.
Dan Frederick: Hard to say much about this paradoxical individual that hasn’t already been said. She’s mousy as a librarian, metal as fuck, cute as a button, humble like a lamb, wears a battle kilt to fight people, and managed to copy Anderson Silva when she said her ideal opponent was herself. She was just being honest. She is the ISKA World Flyweight Champion in kickboxing and is the most decorated striker in the entire division.
It is really hard to explain the appeal of someone who sounds like they’re apologetically speaking Flemish and also straight murders opponents with kicks, knees, punches, and motherfucking Ong Bak-style elbows. Basically, she is completely awesome and if she married me I would totally help her take revenge on the English language.
Anyway, if there’s one major weakness in her game, it’s that it’s hard to know where her ground game stands. Scrappy Finnish grappler Katja Kankaanpää managed to neutralize a lot of Calderwood’s offense in the clinch and on the ground, and while Calderwood survived, it exposed some holes in her game, and this is why I can only give her the #2 seed. I wouldn’t count Calderwood out against anyone in the division, but Carla Esparza is a really bad stylistic match-up for her. I actually almost gave Calderwood the #3 seed because she’s rather large to be making three weight cuts in six weeks and Tecia Torres is pretty badass, but Torres’ greatest strengths herself are on her feet and I don’t think she beats Calderwood there, nor does she submit her on the ground. If the two of them face off I fully expect some serious violence though.
Sydnie Jones: JoJo is so technical and strategic in her striking that I’m hard-pressed to imagine someone can put her on the ground with strikes. If she does get taken down, like Dan and Jessica pointed out, her grappling is an unknown. But she seems like a wiry, taut rubber band of energy who’s hard to hold onto, and she’s so lanky; I don’t think she can be kept down for long. She’s one of my top contenders right now.
Tim Burke: I think lady MMA is awesome and 115 in the UFC is going to be amazing. But the only person on the show that screams “perfect” is Joanne Calderwood. Why? Because she’s Scottish and her accent is dreamy and she kicks more ass than a donkey farmer. Harry coos and wee mooses ftw.
Photo by Dean Richter
Alex “Astro Girl’ Chambers (4-1)
Team: VT1 Sydney MMA Academy | Height: 5’3” | Age: 35
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | Last 5 Fights: W W L W W
Unified Rankings: NR | FightMatrix Ranking: #8 Atomweight => NR due to inactivity | Tapology Ranking: #8 AW
Notable Wins: Jodie Esquibel, Mika Nagano
Styles: Karate, Mega Megujitsu | Intangibles: possesses an electro-heart that can discern people’s criminal intentions
Jessica Hudnall: Chambers embodies Australia very well. She’s tiny, like a wombat, and likes to use hug-based fighting, like a koala. Unfortunately, I don’t see her Aussie-based grappling being able to hang with the bigger Americans like Esparza. Chambers has a good showing, and will speak in weird tongues with Bec Rawlings, but I don’t see her making it past the first round unless she gets a super-favorable matchup.
Intangibles: Has a gland above her pancreas that secretes vegemite directly into her bloodstream.
Dan Frederick: From the mythical land of Australia, Alex Chambers is probably the smallest cast member on TUF 20, cutting less than 5 lbs. water weight to make Atomweight for her last fight in Invicta. She also is someone Invicta quite frankly should have been pushing into Atomweight title contention. I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, but she looked like a contender for sure when she opened Invicta 5 by quickly choking out Jodie “Keith Jardine” Esquibel, a top 10 Atomweight herself, in my opinion.
While being a contender at Atomweight is not the same thing as being a contender in Strawweight, that’s not the reason she has her work cut out for her. Ms. Chambers, a long time international karate competitor, was introduced to MMA by none other than Megumi Fujii on a visit to Tokyo when she got to visit the Abe Ani Combat Club facility, and has been training ever since. Mega Megu is inspirational like that. I follow Ms. Fujii on twitter, and she honestly made me want to be an internet cat meme on more than one occasion.
Anyway, while unorthodox striking combined with a solid ground game would normally be a recipe for some serious success in the Strawweight division, Alex Chambers is literally punching above her weight.
I hate to say it, but while hardly the greenest fighter out there, Astro Girl in general is just a bit behind the curve compared to most of the top competitors, and I predict that she probably goes out in the first round. However, I still feel she still has all the tools to find success in the UFC, and hopefully she’ll avoid having to fall back on her degree in astrophysics.
