A criticism of the UFC women’s bantamweight division that’s becoming more prevalent is its lack of depth. Reigning champion Ronda Rousey has run completely roughshod over the division since capturing the title in 2013, and her next title defense in November is against Holly Holm, an opponent who seems just as overmatched as Rousey’s previous foes.

However, there’s another champion lurking out there who has faced some of the sport’s best. With a couple of UFC fights under her belt, she could become a worthy challenger to Rousey. As an added bonus, she has the personality to help sell a potential “champion vs. champion” fight.

No, I’m not talking about Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, Invicta FC’s featherweight champion and longtime Rousey rival. The potential fight between Rousey and Cyborg has been discussed to death. I’m talking about Tonya Evinger, Invicta’s bantamweight champion.

Evinger has competed in mixed martial arts since 2006 and faced some of the most well-known female fighters around, including Gina Carano, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis and Julie Kedzie. She’s currently on an eight-fight winning streak, including her most recent title defense against Pannie Kianzad at Invicta FC 14 earlier this month.

Evinger goes by the nickname “Triple Threat,” a moniker that fits since her base is in wrestling and she also boasts an impressive submission and striking game. Of Evinger’s last eight wins, all but two came via a TKO or submission. Evinger nearly took Irene Aldana’s arm home with her when she won the Invicta bantamweight title in July.

Evinger previously had a brush with the UFC when she competed for a spot on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, which featured female fighters for the first time and coincidentally was coached by Rousey and Miesha Tate. Unfortunately, Evinger came up short against Raquel Pennington in her preliminary fight.

There seems to be no love lost for the UFC on Evinger’s part, though, since she believes the organization primarily cares about Rousey at the expense of other fighters. There might be some truth to this, since the presumed No. 1 contender, the aforementioned Tate, was passed over for Holm, with only flimsy excuses from UFC President Dana White about wanting to “save” Tate’s career.

Evinger also believes politics may be at play for why she’s not currently competing in the UFC. She previously told MMA Junkie that UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby told her she was “unimpressive” and “doesn’t finish fights.”

As much as MMA fans want to pretend their sport shouldn’t be lumped with professional wrestling, they both fall under the same “sports entertainment” umbrella — sorry, but it’s true — so, like pro wrestling, MMA is not immune to backstage politics. That logic might explain, albeit poorly, why Tate, whose last four wins came by decision, was passed over for another shot at Rousey.

Evinger doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to jump through hoops to join the UFC, which is too bad. In addition to being a relentless competitor, Evinger is not afraid to speak her mind. In a division where the only real outspoken competitor is Rousey, another fighter who isn’t willing to just speak in platitudes could be a shot in the arm for what’s quickly becoming a flagging division lorded over by a dominant champion.

About The Author

Chris Huntemann
Staff Writer

Chris has written about mixed martial arts since 2010. He maintains his own MMA blog, MMA Maryland, that focuses exclusively on the sport’s presence in that state. He also contributes to MMA Wreckage and has written for other blogs, including Cage Potato and Cage-Fights.com.

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  • Juchi

    While I would be up for seeing a Rousey/Evinger fight, assuming Evinger is able to get by a few of the UFC BW top contenders, I think a Cyborg/Evinger at 140 makes a lot more sense. Neither have much in the way of competition in their respective divisions, far less than the UFC’s BW division. They both have to lose quite a bit of weight to make 140 and given Cyborg has to lose more, the weight loss might make the fight more competitive and Evinger would not have to risk losing her title. Finally, it would probably result in the biggest pay day of Evinger’s career.

    • J.D.

      All I can say is, it’s hardly inspiring to think about cyborg facing another bantamweight who has to up their fighting weight in order to do so. That seems to be the sum total of cyborg’s career to date, with the exception of Gina Carano and Charmaine Tweet. I can hardly see a “cyborg fights another lighter opponent who has to weight up” selling a lot of PPVs.

      I’d also say cyborg has more to gain, or lose as the case may be, by fighting Tonya at 135. She has to have at east one fight at 135 and the lure of Tonya’s belt to add to her own would certainly add to the appeal.

      It’s all very well to think about what’s best for Tonya, but it has to be best for cyborg as well, fighting a lighter fighter and the chance cyborg may not make the weight could be a big risk, IMO, best to find a willing 145er willing to make the drop. (Even though cyborg doesn’t seem to like fighting other featherweights)

      I haven’t exactly heard Tonya calling for this fight, nor has cyborg ever expressed an interest in fighting Tonya at any stage.

      • Juchi

        It seems like Tonya has a hard time making weight at 135. Made it on her second try, so she might welcome a fight at 140, thereby not risking her belt. She seems like the most competitive opponent for Cyborg in Invicta, even taking into account their FW and LW divisions. Before Coenen and Budd moved to Bellator, Gomes was ranked as #3 contender at FW before she dropped to 135 and was finished by Evinger. I think I heard that Evinger mentioned she’s be up for a fight w/Cyborg in her latest post-fight interview. She just better build into her contract that she gets 10% of Cyborg’s pay for every pound Cyborg comes in over. When Akano moved up from BW to fight Cyborg, Cyborg came in at 152!

        • J.D.

          I still reckon Latoya Walker. Both Featherweights, Latoya is 5’5″ and has talked about dropping to 135 in the past, she could comfortably make the drop to 140. She is an attractive prospect for Cyborg as she is 5 – 0 and fast building a reputation. Latoya’s last fight was at Invicta 12 back in April, so she is ready for another fight.

          They are leaving the announcement of Cyborg’s opponent very late, if the fight is in November, it only leaves a few weeks to train. Tonya is coming off a fight and has barely had time to rest since the last one. If she takes the fight, it’ll be 3 fights in 4 months, a big ask for any fighter, let alone one who’s got to face tough opposition.

          Again, I’d rather see Cyborg actually face another featherweight, rather than a bantamweight who’s fighting up a weight, an all too familiar pattern for Cyborg.

          • Juchi

            Interesting angle, J.D. I have yet to see Walker in action, but if she can drop to 140 as well, I’d be up for that. Sounds more competitive than anyone else Cyborg has fought since Coenen.

          • J.D.

            In the end Juchi, they’ll probably pick an opponent and everyone will go “who?”.

  • J.D.

    As much talk as there is about Tonya fighting in the UFC, I reckon Invicta FC needs it’s champions to stay put and let other fighters come to them. I’d hate to see invicta FC become a case of “would the last one out please turn out the lights”.