Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie compete for the first female featherweight title
It is an exciting time in the UFC as a new women’s division is being introduced, with the crowning of its first champion this weekend at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, New York. The female featherweight division (145lb) has been slowly developing on smaller mixed martial arts promotions around the world.
There was a brief moment when it took centre stage back in 2009 when MMA starlet Gina Carano faced the intimidating Cris “Cyborg” on a Strikeforce event.
Had Carano been victorious on that night the female MMA scene may have exploded a little earlier, but with Cyborg beating up the superstar in-the-making, the women’s divisions didn’t see much light until Ronda Rousey burst onto the scene two years later.
Rousey came in 10 pounds lighter though, and the first female weight class added to the UFC was the bantamweight division (135lb).
Since then the female contingent on the UFC roster has grown steadily, especially after they added the strawweight division and Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk established herself as the best in the world and a fearsome and exciting competitor.
However, there is without doubt room for a women’s flyweight division, which would sit between the existing strawweight and bantamweight classes and halve the 20lb divide which would be welcome for some of the bigger strawweights and smaller bantamweights.
I’m sure that will come in time, and would offer the champions above and below an opportunity to claim a belt in a second division.
Holly Holm beat Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in 2015
Holly Holm goes up against the Dutch fighter this weekend
Adding a heavier weight class for female athletes though is very exciting for many reasons and will further the popularity of women’s MMA in general.
The first thing to consider is how many talented and exciting fighters there are out there, contending on smaller shows and not getting the exposure they deserve. If we look at the statistics, generally the heavier the weight class, the higher percentage of knockout finishes.
As much as we love to see the finesse of a Ronda Rousey hip-throw into an armbar, a fighter winning by knockout is one of the most visceral and primal scenes we can witness. It’s very easy to market a fighter that is cleaning people’s clocks on a regular basis.
Look at the popularity of athletes like Mike Tyson. And the female featherweight division has some vicious and powerful strikers, including the above mentioned Cris “Cyborg” Justino.
Cyborg’s last two fights were in the UFC, but were at a catchweight of 140lbs as she would struggle to shed the additional five pounds to make the bantamweight limit. With the new division we can see her fight at her most comfortable weight, which means we will see the best of her abilities.
The other athlete to watch out for is the Australian, Megan Anderson. Currently the Invicta featherweight champion, Anderson has stopped her last four opponents with a combination of kicks, punches and knees.
She will surely look to cross over when the new champion is established and throw her name in the contenders’ hat.
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The other thing to consider is how quickly a division will grow when potential athletes know that they can fight on a world stage and be paid as professionals. When a division is established the number of fighters available will grow exponentially.
Around the world smaller promotions will offer a platform for fighters to cut their teeth in a mixed martial arts arena and hopefully progress to the UFC. The female divisions have proven to be as popular, and at times more popular, than the male weight classes.
Athletes like Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm have drawn a lot of new eyes to the sport, and as Holm now attempts to win her second UFC title, the pattern will surely continue.
Holm is possibly the most decorated female boxer the world has ever seen. She was also the first person to defeat Rousey and claim the belt as her own, knocking her out in stunning fashion at UFC 193 in November 2015.
She was always a sizeable athlete in comparison to other bantamweights and it only made sense for her to step up into the featherweight division when it was introduced.
Her opponent here will be an equally accomplished fighter, as she is set to face world champion Muay Thai fighter Germaine “The Iron Lady” de Randamie, from the Netherlands. Unbeaten in 46 fights, her transition to MMA made as much sense as Holm’s from boxing.
Both women are driven to compete and have excelled in their chosen disciplines so far.
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It will be de Randamie’s first attempt at a UFC title, but at 3-1 in the organisation so far, and with her only loss being to the current bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, the “Iron Lady” is a suitable opponent for Holm.
She too has a large frame for a bantamweight and could benefit from the additional 10 pounds allowance.
This will provide the fans with an exciting fight, and at the same time crown an inaugural champion: a target for female featherweights worldwide to focus on as they set out on their own journey through MMA.
Once we have our first champion, then the discussions begin about what other fighters will now join the UFC roster and make an attempt on the title. There is a wealth of unseen talent on which the UFC is about to lift the lid.
The hardcore MMA fans out there know exactly what I’m talking about and 145lb is a good weight for female athletes. It’s a deep division with a very international spread of fighters. Holm and de Randamie will set the bar high, just as Rousey did at bantamweight.
In time though, a new star will emerge and take the sport to new levels, and it all begins this weekend at UFC 208.
Watch UFC 208: Holm vs de Randamie live on BT Sport 2 from 1am GMT on the morning of Sunday February 12th, or catch the Early Prelims exclusively on UFC Fight Pass from 11:30pm GMT on Saturday February 11th