Thursday April 21, 2016— Till date UFC women’s division was all about Women bantamweights like: Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate or Holly Holm. Apart from that the only thing which fans paid attention to was “Cyborg”, the straw weight division was usually ignored. In fact, the MMA world hardly paid attention to straw-weight fighters. Officially the UFC straw-weight division was established on December 11,2013. The first fight was fought between Claudia Gadelha and Tina Lähdemäki. The fight for the first champion of the division began at the beginning of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20: A champion will be crowned. Despite the fact that Carla Esparza went on to become the first champion, she was never really dominating or in leagues of Rousey or any other famous women bantamweight.
The sole reason being that there was no hype or glamour around the division. And for the hype you need a rivalry. The UFC straw-weight division had many talented fighters but none of them were feuding. Hence the division was not really a centre of attraction for MMA fans.
With time things change. The turning point in the division came at the historic event UFC fight night: Dos Santos vs Miocic, the event which would mark the beginning of the greatest feud in UFC straw-weight division. On 13 December 2014, almost a year after the beginning of the division, the great feud of Jędrzejczyk -Gadelha would begin.
That night people saw one of the greatest fight between two undefeated mixed martial artists, two fighters who were feared for their style and dominance. The fight between Joanna Jendrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. Jędrzejczyk went on to win the fight with a razor thin split decision, a decision which changed the shape of the entire division. This fight went on to be one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history.
Apart from being controversial, the result of the bout was also the biggest upset in UFC straw-weight division. Claudia was everyone’s favourite and probably the deadliest straw-weight, she had no competition. Everyone thought that Claudia was facing a “Polish nobody” but these people did not know that this woman was a kickboxing world champion and had a super ground game defence. With high expectations from Gadelha people waited for the result but Joanna managed to win producing a great upset. Had Gadelha won the match, she would have got her title bout against Carla Esparza. With Carla’s performance against Joanna, if Gadelha faced Esparza, she would have had the same fate. At the same time Joanna would not only win the title but would go on to prove herself as a great champion. Her performance in the octagon would show how tough she was. She would show a display of exceptionally good striking and takedown defence, at various bouts. Her fight against Carla showed how destructive she could be, throughout the match she punished Carla and took her on a great path of pain before knocking her out in round 2. Her first title defence came at the hands of Jessica Penne. The one sided fight came to an end when Joanna knocked out Penne with a flurry of punches. By now Joanna had established herself as a decorated kickboxer and a deadly opponent to face. Despite these facts people could not forget that Joanna was not really undefeated, in fact MMA fans thought that Claudia was a true champion.
This resulted in heated war of words between many Joanna-Claudia fans, at various social media sites. The decision would continue to gain heat and the result was a woman straw-weight title eliminator match between Claudia Gadelha and former WSOF women straw-weight champion Jessica Aguilar. Jessica had been on a 10 fight winning streak, had not been defeated since the past 5 years. The match took place at UFC 190 and Claudia smashed Jessica. Her punches had anger seeping through them and her dominating presence showed that Claudia had not taken the loss lightly. She went on to win the fight with a unanimous decision. This fight showed that she had returned and she was deadlier than ever before.
While Claudia fought off Jessica, Joanna faced her toughest title challenger at UFC 193, Valérie “Trouble” Létourneau. Unlike Joanna’s last two fights this fight was back and forth. “Trouble” turned out to be a real trouble as she gave a very good fight. This fight would add many feathers in Joanna’s cap which were:
1.Highest significant strike differential in UFC championship history (+117 vs. Valérie Létourneau)
2.Most leg kicks in a fight in UFC history (+70 vs Valerie Letourneau)
Both fighters would be praised for the hard-fought battle.
Soon after this match it was announced that Joanna and Claudia would not only lock horns again but would also coach against each other. Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha would be announced as head coaches for The Ultimate Fighter season 23.
They both would have their rematch at the finale of the season on July 8, 2016.
In the meanwhile, the division in turmoil. Many fighters had been chasing the title. Claudia got her way worked out because of her strength and the controversial decision but most of the fighters had not faced Joanna. With Carla Esparza down with a shoulder injury and declared out of action, the division would open opportunities for many fighters. Carla had defeated almost half of the fighters in the division, either in The Ultimate Fighter or at Invicta FC, but Joanna had not faced these many opponents in UFC as she had never fought in Invicta FC or The Ultimate Fighter. Hence many fighters would want to face Joanna but they were too many hence a great race to face the champion would begin.
This time round the division would witness change in the way matches were being carried out. There was a discovery of some seriously talented fighters who could soon become threats to Joanna’s or any champions reign. Some of them were: Paige VanZant, Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres.
Paige is one of the youngest and most talented straw-weight fighter. She uses her ground game to take control over her opponents before finishing them off with various strikes. Apart from her grappling, she uses a variety of strikes to neutralize her opponent before finishing them off. Paige was on a winning streak in UFC her only career loss came at the hands of Tecia Torres.
Rose Namajunas was one of the finalist of the ultimate fighter season 20. She lost the opportunity to become the inaugural UFC straw-weight champion to Carla Esparza due to a rear naked choke in round three of the fight. Rose then went on to face Angela Hill at UFC 192 and won the fight by a technical submission in round 1. She then replaced Joanne Calderwood in her fight against Paige VanZant. The two top rated straw-weight fighters squared off at UFC Fight Night 80.
This went on to be another upset as everyone was sure that the charming VanZant would defeat Rose, but Rose dominated most of the fight. She punished Paige with various strikes before finishing of the fight in round 5, again destroying her opponent with a rear naked choke.
This would leave only two top contenders in the race. Rose and Tecia. The pair had once met at Invicta FC 6 with Torres coming out as a winner. This meant it was a rematch for Rose, a chance to avenge her loss and win back a title shot. The two straw-weight giants were set to met at UFC on FOX 19.
This time Rose would payback Torres for her loss. She would defeat Torres in the fight by scoring a unanimous decision victory over her. Hence guaranteeing herself a title shot. Rose is one of the most talented straw-weight fighters therefore she can go on to become a strong champion and a great contender.
The division is going to see some great fighters, who will produce some great fights. With Carla returning at UFC 197, Rose demanding a title bout and Claudia set for her rematch it is nothing but trouble for Joanna “Champion” Jędrzejczyk. Let’s see whether she manages to keep the belt around her waist.
May the best player win. All women must fight.
By: Paarth Pande
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