Opinion: The UFC’s next women’s bantamweight champion

Mandatory Credit: Steve Marcus

At 135-pounds, Brazilian all-rounder, Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes stands as the undeniable greatest female mixed-martial-artist of all time. Since claiming the world championship back in July of 2016, Nunes has knocked back former world champions, Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, and Germaine de Randamie. Added to that list, we’ve got current flyweight queen and rival, Valentina Shevchenko, and Raquel Pennington. Five successful title defences – four of which came with relative ease.

Nunes is expected to make the first defence of her featherweight throne this summer against Felicia Spencer, allowing some much needed time for a credible contender to emerge from a somewhat log jammed top five. We’ve still got de Randamie, and Holm sitting at number one, and two, respectively. It seems the likes of Aspen Ladd, Julianna Peña, and Irene Aldana are a single victory away from a title opportunity versus Nunes. Out of those three contenders, I’ve managed to deliberate one of those challengers who stands the best chance of ending the reign of Nunes – as well as a familiar former-foe.

Julianna Peña:

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

Washington native, Peña, was on a fast track toward a bantamweight title opportunity back in 2017. ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ had made short work of Jessica Rakoczy on her way to The Ultimate Fighter season 14 win, and then an Octagon victory over Milana Dudieva – before securing statements wins over future flyweight title challenger, Jessica Eye, and the last opponent to beat champion, Nunes, recent Bellator signee, Cat Zingano. In a title-eliminator against the aforementioned, Shevchenko, Peña the consensus superior overall grappler – was submitted via an armbar in the very first round.

Peña made her first Octagon outing in just over two and half years against Nicco Montaño last July – taking a unanimous decision triumph in the process, rebuilding a solid foundation for a title challenge within in her next outing or two. The 30-year-old was then penned to clash with the previously noted, Ladd back at UFC Fight Night Columbus in March, until an injury forced Peña from the contest, however, it’s believed that matchup will be booked again in the future.

In my opinion, Peña matches up with Nunes quite interestingly. Grappling prowess at 135-pounds has taken Peña far in her career to date, with a combination of offensive grappling and ground strikes resulting in triumphant outings. Peña’s scored eleven combined takedowns under the promotional banner – an area of her game she could utilise against Nunes I believe.

Valentina Shevchenko:

Mandatory Credit: Chris Unger

A trilogy meeting between two of the sports best must be completed before it’s all said and done. Amanda Nunes currently holds bragging-rights over flyweight best, Shevchenko – twice in fact. But, there’s a whole lot more to this clash than just the result from both meetings. Undoubtedly, Shevchenko has come closer than any other to ending the bantamweight title reign of Nunes – in a result which would have altered the outlook of female mixed-martial-arts forever.

In September of 2017, Nunes made the second successful defence of the bantamweight throne, edging out Shevchenko via the thinnest of split decisions in Alberta. In an approach which targeted the legs of Shevchenko, Nunes managed to narrowly outland her Krgyzstanian counterpart in terms of total strikes.

Since then, Both have amassed a combined record of 9-0 – with Shevchenko electing to ply her continued trade at 125-pounds instead. Both have steamrolled their respective divisions – leaving a rubber-match between the two the logical outcome to conclusively end this rivalry. They’ve both got hugely contrasting standup styles. Nunes is a punishing knockout artist with some polished range establishing boxing – while Shevchenko is arguably, along with former opponent, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the most technical, and polished Muay Thai practitioner on the promotion’s books.

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