UFC Strawweight in 2017: What’s Happened and Where it’s Headed

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UFC 211 weigh in
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The UFC’s strawweight division has treated us to some incredible performances and matchups in 2017, and based off of those bouts, we’re in for a fantastic second-half of the year.

Whether it was Joanna Jedrzejczyk impressively extending her reign as champion, Jessica Andrade providing a fresh face, or Rose Namajunas clamoring for a title shot, fans of the UFC’s strawweight division have been spoiled this year. Top-tier matchups and quality matchmaking have set the table for the fun to continue well into 2017.

The promotion has some interesting puzzle pieces to fit together, and how they utilize their strawweights ahead of the creation of the women’s flyweight division this year will have a big impact on the future of the 115-pound weight class. It is currently one of the best in the UFC, featuring one of the most dominant and popular champions in the promotion, and a quality list of legitimate contenders MMA fans recognize.

The division is still growing as well, but that may change as more female fighters are able to compete in the UFC at 125 pounds in the near future. Until then, we’ll happily enjoy the likes of Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and more battle for a (or another) shot at Joanna Champion’s belt.

Recapping the Action

Although the likes of Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha wouldn’t feature until May and June respectively, the early months of 2017 had plenty of worthwhile strawweight action. Most notably: Jessica Andrade’s continued ascension in the 115-pound division. Her final win before a much-deserved title shot came at UFC Houston in February, the card with the most scheduled strawweight bouts thus far this year.

That win for Andrade, her third straight at 115-pounds, came against former Invicta FC strawweight champion Angela Hill in her return to the UFC. That “Fight of the Night” winner was sandwiched between impressive wins for Felice Herrig over Alexa Grasso and Tecia Torres over Bec Rawlings. Although, Rawlings missed weight, and the bout was fought at a catchweight 117.5 pounds.

Later that month in Halifax, the inaugural UFC strawweight champion returned to action, as Carla Esparza lost to Randa Markos via split decision and moved to 1-1 since losing her belt to Jedrzejczyk.

Then, we were introduced to Cynthia Calvillo. The 29-year-old California native made her UFC debut with a professional record of 3-0 heading into her main card bout against Amanda Cooper at UFC 209 in March. She made the most of the opportunity, submitting Cooper via rear-naked choke 3:19 into the first round. Calvillo would then fight in the promotion’s very next strawweight bout, again on the main card of a pay-per-view, at UFC 210 in April. Another high-profile UFC bout would turn into another victory for Calvillo, who submitted Pearl Gonzalez at the 3:45 mark of the third round.

While the year started well for the division, it hadn’t really even begun until UFC Kansas City in mid-April. There, Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson were the co-main event of a FOX network televised card, giving the 115-pound weight class the spotlight it had earned in its short time in the promotion. Namajunas, part of the original cast of The Ultimate Fighter that brought the division to the UFC, made smooth work of one of the toughest opponents of her career, submitting Waterson in the second round.

While that bout got things going for the strawweight division, Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s title-defense against 115-pound weight class newcomer Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 satiated our thirst for greatness. In another mind-numbingly impressive performance, Jedrzejczyk won round after round, reminding us all why we don’t miss any of her fights.

But, there is always Claudia Gadelha. Something we were reminded of almost as quickly as we were of Joanna Champion’s status as the world’s premier strawweight. Giving the division a constant title contender, Gadelha dispatched of fellow former Jedrzejczyk title-foe Karolina Kowalkiewicz in quick fashion, becoming the first fighter to finish the Poland native in her 12-fight career.

Looking Ahead

Throughout the summer, a slew of strawweight bouts are currently scheduled. At UFC Auckland JJ Aldrich is fighting Chan-Mi Jeon, and at UFC Oklahoma City veteran Felice Herrig will take on undefeated Justine Kish while former division champ Carla Esparza is hoping to rebound off of a loss in a bout with Maryna Moroz.

In July at The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale prior to UFC 213, former Invicta FC 115-pound champ Angela Hill gets her second bout in her second stanza with the promotion against Ashely Yoder. Later that month in Glasgow, we get the return of Cynthia Calvillo. She’ll get the toughest test of her career thus far when she fights Joanne Calderwood in the co-main event.

After that, it’s all up to promotion President Dana White (apparently). He’s got plenty of chips to play with, including the top seven fighters in the official UFC strawweight rankings. A few matchups make more sense than most, so we’re going to do our best to help ol’ Dana out with some matchmaking.

First, for the champion, there’s one option that makes more sense than the rest: Rose Namajunas. In another division, with different circumstances, she may not be the number one contender. But, when Joanna Jedrzejczyk is demolishing every top-tier contender thrown her way, others need to step up. Following her win over Waterson earlier this year, and lack of a loss to Jedrzejczyk coupled with her #3 ranking, make her the most currently deserving contender.

That’s a bummer for Claudia Gadelha, who is likely the world’s best strawweight not-named Joanna Jedrzejczyk. There are interesting and meaningful fights available for Gadelha, though, who finds herself in a similar situation to Frankie Edgar in the featherweight division. We’d like to see her take on another fighter who’s also lost a title bout to Jedrzejczyk recently: fellow Brazilian Jessica Andrade.

A couple of other top-tier strawweights coming off of losses that could find themselves in a bout fighting for title-picture relevance is Michelle Waterson and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The duo had opportunities to earn better positioning heading into the summer, and could rebound quickly with a win over the other. So, why not have them fight?

There’s also Paige VanZant and Tecia Torres looking for fights, although they’re trending in different directions. Randa Markos is also looking for a fight, coming off of her win over Carla Esparza earlier this year. And we shouldn’t forget about Cortney Casey, either, who is coming off of a win over Jessica Aguilar and is facing issues with the Texas Athletic Commission.

We’ve been treated to a great first half of the year in the strawweight division. Great fights, high-quality matchups, and impressive performances from a variety of fighters all contributed to making the 115-pound weight class one of the most entertaining of 2017 thus far. Considering the disaster that is the women’s featherweight division, and the muddied title races at flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight, we’ll take our strawweight division just the way it is and happily look forward to the rest of the year.

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