The Ultimate Fighter: Season 30 (TUF) returned with the final episode of the season in advances of the finales at a date to be revealed later in the episode. With the heavyweight final set between Team Pena’s Zac Pauga and Mohammed Usman, all eyes now turn toward the women, with Team Nunes’ Kaytlin Neal set to take on Juliana Miller of Team Pena with the opportunity to face Brogan Walker in the flyweight finals up for grabs.
TUF 30 Episode 12 Recap
This week’s episode, like many of the episodes this season begin in the TUF House with Team Nunes members coaching up Neal on how to deal with Miller’s pressure style. Neal believes Miller’s style could play into her advantage, and her teammates openly question whether or not there will be an emotional component for her opponent to latch onto as there was in the quarterfinal fight with Team Nunes’ Claire Guthrie.
Miller, meanwhile, gets her chance to facetime with her coaches. She fills her team in on the fight with Guthrie, a physical affair to be sure that saw Miller do enough to get her hand raised. Her coaches, who are over the moon to see her, remind her to be herself in the cage and that if she does that they will see her for the finale. At this point, Miller is plenty confident she will become the next Ultimate Fighter.
Back in the gym, Head Coach Amanda Nunes mentions how much she loves the matchup with Miller. She believes her fighter, Neal, to be the stronger fighter who can win more moments. She believes Neal has the better footwork of the two as well as the better jiu-jitsu, though to be fair there has not been a single matchup this season Team Nunes has shied away from. Neal puts over her striking coach, John Wood, for preparing her throughout her time in the house. Neal then goes on to echo her coaches’ comments about movement, mentioning how people are going to see the difference between a real mixed martial artist and jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Neal then gets the chance to Zoom with her boyfriend and cat. Her boyfriend is also a mixed martial artist. Neal said she keeps a picture of her cat on her nightstand as a reminder for why she is on this journey. She refers to Team Pena as a team “full of nerds,” and once again puts over her coaching staff for being so welcoming and supportive in the process. She then tells her boyfriend that she got knocked out in the first round of the first fight of the tournament against Helen Peralta, which of course is untrue, though her boyfriend does believe it for a split second. Overall, Neal is excited with how her fight with Peralta went, but is tempering that excitement because she still has more to accomplish in the house.
With three days remaining before the final semifinal fight of the season, fight fans get a look at Miller’ pre-fight preparation. Miller calls Neal a “point fighter” who loves to clinch, which should play into her advantage because of some jiu-jitsu trips she has been working on. Head Coach Julianna Pena believes the key to victory existing in her fighter’s ground game with Miller having the superior jiu-jitsu to Neal, coincidentally the opposite of what the opposing coaching staff believes, which is just par for the course this season. Something’s gotta give! Pena adds that Miller needs to stay in the pocket on the feet and fire straight punches “right down the clown’s mouth,” an incredible euphonism for sure.
Fight fans then get to hear from UFC President Dana White. White sums up the Ultimate Fighter experience, and that with one night out he has decided to reward each of the teams with a night out in Las Vegas. Pena decided to take her team to see Jabbawockeez at the MGM Grand while Nunes opted to take her team Downtown to the Brazilian Jungle Grill. Pena seems as excited for the night out as any of her team members, calling the Jabbawockeez “a passion of hers.”
“If you can’t dance, you probably can’t fight,” Pauga said.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian Jungle Grill is making Nunes feel a tad on the homesick side, but the Brazilian coach also adds that she relished the opportunity to hang out with her friends.
As quickly as the night out in Vegas started, however, it is now over, with the last semifinal weigh-in of the season imminent. Guthrie, who fought Miller in the quarterfinals, believes her having fought Miller already helped Neal visualize what she needs to do, and that she will properly utilize distance management to get her hand raised. Neal, meanwhile, has weighed in successfully and appears to be in fight shape.
As Miller weighs in, Pauga downplays Neal’s skills, mentioning Miller’s grit as a potential decider in the outcome of their fight. Walker, in a rare turn (perhaps because her spot in the finals is safe and can look at the fight from a neutral perspective), talks about Neal’s aggression and well-roundedness but notes that Miller can match her in both areas. Miller, likewise appears to be in great shape.
This week’s TUF flashback revisited Pena’s own meteoric rise through the TUF House where she finished Ronda Rousey’s top pick Shayna Baszler and went on to become the first female Ultimate Fighter. Women’s mixed martial arts has come a long way since Pena hoisted the TUF trophy, and time will tell if she is able to achieve a similar level of success as a coach on the show. She is guaranteed to produce this season’s heavyweight champion, and if Miller can get through Neal, she will have a chance to have coached both champions this season.
With some divisive opinions coming out of both teams leading up to the final semifinal fight of the season, fight day has arrived with both fighters making their way to the Apex. It is tough to say whether Miller is treating this fight with the same level of emotion as her fight with Guthrie, but she seems plenty motivated to get the win. As for Neal, she called her journey a “rollercoaster of emotions,” but adds that she believes in herself, calling herself an “awesome fighter.” Pena fed her fighter some final words of encouragement before heading through the doors, and Miller adds that she fights for those who can’t. The tension is palpable in the Apex, and it feels like fight fans are going to be treated to one final war before both of this season’s finales.
