They say big things come in small packages. It was roughly six months ago that the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter introduced a majority of mixed martial arts fans to a new breed of female fighters who strive to fit that tried and true cliché.
The 115-pound women’s strawweight division made its UFC debut last year and fans met many fighters who made their bones in other organizations, such as Invicta FC, including fighters like Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas, Felice Herrig, Tecia Torres and Bec Rawlings.
That season of TUF also introduced the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight title, which was won by Esparza after she scored a TKO victory over Namajunas in their championship bout at the season finale. Esparza’s reign was short-lived, however, as she dropped the belt after suffering a TKO at the hands of Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 185 in March.
Of course, no mention of the UFC women’s strawweight division would be complete without discussing Paige VanZant. The latest blonde to burst onto the MMA scene did so in emphatic fashion late last year when she won her UFC debut with an impressive TKO comeback victory over Kailin Curran. VanZant followed up the performance by absolutely dominating the veteran Herrig on the last UFC on Fox card in April.
So you have one title change already in a division that’s barely six months old, and a new rising star who’s already received her own endorsement deal from Reebok and who is looked at as one of the UFC’s next big stars. But where does that leave the women’s strawweight division as a whole?
Following their own season of TUF, a title fight as the co-main event of a pay-per-view and a spot on a nationally televised card, things have been slow for the strawweights. The division has been relegated to performing mainly on preliminary fights and other cards on the UFC’s Fight Pass streaming service, which still doesn’t appear to be used by the majority of fans.
In fact, Jędrzejczyk’s first title defense will come against Jessica Penne at the next UFC Fight Pass card — UFC Fight Night 69 — in Berlin, Germany, on June 20. While it could be argued that putting a title fight exclusively online is a shrewd way for the UFC to gain more subscribers, it does represent a significant step down for the division after Jędrzejczyk won the belt in the UFC 185 co-main event.
However, things appear to be looking up for the strawweights. This weekend’s UFC 188 main card kicked off with a women’s strawweight bout between Tecia Torres and Angela Hill. Although the fight itself was underwhelming, its position in leading off a pay-per-view in front of a record, sellout crowd in another country is a long way from a Fight Pass preliminary card.
The UFC signed former Invicta FC atomweight champion Michelle Waterson to compete at strawweight, and the company also signed former World Series of Fighting women’s strawweight champion Jessica Aguilar, who is widely considered to be among the top two or three strawweights in the world.
Waterson gained a large following in Invicta and goes by “The Karate Hottie,” so it appears to only be a matter of time before she joins VanZant as the faces of the women’s strawweight division. It was just announced that Aguilar will make her UFC debut against Claudia Gadelha at UFC 190 in August, which promises to be an exciting bout and will likely determine the division’s next no. 1 contender.
Female fighters continue to battle for respect in MMA. While they received a huge boost from the ascension of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, the organization’s strawweight fighters hope another old saying starts to resonate with fans: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”