Prior to 2012, MMA fans heard UFC President Dana White say “women will never fight in the UFC.” After the promotion signed several women’s 135-pound fighters and created a division with “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey as its champion, it was “well, we’ll do a women’s bantamweight division, but that’s it.” In 2013. the UFC created a women’s strawweight division.
Since then there’s been speculation of when the promotion will create a women’s featherweight division. Commentator Joe Rogan has advocated for a women’s 145 division in the UFC as a way to bring new fighters – most notably Invicta FC titleholder Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who currently has a UFC contract but it’s only good for fighting at 135 pounds. If she can make the weight cut to 135, she’ll get a shot at Rousey – a fight which many predict will draw record numbers. Until Justino actually cuts the weight, her UFC status is up n the air.
The women’s 145 weight class was at one time the place to be for female competitors. In 2009, Strikeforce had the first women’s main event between Justino and Gina Carano to crown its 145-pound champion, referred to as the women’s lightweight championship – and later the women’s middleweight championship. Then Cyborg won the title after the referee stopped the fight with one second left in the first round. As Justino defended the title, Strikeforce established a 135-pound championship, which was won by Sarah Kaufman. The Canadian power-puncher dropped the title to Marloes Coenen, who would later lose it to Miesha Tate. Around this time, the 135 title was being seen in the same light as the 145 belt. Rousey, who was 4-0 at the time, took the title from Tate and the bantamweight title and division gained more prominence while the 145 weight class took a black eye after Justino was stripped of her title after failing her post-fight drug test in December 2011.
Since the UFC brought women to the octagon, the 135 division has flourished while the 145 weight class has become kind of an unloved child of women’s MMA. One hundred and forty-five-pound fighters would prefer to drop to bantamweight and receive an opportunity to fight on such a big stage. The women’s 145 division has gained some of its momentum back after Justino became the Invicta FC featherweight champion and Bellator MMA created a women’s featherweight division.
But what would establishing a women’s featherweight division in the UFC bring? There are several answers to that question.
CONS OF A UFC WOMEN’S 145 DIVISION
One fighter dominates the division
Shortly after Rogan sent out his tweet, one of the responses said Justino would solely dominate the division. With Justino destroying opponents at 145 for the last several years, it’s probably diverted some competitors away from featherweight, but that argument could be made with Rousey at bantamweight.
However, as Rogan pointed out, it could also motivate fighters to want to train and fight for a chance to defeat the unbeatable foe that is the Cyborg.
It takes away from Bellator and Invicta
Invicta Fighting Championships established a featherweight division early while Bellator MMA recently created theirs. With the UFC having a 145 division, it could potentially take talent away from both Invicta and Bellator.
But Invicta has endured various talent departures from its 115 and 135 divisions, and continue to find talent to fill those rosters. Their featherweight division might take a blow with Justino and other fighters moving to the UFC, but Invicta President Shannon Knapp will find more fighters.
As for Bellator, this might force them to step up its presentation of its 145 division. They have a couple of bouts scheduled for Bellator 141 – as well bringing in talent for its flyweight division – but a UFC women’s 145 division may them to feature more 145 fights and maybe even establish a champion to keep talent from signing with the UFC and bring more fighters to them.
Too much UFC
Some fans complain about the UFC putting on too many events and adding a weight class will over saturate the promotion will make it difficult for them to keep up with the sport. Women’s 145 fights could take some opportunities away from competitors in different weight classes from performing on big events.
PROS OF A UFC WOMEN’S 145 DIVISION
It benefits the current fighters competing
A UFC women’s 145 division gives Justino a chance to fight in the UFC even if she is unsuccessful in making the 135 weight cut or loses to Rousey. The UFC can still market her as a beast in the division she has dominated in for the last 9 years.
Other featherweight competitors will have a chance to bring their talents to the big stage without having to make the cut to 135. Fans who have watched Invicta and Bellator know the division is filled with exciting talent, including Coenen, Charmaine Tweet and Julia Budd.
Fighters who currently compete at bantamweight will have a new landscape to move into if they grow tired of 135. MMA is filled with fighters who move up and down in weight and we could see former champions, including Tate, Kaufman, and Lauren Murphy step into the featherweight realm. We’ve already seen Invicta veterans Kaitlin Young and Peggy Morgan make the move from bantamweight to featherweight.
Then there’s Rousey, who is established as the UFC’s shining star next to interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor. This would give the UFC a chance to make the Rowdy the first female competitor to win world championships in two different weight classes – the third overall after Hall of Famers “The Natural” Randy Couture and B.J. Penn.
Discovering new talent
With a women’s 145 division, the UFC will spend a good amount of time and a large chunk of change to look for talent. A new weight class may bring female fighters out of the shadows and into the spotlight. In Europe, there may be the next McGregor or Joanna Jedrzejczyk. In Asia there maybe a 145-pound fighter who hasn’t been discovered.
More finishes in women’s bouts
Fans will sometimes complain about women fighters not having power – with the exception of Jedrzejczyk and Rousey – or the lack of finishes. Similar to heavyweight fights, women’s featherweight bouts tend to end quicker than others. Eleven of the 17 featherweight bouts in Invicta have been finishes. Three of the five women’s 145 bouts that have aired on Bellator so far have been finishes.
Ultimately it’s the UFC’s decision on whether or not fans will see a women’s 145 division. With the way women’s MMA has grown in the last few years, it may be sooner than later.