The UFC heads to Canada this June for UFC Fight Night 89. The promotion recently announced that it will make a little history on the card by hosting the first-ever UFC women’s flyweight bout. It’s a scrap between former strawweight contenders Valérie Létourneau and Joanne Calderwood.
This should be huge news. The UFC has been going strong with its 115- and 135-pound women’s divisions for a while now, but there are a good number of fighters who have been stuck somewhere in between the 20-pound gap between those divisions. These ladies have been putting themselves at a disadvantage due to the lack of divisions in the promotion.
However, while the UFC is apparently ready to give a 125-pound women’s division a trial run at Fight Night 89 and see how it goes, the company isn’t quite willing to pull the trigger on creating an actual division yet — the bout is being viewed as a “special attraction.” This is where the promotion is making a mistake.
Calderwood and Létourneau are obviously great examples of fighters who may have been caught in between the two UFC women’s weight classes over the last few years.
Létourneau actually made her UFC debut at in the bantamweight division. After squeaking by with a split decision victory over Elizabeth Phillips, the striker decided to cut the additional 20 pounds and compete at strawweight in future Octagon appearances. She even earned a strawweight title fight in her last bout. She may have come up a little short against Joanna Jędrzejczyk for the belt, but Létourneau has proven to be one of the better female fighters in the organization and has a chance to make some serious waves if the UFC decides to go full steam ahead with the new weight class.
Calderwood has spent both her Muay Thai and MMA career competing around 115 pounds, but her last few performances have left something to be desired, especially considering the ridiculous amount of talent she has on the feet. “JoJo” has a 2-1 record in the UFC and has had memorable enough battles to become one of the more popular fighters in the strawweight division. Yet, she has underperformed since stepping into the Octagon. Both of Calderwood’s wins came against competition she was expected to walk through with ease. Instead, the fights turned into absolute barnburners, and her loss came in a gigantic upset to the then-unknown Maryna Moroz by first-round submission in a fight where Calderwood was dominated. A change might be just what “JoJo” needs, but moving up 20 pounds to compete at bantamweight would have been career suicide for a skinny striker headed into Ronda Rousey’s realm.
It’s not like Calderwood and Létourneau are the only women that could benefit from the addition of a women’s flyweight division to the UFC roster. There are a good amount of women already in the UFC and competing on the Invicta roster that could end up benefitting from the move.
Top-10 bantamweight Jessica Eye spent her entire career fighting at flyweight before entering the UFC. Eye could instantly be a force in a new division if given the opportunity.
There’s also current strawweight No. 1 contender Claudia Gadelha is another woman who could really benefit from the addition of a flyweight belt, especially if she loses her upcoming strawweight title fight to Jędrzejczyk. The loss would be Gadelha’s second to “Joanna Champion,” and since Gadelha reportedly had a few tough cuts to 115 anyway, a move up to 125 would be a huge blessing for the young Brazilian.
And we haven’t even mentioned potential steals that could be signed from outside of the promotion. The UFC and Invicta have been on good terms over the last few years, so it seems fair to assume that a new weight division in the UFC would lead to a few of Invicta’s better flyweights crossing over to the Zuffa roster. Current champion Barb Honchak and interim champ Jennifer Maia could easily find their way over, as could solid veterans like Vanessa Porto, Roxanne Modafferi and Tara LaRosa. That’s the start of a solid division.
There’s obviously enough talent out there for the UFC to make a flyweight division happen, so the company might as well stop flirting with the idea and commit completely. While I can’t quite condone making Létourneau vs. Calderwood a fight for the inaugural belt, both women have done more than enough to have earned a spot in a small flyweight title tournament similar to the one the UFC conducted to introduce the men’s flyweight division a few years ago. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the promotion to find another pair of women worthy of a potential title shot, and with a ridiculous amount of fight cards coming up in the next few months, the UFC’s brand would only benefit from the addition of another bout with major stakes.
As successful as the women’s MMA movement has been since the UFC decided to add women to the fold, it’s hard to understand why the UFC is so hesitant to throw some more female fighters into the mix. While there will always be some detractors, the vast majority of fight fans have fully embraced female fighters at this point. The fights featuring the strawweight and bantamweight ladies have started to become some of the most anticipated contests on a card-to-card basis.
So, UFC, add a women’s flyweight division. It’s the right move. The promotion seems to be headed in the right direction with the Létourneau-Calderwood bout. Without a division to support it, however, the fight has no stakes.