What’s Happening In The UFC Women’s Divisions
By Claudia Peterson
As we head into spring 2020, it is time to see what is happening in the top ten in the UFC’s women’s divisions, and the five fighters to watch this year.
The strawweight division is the most stacked division in the women’s roster. It boasts of some very competitive talent in the top ten, with four fighters who have been champions at some point in the past few years.
The current champion Weili Zhang is ranked two in the women’s pound for pound list and is coming off an impressive first title defence against former six time champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
The future is bright for Zhang. Back in August of 2019 she defeated then current champion Jessica Andrade by knockout in just forty two seconds to gain the strawweight title.
This past March she defended her title for the first time, and while defeating the former champion was not an easy task, she proved to be able to outstrike the Muay Thai kickboxer and was able to stand with her for five rounds, something she had not done before against any other opponent.
As she moves forward, a fight against Rose Namajunas would be interesting. Rose is set to rematch Andrade later this year, and if she wins, she may be next in line to fight for the title.
She can also give Andrade a rematch if Andrade can get a second win over Namajunas. This would only be fair, given that their first fight ended so quickly and one can make the argument that making the trek to China for her first title defense against Zhang was too much of a compromise for Andrade.
Weili can also fight the undefeated Tatianna Suarez when she is back from her injury, so long as Suarez feels she can be ready to fight for the title after such a long layoff.
Suarez is highly touted to be champion of the straweights in the future, as she is perhaps the best female wrestler in MMA right now. Suarez would be a terrible matchup for anyone at 115 pounds.
For her part, Joanna is in a tough predicament and has an uncertain future in her division. If she chooses to retire soon, she could have one last great fight in a rematch against Weili given that their first fight was so close and the decision could have gone to either of the two women.
However, having gone 4-2 in her last six fights and having lost all title fights in those six might not be an incentive to challenge for the title one last time, knowing that beating Zhang would be very difficult.
She is also up against the wall in regards to the rest of the top ten. She has a dominant decision win over number one contender and former champion Andrade, has two losses to number two ranked former champion Namajunas, and has beaten number six ranked Claudia Gadelha twice before.
Back in 2015, she took the title from number seven ranked former champion Carla Esparza, and has a one-sided dominant decision win over eighth ranked Michelle Watterson from back in October of 2019, a win that earned her a second shot at the title.
She will most likely not fight number five ranked Nina Ansaroff because they are teammates and Ansaroff is currently taking some time off to start a family with partner Amanda Nunes.
Fighting number ninth ranked Marina Rodriguez or number tenth ranked Cynthia Calvillo would not make any sense and does not help her get back to the top, let alone cement her legacy.
A move up to flyweight will prove in vain as she has already lost a title bid to current champion Valentina Schevchecnko. I doubt the proud Polish fighter will accept being relegated to gatekeeper status in either division, so she has some important decisions to make about her fighting future.
As far as the rest of the division is concerned, if the rest of the top ten contenders continue to perform well, there is nothing to say fighters like Michelle Watterson, Nina Ansaroff and Carla Ezparsa can’t fight for the title in the near future.
Other fighters who will be making their way up the ranks are Angela Hill who is on a three fight winning streak and unranked Amanda Ribas, who has been impressive since her UFC debut in the summer of 2019.
She is 3-0 after defeating veteran Randa Markos and will crack into the top 15 very fast and may even be in the top ten by the end of the year. Also worth mentioning is number eleventh ranked Xian Xionan, who is currently undefeated in her UFC tenure, with five consecutive wins.
Perhaps the best mixed martial artist in any of the women’s divisions of the UFC, current champion Valentina Schevchenko is unstoppable.
With no clear competition in this weight class, Shevchenko is intent on continuing to clean out her division before making a move elsewhere. She has been careful not to call out Amanda Nunes for a third fight at bantamweight, but if her sister Antonina who sits at number twelve, continues to climb up the rankings, it will be clear that Valentina may move back up to bantamweight.
Valentina has said in the past she will never fight her sister, and with very good reason. Valentina does not really have to prove anything by fighting Amanda once again, but a third fight between the two of them would be one of the most competitive female fights in UFC history.
As far as the rest of the division, Valentina already has wins over number one ranked Jessica Eye and number two ranked Katlyn Chookagian, both impressive stoppages. She will face number three ranked Jojo Calderwood later in 2020.
