Since the infancy stages of the women’s scene the 135-pound division housed much of the top talent found in WMMA. This trend would continue for more than a decade. Long removed from the times of such pioneers as Laura D’Auguste, Megumi Yabushita and others, the division reached its height when it was finally welcomed into the UFC in February 2013.
The weight-class has fallen on hard times as of late. The biggest draw in WMMA Ronda Rousey left the sport for a career in pro wrestling, former champion Meisha Tate retired from professional competition and much of the ranked athletes have left the division to test their skills in other categories. Other situations have contributed to the lack of interest in bantamweight. In this article I will lay out what the UFC needs to do in order to fix the 135-pound division.
First, the UFC needs to put a temporary hold on bantamweight fighters and not allow athletes to drop to flyweight or move to featherweight for a period of time. This will allow contenders to remain while the promotion looks for and builds more stars. The industry-leader made the right move by installing the flyweight division but the inclusion of the category dealt a major blow to a division that was already reeling from the losses of Rousey and Tate, who were two of the biggest stars in the UFC.
The number of fighters the organization allowed to leave bantamweight was an unexpected and a strategic mistake to say the least. Valentina Shevchenko, Katlyn Chookagian, Alexis Davis, Liz Carmouche, Jessica Eye and Ashlee Evans-Smith have all vacated 135 in the last five months. That is almost half of the top ten ranked bantamweights at the time. We could easily see Bethe Correia drop down to 125 and while it is not the easiest of cuts these days Aspen Ladd and Cat Zingano could move back down as well, although that is debatable.
Two of Holly Holm’s last three appearances in the UFC have come at featherweight. She is one of the more marketable and important fighters to this division. Currently 0-2 at featherweight Holm should consider staying at 135 for a while. The losses at featherweight have only hurt her marketability and as one of the few big names left at bantamweight a couple wins could put her right back where she wants to be.
Second, the UFC needs to sign all of the top 135ers currently competing in other organizations. The fact that Sarah Kaufman is not under UFC contract makes one wonder if they are even serious about rebuilding bantamweight. Regardless of the outcome of the Invicta FC 29 main event later this month, both Kaufman and Katharina Lehner should be under UFC contract at some point in 2018.
Investing in legit prospects will pay off in the long run. No better way to do this than by signing a trio of champions. Batalha MMA champion Mayra Silva, Shooto Brazil titleholder Laura Procopio and Fight Nights Global bantamweight queen Liana Jojua all deserve a chance to prove themselves inside of the octagon. It would also be a plan easure to see Talita Santos and Gesele Morreira compete under the bright lights of the octagon.
Third, use the Ultimate Fighter platform to determine the next challenger to the bantamweight crown. This would be a great way to get fans familiar with some of the top bantamweights outside of the UFC and Invicta. It would give some veterans another chance to climb the ladder and prospects a chance to build their brands by defeating or performing well against veterans of the sport.
The best way to approach this is by waiting for either TUF 28 or TUF 29 to come around. This way the title picture becomes clearer. Amanda Nunes will defend her belt against Raquel Pennington next month at UFC 224. The winner will already have a challenger in Ketlen Vieira and Marion Reneau may be one win away from a title shot. Additionally, the Nunes vs Cyborg fight could still happen if both fighters continue their winning ways. Some time needs to pass for all of these scenarios to run their course, so the timing of the TUF show would be key.
What do you think WMMA fans? How does the UFC fix their bantamweight division?