By: Logan Helfferich
With Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko set to meet this Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Chicago, the UFC has a lot of decisions to make regarding the women’s bantamweight division. Since Ronda Rousey lost her title to Holm back in November, no woman that held the belt has been able to successfully defend it. Holm lost her first title defense against Miesha Tate via a late fifth round submission. Tate lost her first title defense at UFC 200 to current champion, Amanda Nunes, via a first round submission after being picked apart by strikes.
Holm has stated that she wants to avenge her loss to Tate more than she wants to get the belt back. Shevchenko lost her last fight to the current champion, Nunes. A victory over Holm for Shevchenko would scramble the rankings of the entire division.
Julianna Pena defeated Cat Zingano at UFC 200. Pena has expressed her desire for a title shot, and honestly, there isn’t another fight for Pena that makes much sense. After beating Zingano, the only fighters ahead of Pena in the UFC rankings are Tate, Holm and Rousey. Tate and Pena are teammates, so that fight isn’t likely to happen any time soon. With Holm fighting Shevchenko, it doesn’t leave a top-level opponent for Pena.
Ronda Rousey wants her belt back and has said that she is out for revenge. A quick return for Rousey would mean an immediate title shot against Nunes. If Rousey doesn’t return in a timely manner, then Pena would be the next logical fighter to challenge Nunes. In that case, a Rousey vs. Holm rematch could be a non-title headliner. A rematch against Zingano would even make sense for Rousey’s return. Rousey submitted Zingano in only 14 seconds the last time they fought, so a rematch would be interesting.
Miesha Tate also wants her belt back after just losing it at UFC 200. A Tate vs Zingano rematch makes sense because the first time they fought was possibly the best female fight in the UFC to date. If Rousey still hasn’t returned, the winner of that fight could get the next title shot, whether it be Nunes or Pena. Since Tate and Pena are teammates though, Tate might not want to fight Pena for the belt if Pena beats Nunes.
Amanda Nunes stated that she wasn’t impressed with Pena’s performance at UFC 200. This could mean Nunes is dismissing Pena as a potential challenger, or it could mean that Nunes realizes that Pena is likely her first opponent to defend the belt against, and is trying to play some mind games. Since both Nunes and Pena both fought at UFC 200 and Holm is fighting this Saturday, Pena is the next possible challenger for Nunes. However, if Holm is impressive against Shevchenko, she could earn the next title shot instead of Pena. If Rousey returns fairly soon, then she’ll get an immediate shot at the belt since she’s obviously the biggest draw.
What about Cris Cyborg? Cyborg is 1-0 in the UFC with a win over Leslie Smith at UFC 198. Cyborg is known for dominating women’s MMA at 145 pounds, but the UFC doesn’t have a featherweight division for women. Therefore, Cyborg will need to cut down to 135 pounds if she wants to challenge for the belt. A catch-weight fight against Rousey could be a main event. The winner of that fight could get the next title shot, assuming Cyborg would be able to make it to bantamweight.
Clearly the UFC women’s bantamweight division is loaded with talent and as of now, it’s extremely difficult to figure out who the best really is. The most logical course of action (assuming Rousey doesn’t return in a timely manner) is to have Pena fight Nunes for the title next, have Tate fight the winner of Holm vs. Shevchenko, and have Zingano fight the loser of Holm vs. Shevchenko. If Rousey does happen to return soon, then the most logical thing to do would be to give her an immediate title shot. In the meantime, Pena could fight the winner of Holm vs. Shevchenko or she could just sit back and wait for own title shot. Ideally, Holm beats Shevchenko on Saturday and gets a rematch against Tate, while Pena challenges Nunes for the belt.