The preliminary round and quarterfinal fights are over, but that doesn't mean some team bragging rights aren't still up for grabs, and Team Tate went up big in the first semifinal matchup as Chris Holdsworth submitted Michael Wootten to make his way to the finals in Las Vegas on November 30.
The next fight will also assure at least one of the women from Team Tate will make it to the finals, but it will come at the expense of another team member, as Sarah Moras and Julianna Pena go from training together to fighting each other with a spot in the Ultimate Fighter finale on the line.
Before the women square off, however, there's dissension in the ranks as Moras feels like the outsider looking in when dealing with her coaches, who she believes are paying preferential treatment to Pena. Prior to making it on the Ultimate Fighter, Pena was a regular training partner and teammate of Tate's and assistant coach Bryan Caraway at their home camp in Washington.
So it was no surprise that Tate selected Pena No. 1 overall with her team selections, and the intensity went up another notch when she defeated Team Rousey's top pick Shayna Baszler in the opening round. Now with teammate pitted against teammate, will Tate help her friend and training partner more than Moras?
Whether or not Tate is actually giving Pena more attention doesn't matter because Moras is taking it that way, and as she gets ready for the biggest moment of her career in the semifinals, she faces emotional turmoil during her weight cut, which will test the most mentally stable athletes on their best of days, much less when things aren't going their way.
Earlier in the season, following her win over Shayna Baszler, Pena's over the top personality started to rub some of her housemates the wrong way, including members of her own team. As Moras' morale starts to drop and Pena's antics return, the team starts to choose sides again. While the coaches are accused of playing to Pena's favor, the rest of the team members go the opposite way, turning against the women's No. 1 pick.
So both Pena and Moras will have a lot on their minds as they approach the upcoming fight with the winner moving onto the finale knowing that there was no way they were fully, mentally prepared for the battle ahead.
Prior to being teammates, Moras and Pena actually fought at a regional show in April 2012. Moras dominated the entire fight on the ground before eventually catching Pena in an armbar, but when her opponent refused to tap out the Canadian fighter was forced to snap her opponent's limb. Due to the damage sustained from the armbar, the doctors stopped the bout and Moras stood tall as the winner. That fight also took place in Pena's backyard, so Moras has faced stiff odds once before and came out victorious.
Of course this fight is a different animal, with both fighters progressing and evolving since their first matchup more than a year ago. The tendencies both possess, however, still remain very much the same and that could produce a similar result.
Pena's wrestling is her best weapon, but her biggest strength is her will to win and refusal to give up. She showcased that in her last fight against Moras when she suffered a broken arm and would not tap out. Pena showed that iron will again against Shayna Baszler when she lost the first round by a wide margin, and came back to finish the fight in the second round. Pena will need to show that kind of fortitude in her second shot against Moras and have the fight go differently than her last time in the cage with her.
Moras will have confidence on her side knowing that she's already beaten Pena once, and the fight wasn't all that close. She was in control throughout all two rounds, putting Pena in bad position after bad position until finally getting the finish with the armbar. Moras hasn't slowed down one bit heading into the rematch, as she showcased her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu once again when beating Peggy Morgan in her quarterfinal matchup. The Canadian fighter who started her training under the same team that once produced top five ranked welterweight Rory MacDonald has all the tools to make waves at 135 pounds, and that could start at Pena's expense.
Assuming Moras can get past the mental struggles she's having going into the fight, she has the skills to give Pena headaches for a second time. Her ground control is very strong, but she will have to give everything she has over all three rounds to get Pena out of there either by decision or by trying to catch her in another submission. UFC president Dana White said that he still wasn't a believer in Moras, but this was her chance to prove him wrong.
If Moras competes up to her true potential, White should be very impressed when the fight is over.