If there has been an overwhelming theme this season on The Ultimate Fighter, it's that the ladies shine when given the spotlight to perform.
For the first time in the 18 seasons of the show, women finally got a chance to perform on the biggest stage in the UFC and they have not disappointed one bit. From slick submissions to stellar knockouts, the women have been the real stars of this latest season of The Ultimate Fighter, and those stars include coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.
From the knockdown, drag out best fight of the entire season between Raquel Pennington and Jessamyn Duke, to the emotions shown by fighters like Sarah Moras and Roxanne Modafferi, the women have truly stolen the show this year and it doesn't look to slow down as we face the final episode before the season finale.
It also hasn't helped much that the male bantamweight fighters in the house have now failed to make weight on two occasions, robbing everyone of a couple fights to truly determine who is the best 135-pound fighter on the show. While the men struggle to even get in the cage, the women are showing what it's like to work for a lifetime to just step foot in the Octagon. It should be no different in the last semifinal bout between Team Tate's Raquel Pennington and Team Rousey's Jessica Rakoczy.
Both fighters were extremely impressive in their quarterfinal round bouts, and while only one can earn her ticket to the finale, it's not going to happen without a few road blocks along the way.
Training on The Ultimate Fighter can be grueling, tough and produce a lot of wear and tear on the competitor's bodies. Over the course of six weeks the fighters have to compete at least three times to make it to the finals, not to mention cutting weight a few times, as well as sparring and training in the gym on a daily basis. The rigors of that kind of schedule could take down the greatest UFC champion in the world, so it's no surprise that right before the finale it appears both Pennington and Rakoczy will deal with some training woes of their own before facing off in the cage.
It's safe to say, however, that unlike the guys, both Pennington and Rakoczy would rather be carried off on a stretcher than let this opportunity pass them by so you can count on these two women squaring off and throwing down on Wednesday night.
Pennington is as tough and gritty as any fighter on the show this season. She's also a veteran of the sport, having competed in six fights professionally as well as eight more during her amateur career. As she's shown on the series thus far, Pennington is a nasty striker with a never say die attitude that carried her past crafty veteran Tonya Evinger before beating Duke in the quarterfinal round.
Pennington may best be known for her unrelenting striking game, but she also possesses a vice like guillotine choke and a rapidly developing ground game. She may have to put all of those weapons to use against former boxing champion Jessica Rakoczy, who has also evolved into a true mixed martial artist of late, pulling off several submission wins.
Don't let Rakoczy's record (1-3 pre show) fool you because she started out young in her career as a striker trying to adapt to MMA without having a full arsenal of weapons at her disposal. Now more than four years removed from her debut fight, Rakoczy has all the makings of a true MMA fighter, with some of the most powerful hands in the division, along with a quick and devastating ground game where she's always looking for the finish.
Heading into this fight, it can't be ignored that Pennington went through an absolute war in her quarterfinal round matchup, and while Rakoczy was definitely pushed in her fight as well, she didn't have to endure nearly the damage to come away victorious. That said - Pennington's veteran spirit and experience can carry her a long way and she should be able to impose her will on Rakoczy in this fight. Pennington has to worry about Rakoczy's long reach and strong boxing game, but her dirty boxing and clinch work could give her the advantage in those exchanges.
Pennington is a pitbull that never stops moving, and she throws heavy and hard from the opening bell to the final horn. Expect her to push the pace on Rakoczy and make her work for every punch she lands from the moment the referee says go. If Pennington can avoid a slugfest with Rakoczy from the outside, she should be able to work her clinch and pummel her opponent, beating her from the inside out.
After it's all over, the winner of Pennington and Rakoczy will then square off with fellow finalist Julianna Pena in the series finale on Saturday in Las Vegas. Then it's time for the coaches to face off and that alone is going to be worth the price of admission, as rivals Rousey and Tate come nose to nose one final time before they meet at UFC 168 to close out 2013.