Jason Herzog is the referee. Miller comes out in an aggressive stance, albeit not quite as aggressive as she did in her previous fight, though she appears intent on forcing clinching situations against Neal just as Pena wrote the game plan up. However, that aggression comes back to bite her early, with Neal reversing a takedown attempt and briefly taking top position before both fighters head back to their feet. Neal appears to be getting the better of some of the striking exchanges, but Miller is able to respond with a right straight that puts her back in range for another takedown attempt. This time, Miller is able to take the back and get Neal to the mat, quickly assuming body triangle in an attempt to soften her opponent up for a submission attempt. Miller isn’t doing a ton of damage from the position and eventually loses her body triangle, but is still able to maintain and threaten Neal around the neck. Miller soon gives up on the position entirely and lands some big strikes from the top. Just as it looks as though Neal is about to get the reversal, Miller is able to ground her opponent once again with another reversal that sees her once again end up in mount, leading to so damaging blows from the top. Miller’s superior leg reach proved to be the deciding factor in that particular exchange. For the final 40 seconds of the round, Miller decides to assume bottom and attack an armbar, but Neal didn’t appear to be too threatened by the attempt and is able to get some strikes off from top position to end the round, though it definitely won’t be enough as that was a clear 10-9 round for Miller.
Team Nunes is encouraged by the finish to the round from Neal, while Pena once again advises her fighter to “land straight punches right down the clown’s mouth.” White told Forrest Griffin at cageside how impressed he was with Miller that round, with Griffin telling White how polished Miller’s grappling was thanks to her experience in the jiu-jitsu world, to which White appeared stunned, as if he was hearing this for the first time.
Both fighters are able to continue their high pace to kick off the second round with Miller marching forward and leading the dance in the striking department. Neal is starting to look discouraged, and her volume has taken a noticeable dip, a pattern for Team Nunes fighters throughout this season when things start to go south early. At roughly the 3:30 mark, Miller telegraphs a takedown which Neal is easily able to stuff, but keep on her opponent and eventually pushes her up against the fence. She is eventually able to get double body lock on Neal, peel her off the fence and take her down with a trip. At the halfway point, this fight is trending toward being a more one-sided affair than fight fans have grown accustomed to this season. Miller is then able to work her way out of side control and into mount, landing some hard elbows before transitioning over the top of her opponent and isolating an arm to get the quick tap with a kimura. Wow. This was easily the most impressive female performance of the season.
Juliana Miller defeats Kaytlin Neal via Submission (Kimura) at 1:27 of Round 2
To say UFC President Dana White came away impressed with Miller’s performance would be a massive understatement. It’s tough to say where Nunes came up with the idea that Neal could handle Miller in grappling exchanges, but regardless, the women’s flyweight final is now set with Team Pena’s Miller set to take on Team Nunes’ Walker.
“You make things happen,” Pena told her fighter on the way back to the locker room. “You ask for them, you believe in them, then the universe gives them to you. That’s how it works.”
Miller, emotional in victory, puts over everyone who believed in her during the process, saying that anything is possible. Her hope is that her story encourages people to “shoot your shot, baby.” Neal, meanwhile, receives some words of encouragement in the opposing locker room. Gracious in defeat, Neal credits Miller for outclassing her on the ground.
TUF 30 Finals Set for UFC on ESPN 40
At this point, it is time for the finale faceoffs, with Miller first facing off against Walker. Miller says there is nothing to hide at this point and whoever is able to win the competition will come down to whoever comes out the better and stronger woman. Walker credits the work Miller has put in to get to this point, mentioning how she has been able to make her clunky standup style “work for her.” From there, Usman faces off with Pauga in advance of the heavyweight finale, with both fighters taking two different perspectives. Whereas Usman is ready to put what he has learned throughout the process on full display, Pauga seems confident in his ability to piece his opponent up and claim the TUF crown. A third faceoff ensues between Pena and Nunes with both fighters scheduled to settle their differences at UFC 277 on July 30, 2022. White calls the fight “one of the most anticipated rematches in UFC history,” but as the fighters are exiting the cage, the professional courtesies finally go out the window with Nunes jawing at Pena, telling her “now you want to talk.”
“What do I need to say?” Pena said. “The work speaks for itself.”
Nunes says her belt is “on vacation right now,” but that she will be getting it back soon.
With that, the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter has come to an end. Fight fans will get to witness the epic conclusion to each of the TUF finales at UFC on ESPN: Santos vs. Hill on Saturday, Aug. 6.
A special thank you to everyone who followed along at MMASucka throughout the season. Stay locked in to the site for more UFC content, as the latest season of Dana White’s Contender Series is fast approaching.