It was simply over two years in the past that the UFC ladies’s flyweight division secured a twin popularity that gave the impression to be set in stone.
On one hand, the 125-pound division was fronted by defending champion Valentina Shevchenko who, after transferring down from bantamweight, started to cement herself as an all-time nice fighter by commandeering the UFC title earlier than embarking on a collection of one-sided title defenses.
The flipside to that summarization was one thing not as many observers have been prepared to usually admit: the division was as barren of official title contenders or depth as any in UFC historical past. Yes, Shevchenko, who has since prolonged her title protection streak to a UFC ladies’s document of seven, was showcasing her greatness proper in entrance of our eyes, however she had largely carried out so towards an underwhelming collection of gatekeepers who had beforehand flamed out of their extra desired weight class.
If there was a tease that change may be within the air, it got here in Shevchenko’s November 2020 title protection towards Brazil’s Jennifer Maia the place, regardless of cruising to a large determination win, Shevchenko had official bother coping with Maia’s dimension and grappling prowess. Any feeling that the division was catching as much as Shevchenko turned out to be a fleeting one, nonetheless, when she adopted it up with damaging finishes of Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy.
Yet for individuals who would possibly’ve ignored the general machinations inside the division during the last couple of years, it seems the Maia combat could have been a harbinger of issues to return.
Trying to debate whether or not the division has merely caught up with Shevchenko — an concept seemingly crystalized by her wrestle to edge Taila Santos by way of cut up determination final June — or whether or not the 34-year-old champion has slipped only a bit is pointless. Not solely is the reality possible within the center, the outcome has been the most effective information the division has obtained since its shaky 2017 launch via “The Ultimate Fighter.”
For the primary time, the UFC ladies’s flyweight division is definitely enjoyable. Moreover, there’s really some sneaky depth for the time being, together with a rising variety of viable title contenders which have slowly revealed themselves.
Keep in thoughts, outdoors of the strawweight division, which has seemingly at all times been stocked with wealthy expertise because it debuted in 2014, the historical past of girls’s divisions inside the UFC have not been all that nice save for some key large moments (and massive names that handed via).
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Save for the primary three years after its unique 2013 debut, ladies’s bantamweight has been a large number. Ronda Rousey’s preliminary rise was unimaginable, as was the depth UFC had round her with the likes of Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, Shevchenko and present champion Amanda Nunes. But any type of division parity or pleasure (save for Nunes’ 2021 upset loss to Julianna Pena, which was avenged final 12 months) stalled rapidly as soon as Nunes established her dominance.
Women’s featherweight, the second division which Nunes is at the moment a champion, stays so usually in flux that UFC has nonetheless but to populate a high 10 on its official rankings web page although the division debuted in 2017. Nunes has solely defended her 145-pound title twice since her 2018 knockout of Cris Cyborg and one would possibly ponder whether or not the division is simply being stored alive for PFL star Kayla Harrison’s eventual free-agent signing.
Yet for ladies’s flyweight, final weekend’s UFC Fight Night predominant occasion proved to be the proper showcase of simply how far the division has come since unheralded inaugural champion Nicco Montano was as soon as stripped of her belt for lacking weight and why there’s cause for a lot optimism relating to the long run.
Santos’ disputed loss to Shevchenko final 12 months may’ve simply warranted a direct rematch. Instead, Santos was provided a combat reverse red-hot Erin Blanchfield, which she accepted earlier than pulling out late. Former strawweight champion and flyweight title challenger Jessica Andrade crammed in on brief discover, permitting Blanchfield to place forth the efficiency of her younger profession by absorbing Andrade’s heavy pictures early earlier than submitting her (with shocking ease) in Round 2.
In the 23-year-old Blanchfield, the UFC now has a rising star who’s a official menace to Shevchenko’s reign. The even higher information, nonetheless, is she won’t be the one one.
For a division that was beforehand often called “Shevchenko and everybody else,” that group of everybody else is as vibrant because it has ever been. One must look no additional than Alexa Grasso, a 29-year-old slick boxer from Mexico, who has received all 4 of her 125-pound fights since transferring up from strawweight in 2020 and can problem Shevchenko subsequent at UFC 285 on March 4.
But the listing of doubtless fascinating title challengers goes past the names listed above. There’s additionally Manon Fiorot, the 33-year-old French striker who has received all 5 of her UFC bouts (together with key wins over elite gatekeepers Maia and Katlyn Chookagian), is ranked second by the promotion and will land a title shot to shut the calendar 12 months.
The key to a wholesome division, nonetheless, is the depth past the highest 5 and a bunch of younger fighters threatening to make noise within the short-term future. Women’s flyweight additionally has that, too, within the type of Casey O’Neill, Maycee Barber, Tracy Cortez, Miranda Maverick and Amanda Ribas. And in the event you want the wildcard of a division darkish horse, enter former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Tatiana Suarez.
The 32-year-old Suarez continues to be unbeaten at 8-0 regardless of a collection of accidents which have restricted the native of southern California to only one combat within the final 5 years. Suarez has formally moved as much as 125 kilos and can lastly make her debut this Saturday reverse Montana De La Rosa at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.
Given Suarez’s dimension and dominant wrestling sport, she stays simply one other fascinating matchup for the highest of the division whether or not Shevchenko survives this new wave of contenders or not.
It took some time to get right here however flyweight is instantly rivalring its strawweight neighbor 10 kilos south as the most effective ladies’s division within the sport as we speak.
What’s in a reputation?
As Bellator MMA makes its return to arguably the globe’s most passionate fan base of Dublin, Ireland, this weekend for Bellator 291 inside 3Arena, the co-main occasion of the cardboard represents an enormous alternative for 30-year-old featherweight veteran Jeremy Kennedy.
A local of British Columbia, Canada, Kennedy has received three of 4 since leaving PFL for Bellator and takes on Pedro Carvalho in a pivotal matchup at 145 kilos. But have you ever ever questioned why Kennedy (18-3, 1 NC) goes by the moniker of “JBC?”
According to Kennedy, the acronym stands for “junior bacon cheeseburger,” as within the Wendy’s worth menu merchandise, and is a nod to Kennedy’s early days as a novice fighter when he was brief on money and even shorter on dietary self-discipline and information.
Kennedy had been previously loyal to McDonald’s however made the swap to Wendy’s throughout his fledgling days as a fighter and the nickname caught.
Viral video of the week
What’s the outdated phrase? Play silly video games, get silly prizes?
UFC veteran Dustin Poirier sat in a transferring automotive throughout a latest Mardi Gras parade in Youngsville, Louisiana, and was accosted by a fan holding an indication studying, “Hey Dustin, your spouse’s in my DM’s,” which references a remark Conor McGregor made about Poirier’s spouse, Jolie, throughout their heated paid of 2021 pay-per-view bouts.
The outcome was what you would possibly count on.
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