When The Ultimate Fighter began this season, Miesha Tate's team took over with early upsets, as Julianna Pena took out Ronda Rousey's top pick Shayna Baszler while Chris Holdsworth made quick work of another Rousey No. 1 selection in Chris Beal.
But over the last two weeks, Team Rousey has shifted the momentum with two wins in a row, with Jessica Rakoczy eliminating veteran fighter Roxanne Modafferi and David Grant putting on a dominant performance to eliminate Louis Fisette. With the selection firmly in her team's corner, Rousey then chose long, lanky striker Jessamyn Duke to face off with Raquel Pennington in the next matchup.
We also now know the final women's fight in the house will pit Team Tate's Sarah Moras against 6'1" Peggy Morgan in two weeks time.
Before the fight goes down, the competitors from Team Tate and Team Rousey will get some rest and relaxation time in Las Vegas, complete with pool hijinks and even a makeover for some of the ladies, courtesy of Julianna Pena. There is always a long-running discussion about women's fighters still being feminine even in the face of punches and kicks being launched at their heads, so Julianna will do her part to make sure the ladies are looking good before knocking each other out.
The day trips out of the house are truly a vacation for the fighters, who have to be locked up together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during filming. The real question is, can the coaches co-exist during an excursion out together? Because as witnessed a couple of weeks ago, putting Tate and Rousey in close proximity to one another is like putting a blowtorch on a stick of dynamite with a short fuse. Maybe Tate and Rousey's promise to UFC President Dana White to cool it with the shenanigans has been taken to heart, and we are about to see a kinder, gentler battle between the two coaches.
In the early going, Tate having a successful team seemed to bother Rousey more than anything that happened outside of the training sessions, so a win in the next fight is crucial to swing the control back in their favor and possibly get a place back under the skin of the UFC women's bantamweight champion. Rousey has been all smiles through the last two weeks, and that can't sit well with Tate, who had her arch nemesis teetering on the brink of insanity when the series began.
So the upcoming fight between Duke and Pennington might end up being the most important bout yet as the series shifts into the final preliminary round matchups. Whoever wins this fight will determine the final pairings for the women's side of the bracket with only four fighters remaining in the competition. It also puts the winning side up overall and breaks the current tie, which stands at two wins for Team Rousey and two wins for Team Tate.
At 5'11" tall with a background in Muay Thai, Jessamyn Duke was considered a prospect with a chance to make some waves in the competition when The Ultimate Fighter started. Hailing from Kentucky, Duke has actually been able to travel a bit lately to vary up her training, and that included a trip to California, where she worked with her now head coach Ronda Rousey ahead of her debut at UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche.
It's no wonder then that Rousey selected Duke to be on her team, but also the chemistry between coach and athlete is made that much easier. It's not a subject often broached on The Ultimate Fighter, but a great many of the competitors on the show come from strong MMA camps with experienced coaches in their corners already. It's tough to make a switch from one coach to another over the course of six weeks and expect to get the same results.
It's here that Duke will have an advantage because she has worked with Rousey before and knows her style, at least enough to where this move hasn't been as much of a culture shock as it may be for other fighters. Duke is a rangy striker who loves to work in the clinch, which sort of dilutes her reach advantage, but she's great with knees and using her long limbs to control an opponent. The clinch game is one area where she's probably already picked up some tips from Rousey, and those could come in handy against a fighter like the one she's about to face.
Raquel Pennington is a rough and tumble, head-down brawler who also possesses a surprising submission game that she can reveal if the situation calls for it. Her professional record stands at 3-3, but those numbers are a little deceiving given the level of talent she's faced thus far in her career. One of those recent losses was by rear naked choke to UFC bantamweight star Cat Zingano, who earned the spot to coach on this show opposite Rousey until she blew her knee out in training leading up to the competition.
Pennington does hold a win, however, over her TUF 18 teammate Sarah Moras, and she has the kind of grit and determination in her style that makes it clear that she won't be going away easy in this one.
Both fighters like to stand and trade, with Duke looking for the more technical Muay Thai attack while Pennington likes to press the action forward and bully her opponents into wilting before her very eyes.
Duke loves to use the clinch, but has to be wary of Pennington's attacks on the inside. Body shots and clubbing elbows coming over the top could be dangerous points for Duke if she's not careful.
This fight really comes down to who can land the finishing shot first. Pennington probably carries more one-punch knockout power, while Duke possesses the combinations and speed to put her opponent away. Pennington's tendency to get involved in brawls can backfire at moments, but here it may do her some good with Duke trying to grab onto her to work from the clinch, which opens up some holes in her defense.
This may be one of the most competitive fights in the entire tournament, but Pennington has faced the stiffer competition in her career and she knows how to persevere in the face of danger. She's got the kind of hard-nosed attitude to push through adversity, and as of yet Duke hasn't had the chance to show that kind of determination. Pennington has to also be careful of Duke's long legs if this fight hits the ground, because even while wounded, she could manage to kick up a submission from the bottom to get the victory.
That said, the odds are slightly in Pennington's corner for this one because she has the power and the ability to make this fight with Duke get ugly. In this case, ugly is very good. It may not be pretty, but it certainly gets the job done.