The only other interesting fights at flyweight for her would be against number fifth ranked Roxanne Modafferi and number ninth ranked Mayccee Barber when she is able to return from injury.
A fight against Modafferi would be an opportunity to avenge her sister’s loss to the Happy Warrior from April of 2019. Number sixth ranked Lauren Murphy and number eighth ranked Andrea Lee are two fighters who seem very promising, but who are still bettering their game.
If number four ranked Jennifer Maia can get two wins in a row, she may be able to fight for the title. Number seventh ranked Vivianne Araujo recently lost to former title challenger Jessica Eye and is too green yet to contend anytime soon and number tenth ranked veteran Alexis Davis is on a three fight losing skid and has no momentum behind her. Interesting to note, Davis is the only woman in the UFC who has a TKO win over Amanda Nunes.
Current double champion Amanda Nunes won the title back in 2016 at UFC 200 when she defeated former champion Miesha Tate in devastating fashion in the first round.
The current number one pound for pound female fighter has notable wins over former bantamweight and featherweight champions Ronda Rousey, number two ranked Holly Holm, Cris Cyborg and number one ranked Germain DeRandamie.
There are a number of women in the top ten who can be good matchups for the lioness.
Number five ranked Irene Aldana is coming off an impressive first round knockout win over seventh ranked Ketlen Vieira, number three ranked Aspen Ladd always puts on exciting finishes and is coming off a TKO win over eighth ranked Yana Kunitskaya, and number fourth ranked Julianna Pena is currently injured but can be a real problem, especially on the ground.
The rest of the division does not pose a threat. Number sixth ranked Raquel Pennington lost her title bid to Nunes in a one sided mauling and is 2-1 in her last three. Number seventh ranked Viera just had her first loss in the sport, while number eighth ranked Yana Kunitskaya has yet to gain some real momentum in the division, with her only wins being to number tenth ranked Marion Reneau and number eleventh ranked Lina Lansberg.
Nunes also has a first round submission win over number ninth ranked Sara McMann. Based on their recent performances both McMann and Reneau are not yet part of the title contention conversation. Both are veterans on the sport, and it is not likely they will be around for much longer.
The thinnest of the four women’s divisions, Nunes is also the champion in this weight class, having dethroned former champion Cris Cyborg in December of 2018.
She has not yet defended her title, but the division is slowly growing with the presence of fighters like Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson.
Back in February, there was somewhat of a mini featherweight tourney at UFC Fight Night: Benavidez vs. Figueiredo, that saw both Spencer and Anderson come out as the clear number one and number two contenders.
With wins over Zarah Fairn Dos Santos and Norma Dumont, respectively. Nunes will make her first title defense against Spencer later this year, who already has a first round submission win over Megan Anderson.
Rumour has it that former inaugural featherweight champion Germaine DeRandamie may make a move back to featherweight. Nunes has two wins over De Randamie, the most recent one being from her latest bantamweight title defense back in December of 2019.
It is not clear if De Randamie would challenge for the title right away or if she would fight someone like Anderson. If Nunes can successfully defend her title against Felicia Spencer, a fight against Megan Anderson or even De Randamie for a third time would be an interesting matchup, but other than that, there are no clear contenders for Nunes to look forward to.
With all that said, here are the five female fighters to watch in 2020:
1: Felicia Spencer:
Spencer won her debut by defeating Megan Anderson via submission in the first round back in May of 2019. She then had her first career loss at the hands of Cris Cyborg, in a fight that actually raised her stock, and earned her the respect of many. She will certainly give Amanda Nunes a tough fight when she fights for the title later this year.
2. Weili Zhang
Even though Zhang has already won the title and has defeated two of the best in Joanna and Andrade, she still has a lot to prove as worthy contenders such as Rose Namajunas and Tatianna Suarez wait their turn.
3. Irene Aldana
Aldana is coming off an impressive first round knockout win over former undefeated Ketlen Vieira. She continues to impress, and may just be next in line for the title.
4. Xian Xionan
Not much has been said about Xian Xionan, but the Chinese fighter is unbeaten in her UFC tenure (5-0), having fought mainly in cards that took place in Asia. She recently defeated former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
5. Angela Hill
‘Overkill’ has had a very busy couple of years and is currently on a three fight winning streak. It’s as if she has gotten her second wind in her career, and will be looking to continue to move up the rankings in 2020.