UFC 222: Main Event A Turning Point for Women’s Featherweight Division

Invicta FC champ Yana Kunitskaya heading to UFC on FOX 28
Yana Kunitskaya Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Of all the division’s in the UFC, only one isn’t taken nearly as seriously as the others: women’s featherweight. Saturday night could change that.

When the UFC announced they were introducing a women’s featherweight division, few were surprised. Cris Cyborg is a giant star, and one of the great fighters on the women’s side of the UFC. What was surprising was that the division was starting with two fighters who were not featherweights. What happened next got the division off to a horrendous start.

Holly Holm and Germaine De Randamie had the MMA world’s attention at UFC 208. They were the pair tabbed to launch the featherweight division in the absence of Cyborg. The two had a slow-paced, frankly uninteresting fight that night, where the biggest blows landed came after the bell by De Randamie. Then, after a fight where most media members and fans had Holm winning, De Randamie captured a decision victory over the former bantamweight champion.

Despite the iffy victory, the division had something in the works. De Randamie could have proved to be a good foil to Cyborg. The match-up was something that could have got people excited for the division. Instead, Germaine refused to fight Cyborg, vacated the title, and moved back down to bantmaweight. Thus making the entire inaugural women’s 145lb title fight in the UFC pointless.

After that false start, the division then got underway with a fight that most people said should’ve started it, Cris Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson. Anderson is a legitimate featherweight with a great striking game and was only getting better. She’d be going up against probably the greatest woman to ever fight period. But of course something had to go wrong, as Anderson pulled out of their fight at UFC 214. Tonya Evinger stepped in, and while Tonya proved tough, she was stopped in the third round. Still, at long last, Cris Cyborg was a UFC champion. The only problem was, it came against a bantamweight.

Then the stars aligned and another fight many people wanted to see for the belt originally happened at UFC 219. There, Holly Holm and Cyborg fought for five hard rounds with Cyborg winning a clear decision. However this too narrowly missed controversy: Cyborg won the fight 48-47 on all judge’s scorecards, with Holm winning the first two rounds. Had Holly Holm done anything of significance in rounds 3-5, we could have easily been in the midst of another scoring controversy.

Fast-forward to March 3. UFC 222’s main event has an opportunity to make us forget all that. Cris Cyborg and Yana Kunitskaya step in on short notice to save the card after a Max Holloway injury, and put the focus on the women’s featherweight division. Yana is a former bantamweight who was signed as such, but announced her plans to move up last month. While many didn’t expect her to get here and fight Cyborg so quickly, she’s prepared to show the world she is ready. She was a large bantamweight (hence the move up, something the CSAC strongly recommended for the fighter). The former Invicta champion boasts a 10-3 record and thinks she’s the one to end Cyborg’s reign. But is she?

She’s likely not, but who knows? Crazier things have happened in MMA, and the Jackson-Wink product has only gotten better in her recent fights. While it’s unlikely that she will dethrone Cyborg, if she can get in there and at least be competitive and show there’s other legitimate featherweights outside of Cyborg, it will do wonders for the division and gain her and other fighters in the division some much needed respect. She’ll also have an edge in Holly Holm fighting out of the same camp; her recent fight against Cyborg should give Yana a blueprint to follow. She’ll just need to improve on it to get the win.

With that being unlikely, we can all at least hope for an exciting scrap that brings legitimacy to the UFC’s 145lb pound division, which over a year after its inception, has yet to be fully formed.

For more on UFC 222 check out our coverage here!