Sydnie Jones: I don’t know, she’s so aggressive and so focused on striking she may have a fighting chance, iffin you know what I mean, and maybe she’s put on a bunch of muscle to come up to 115. I think if she has bulked up a little and won’t be fighting underweight, she might get somewhere. I’m not so sure she’ll just be out in the first round. She might be a phenom and come out of nowhere and surprise us all, like Julianna Pena but not as sloppy. There’s so much talent here that it’s hard to narrow it down for my top picks. Like nearly everyone may be in my top picks. This is “TUF.” (Sorry.)
Team: SBG Ireland | Height 5’4″ | Age: 26
Dublin, Ireland | Last 5 Fights: W L L L W
Unified Ranking: NR | FightMatrix Ranking: #12 | Tapology Rank: #14
Styles: Grappling, Bashing | Intangibles: Makes opponents humble, old country way
Notable wins: Karla Benitez, Jessica Eye, Maiju Kujala
Dan Frederick: Along with Jessica Penne, Ms. Daly was reportedly one of the major stand-outs at the TUF 20 tryouts, at least until Zuffa staffers told reporter Jeremy Botter to fucking stop live-tweeting the tryout results. With her sick jiu jitsu and her near complete lack of fucks to give, she could definitely be a player in the division and is an excellent addition to the original cast. Her main weakness is Flyweights, and there doesn’t appear to be any on the show. Unfortunately, that also means her weight cutting probably isn’t as refined as most of the cast members and she’s not someone who cuts next to nothing. Obviously we don’t know what the match-ups will be, and it’s entirely possible she could get bounced in the first round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she managed to make it to the latter stages of the tournament.
Sydnie Jones: Aisling is super active in fights, unrelenting, and has boss jiu jitsu. If she can consistently make weight, I think her toughness, aggression, and skill could make her a top contender. She used to have pink hair, and as a fellow pink hair myself, I commend that. I like her striking and I like her ability to control on the ground, so I think she’s strong. I agree that she’ll likely go far in the competition, and it’ll be interesting to see how she fares against the higher-level, established strawweights like Esparza.
Lisa Ellis (15-8)
Photo by Dave Mandell
Team: United Training Center | Height: 5’4” | Age: 31
Olympia, Washington, USA | Last 5 Fights: W L L L W
Unified Rankings: NR | FightMatrix Ranking: NR due to inactivity | Tapology Ranking: NR due to inactivity
Notable Wins: Amy Davis, Aisling Daly, Stephanie Frausto, Megumi Yabushita, Miku Matsumoto, Jessica Aguilar
Styles: Wrestling | Intangibles: Maternal protective instinct gives her the strength of ten tigers | Mortal Enemy: amazingly Thug Rose, somehow
Dan Frederick: Lisa Ellis (née Ward) is a 10-year veteran of MMA who has fought all over the world, back when there was no money or glory for women in the sport, taking on such pioneering luminaries as Megumi Fujii and Miku Matsumoto, and just generally fighting the best the sport had to offer as she compiled a 15-8 record that does not do her actual abilities justice. Furthermore with 23 professional fights, she is the most experienced fighter in the tournament.
When Bellator managed to field their own 8-woman tournament to crown a Strawweight World Champion, then #1 pound-for-pound female fighter Megumi Fujii said that Lisa was the fighter she feared the most at the start of the tournament, having previously fought her, winning only by technical submission with 10 seconds left in the first round when Lisa refused to tap. Unfortunately for Ellis, Fujii’s way of dealing with that fear in their second fight was to try and rip Ellis’ arm right out of her socket at the 99 second mark, prompting a scream that technically counts as a non-technical verbal submission (at this point, I must reiterate that Fujii is still an amazing and inspiring human being and who just happens to be really good at violence).
Nevertheless, after losing for a second time the then #1 strawweight in the world and having previously traded wins with the #1 atomweight Matsumoto, Lisa Ellis decided to press on with her career by doing the best Urijah Faber impression in all of MMA, losing to both the next world #1 strawweight Jessica Aguilar (in a rematch from much earlier in her career), and future world #1 atomweight Jessica Penne, losing each match to an uncrowned world champion before finally beating atomweight prospect Amy Davis in May of 2012 to snap her losing streak.
She may have all the fighting spirit in the world, but coming off a two-year layoff and jumping right back in the shark tank with some of the best in the world, I just don’t see her beating the current generation. But nothing will ever take away the fact that she helped pave the way for them.
Sydnie Jones: I also think Ellis may be approaching the nadir of her MMA career; she’s been around for a long time and has a lot of fights, which would wear on anyone. Pair that with scrappy newcomers full of energy and that could spell trouble for her. However, she’s only 31, which is by no means old. Maybe she’ll wage a surprise comeback and kick lots of wet behind the ears ass, but, like Dan, I don’t have her as one of my top contenders.
You can follow Dan Frederick on Twitter @DCDry