UFC Sacramento: Parallel Paths for De Randamie and Ladd

UFC Denver Germaine De Randamie Raquel Pennington
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Former featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie and young upstart Aspen Ladd will compete for a shot at Amanda Nunes’ bantamweight title this Saturday at UFC Sacramento.

Who can possibly topple Amanda Nunes?  All of the obvious answers have tried and failed over the last several years.  With no clear contender in sight, the next best option is a new and unexpected challenger.  One is an experienced former champion who carries the experience of being in the cage with Nunes before.  The other, a young upstart eager to shock the world in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.  On Saturday night at UFC Sacramento, Germaine de Randamie and Aspen Ladd will collide with a shot at UFC gold on the line.

Several years ago, another title shot for Germaine de Randamie appeared foolish.  The featherweight champion refused to face the only other fighter in the division in Cris “Cyborg” and was subsequently stripped, beginning what she has called a “life sentence” of falling out of favor with the promotion.  After being stripped and being out more than a year with an injury, imagining the UFC having faith in her to grant her a second opportunity to become world champion was impossible.

But this is the world Amanda Nunes has created at 135.  De Randamie, by default, is the top contender.  Brazilian upstart Ketlan Vieira is out with injury.  “The Iron Lady” has rattled off four straight victories, including winning the 145 title, since losing to Nunes by first round TKO back in 2013.  Her only other losses are to the far more experienced Vanessa Porto and current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd.  A return to title contention would be a feat in-and-of itself, but upsetting the current double-champion would complete a circle unlike any seen before in the UFC.

On the opposite side, Aspen Ladd is the girl with nothing to lose.  The 24 year old undefeated upstart is a perfect 8-0 with her entire career taking place in either Invicta or the UFC.  She has two victories over top flyweight contender Sijara Eubanks as well as a victory over former Invicta bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger.  Currently, Ladd is ranked fourth with only de Randamie, the injured Vieira, and recently dispatched Holm ahead of her.

The UFC clearly sees upside in Ladd.  Before the second fight with Eubanks scheduled for May, Ladd was set to face Holly Holm in March at a time when the former champion was on the brink of another title shot.  While many would quickly point to the Dutchwoman being too much too soon for the Folsom native, she notably has the same number of victories on her record as de Randamie.  If she can bring her record to 9-0, then the UFC would have a perfect David vs Goliath story for her shot at Amanda Nunes.

Stylistically, the heavy-hitting de Randamie must punish Ladd on the outside early.  Aiming low-kicks to the calf and punishing her with punches down the middle on entry are all keys to taking control of the fight.  “The Iron Lady” is a powerful athlete for the weight-class and a hard cut to make 135 could have her losing explosiveness should the fight enter the later rounds.

Ladd’s best route to victory is to force de Randamie to the mat and make the fight a grind.  She showed in the fight with Evinger that she has the ability to unleash powerful ground-and-pound and getting the former champion on her back would neutralize her formidable striking.  Efficiently keeping her on the mat will exhaust de Randamie and it will be easier for Ladd to set up her offense on the feet or the ground in the later rounds.

The specter of the Cris Cyborg and Felicia Spencer fight at UFC 240 looms mightily over this contest.  While a Nunes vs. Cyborg rematch is the biggest fight to make in women’s MMA, it depends on Cyborg re-signing with the UFC following the bout.  The public back-and-forth between herself and Dana White does not bolster confidence that a deal will materialize.  While a Spencer victory would make her the biggest threat at 145, the better match-up that favors Nunes stylistically would be fighting Saturday’s winner at her optimal weight of 135 pounds.