The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 Strawweight Ultra Preview Extremely – Part 2 of 4
In part 2 of our Ultimate Fighter Season 20 Strawweight Ultra Preview Extremely (see Part 1 here), we profile a champion, a veteran, a high profile dark horse, and a prospect. Getting right to it:
The Athletes – Part 2
Carla “The Cookie Monster” Esparza (9-2) Former Invicta FC Strawweight Champion
Team: Team Oyama | Height 5’1″ | Age: 26
Irvine, California, USA | Last 5 Fights: L W W W W
Unified Ranking : #3 | FightMatrix Ranking: NR due to inactivity | Tapology Ranking: #2
Notable Wins: Bec Rawlings, Lynn Alvarez, Sarah Schneider, Felice Herrig, Nina Ansaroff, Lacey Schuckman
Styles: Wrasslin’, | Intangibles: , can gain 10 lbs. of pure muscle between weigh-ins and fight time through cookie-binging. | Mortal Enemy: possibly Tecia Torres
Jessica Hudnall: The Ultimate Fighter has a long history of undersized wrestlers basically obliterating their competition en route to winning the Finale, from Diego “THIS IS ALL A CRY FOR HELP” Sanchez to Kelvin Gastelum (Okay, those might be the only two) and I think Esparza has a very solid chance of joining that group. Esparza’s SINGLET [Ed. Note: Ugh!] biggest asset is of course, her wrestling, and she should be able to at least make the semi-finals. You know what? Screw that, Esparaza wrestles her way into the finals, dagnabbit.
Intangible: Her gold singlet is actually descended from the Golden Fleece of Greek myth. Wearing it makes her impervious to shitty judges’ decisions.
Dan Frederick: Though I believe she’s only the #3 fighter in the division, Carla Esparza is my pick to win the whole thing. She is small, speedy, and compact, and despite this is also one of the physically stronger competitors on the show, having been an avid weight-lifter since she was a kid, before she even got into wrestling. She also can cling to people like a magnet and has an endless gas tank, one fueled directly by cookies. Furthermore, she’s already friends with several highly-ranked fellow competitors, and it’s hardly unthinkable that she and her BFF Felice Herrig could form a cross-team stable with Thug Rose and Bec Hyatt, no matter who is selected. In fact, I foresee Team Dagger happening all over again, only this time with kunoichi kicking ass instead of a couple of dreamers reaching for the stars.
Being Invicta FC Champion might put a bit of a target on Ms. Esparza’s back, but thus far she’s only ever lost to people ranked #1 in the world (Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii), so that probably won’t phase her. She is rightfully the top seed in this tournament and I really think she has a great chance to wrestle and cookie-binge her way right into the Finals.
Sydnie Jones: I have her in my top contenders, as well. In fact, I could easily see Esparza and Calderwood ultimately fighting for the belt. I’m hoping we get to see Esparza versus Torres, too.
“Hurricane” Heather Jo Clark (6-4)
Team: Xtreme Couture | Height: 5’6” | Age: 33
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA | Last 5 Fights: L W L L W
Unified Rankings: NR | FightMatrix Ranking: NR | Tapology Ranking: #31
Notable Wins: Sarah Alpar
Styles: kickboxing, surfing instructor | Intangibles: spooky 1000-yard stare that looks right into your soul | Mortal Enemies: Felice Herrig
Dan Frederick: Much less known than some of her competitors, Heather Jo Clark is nevertheless a veteran of XFC and Bellator who’s a heck of a lot better than her 6-4 record on paper. She got her start in MMA after catching the eye of Chute Boxe instructor Roberto Piccinini while he was visiting LA. Taking his advice to heart, she then decided to move to the best gym on the planet, Jackson’s MMA, before more recently training in Las Vegas at Syndicate and Xtreme Couture, working herself to the bone before finally getting a shot here. Unfortunately the thing she is best known for is losing a close grudge match in Bellator to Felice Herrig, who after eking out what would be a razor thin decision via ground control, started screaming in Clark’s face before the decision was even announced.
This has been exacerbated even more by early reports that she and Felice Herrig got into an altercation of some sort on the very first day of filming TUF 20. As such, I have to assume her style is vengeance, her tools are pain, and her ultimate desire the blood of her enemies, or at least Felice Herrig. If there’s one fighter this season who I might expect to lick blood off her glove ala B.J. Penn, it’s Heather Clark. Unfortunately I can’t confidently say that she’ll get to the second round. She’s very good but the depth of this tournament is top notch, and I wouldn’t quite put her in the top half.
