There will soon be a changing of the guard in the UFC at women’s bantamweight, and Aspen Ladd could be the one who leads the way.
On October 6, when Aspen Ladd battled former Invicta FC queen Tonya Evinger, not many expected the younger Ladd to walk out victorious. Evinger was entering the fight with experience of over a decade and a record of 19-7, which included wins over the likes of Yana Kunitskaya, Pannie Kianzad, Cindy Dandois, Irene Aldana, and Sarah D’Alelio. Ladd, on the other hand, was taking the fight on short notice and also had trouble with her weight cut. Under these circumstances, very few were giving the undefeated prospect any chances.
However, the fight turned out to be very different than expected. After initially having trouble with Evinger’s striking, the MMA Gold Fight Team prospect managed to trip the veteran fighter to the ground and unloaded a barrage of hammer fists. She then, while roaring like a lioness, secured back mount and unleashed a bombardment of shots which resulted in referee stopping the match. At 3:26 of the very first round, Ladd managed to finish “Triple Threat”, a feat fighters like current UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann couldn’t achieve. This win also earned Ladd, her first ever Performance of the Night bonus.
With the win, Ladd improved her record to 7-0, out of which, only one has gone the distance. Also by securing this win, she enters the short list of contenders for the women’s bantamweight title. However, she is still at least two matches away before securing a title shot, Ladd now enters a phase where she begins her journey for the title shot. She still is clearly behind the likes of Germaine De Randamie, Ketlen Vieira, Cat Zingano, and Raquel Pennington but this win put her somewhere in between a prospect and a contender.
Aspen the Fighter
Though a very well rounded fighter, Aspen Ladd primarily relies on her grappling and aggressive top game to secure wins. A purple belt in BJJ, Ladd usually moves inside to set up a takedown. After managing to take the fight to the ground, she usually seeks mount and then lands vicious elbow shots. In her career so far, this gameplan has seemed to provide excellent dividends, and that is despite the fact that she at times has faced way more experienced grapplers. This occurs because Ladd, apart from having a strong ground and pound attack, is also a very smart fighter.
She knows when and how to set up takedowns, how to push fighters against the cage, land nice combinations, and secure mount. A perfect example of her using better presence of mind was seen in her last fight. Despite being dominated early in the round by Evinger’s striking, Ladd managed to turn the tide by tripping the former Invicta FC champ and dragging Evinger to ground. It was there where she kept a firm grip on the veteran, who tried to scramble out of the position multiple times. Evinger, who’s known for toughing her way out of such positions, couldn’t do much against the undersized Ladd because of her perfect timing of stuffing “Triple Threat.” For a 23-year-old that’s an amazing display of the mental side of martial arts
As stated earlier, Aspen Ladd is one of the brightest prospects at 135. The division, which has been home to the likes of Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, today faces a shortage of elite fighters. In times like these, having a prospect like Ladd who brings in the element of excitement to fights is really refreshing. Ladd so far has managed to live up to her hype, but from now on, the journey is going to get way tougher. She will now actually have to compete in the deep waters. Look for her to face Irene Aldana or Cat Zingano in her next bout.
In the case that she faces Zingano, she faces an extremely aggressive wrestler. Zingano comes in with a record of 10-3, and recently bounced back from a three-fight losing streak by defeating Marion Reneau. A former title challenger, Zingano is the perfect matchup for Ladd. If the two lock horns, it will be an aggressive wrestling battle where ground and pound will make the difference.
If she faces Aldana, things get a bit tricky. Ladd has a natural tendency of moving forward and getting inside her opponents reach. If she does that against a striker like Aldana, she exposes herself to a variety of shots, some of which are capable of knocking Ladd out. At the very same time, Ladd’s amazing ground game could give Aldana serious trouble. This will turn out to be more than a traditional striker vs. grappler match as the two are very exciting fighters. Other possible matches include facing Marion Reneau, Yana Kunitskaya, Bethe Correia, and Julianna Pena.
Is Ladd the Future?
Is Aspen Ladd the future of the women’s bantamweight division? At the present moment, it looks like it. You do have prospects like Lisa Spangler (3-0), Pannie Kianzad (10-3), Julia Avil (5-1), Alexa Conners (5-2), Brittney Victoria Grizzelle (2-0), and Shanna Young (4-1), but none of them have faced the same level of competition as Ladd or have found the same level of success as her. The only one who stands out is Ketlen Viera.
This brings us to the second part, the present day elite fighters. The current lot of top fighters aren’t what you’d call old, but they aren’t young either. So by the time Ladd actually hits her prime, the present day fighters will start fading. Nunes and Pennington both are 30, Germaine De Randamie is 34, Holly Holm is 37, and Marion Reneau is 41. Most of them will be at the end of their primes when Ladd reaches her full potential. With that being said, Ladd certainly has a high probability of becoming the future of bantamweight division.
However, she has trouble making 135-pound limit. The problem is bound to increase as she grows older. If she wants to be the future of the division, she has to ensure that she can make it to the bantamweight limit consistently. If not controlled, this weight cutting factor might intensify to a point where it can start affecting Ladd’s performance.
Plus, she is a bit undersized. Most bantamweights, especially those in the elite rankings, are large in frame. That can become a strong factor which plays against Ladd. Her style requires her to have either a size advantage or at least equal size. She can be in a lot of trouble against larger and more skilled opposition.
Overall, Aspen Ladd does have the skillset to make it big. However, how far she does go is something that is difficult to predict.