At UFC 207 Amanda Nunes defeated Ronda Rousey and ushered in a new era of the women’s bantamweight division.
Prior to UFC 207 Ronda Rousey spent the better part of a year away from the sport of MMA. After her loss to Holly Holm and how badly she took it, many wondered when and if she would ever come back. In the time that she was gone the division that she helped create has seen two new champions crowned an a pair of top contenders leave the division all together.
The women’s bantamweight division had been Rousey’s playground for almost three years but in the 13 months that she was away an influx of change has occurred. Rousey’s long time rival Miehsa Tate has retired from the sport and Holm is slated to fight for the inaugural UFC’s women’s featherweight championship in 2017. With Rousey’s future in the sport being highly questionable and a reigning champion who seems to be just entering her stride let us take a look at the fighters who are leading the new era of the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division.
Amanda Nunes (14-4): Bantamweight Champion
Nunes has defeated Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey in consecutive bouts to win and defend the bantamweight championship. She debuted in the UFC in 2013 and has been quietly been one of the most consistent fighters in the division. She has fought a total of eight times since debuting for the UFC and has compiled a 7-1 record with only one of those wins going to a decision.
Nunes can now sit back and let the rest of the division play out to see who will be next in line to challenge for her title. With the high-profile win over Rousey hopefully Nunes can parlay her success inside the octagon to more opportunities outside of it.
Valentina Shevchenko (13-2): #1 Ranked Bantamweight
Shevchenko is the only fighter in the UFC to go the distance with Nunes and most recently scored an upset win over former champion Holly Holm. Those two reasons are why she is currently ranked the number one contender. She has had a quick rise with no easy fights since her debut in December of 2015. She won her debut against former Strikeforce women’s champion Sarah Kaufmann, then she lost to current champion Nunes, and recently out classed former champion Holm en route to a decision victory. The UFC has taken notice of the quality of performances and of opponents Shevchenko has had in her short run and a win over her next opponent may put her back inside the octagon with Nunes.
Julianna Pena (8-2): #2 Ranked Bantamweight
Shevchenko’s next opponent will be Julianna Pena and should be a title eliminator with the winner getting a shot at Amanda Nunes. Pena has the honor of being the first woman to ever win a season of the “Ultimate Fighter” and she did so when she was only 24 years old. At such a young age many within the MMA community thought she would be poised to have a great head start en route to a UFC championship one day. Unfortunately a freak accident while training took almost two years of Pena’s career away. Upon her return from injury Pena scored consecutive wins over Milana Dudieva and Jessica Eye.
Pena ran into a bit of legal trouble outside of the octagon that saw her arrested after an incident at a bar. Her most recent outing saw her defeat former title challenger Cat Zingano at UFC 200. As long as she can avoid an more serious injuries or any incidents outside of the octagon Pena may be a regular in the post-Rousey title picture.
Raquel Pennington (9-5): #5 Ranked Bantamweight
Pennington has the distinct honor of being the fighter who put Miesha Tate in retirement. The win over Tate was Pennington’s biggest to date and was her sixth win overall in the UFC. Just like the champion Nunes, Pennington has been a constant in the bantamweight division. Since debuting in 2013, Pennington has fought a total of eight times and six times she has had her hand raised in victory.
She is currently on a four fight win streak with wins over Tate and former title challenger Bethe Correia. Her last lost came to Holly Holm and that came via a split decision. Pennington has an impressive resume in the UFC already and if she can capitalize on her big win over Tate she may be seeing her name in the title picture in 2017.
Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-1): #11 Ranked Bantamweight
Smith made her UFC debut as a late replacement for Holly Holm in 2014. She would lose the bout against Raquel Pennington but being prepared to fight at the drop of a hat is an attribute that is highly thought of in the UFC. Smith only had three professional bouts before making her UFC debut but she was undefeated and two of those wins were via TKO. After losing to Pennington, Smith has rolled off consecutive victories over Marion Reneau and Veronica Macaedo.
Veronica Macaedo (5-1): Unranked Bantamweight
Macaedo has been a professional mixed martial artist for less than an year but she has already fought a total of seven times. That alone is a testament to how much women’s MMA has grown in the recent years. It was not uncommon for some female fighters to go a year without a fight simply because of the lack of opponents and organizations willing to put women bouts on their events.
Macaedo, a native of Venezuela, made her UFC debut this past September where she dropped the bout via TKO to Ashlee Evans-Smith. Macaedo took the bout on short notice and was noticeably smaller than Smith. At only 21 years only Macaedo has time and potential to make a real impact. If the UFC were to create a women’s flyweight division in the near future she may become a staple of it but for now she has to compete at 135-pounds.
Irene Aldana (7-3): Unranked Bantamweight
Aldana was a veteran of five Invicta FC bouts prior to making her UFC debut in December of 2016. Altogether she has 10 professional bouts and has been actively competing since 2012. She has fought for the Jungle Fight bantamweight championship as well as the Invicta FC bantamweight championship. She was unsuccessful in both bouts but those big fight experiences will go along way in the UFC.
Aldana was defeated in her UFC debut against Leslie Smith but the bout won the “Fight of the Night” award and was a back and forth affair with a ton of action. Aldana has actually won four post fight bonuses for her performances inside the cage. She is a native of Mexico and definitely carries with her that never say die Mexican heart that so many combat sports fans are aware of. The UFC is always on the lookout for stars to push in the Mexican markets and with her fighting style Aldana may just be exactly what they are looking for.