Strawweight Stars Look to Cash In

With the extended absence of Ronda Rousey from MMA, and the UFC in particular, there is a need for a new top female star. Many have tried to step-up since Rousey got dethroned by Holly Holm, but it has been a revolving door of champions.

A vicious head kick to the right side of Ronda Rousey’s head ended what can be viewed as one of the greatest runs in professional sports history. Rousey had become the most dangerous un-armed woman in the world; a guaranteed win. While she still may be the baddest woman on the planet, her star power has dimmed and she has been away from the fight game for far too long. With a comeback up in the air, the UFC hopes to regain the void that Rousey left with a champion that can last for a while and creates viewer drawing power.

Holly Holm, who dethroned Rousey in their women’s bantamweight fight, saw her stock rise more than ever. She had a choice: wait for a Rousey rematch or fight Meisha Tate for the title. She took the latter and it cost her. She was submitted by Tate in the fifth round and lost the women’s bantamweight belt. The UFC couldn’t catch a break as Tate then turned around and lost her title to up and comer Amanda Nunes by rear naked choke in the first round. All of this happened very quickly, and the UFC women’s bantamweight division is in disarray. The UFC needs a women’s division draw.

With that said, Dana White has an ace, or two, up his sleeve which didn’t come to light until very recently. Those aces are in the UFC women’s strawweight division.

The women’s bantamweight division was created partly out of business opportunity and partly out of curiosity. It was a division that White really didn’t want in his UFC even with women’s mixed martial arts pioneers such as Gina Carano, Miesha Tate and of course Ronda Rousey among its ranks. With the success of the bantamweights, it was logical to expand the brand to other divisions.

In early 2013, Dana White was hit with questions of whether or not the UFC would add a women’s Strawweight Division. His answers were much like his answers years prior when it came to the women’s Bantamweight Division. On November 15th, 2013, White and the UFC finally announced a Strawweight Division (115 pounds). Relatively new ground for female fighting, the division had its growing pains. Carla Esparza became the first champion of the division, but she had a short reign before being dethroned by Joana Jędrzejczyk.

That young polish fighter (Jedrzejcyk) seemed to only be a placeholder for someone else to supplant her. That didn’t happen. “JJ” has become a prominent figure in women’s combat sports. Her rivalry with Claudia Gadelha has produced some of the best fights in recent history. She talks the talk AND walks the walk. The problem for the UFC with regard to JJ is that she isn’t the out of the octagon star that Rousey is. While that isn’t a huge problem, it hinders the UFC in using her as the female face for women’s combat sports. Her work in the octagon is outstanding as she has continued to improve in technique, moves, defense, and killer instinct. This is what makes her a star and is why, for the moment, she should be embraced as the female face of the UFC. With that being said, there is more to the women’s strawweight division.

Paige Vanzant is also a younger fighter and is relatively light in fight game experience holding a 6-2 record. She came into the UFC with a 3-1 record. She quickly picked up three wins in her first three fights against veteran strawweights like Felice Herring. The main sponsor of the UFC, Reebok, signed Vanzant after one UFC fight. A fourth round rear naked choke from Rose Namajunas almost ended Vanzant’s popular standing, but it didn’t take long for her to resurrect herself with a stint on the reality television show Dancing with the Stars. Her biggest hurdle is the belief that her out of the octagon prowess is way ahead of her skills in the octagon. She will look to get off the snide against Bec Rawlings this weekend. This fight may well be her most important to date.

The combination of Joana Jedrzejcyzk and Paige Vanzant work very well. One has the skills in the Octagon, while one has the talent to expand the brand outside of the octagon. With the Bantamweight Title being in limbo, the Strawweight Division looks to fill that void and capitalize on the money that comes from being a highly visible, and profitable, weight class.

Keep your eye on JJ and Vanzant. They are the near term answer to the UFC’s female star problem.

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