Although, I suppose a gruesome B.J. Penn impression doesn’t have to take place only after an official match…
Felice “Lil Bulldog” Herrig (9-5)
Team: Team Curran | Height: 5’4” | Age: 29
Crystal Lake, Illinois, USA | Last 5 Fights: W W W W L
Unified Rankings: #10 | FightMatrix Ranking: #20 | Tapology Ranking: #6
Notable Wins: Heather Clark, Patricia Vidonic (x2), Simona Soukupova, Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc, Jessica Rakoczy
Styles: Muay Thai, Superhero Cosplay | Intangibles: Drama Tsunami | Mortal Enemies: (numerous)
Jessica Hudnall: Herrig (I always have to remind myself not to type “Herring”) is pretty decent at kickboxing, but is kinda unfortunately more known for her pre-fight stuff than anything else. Ok, she likes to cosplay, big whoop. Her Muay Thai is ok, but there are a ton of other fighters on the show that at least match her in striking and have a better ground game, or are just better at stand-up. I don’t see Herrig making it out of the first round.
Intangibles: Capable of levitating over small obstacles such as dogs and hedges.
Dan Frederick: Basically, Felice Herrig is Carla Esparza’s BFF and a pretty good Muay Thai fighter, who is a bit… polarizing… with other fighters. As far as I know, this is mainly a clash of personalities thing, and not the fact that she uses a lot of sexuality in her marketing. Although, I suppose it’s worth pointing out that while doing the latter isn’t unusual, I can’t think of another fighter where their manager has actually told them to tone things down a bit (read: Shu Hirata told her stop doing “accidental” nip slips). I personally defend her right to market her sexuality, since when it comes down to it she still has to back things up in the ring, but I also defend the rights of people to knock her for going overboard on that. Basically, if I took any solid position here I’d get an earful from someone or another, so cut me some slack, please.
Anyway, she’s legit enough that she’ll probably make it to the second round, but I would guess not further. I could also be horribly proven wrong either way which is why taking the middle ground sucks.
Sydnie Jones: I don’t care either way how Herrig chooses to market herself; even if I did have a problem with it, it’s her decision anyway. What I do care about is how good of a fighter she is, which is not very. Maybe she’ll make it out of the first round, but I also don’t see her getting much further than that.
Angela “Overkill” Hill (1-0 pro MMA, 2-0 pro Muay Thai, 14-0 amateur Muay Thai)
Teams: Evolution Muay Thai, Radical MMA | Age: 26 | Height: 5’3”
Brooklyn, New York, USA | Last 5 Fights: – – – – W
Unified Rankings: NR | FightMatrix Ranking: NR | Tapology Ranking: NR
Notable Wins: none (in MMA at least)
Style: Muay to the fucking Thai | Intangibles: no one really knows who she is: she is a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed inside a Muay Thai Killbot
Dan Frederick: Honestly, this is the one girl I had not a clue about prior to the cast announcement, beyond maybe having glanced over her name when the list of contestants at the tryouts was announced in April. Apparently she must have wowed them, and what’s more, she only has a 1-0 record because it took her a year-and-a-half to get an MMA fight, since no one wanted to fight her. After viewing some of her Muay Thai footage, I can see why. I’m not keen to get my face broken either.
That being said, she is still a total unknown, and she doesn’t have known grappling credentials. I’m sure if she’s been training MMA for the last two years or so, she’s picked some up some groundwork, and with high-level MT you usually at least develop a good clinch game. Beyond that, she is by all accounts crazy athletic. Furthermore, she’s routinely weighed 110 for Muay Thai, so weighing in at 115 even back-to-back shouldn’t be a problem (at least in theory).
However, not very much is known about her ground game, which could be a serious liability. She did manage to get indy journeywoman Stephanie Skinner into a crucifix and dominate her from that position, but if she has any serious grappling credentials or a jiu-jitsu belt, they are a mystery. High caliber striking alone won’t cut it, and she isn’t actually the most decorated striker in the house, or even the second most. As a fellow Washington DC metro area native, I’ll be rooting for her to acquit herself well. But honestly, while she has a hell of a lot of potential, with her lack of experience I think the over-under is she stops at the first round of the tournament. She’s young, she’s still new to MMA, and she can still go far regardless of how she does on TUF.
Sydnie Jones: I like her. I think her extensive and focused Muay Thai background will be a real boon and I think she’ll get at least to the second fight. She looks pretty beastly.
You can follow Dan Frederick on Twitter @DCDry