Now that UFC 215 is firmly in our rearview mirror, and also likely firmly wiped clean from the memory of UFC President Dana White, who is next in line for UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes?
Nunes eked out a controversial split-decision victory over her longtime rival Valentina Shevchenko. Shevchenko is already clamoring for a rematch while claiming she was the rightful victor. However, given that Nunes has defeated Shevchenko twice and their bout last weekend was so exciting that it made the fans in attendance begin chanting for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, Shevchenko shouldn’t hold her breath for a third crack at Nunes.
So, who should get the next title shot against “The Lioness”? If you look at the UFC’s women’s bantamweight rankings right now, the list of possible contenders is not very promising. In fact, it’s actually pretty dreadful.
After Shevchenko, the next two ranked fighters are Holly Holm and Julianna Peña. The case against both of these fighters is pretty cut and dry.
Frankly, Holm’s upset win over former champion Ronda Rousey in 2015 was a fluke. Holm flawlessly executed her game plan at UFC 193 against Rousey, whose run of dominance over what at the time was not a very talented division masked her many flaws that were subsequently exposed by Holm and Nunes. Since her upset of Rousey, Holm has won exactly one fight in nearly two years, and it came against another less-talented fighter, Bethe Correia. Holm lost the title in her very first defense against Miesha Tate last year, then moved up to featherweight to face Germaine de Randamie as part of an extremely flawed process to determine the UFC’s first female featherweight champion. Holm lost again, despite de Randamie landing multiple questionable shots after the end of multiple rounds. So Holm should not be rewarded with another title shot by only beating a mediocre fighter like Correia.
The case against Peña is a little easier to explain. Peña has not fought since she was submitted by Shevchenko in January, when a title shot against Nunes was on the line. Peña should have to go out and win at least a fight or two before she’s considered for another title opportunity.
Further down the list of female bantamweights, the name that sticks out the most is Rousey, who’s ranked fourth. However, she seems to be pairing her blissful post-fighting married life with Travis Browne with a new career in World Wrestling Entertainment as part of a storyline involving her “Four Horsewomen” buddies Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke and the WWE’s own “Four Horsewomen.”
After Rousey, there are fighters like Raquel Pennington, Sara McMann and Cat Zingano to consider. However, none of these ladies should be looked at as legitimate contenders, due to either inactivity (Pennington and Zingano) or recent losses (McMann, who was submitted by Ketlen Vieira at UFC 215).
So, who should be next to face Nunes for the bantamweight title?
There is a fighter out there who would give both the UFC and Nunes a fresh match-up: former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger.
Evinger was brought to the UFC as a late replacement to face Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino to yet again determine the UFC women’s featherweight champion at UFC 214 in July. While Cyborg defeated Evinger by third-round TKO, it was the first time Cyborg fought into the third round in four years. Evinger, a natural bantamweight, was tough enough to take Cyborg’s best shots for three rounds.
Evinger was also a dominant and entertaining Invicta bantamweight champ. She successfully defended her title twice and looking poised for a long run as champion before the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight Cyborg presented itself.
For those who would call it hypocritical to give Evinger another title shot after coming off a loss, while not wanting to extend that opportunity to other fighters, I hear you. However, Evinger agreed to step in on late notice to face the most dangerous female fighter on the planet at UFC 214, when other fighters — most notably Holm and de Randamie — have repeatedly sidestepped that opportunity. This counts for a lot. Furthermore, a fight between Nunes and Evinger would be very entertaining.
The biggest criticism of Nunes’ fight against Shevchenko at UFC 215, besides the questionable scoring, seemed to be that both fighters played it safe and didn’t take any chances to try to secure a finish. “Safe” is a word that isn’t in Evinger’s vocabulary. When she enters the cage, she is constantly seeking a finish, to the tune of 15 of her 19 overall wins coming by knockout or submission.
As we saw when Nunes won the bantamweight title from Tate last year, and when she defended it against Rousey, she is one of the best and most dangerous strikers in the UFC. Meanwhile, Evinger loves to press forward and force the action. This would be the recipe for fireworks, which is something the UFC women’s bantamweight title sorely needs.