“It honestly means the world to me,” Grant said of fighting in the final. “To go and get that contract, and to try to give the kids everything they want, it really is a dream come true. I’ve come to terms with the way I got here. I was really upset at first, but that’s how it goes and you’ve just got to take it in stride.”
Grant said he knows Holdsworth, who trains with the renowned Team Alpha Male in California, is a dangerous opponent. But he’s faced tough tests before. For him, that’s just one more obstacle to overcome.
“He’s really talented,” Grant said. “He comes from a really good gym, he’s got good standup skills, brilliant jiu-jitsu. he’s a really tough opponent – and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
“Meeting Burt Watson – being a fan myself, I’ve watched all the behind-the-scenes footage – so hearing his talk gave me some tingles,” Holdsworth on Wednesday told MMAjunkie. “I’m just embracing everything. I expected all of this, and it’s part of the journey in the life I chose.”
That journey took Holdsworth (4-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) to an unbeaten start to his MMA career, a spot on Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” and now, a chance to become the next winner of that show when he meets Davey Grant (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at Saturday’s TUF 18 Finale.
The TUF 18 Finale takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas with a main card on FOX Sports 1 following prelims on MMAjunkie. The card is headlined by a lightweight bout between Season 5 cast members Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard, both recent title challengers, but also will crown new winners in the men’s bantamweight division and, for the first time, the women’s bantamweight class.
Holdsworth, who was coach Miesha Tate’s second pick on the men’s side of things, reached the final courtesy of three submissions. He tapped eventual teammate Louis Fisette to get into the house, then subbed Chris Beal and Michael Wootten, all in the first round.
His opponent’s path to the final was a little easier. After submitting Fisette, Grant got a bye into the final when Anthony Gutierrez couldn’t make weight and was eliminated.
Holdsworth said he’s prepared for whatever version of Grant he might see – the submission artist, the heavy hitter, the aggressor.
“I think his style’s a little bit of a banger,” he said. “But he’s very well-rounded. Most of his fights have ended by submission. I’ve seen a few fights of his online, and of course his ones on the show. He’s a finisher. He’s very aggressive, hits hard and he comes forward a lot.”
Holdsworth trains with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento alongside UFC mainstays like Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes and Danny Castillo under coach Duane Ludwig, and he believes that experience is going to help him on Saturday, as well.
“I think just being around those guys has helped me a lot, seeing the whole process first-hand for myself,” he said. “I always envisioned that, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to go through that one day.’ You just have to take it all in and enjoy it.”
Plus, Holdsworth said he saw the signs – and it opened up his eyes.
“I remember the first season sitting on the couch watching Chris Leben, Forrest Griffin, seeing history happening,” he said. “I was still in high school. But I said, ‘Maybe one day, that’s what I want to do – I want to be on “The Ultimate Fighter.”‘ Eighteen seasons later, it’s a crazy dream come true. At the tryouts, they gave everyone a number, and I was 18. That was a sign – I’m a big believer in the signs, and I believe I’m going to be the next ‘Ultimate Fighter’ for Season 18.”
“Looking back on it, the experience – it couldn’t have gone any other way,” Pena said. “I’m glad that they hated on me and pigeonholed me a little bit. It was the fuel that lit my truck in order for me to go forward and make it to the finale. Looking back on it, it played out exactly as it needed to in order for me to be successful.”
Pena submitted both her opponents once in the “TUF 18″ house to set up a women’s tournament final against Jessica Rakoczy on Saturday at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Pena is more than a 2-to-1 favorite against Rakoczy, a former professional boxer. But she’s not thinking about the odds being in her favor.
“I don’t look at it as favorite or underdog,” Pena said. “I think the chances are 50-50 and anything can happen in there. Her chances are just as good as mine. I’m just going to go in there and do what I can do and focus on what I can do.”
“This level here is like nothing I’ve ever done before,” Rakoczy said. “I’ve been in big fights and had a lot of exposure, but this right here is the biggest I’ve ever had.”
Rakoczy was an underdog all season in the house, and she’ll be one again on Saturday at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas against Julianna Pena.
But that’s not something she’s letting get to her. If anything, it may be serving as a little extra motivation.
“You always feel like you have to prove something,” she said. “For me, being the underdog in this sport was OK because you just have to keep reaching and reaching. For me, it just didn’t feel like as much pressure because they weren’t expecting anything from me. It’s a lot easier that way.”
And that way, Rakoczy isn’t putting any extra pressure on herself to win. But make no mistake, winning the show would be huge.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but this definitely is one of the biggest fights I’ve ever had,” she said. “I know I have to win this fight to accomplish anything in the UFC. It took a lot of years to win my (boxing) titles, and a lot of sacrifice. This has been very hard for me, and obviously emotional. But this would mean everything if I could win this – right up there with those belts.”