UFC in 2018 Mid-Year Title Race Report Part Four: The Women’s Divisions

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Cris Cyborg, UFC Women's Divisions
Credit: Gleidson Venga/Sherdog.com

We’re nearly halfway through the year, and title races in several UFC divisions are heating up. Others? Not so much. Where are the title pictures in each of the promotion’s weight classes headed as we enter the second stanza of 2018?

Due to injuries, bad weight cuts, and more, the year has had a start-and-stop feel to the title races in many of the promotion’s divisions. We’ve still had several title-fights, but haven’t seen any UFC championships change hands yet this year. That is likely to change at some point in 2018.

Despite the messy matchmaking, we’ve been treated to some impressive performances, fun matchups, and even some dolly-drama that still boggles the mind. Given the less-than-straightforward action atop many of the UFC’s weight classes thus far this year, what do we have to look forward to the rest of 2018?

We decided to take a look at the title races in each and every division in the promotion, and where they could be headed during the next six months. We’ll have four parts, with a few weight classes featured in each part. For our final report, we’re breaking down all three of the women’s divisions in the promotion. Don’t miss parts one, two, and three!

Strawweight: The Rise of Rose

Not many people believed Rose Namajunas would defeat Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the strawweight title at UFC 217. Who thought she’d be able to do it twice in less than six months? The second performance, in some ways, was even more impressive than the first.

Now, she’ll have to defend the belt against another of the talented contenders in the loaded 115-pound division. With JJ out of the title picture for the immediate future, there’s a couple of options the promotion look to. But one opponent makes more sense than the rest: Jessica Andrade.

The former bantamweight has been incredible since moving to strawweight. Andrade is 5-1 fighting at 115-pounds, with the lone loss coming to Jedrzejczyk at UFC 211 last May. Since that bout, the Brazilian has gone 2-0, earning wins over Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres. It’s hard to have two more impressive victories (unless you’re Namajunas) in the strawweight division.

If Dana White and co. are asking us, we’re booking Namajunas-Andrade before the end of the year. The promotion may not have to rush it though, as Namajunas is apparently wanting to take some time off due to an accumulation of injuries. If Andrade ends up not being available, the winner of the upcoming bout between Jedrzejczyk and Torres at UFC Calgary in July could be an option.

Do we need Rose-JJ 3 in 2018? Probably not. Is Rose-Torres 3 likely in 2018? Probably not. But if Jedrzejczyk decides to put-off the move to flyweight, and can get back on track, it may not be long before she’s back competing for the strawweight belt. And if Torres can rebound from her loss to Andrade in quick fashion, she’ll stay in the conversation as well.

There’s also Karolina Kowalkiewicz, the only person to defeat Namajunas in the last three-plus years. She’s bounced back from back-to-back losses to Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha with back-to-back wins. Kowalkiewicz probably needs another top-tier victory at strawweight to secure a title shot. It appears the UFC agrees, as they’re reportedly looking to book Kowalkiewicz against Andrade this summer. Her previous victory over Rose gives her something other contenders don’t have, though.

One former title challenger who will likely be on the shelf for an extended period of time is Gadelha. Coming off of her victory over Carla Esparza at UFC 225, Gadelha is headed for knee surgery.

You can mix-and-match any of the top contenders in the strawweight division and find an intriguing match-up with ease. With a fresh champion and an abundance of title-worthy resumés, the future of the 115-pound weight class is in good shape.

Flyweight: Sheva’s Going to Get Her Shot (Eventually)

Although the division is less than a year old, and patience is key, it’s hard to not be disappointed in the start the flyweight division has been off to. We’re still waiting for inaugural champion Nicco Montano’s first title defense, but might not have to wait too much longer.

Former bantamweight title-contender Valentina Shevchenko earned her first flyweight win in February, and is poised for a shot at the 125-pound title. The easy choice for Montano’s first challenger, Shevchenko is the kind of fighter that can compete at the top of the weight class for a while. If she gets the belt around her waist later this year, it could be a while before it comes off.

After the champ and Sheva, there isn’t much else to discuss in the flyweight title-picture. The next best contender is Sijara Eubanks. She was initially slated to fight for the title against Montano at The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale last December, but was pulled after suffering kidney failure while trying to make weight and replaced by Roxanne Modafferi. She rebounded by earning her first UFC win in June over Lauren Murphy.

