Carla Esparza was the No. 1 seed and came out on top. | Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC /Getty
Carla Esparza left nothing to chance.
The Team Oyama product submitted the hyper-aggressive Rose Namajunas with a third-round rear-naked choke to take the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight title in “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale headliner on Friday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Esparza (10-2, 1-0 UFC) sealed it 1:26 into round three.
A competitive first round gave way to sheer dominance from Esparza. The former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder struck for repeated takedowns in the second, advanced to full mount and tore into Namajunas (2-2, 0-1 UFC) with thudding lefts and rights. The Grudge Training Center rep survived but never seemed to recover. Esparza executed another takedown inside the first 15 seconds of round three, moved to the back and locked in the choke.
Oliveira Wins Third Straight
In the co-main event, Charles Oliveira continued his ascent on the featherweight ladder, as he captured a unanimous verdict from Alliance MMA’s Jeremy Stephens. Oliveira (19-4, 7-4 UFC) -- who missed weight for the match by half a pound -- swept the scorecards with 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 marks.
Stephens (23-11, 10-10 UFC) was on his figurative heels for most of the 15-minute scrap. Oliveira lured him into near-submission armbars in each of the first two rounds and also forced him to defend against a modified guillotine choke. An explosive power puncher, Stephens could not keep the Brazilian at bay on the feet. The Brazilian walked him down with merciless forward pressure and mixed in takedowns at various points.
Down on the scorecards, a noticeably fatigued Stephens enjoyed some success down the stretch, but his Hail-Mary elbows and punches inside the treacherous Oliveira guard did not generate the finish he desired.
Eye Poke Results in Noons-Cruickshank No-Contest
A second-round eye poke from former EliteXC champion K.J. Noons resulted in a no-contest with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 graduate Daron Cruickshank in a main-card clash at 155 pounds. Referee “Big” John McCarthy called for the stoppage after an extended pause 25 seconds into round two.
The inadvertent foul, the second of the fight by Noons (13-7, 2-2 UFC), erased some excellent work from both men. Cruickshank (16-5, 6-3 UFC) attacked with kicks at all levels in the first round, mixed in takedowns and obliged the San Diego-based boxer in a number of punching exchanges, as one of the event’s most anticipated bouts appeared to be well on its way to meeting expectations. However, the finger to the eye left Cruickshank unable to see and brought the match to an anticlimactic halt.
Medeiros Guillotine Dispatches Proctor
Strikeforce veteran Yancy Medeiros submitted “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 graduate Joe Proctor with a first-round guillotine choke in a featured lightweight tilt. Proctor (10-3, 3-2 UFC) -- a Joe Lauzon protégé who had won six of his previous seven fights -- surrendered 4:37 into round one.
Medeiros (11-2, 2-2 UFC) walked through heavy leg kicks and a low blow, as he probed for an opportunity with stinging right hands and spinning attacks. The Hawaiian doubled over Proctor with a savage spinning back kick to the gut in the final minute of the first round, swarmed with punches and cinched a crouching guillotine against the cage for the finish.
The 27-year-old Medeiros has notched consecutive victories, both by submission, since his UFC 172 defeat to Jim Miller.
Penne Edges Game Markos
Timely takedowns, effective ground-and-pound, exceptional offensive grappling and a sturdy chin spurred former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Jessica Penne to a split decision against Randa Markos in a women’s strawweight showcase. Two of the three cageside judges saw it for Penne by 30-27 and 29-28 scores; a third cast a dissenting nod in favor of Markos.
Markos (4-2, 0-1 UFC) held her own with her far more experienced adversary and seemed to turn the tide in her favor with a strong second round. There, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance alum cracked Penne with hard right hands and later scrambled into top position on the mat, briefly achieving full mount. Perhaps sensing the outcome was in doubt, Penne (12-2, 1-0 UFC) scored with a double-leg takedown at a critical moment in the third round, worked for a rear-naked choke along the base of the fence and withstood a last-gasp inverted triangle from the Iraqi-born Canadian.
Penne, 31, has won five of her last six bouts.
Herrig Armbar Taps Ellis
Team Curran representative Felice Herrig submitted Lisa Ellis with a second-round armbar in their undercard matchup at 115 pounds. Ellis (15-9, 0-1 UFC) conceded defeat 3:05 into round two, as she was beaten for the fourth time in five outings.
