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TUF’ 18 finale blog: Julianna Pena, Chris Holdsworth win reality-show crowns

Nate Diaz puts Gray Maynard out in the first round


L.E. Baskow

Julianna Pena celebrates her win over Jessica Rakoczy in the UFC women’s bantamweight final at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.

Updated Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 | 10:26 p.m.

UFC ‘TUF’ 18 Finale

(From left) Raquel Pennington gets in the face of her opponent  Roxanne Modafferi during their women's bantamweight TUF 18 finale bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Note: Full results from the preliminary card available at the bottom of the page.

As far as “The Ultimate Fighter” celebrations go, Julianna Pena’s was relatively muted.

After the biggest win of her career to score a six-figure contract with mixed martial arts’ most prominent promotion, Pena smiled. She pumped her fist. She embraced her family and cornermen.

But it ended there. Pena didn’t show any more jubilation with Jessica Rakoczy still recovering from a TKO at 4:59 of the first round at “TUF” 18 finale Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

“I can’t believe I got the finish with one second left,” Pena said while still in the octagon. “I can’t wait to put in more work. It’s just about to get started.”

That explains her disposition. Becoming the champion of the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” was just the beginning for Pena.

In a division still shallow as it continues to build, Pena immediately rises near the top at women’s bantamweight. She has a chance to impact the title picture faster than almost any other “TUF” winner in recent memory.

That includes Chris Holdsworth, who won the men’s bantamweight “TUF” champion Saturday. Holdsworth submitted Davey Grant with a rear-naked choke at 2:10 of the first round.

“I took him down, got his back and sunk in that rear naked choke,” Holdsworth said. “I’m a big fan of visualization and I kept envisioning my hand raised after getting a choke and that’s exactly how it played.”

The victories were followed by a Nate Diaz blitz in the main event. Diaz, a slight underdog, rocked Gray Maynard with punches and finished shortly after via TKO at 2:38 of the first round.

Diaz snapped a two-fight losing streak to reassert himself into the lightweight hierarchy. Despite losses to Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson in his last two fights, Diaz declared himself one of the two best 155-pound fighters in the world after the victory.

The other, according to Diaz, is training partner Gilbert Melendez whom he pulled into the middle of the octagon.

The first two fights on the main card featured “TUF” 18 cast members Jessamyn Duke and Raquel Pennington beating Peggy Morgan and Roxanne Modafferi, respectively, by unanimous decision. Pennington took eight of a possible nine rounds on the three judges’ scorecards, while Duke registered the clean sweep.

Check below for the Sun’s live coverage of “TUF” 18 finale, including preliminary-card results at the bottom of the page and come back later for more.


Pre-main card

For the 18th time in less than a decade, the UFC will award the prestigious “Ultimate Fighter” tag tonight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

This time around, it’s two fighters who will become reality-show champions —including the first woman. Julianna Pena and Jessica Rakoczy will scrap for the “TUF” women’s bantamweight crown in the co-main event of the evening.

Pena and Rakoczy were on rival teams during the show’s 18th season, competing for Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey respectively.

Rakoczy used her striking to get through the tournament, while it was Pena’s grappling that delivered her to the biggest fight of her life. Pena choked out both of her opponents on the show in the second round.

The men’s “TUF” championship is billed below Pena vs. Rakoczy — and for a good reason. The final matchup is marred by circumstances.

Team Tate bantamweight Chris Holdsworth did his part to reach the finale, submitting two opponents in the first round, but Team Rousey’s David Grant received somewhat of a free pass.

Grant was supposed to meet Anthony Guttierez in the semifinals, but the latter failed to make weight. Given the scheduling nature of the show, that meant a disqualification.

Ironically, it was the only reason he made it that far in the first place. His first-round opponent, Cody Bollinger, came in overweight to advance Guttierez.

The UFC kept with the theme in the main event for the 18th season. “TUF” alumni Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz will treat fans to a third meeting between them to cap off the night.

Diaz submitted Maynard when they encountered each other in the semifinals of the fifth season of “TUF”. Maynard got even at UFC Fight Night 20 with a split-decision victory that Diaz continues to dispute.

He’ll get his chance to make amends tonight.

Follow along with the Sun’s cageside round-by-round live blog for the main card and look for the preliminary card results below.

A featherweight bout between Maximo Blanco and Akira Corassani ended in disqualification to finish off the preliminary card. Corassani benefited from an illegal knee to a downed opponent 25 seconds into the fight after Blanco dropped him with strikes.

Newcomer Tom Niinimaki beat veteran Rani Yahya by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29) in a featherweight bout. Niinimaki had a strong first round and controlled most of the second except for a 30-second stretch where Yahya nearly choked him out. In the third, Niinimaki won the exchanges on the feet but Yahya took him down and maintained top position for the final half of the round.

In a battle of debuting heavyweights, Jared Rosholt edged Walt Harris by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Some in the crowd booed the decision, as Harris scored two knockdowns in the first round and got off to another fast start in the second before gassing.

Sean Spencer defeated Drew Dober by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a welterweight bout.

Josh Sampo submitted Ryan Benoit with a rear-naked choke at 4:31 of the second round in a 127-pound catchweight fight. Sampo, a high school biology teacher who took the bout on short notice, missed the flyweight limit by a pound to force the catchweight designation.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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