The heat is ratcheting up as The Ultimate Fighter season 18 moves along, with Miesha Tate still getting the best of Ronda Rousey in the team competition while the two rivals continue to snap at each other during any given moment.
We saw last week what happens when Rousey and Tate are in proximity of one another for more than just a few minutes, and it quickly escalated to dragging Tate's boyfriend and assistant coach Bryan Caraway and Rousey's coach Edmond Tarverdyan into the fray as well.
Tarverdyan ended up shouting in Caraway's face, challenging the UFC bantamweight, while the Team Tate coach kept his cool, continuing to sip his drink.
The emotional turmoil between the two fighters is only intensified by the fact that Tate continues to one-up Rousey, with her team now going up 2-0 in the competition, and controlling the fight pick for yet another week.
Tate, the former Strikeforce women's champion was tactical with her choice last week following the upset of Julianna Pena over Shayna Baszler when she pit submission specialist Chris Holdsworth against Team Rousey's No. 1 pick Chris Beal. Holdsworth put on a great performance, besting Beal on both the feet and on the ground, eventually finishing the fight with a guillotine choke.
Now with Team Rousey not only losing the first two fights, but their top picks in both the men's and women's divisions, it appears the plan from Team Tate is to demoralize them even further by picking off the fighters they perceive to be the weakest links on the team.
So for the third matchup in the house, Tate chose veteran fighter Roxanne Modafferi to take on former pro boxer Jessica Rakoczy. On paper, it appears Tate is looking to put her lion against Rousey's lamb in this fight, given Modafferi's huge experience advantage over Rakoczy, who is still getting her feet wet in the MMA game after transitioning from boxing.
Modafferi was one of the favorites going into the house, with a wealth of fight experience to her credit as she faced some of the best women's fighters in a couple divisions over the course of her career. She holds wins over names such as Tara LaRosa, Marloes Coenen and Vanessa Porto, while her losses are only to some of the best women competing in MMA today. Living in Japan for the past few years as an English teacher, Modafferi never took too many steps out of the gym while she continued her career, competing mostly overseas.
A judo practitioner with considerable jiu-jitsu at her disposal as well, Modafferi is very skilled when the fight hits the ground, but her striking is underrated, so she can hold her own when necessary. This will not be the fight for Modafferi to test out her punching power, however, taking on a pugilist like Rakoczy.
With a 31-3 record in boxing with 11 by knockout, Rakoczy certainly knows how to throw her hands. She's a former champion as well, but with dwindling prospects in her previous sport, Rakoczy decided to trade in her boxing gloves for the four-ounce variety used in MMA.
It's been a rocky start for Rakoczy thus far in her MMA career, where she's amassed a 1-3-1 record thus far, although it must be noted that she took on far more experienced fighters than herself early in her career. She's been working on her ground skills, as displayed in her elimination fight to enter the house, where she pulled off the rare omoplata submission to finish Revelina Berto.
This fight is eerily similar to the first women's bout of the season, where a much more experienced Shayna Baszler took on Julianna Pena. A career's worth of work didn't help Baszler get the win because Pena put her away with a rear naked choke in the second round.
That said, Modafferi can learn from Baszler's misfortune of underestimating an opponent, and she doesn't want to have that feeling of missing out on a golden opportunity by losing in this opening round of the TUF tournament. Modafferi is a smart enough competitor to know standing on the outside and winging punches with a former boxing champion probably won't yield positive results.
Working with a wrestler such as Tate can only benefit Modafferi's own ground game, so she probably won't waste much time getting this fight to the mat. Modafferi has to be careful of Rakoczy's power, especially in the early going, and as she showed in her first fight, she has the ability to scramble and create issues on the ground. Modafferi has seen it all in her career, so there's not much Rakoczy can do to surprise her.
If Modafferi fights smart and learns from Baszler's mistake, she should cruise through to the second round with a decision victory, subsequently giving Team Tate a 3-0 lead in the competition.
It appears that tension is starting to boil over in Rousey's camp as they deal with the frustration from losing the first two fights this season while watching both of their coach’s top choices in the men’s and women's divisions be finished by Team Tate's picks. The coaches are starting to feel the pressure, and judging by the previews for this week, they are close to the breaking point.
One of Rousey's coaches even ends up in a shouting match, and while the current UFC women's bantamweight champion insists this is just the mentality of somebody making the wrong move by messing with her team, there seems to be a crack in the veneer of solidarity with each loss tacked on during the season.
Is Tate simply getting the best of Rousey by having a more successful team and thus inciting a riotous reaction from her fellow coach?
The last time the two women met inside the cage, it was Rousey who managed to poke and prod at Tate to get her so emotionally charged that she couldn't turn it off come fight time. At least judging by the early going in this season, the tables are turned, with Tate's success getting more and more under the skin of Rousey and her entire staff.
The emotions may reach an all time high if Modafferi can send Rakoczy packing, which would keep Team Tate undefeated and put Team Rousey on the brink of madness.