The UFC’s Featherweight Problem

Pop Quiz, tell me right now, who the UFC’s women’s Featherweight Champion is. Picture her in your mind, who did she beat to win the title, how many times has she defended it, who is she going to face next? If you’re thinking of a person you’re wrong. Sorry, but that’s the problem. The UFC made a big deal back at UFC 208 in February about crowning a first-time champion in their new division. The bigger picture problem is they didn’t have any actual fighters in the division. Now it’s coming back to bite them.

UFC 208 featured Germaine de Randamie beating Holly Holm via unanimous decision in a fight that is clearly better remembered for de Randamie hitting Holm after the bell in not one but two rounds much more than for anything else. The question then quickly became what the UFC was going to do next as “let’s say for the sake of argument” de Randamie isn’t probably who the UFC’s marketing machine wanted to win. To make matters even worse, de Randamie was injured in the fight, said she was going to take time off and also said that she didn’t want to defend her title against Cris Cyborg. De Randamie’s hesitation can be accepted given Cyborg’s past, but as she is the only legitimate 145 pound fighter with any name recognition, it was pretty clear that the UFC was never going to let that fly.

Flash forward to the end of May and de Randamie releases a statement saying she’s moving back to bantamweight. So the UFC now has a problem and their reaction was swift. Germaine was stripped of the title 9 days ago and the UFC announced they would be crowning a new champion at UFC 214 with Chris Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson. Anderson is certainly not a household name but at 8-2 with a 4-fight win streak and as the current Invicta featherweight champion it looked like a better match than Holm vs. de Randamie ever did. That is until Anderson dropped out, yesterday. Now Cyborg will be taking on Tonya Evinger, an even less well-known fighter, although she is the Invicta bantamweight champion.

Let this sink in for a minute. For the second straight time, the UFC is being forced to crown a new champion in a division where there is no real competition. You can say what you want about fighters holding out for “big money” fights and that is a problem that with a few exceptions the UFC is yet to really address, but who is the winner of this fight going to face? You could say Anderson is the likely candidate, but if that’s the case why not just delay the fight, it’s not like anyone was really screaming from the rooftops for this fight as it is. Go to ufc.com after you finish reading this, look at the rankings for the division, there aren’t any. In a sport where there is a glut of competition in most of the divisions, but fighters are holding out for bigger paydays, what is the sense of trying to get this division going where, even if the UFC took all the fighters from Invicta there would only be 8 people in the division.

I am a huge fan of female MMA and I hope that the featherweight as well as the proposed flyweight divisions do grow and actually become competitive and entertaining to watch, but at the moment this seems like “putting the cart in front of the horse”. Everyone expected Cyborg to be the champion, but instead of waiting until she was cleared the UFC rushed a title fight to try to pad out a “less than stellar” PPV card. Now they’re doing the same thing, this time with Cyborg in the fight, but with the underlying problems still unresolved. Until there is actually a division behind it, the championship is, at least in my opinion, worthless. The fights would be just as competitive even if there wasn’t a title on the line, and the only reason, again in my opinion, that the UFC feels the need to do this sort of thing is so they can advertise “2 title fights” on their PPV card in hopes of convincing people that it’s worth buying.

Image from ufc.com

 

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