The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale had its share of lackluster fights, but the last three bouts on the card made up for it.
Some fighters used the nationally-televised event to improve their stock in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, while others fell short under the bright lights of the world’s premier proving ground for mixed martial artists, the UFC’s Octagon.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from the Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale fight card held on Nov. 30, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nev:
1. Nate Diaz
After going 0-2 against Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson, Diaz needed a huge performance against Gray Maynard at the TUF 18 Finale, and he certainly brought his A-game. He quickly established himself as the superior boxer, then, the punches started flowing.
These weren’t the typically piter patter punches the Diaz brothers are known for though. Diaz had lots of pop on his punches, stopping Maynard — who was out on his feet — at 2:38 of round one.
The win also earned Nate “Knockout of the Night” honors and an extra $50,000.
2. Julianna Pena
Pena etched her name into the UFC’s history books at the TUF 18 Finale, becoming the first female winner of the long-running MMA series. She also turned in one of the most dominant performances of the night, mauling her opponent, Jessica Rakoczy, putting her away with one second left in the first round.
3. Chris Holdsworth
Holdsworth emerged victorious at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, submitting a game Davey Grant a little over two minutes into the second round, winning the men’s division. That’s five straight submission victories for Holdsworth, eight if you add his three submissions on the show.
He should fit in nicely in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
4. Ryan Benoit
Benoit lost via submission to Joshua Sampo at the TUF 18 finale, but he was still one of the event’s biggest winners. Benoit’s performance earned him the “Fight of the Night” award, which came with an additional $50,000 for both competitors, but UFC officials gave it all to Benoit since Sampo failed to make weight.
Notable Mention: Tom Niinimaki.
1. Gray Maynard
With the loss to Diaz, Gray has now dropped three of his last four fights, getting knocked out in all three losses. At 34 years old, Maynard’s best days seem to be behind him, so the journey back to contention in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division won’t be an easy one.
2. Mario Yamasaki
Yamasaki has a history of questionable disqualifications, and Maximo Blanco became his newest victim at the TUF 18 Finale. Yamasaki disqualified Blanco for blasting away with a knee while his opponent Akira Corassani had a hand on the canvas, even though it didn’t look like there was any malicious intent.
Some might even say Akira played up the illegal shot a bit.
A no-contest ruling would have been more appropriate, just like it would have been when Yamasaki disqualified Erick Silva for illegal punches to the back of Carlo Prater’s head at UFC 142.
3. Joshua Sampo
Sampo would have had the perfect UFC debut if he made weight for his fight against Benoit, winning the fight via submission with 29 seconds left in the second round. Instead, his weight cutting issues earned him the disdain of UFC matchmakers while costing him his win bonus, a percentage of his purse, and the $50,000 that should have accompanied his “Fight of the Night” award.