Man, what a difference a year makes, huh?
At this time last year, Ronda Rousey was the undisputed UFC women’s bantamweight champion. She was on her way to another dominant performance and first-round knockout of Bethe Correia at UFC 190. Rousey’s status as the best female mixed martial artist in the world was basically cemented by many, and her future never looked brighter as she was parlaying her UFC success into a Hollywood career.
But then the last 365 days happened.
In that time, Rousey was knocked out in the second round by Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November in an absolutely shocking upset. Holm looked like she would be the new queen of women’s MMA, as it didn’t seem like anyone would be able to match her elite striking that she used to defeat the previously-thought-unbeatable Rousey.
But instead of waiting for a big-money rematch with Rousey, Holm decided to forge ahead and defend her belt against Miesha Tate at UFC 196 in March. Holm was comfortably ahead on points going into the final round, but Tate pulled off a comeback for the ages and choked Holm unconscious to finally take the UFC gold that had long been denied to her.
So now, we all thought Tate was ready to reign over women’s MMA and enjoy the success she had pursued since starting her career in 2007, right? But, like Holm, Tate’s reign as champion ended way earlier than most people probably expected. Tate was knocked out in the first round by Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 200 earlier this month.
So in one calendar year, the UFC women’s bantamweight title has changed hands three times. If that isn’t enough upheaval for you, the question of who deserves the first crack at the new champion is in an equal state of disarray. For a moment, Holm seemed the most primed to attempt to reclaim the belt, but then she ran into a buzzsaw named Valentina Shevchenko, who handed Holm her second straight loss on the UFC’s latest Fox card last weekend.
Shevchenko wasted no time calling out the champion Nunes after the fight, and Nunes also wasted no time giving a mixed response on Twitter:
— Amanda Nunes (@Amanda_Leoa) July 24, 2016
— Amanda Nunes (@Amanda_Leoa) July 24, 2016
So, does Nunes want to give Shevchenko a rematch or not? The two previously fought at UFC 196 and though Nunes won by decision, many thought Shevchenko was close to putting the Brazilian away in the third round. If that fight had been for a title and Shevchenko had two more rounds to work with, who’s to say what would have happened?
We can effectively rule out two candidates — Holm and Tate — right off the bat for the first Nunes title defense.
Even if title fights in the UFC aren’t always about who’s the most deserving, there’s no justifying Holm receiving a title fight after two straight losses. Furthermore, given the apparent state of relations between Holm, her management team and UFC President Dana White, Holm may never get another sniff of the belt.
Tate, meanwhile, was dismantled by Nunes at UFC 200, and since her name isn’t Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor, there’s little reason to give Tate an immediate rematch with Nunes after she was so thoroughly dominated.
So, who’s left? Here are three possible candidates:
Julianna Peña: She’s a bit of a wild card, but Peña did defeat former title contender Cat Zingano on the UFC 200 preliminary card and remains undefeated in her UFC career. She is currently fourth in the UFC’s rankings at women’s bantamweight, behind Tate, Holm and Rousey. Those rankings will surely change this week, and Peña will likely leapfrog Holm and her teammate Tate at the very least. Peña would present an interesting match-up for Nunes, who would have to battle against Peña’s toughness and stifling ground-and-pound.
Valentina Shevchenko: Shevchenko nearly came back and defeated Nunes in their first meeting. The two have also started a little war of words as Shevchenko attempts to position herself as the No. 1 contender. When told of Nunes’ reaction to her victory in the tweets above, Shevchenko accused Nunes of being “scared” to fight her again. Impressive performances in each fighter’s most recent victory and the hype that genuine dislike can bring could make a title fight between these two into a must-watch event.
Ronda Rousey: Let’s bring this column full circle. We started by talking about Rousey, and we’ll end by talking about her as well. The door is absolutely wide open for Rousey to return to the UFC now more than ever. There’s a definite vacuum in the women’s bantamweight division, and Rousey could be the perfect woman to fill the void.
Can Rousey do it? Does she want to do it? A recent Reebok commercial is the only hint we have of whether or not Rousey wants to come back to the UFC. If she does, then an immediate title shot will be waiting for her, as it should given Rousey’s stature as champion before her loss to Holm.
A year ago, Rousey appeared to have the UFC women’s bantamweight division on lockdown. What a difference a year makes.