Alexis Davis could be in the title picture in the near future, too. She was 2-0 last year, and fights Katlyn Chookagian in Calgary in July. Chookagian has also won her last two bouts, and with a win over Davis, could have an outside shot in a young division that currently lacks depth.

Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jedrzejczyk. It looks like she’s staying at strawweight, for now. But JJ and Shevchenko battling for the flyweight belt is a much bigger draw than anything else the promotion can do, and would give other contenders a little more time to build their resumés.

Bantamweight: Nobody Can Handle Nunes

Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington ahead of UFC 224
Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington ahead of UFC 224 Credit: Joao Baptista/Sherdog.com

After clearing out the contenders at bantamweight over the last couple of years, it’s clear that champion Amanda Nunes is ready for a bigger challenge. How big of a challenge, and how soon, could dictate the next couple of fights for the Brazilian. After demolishing Raquel Pennington at UFC 224 for her third title-defense, we think Nunes is ready for the biggest test of them all: Cris Cyborg.

Both the women’s 135-pound and 145-pound divisions are currently lacking legitimate title-contenders and top-tier depth. Hell, the featherweight division doesn’t even really exist. Between that, and the impressive resumés of the two champions, a “superfight” in 2018 for Cyborg’s featherweight belt makes all of the sense in the world. Plus, it’ll give a little time for each weight class to build up a couple of contenders.

At bantamweight, those contenders include Holly Holm and Ketlen Vieira.

Although three of Holm’s last four bouts have come at featherweight, she still has her eye on the bantamweight title picture. Despite being the potential number one contender at 145-pounds, following her victory over Megan Anderson at UFC 225, the former 135-pound champ isn’t far removed from competing for the featherweight title. In a fairly one-sided bout last December, Holm failed to become a two-division UFC champion.

But, with a win over Amanda Nunes, and a belt around her waist, another shot at Cyborg sometime soon seems much more likely. With the next best option at bantamweight being the 26-year-old Vieira, Holm is closer to that opportunity than it may seem. How hard could selling a bout between the two women who’ve defeated Ronda Rousey be?

For Vieira, a title-shot in 2019 is probably the better bet. The five-foot-eight-inch tall Brazilian is 10-0 in her relatively young career. She’s gone 4-0 in the UFC since joining the promotion in 2016. Her two most recent wins have come against Sara McMann and Cat Zingano, giving her as good an argument as anyone. We’d prefer the promotion be patient with Vieira, who needs a bit more polish before battling the likes of Nunes.

Beyond that, there isn’t much else. Julianna Peña hasn’t fought since January of 2017, Pennington just lost her first fight in 18 months, and Germaine De Randamie is MIA. There is dire need for depth at bantamweight. But with Cyborg, Holm, and Vieira as solid options for Nunes, the title picture should be alright for the time being.

Featherweight: The Cyborg Belt

Even if the UFC’s women’s featherweight division doesn’t really exist, watching Cris Cyborg fight is pretty fun. Her title might not be much more than a gimmick, but her ability to draw fans is very much the real deal. As long as she remains one of the most consistent main event pay-per-view options for the UFC, expect the Cyborg Belt to stick around.

But, if there’s no division, who can she fight? Uh, good question. A question the UFC seems to prefer to answer on the fly, rather than build up the women’s 145-pound division. As mentioned above, we think Cyborg-Nunes at featherweight is the best option for a variety of reasons. But if they go another direction, what’re some realistic options?

There’s Holm again, right? The first fight was pretty entertaining, even if it wasn’t ever competitive. She’s mentioned wanting to rematch Cyborg, and return to bantamweight, and with the lack of depth in both title pictures, she could feature in either division’s next title fight.

Megan Anderson is still out there, too. Yeah, she lost to Holm at UFC 225. But it was her first loss in more than two years, and she’s a legit featherweight. Even coming off of a loss, that’s more than could be said about some of Cyborg’s recent opponents. It’s a longshot, but if the promotion needs a warm body to go toe-to-toe with the champ, she’s an option.

After that, we have no idea what the UFC has planned for Cyborg. There aren’t many options, and the ones they do have aren’t exactly great. They could opt for another random bantamweight who’s willing to get in the Octagon. Without a true division, the future for featherweight will remain a mystery.

Let us know what you think about the title races in these divisions! Where do you think they’re headed for the final half of the year? Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter! Don’t forget to check out the parts that follow this piece for a look at the rest of the title-pictures in each and every UFC division for the rest of 2018. Here are parts one, two, and three.

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