5 Reasons to Watch The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale
NOV 29, 2013 1:16p ET
Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter was the best season in recent memory, as the heat between rival coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate constantly simmered, the female fighters consistently entertained in the cage, and a quarter of the fights on the menâs side never happened because two fighters failed to make weight.
Saturday night, the season comes to a close as two more athletes join the family of Ultimate Fighter winners, and a pair of lightweight veterans with ties to the long running series and a rivalry in the cage square off for the third time.
Need a little more convincing to sit down and watch this show? You've come to the right place.
Familiar Foes in a Pivotal Pairing
Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz have faced each other twice in the past - once in an exhibition bout when the two were contestants on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter and then again as the main event of a January 2010 Fight Night event in Fairfax, Virginia.
Diaz won when it didn't count for their official records, with Maynard earning a split decision when the results actually meant something, and now they meet for a third time with something more than just the rubber match in their trilogy on the line.
Both former lightweight title contenders enter in dire need of a victory - Diaz has dropped consecutive contests to Josh Thomson and Benson Henderson, while Maynard is just 1-2-1 dating back to UFC 125 and his draw with then-champion Frankie Edgar. While neither is likely destined for the unemployment line with a loss, this could be the last opportunity to right the ship and return to being a contender for both fighters.
The lightweight division is one of the deepest, most competitive divisions in the UFC, and Maynard and Diaz are each in dire need of a victory in order to avoid being swept under by the crush of rising contenders and promising prospects working their way up the 155-pound ranks. Combine that with the fact that these two have a heated history with each other and you have the makings for an electric match-up at the top of Saturday's fight card.
History in the Making
Through 17 seasons in North American and three completed iterations internationally, the title of The Ultimate Fighter has always been bestowed on a male competitor, but Saturday night, a female fighter will enter the fraternity (or start the sorority, if you will) as Team Tate's Julianna Pena squares off with Team Rousey's Jessica Rakoczy.
It's an intriguing pairing between two fighters who weren't necessarily expected to get to this stage of the competition.
While Pena was Miesha Tate's first pick, at least some of that had to do with their previous friendship and history as training partners. When she was matched up with Team Rousey first pick and veteran competitor Shayna Baszler in the first fight of the season, many expected the 4-2 Pena to fall. Instead, she submitted the more experienced submission artist in the second round before avenging a previous loss to Sarah Moras to advance to the finals.
Rakoczy, meanwhile, was the last pick on the women's side - a former world champion boxer with limited MMA experience who earned wins over Roxanne Modafferi and Raquel Pennington to earn his place opposite Pena. While her footwork and crisp, clean striking paved the way for her run to the finale, the 36-year-old Canadian also stood out as the fighter that might have the most room to grow and develop of the group, so it will be interesting to see how far she's come in the time since the cameras shut off.
Stylistically, this is power versus technique, with Pena likely holding an edge on the ground simply because she is the bigger, more experienced fighter of the two, and it should be fun.
Two Talented Finishers
As much as there were some issues that overshadowed the action in the cage on the men's side this season, finalist Davey Grant and Chris Holdsworth stood out from the opening episode, and earned their place in this battle to be crowned the next Ultimate Fighter.
Both fighters finished all their opponents inside the house, with Grant getting a submission in his qualifying bout after suffering a point deduction that backed him into a corner. While the British Team Rousey representative came in unsung and made a name for himself with his savvy performances, his opponent was more of a heralded prospect who validated the hype.
Holdsworth comes from the Team Alpha Male camp in Sacramento, where training alongside a collection of perennial UFC contenders and arguably the best group of lighter weight fighters under one roof raises expectations. Much like teammate T.J. Dillashaw did during his time on Season 14, Holdsworth proved that it the buzz he carried into the house was legit, and now he's looking to win one more fight than his teammate did four seasons ago.
Bantamweight has been a hotbed for exciting fights dating back to the WEC days, and continues to gain traction with fight fans heading into its third year in the UFC. Regardless of who emerges victorious, these two will be welcomed additions to the 135-pound ranks, and fighters to keep tabs on going forward.
New Heavyweight Arrivals
Whenever new talent arrives in the heavyweight division, you have to check it out, especially when the tandem that is about to throw down sport a combined 12-2 record with 10 finishes, nine of which have come in the first round.
Jared Rosholt is the younger brother of former UFC prospect Jake Rosholt, a fellow product of the Oklahoma State University wrestling program that has collected an 8-1 record through the first nine fights of his career. His opponent, Walt Harris, sports a 4-1 mark with each of his wins coming in less than two minutes.
These two big boys are going to throw down, eager to make a good first impression on the UFC brass, and it has the potential to be glorious. Of course, as with any heavyweight fight, it could turn into a sloppy battle of attrition, but even those contests become compelling in their awkwardness and your desire to see which exhausted mass of humanity will find a way to win.
The heavyweight division is perpetually light on prospects and depth, so a couple consecutive strong showings from either man could have them making a quick climb up the divisional ladder.
Potential Nick Diaz Interview
With his brother fighting in the main event, there is a very good chance that 'retired' UFC welterweight Nick Diaz is in the building on Saturday night, which means there is the potential for UFC on FOX correspondent Ariel Helwani to snag an interview with the enigmatic competitor.
Here's the thing: Diaz is always an interesting interview, and with the landscape of the welterweight division current shifting, now would be a great time to check in with the hard-to-track-down Stockton native to find out if he truly has no intention of returning to the cage.
Given the solid collection of reasons to tune in above, the potential for a captivating conversation with the former Strikeforce champion is kind of like the potential plot twist that makes this card a must-see event.