The featherweight division has a new player in the form of Niinimaki. In addition to beating Yahya, who was on a solid winning streak, the Finnish finisher has won twelve tilts in a row including success against Walel Watson and Chase Beebe. With his triumph over Yahya, Niinimaki made it clear he can compete with the division’s top talent. Since most of the notable 145ers on the UFC’s roster are scheduled for action in the next two months, Niinimaki will need to hold tight until an intriguing possibility appears in early 2014 like the winner of Dennis Siver-Manny Gamburyan, Robbie Peralta-Estevan Payan, or Cole Miller-Sam Sicilia. Pennington is a bit robotic in the ring, but she packs power and is only 25 years old so she has plenty of time to grow. To build her brand the UFC needs to bring her along slowly. Otherwise, she could have a .500 record or worse before ever making a dent. An opponent like Germaine de Randamie would make sense based on an equivalent lack of experience and the potential to entertain based on her willingness to trade strikes when necessary. Duke looked sharp against Morgan, stringing together combos with ease and controlling action in the Octagon in most instances. She was labeled as one of the most potential-laden contestants on TUF 18 and it’s easy to see why after last weekend’s bout. Rather than face someone with less than five fights, it would be interesting to see Duke draw a slightly more-established adversary along the lines of Jessica Andrade or Jessica Eye. Holdsworth is one of the brightest talents to show up on TUF in awhile. He’s polished his techniques at Team Alpha Male – arguably the best gym in MMA for fighters under 155 pounds – and possesses the kind of weaponry making him a threat to TKO, submit, or outpoint most opponents who cross his path. The UFC would be wise to give him a chance to build his record up and further cement his skills before throwing him to the wolves. As such, look for an adversary like Alex Caceres, Francisco Rivera, or Roland Delorme to emerge as Holdsworth’s next foe. Even if the final second had ticked off the first frame and Rakoczy had made it to the next round it was clear Pena had her number. However, while Pena came off as a killer, it’s important to keep in mind how raw the former pro boxer’s grappling skills are in relation to Rakoczy’s ability to deal with the clinch or when put on her backside. Still, Pena was the better Mixed Martial Artist in the match-up and deserves credit for her showing. For some reason, Amanda Nunes jumps out as a perfect fit for Pena’s next fight in terms of delivering a challenge also sure to leave fans pleased. Neither is overly experienced and both are aggressive. When Diaz “doesn’t give a f*ck” he sure is fun to watch! Diaz’s beatdown of Maynard was unexpected and immediately reestablished him as a force at 155 pounds after getting stopped by Josh Thomson in his previous pairing. Though his desire to fight for the title is understandable, it’s also asinine considering he’s only two-fights removed from getting tooled by then-champ Benson Henderson and Maynard was coming off a knockout loss. Rather, Diaz should set his sights on someone who is on the cusp of challenging for the belt in hopes of stealing some thunder. Think T.J. Grant, Rafael dos Anjos, or Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Every win under the
UFC banner is important. However, some victories stand out more than others, especially when you’re an up and coming competitor looking to make an impact in the Octagon. A number of athletes fitting that bill took to the cage on Saturday night at the including Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale Chris Holdsworth and Julianna Pena, the organization’s newest TUF champions. Here’s a look at some of the top performances from the show and what the efforts may mean to the futures of each involved fighter. (Photos by USA Today Sports Images)