It seems almost ludicrous when you think about it now, but there was a time when women’s MMA didn’t seem to have a place in the sport. When the UFC and president Dana White were dead set against women fighting. When the only viable game in town was Strikeforce, frankly, and that’s where all the best female fighters could be found.

My how things have changed. Thankfully, for the better.

The UFC boasts not one, but two female divisions with the strawweights and bantamweights. At 115lbs sits a dominant, popular champion in Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a fighter with exactly the right style to bring around the doubters (just ask Matt Brown). At 135lbs you have a free for all at the moment with several big names: Miesha Tate, a well-deserved champion after a decade in the sport and years at the top. Holly Holm, the boxing phenom who shocked the world last fall by defeating Ronda Rousey. And Rousey herself, the crossover superstar whose name on a card guarantees big money.

If it all stopped there, it would be good enough (for now), but thankfully, a couple of recent developments have shown that the women’s side of the sport is far from finished in terms of development. This past week, the UFC announced that Cyborg Justino — the biggest name not currently fighting in the UFC, as they don’t have her weight class (though they actually do have her contract, and essentially pay her to fight for Invicta) — would be fighting at UFC 198 in Brazil. At a catchweight of 140lbs no less.

Whether that is a stepping stone to her cutting down to 135lbs, or they opt to build a division around her, remains to be seen. While it’s a questionable idea to build a division around a single fighter, the UFC, to some extent, did exactly that with Ronda Rousey, at least in their eyes. Despite some past troubles (primarily a drug test failure several years ago), you could do worse than build a featherweight division around Cyborg.

One motivating factor might just be Scott Coker and Bellator MMA. Coker is no stranger to women’s MMA, in fact he’s part of the reason names like Cyborg, Cupcake, and Rowdy are in the limelight now. Coker saw the value in women’s MMA when the competition clearly did not, and when he took control of the #2 MMA promotion, he reversed a previous decision to cut female fighters, and signed the likes of Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd, who will now be fighting for the inaugural Bellator women’s featherweight title at Bellator 155 in May.

Bellator, right now, owns the second and third ranked female featherweight fighters in the world (Coenen and Budd), and four of the top ten (the other two being Arlene Blencowe and Gabrielle Holloway). With a handful of other prospects, they’re poised to fill the gap the UFC has left festering at 145lbs, and that could finally force the UFC to act. The remaining ranked fighters in the division are currently contracted to Invicta FC — but as history has shown, the promotions are more than happy to work hand-in-hand with one another.

So is a 145lbs division in the UFC nigh? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Either way, the crowning of a new champ in Bellator is a positive — but the good news doesn’t stop there.

Over at ONE FC, the promotion’s first women’s atomweight champion will be crowned when Angela Lee takes on Japanese vet Mei Yamaguchi in Mayat ONE FC 41. While the Asian promotion doesn’t always get the coverage it should stateside, it’s still a sign of movement in the right direction. Yamaguchi is the third ranked fighter at atomweight currently, while the unranked Lee is the company’s golden girl at the moment — an English speaking star with Asian ancestry who can appeal to multiple fan bases. She’s 5-0 as a pro, with all five wins by way of submission — including a twister.

With Invicta still putting on strong cards, this makes it a wonderful time for women’s MMA. The female side of the sport has also proved something in recent months: it’s a lot more than the Ronda Rousey show.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.

  • Juchi

    All I can say is that it’s about time. Over the past 4 years+, Budd and Coenen have been in the same weight class in the same organizations ranked #2 and 3 in the world and only now they’re fighting. I’m most curious as to why the delay.

    What’s also of interest is that next month’s title fight will be Lee’s 6th fight in her debut year as a professional. Since moving to Bellator. Coenen and Budd have fought once a year for the past 2 years. It hardly seems like Bellator is serious about WMMA.

    Any thoughts of the UFC opening a FW division is laughable. That Arlene Blencowe and Gabrielle Holloway with 7-5 and 5-4 records and no notable victories can even be considered top 10 speaks volumes. Walker, at 5-0, is probably the only other real contender in the division.

    • Jay Anderson

      Keep in mind that a number of bantamweights would probably consider going up in weight if FW were a viable option. Leslie Smith seems open to going up in weight (meeting Cyborg at 140), heck Holly Holm fought at 154lbs in boxing, though she’s not moving divisions for a long time if ever since bantamweight is where the money is at for her (rematches with Tate, Rousey).

      If you build it, they will come. Or at least, if there’s a title there, they will. It’s going to take a while to grow the division though.

      • Juchi

        Not sure how long you’ve been following WMMA, Jay, but Strikeforce established the 145 division before they established the 135. Back in late 2011 they were considering dropping it and were recommending Cyborg drop to 135. When Cris was suspended for steroid use the following year, they did drop it. Invicta brought over nearly all the top FW’s, including Cris. The division was incredibly thin then and with Coenen and Budd moving to Bellator is even thinner now. If you took all the top FW’s from all of the top organizations, after all these years, it would still be thinner than Invicta’s BW division, which is of course far thinner than the UFC’s. I can’t think of one BW that would want to move to FW as long as Cyborg’s top dog.