At UFC 215 on September 9th, the bantamweight division was on full display as fans were treated to three thrilling matches. To get the night started on the FS1 prelims, Sarah Moras (5-2) returned after a two-year absence to upset Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-3) with a nasty first-round armbar submission. Next, former title challenger Sara McMann (11-4) met rising Brazilian contender Ketlen Vieira (9-0) in what some viewed as a potential title eliminator. After a strong start from McMann, Vieira turned the tide and took McMann to the ground where she secured a tight arm-triangle for the victory. Finally, in the main event of the night, Valentina Shevchenko rematched heated rival Amanda Nunes for the belt. After five rounds, Nunes was declared the victor via a highly controversial split-decision.
So, what’s next for the women of UFC 215?
This was a tough loss for Evans-Smith, who now rides a two-fight skid. Not only did she fall to Moras who was coming off a two-year layoff, but she was submitted on the ground where many people expected her to have the advantage. With that being said, I do believe that Evans-Smith has potential. She has a good frame for the division, she is physically strong, has good wrestling, and a pretty decent chin. With some more work and experience, she can work her way back into the rankings. Talita Bernardo makes for a good next fight. Bernardo debuted a few weeks back against Marion Reneau, and though she lost to Reneau she showed a solid skillset. Bernardo and Evans-Smith are developing strikers and match could likely turn into a classic wrestling versus jiu-jitsu chess match.
One of the biggest underdogs on the card, Sarah “Cheesecake” Moras turned a lot of heads when she secured a slick first-round armbar. “Cheesecake”, who has been largely inactive for the past few years due to injuries and financial means, now has re-inserted herself into the bantamweight scheme and the minds of fans. Moras is in an interesting spot– she’ll need to secure a couple of more wins before cracking and climbing the rankings, and it’s unknown at the moment how she’ll fare against higher level competition due to her inactivity. It’s tough to pick a next fight for Moras but a couple of names come to mind. Recent DWTNCS star Lauren Mueller could be an interesting match-up. Mueller is gritty and tough and has yet to face defeat. Another option could be Veronica Macedo, who hasn’t been in action since falling to the aforementioned Evans-Smith in September of 2016. The Venezuelan Macedo is a solid prospect– with an especially exciting striking game (see here).
Sara McMann also suffered a devastating defeat at UFC 215, falling to her own “signature” move. Despite losing to rising star “Fenomeno” Ketlen Vieira, McMann is still one of the division’s elite. McMann has power in her hands, a sturdy clinch game, and Olympic-level wrestling. Her downfall in this match, and what tends to be her downfall in most of her losses, is the ability to work off of her back. Being such a dominant wrestler, McMann isn’t accustomed to having her back against the canvas. Similar to when Miesha put her on her back, Sara didn’t have an answer for Vieira’s top pressure. McMann was one fight away from title contention. Going forward, McMann will need to continue to evolve her game. She has all the tools to stay in the upper echelon of the division. A solid next fight for McMann is Cat Zingano. Zingano and McMann present challenges for each other, and a fight between the two will establish where each fighter stands in respect to the rankings and title.
Vieira scored the biggest win of her career by upsetting Sara McMann in the second round. Evident by each of Vieira’s octagon appearances, she continues to improve with each and every showing. Her head coach recently commented that he believes with one more win, Vieira will be ready to challenge for the title. The undefeated Brazilian contender is primed for another high profile match up that could very well be a title eliminator. For Vieira’s next fight there are a few options. First, despite losing her last fight, Juliana Peña is a top-five ranked opponent that is a solid matchup for Vieira. Peña has good name recognition and with a win over Vieira, she will put her name right back into title contention. For Vieira, a win over Peña further cements her status as a threat to the title. Many fight fans are calling for Raquel Pennington to get the next crack at the title. While Pennington is deservingly next, she told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour that she is not opposed to taking a “tune up” fight if the UFC books her for one. Pennington vs Vieira is a gritty, fun match up with severe title implications.
The Muy Thai specialist fell short to Nunes via a highly controversial split-decision. Both of Shevchenko’s UFC losses now come at the hands of “The Lioness”. Despite the lost, I believe Shevchenko still tops most if not all of the woman in the rankings– this claim is backed up by her decision win over Holly Holm and submission win over Juliana Peña. Shevchenko announced her move to the 125 division a few days after UFC 215, leaving many people expecting her to claim the flyweight championship very soon. I would not be opposed to Shevchenko getting the first crack at the TUF 26 winner for the 125-pound strap– possibly setting up a Champion vs Champion match with Jędrzejczyk in the future.
Despite the controversy surrounding the decision, Nunes held on to the bantamweight title. The bantamweight division is quite complex at this time– it’s somewhat shallow at the top but wide open at the same time. A big victory in the division can push anyone toward a title shot now. While Nunes is taking the rest of 2017 off to recuperate, the division’s top contender’s are chomping at the bit to make their statements. In a recent poll conducted by the UFC on Twitter, fans voted Cat Zingano as the preferred next challenger to Nunes’ belt. Zingano, the last woman to defeat Nunes, is an incredibly appealing match up–however “Alpha” will likely need to get a win or so upon returning under her belt before a title shot. Raquel Pennington is an option– she’s riding a four-fight win streak, including wins over former champion Miesha Tate and former title challenger Bethe Correia. There’s also Holly Holm, who’s recent KO (question mark kick) of Bethe Correia, propelled her right back into the title picture– however, she seems to be in line for a potential showdown with Cris Cyborg.
What do you think of these matches? You play matchmaker now– who would you like to see face each other?