The two strawweights engaged in a back-and-forth battle, on the feet and on the ground. Ellis was on the verge of a submission of her own inside the first minute of round one, as she threatened with a standing guillotine. Herrig (10-5, 1-0 UFC) survived, touching off a series of scrambles and exchanges that spilled into the second frame. There, Herrig reversed into top position following an Ellis takedown, climbed briefly to full mount and then settled on her opponent’s back. Ellis dodged the first armbar attempt but not the second, as Herrig went belly down with the technique and coaxed the tapout.
Clark Outduels Aussie Rawlings
Syndicate MMA’s Heather Clark leaned on a stifling clinch and her superior scrambling skills, as she pocketed a unanimous decision over Bec Rawlings in a preliminary women’s strawweight tilt. Clark (7-4, 1-0 UFC) earned 29-28 nods from all three cageside judges.
Clark closed the distance and shut down the striking-minded Aussie in the first round and nearly finished her in the second, where she scrambled into top position, transitioned to the back, set her hooks and alternated between ground-and-pound and attempted chokes. Rawlings (5-4, 0-1 UFC) made a late push in round three, as she let her hands fly and tagged the Bellator MMA alum with repeated right uppercuts and looping hooks, resulting in significant damage to her left eye. However, the finish Rawlings needed did not come to fruition.The 34-year-old Clark has posted back-to-back wins for the first time in more than three years.
Calderwood Moves to 9-0
Dinky Ninjas standout Joanne Calderwood utilized a punishing clinch and high-volume striking in claiming a unanimous decision from Seo Hee Ham in an undercard pairing at 115 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it for the undefeated Calderwood (9-0, 1-0 UFC): 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
Ham (15-6, 0-1 UFC) was game -- the left hand was her weapon of choice and bloodied the heavily favored Calderwood’s nose in the second round -- but had no real answer for the Scottish muay Thai machine’s height and reach advantages. Calderwood did her best work in round three, where she snapped back Ham’s head with a front kick to the face, executed a takedown, threatened with an arm-triangle choke and ultimately settled in back mount. From there, the 27-year-old let loose with her ground-and-pound and put the finishing touches on a triumphant Octagon debut.
Undefeated Torres Dominates Magana
American Top Team export Tecia Torres kept her unblemished record clean, as she captured a one-sided unanimous decision from Angela Magana in a preliminary women’s strawweight encounter. Torres swept the scorecards with 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 marks.
The unbeaten Torres (5-0, 1-0 UFC) controlled the center of the cage, backed up the Thailand-based Los Angeles native with multi-punch bursts and kept her off-balance with sporadic head kicks, side kicks to the body and the occasional leg kick. Magana (11-7, 0-1 UFC) had no answer for the promising 25-year-old prospect in suffering her third consecutive defeat.
Daly Armbar Submits Chambers
SBG Ireland’s Aisling Daly submitted Alex Chambers with a first-round armbar in an undercard battle at 115 pounds. Daly (15-5, 1-0 UFC) -- who weighed in two pounds above the strawweight threshold -- finished it 4:53 into round one, as the former North American Allied Fight Series champion made a successful Octagon debut.
Chambers (4-2, 0-1 UFC) struck for a takedown inside the first minute but offered little else in terms of meaningful offense. Daly advanced to top position behind an attempted armbar and eventually achieved full mount on two different occasions. A late takedown from the 26-year-old marked the beginning of the end for Chambers. Daly moved to full mount before locking up the fight-ending armbar in the waning moments of round one.
Hill Overwhelms Overmatched Kagan
Brutal sequences of close-quarters strikes carried Angela Hill to a unanimous decision over Jackson-Wink MMA representative Emily Kagan in a preliminary women’s strawweight clash. All three cageside judges scored it for Hill (2-0, 1-0 UFC): 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27.
The outcome was never in question. Hill met Kagan’s advances with stinging counter right hands and crushing knee strikes to the head and body, often pinning her to the cage before unleashing the pain. Kagan (3-2, 0-1 UFC) was in survival mode for much of the 15-minute encounter, bleeding from a nasty cut on her right brow -- the product of one of the muay Thai stylist’s vicious knees. She whiffed on her first eight takedown attempts and wound up trapped on the feet against Hill, who kept throwing and connecting with accuracy and authority.