Tonya Evinger (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Does Former Invicta Champ Tonya Evinger Deserve a UFC Bantamweight Title Shot?

In combat sports, it’s a difficult task to win a championship of any kind in any division. As much as some organizations may not always have the best fighters, it’s still a major accomplishment to reach the mountaintop for any man or woman. However, just because someone is the champion in one organization doesn’t necessarily warrant them a title shot whenever they want it.

That’s basically the current situation former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger finds herself in. She came into the UFC as the champion of the only all-women’s fight organization in the United States, signing with the UFC so she could replace Megan Anderson in a bout against arguably the best women’s fighter in the world, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who was formerly the Invicta FC featherweight champion before joining the UFC roster.

Anderson, who withdrew due to personal reasons, was seemingly replaced by the first female that was ready to step up to the plate against a fighter for whom the UFC basically created a whole new division. Evinger thought she would be a legitimate challenge against Cyborg.


Before the UFC created the new women’s featherweight division, Cyborg, who has never been able to make the 135-pound bantamweight limit in a U.S.-sanctioned MMA fight, promised she would make it just so she could face former champion Ronda Rousey, whom she always considered to be her rival. Due to concerns that Cyborg wouldn’t be able to make the weight and still be healthy enough to fight the next day, the UFC never let her face Rousey when the Olympic judoka was champion, but the company also refused to create a 145-pound division. That is, until recently.

Following Anderson’s withdrawal and Evinger’s signing, Cyborg and Evinger were set to fight at UFC 214 on July 29. Evinger lost the fight to Cyborg via third-round knockout. This was Evinger’s featherweight debut, and the fact that she was able to nearly make it into the championship rounds against one of the best female fighters in the world is pretty impressive. She was obviously the Invicta bantamweight champion for a reason.

Following the loss to Cyborg, there has been some chatter about who should get the next title shot at bantamweight. Current champion Amanda Nunes will face No. 1 contender Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215, so it would probably be a good idea to decide who will face the winner of that fight.

There’s a growing opinion that Evinger should get the next shot since she was Invicta champion before leaving the organization for the UFC. However, a title shot in the UFC needs to be earned, not given out. Evinger just lost to Cyborg, and in fairly decisive fashion, too. Yes, she was stepping in for another fighter on short notice, but a loss is still a loss. After a loss, a fighter shouldn’t get rewarded with a title shot in another division unless there are some dire circumstances.

The same thing could have been said for Holly Holm when she got the featherweight title shot against Germaine de Randamie. This was similar to the Cyborg/Evinger at UFC 214, as well. In this scenario, there were no other options to choose from, as far as fighters to face each other for the title, including Cyborg, at the time. So, just like at UFC 214, this one was done on a whim, or else there would have been no championship main event in a very highly anticipated card in a state where the UFC was desperate to have events. So that was an understandable decision.

The best solution to finding out who the new top contender should be to face the winner of Nunes/Shevchenko is to make a fight between Holm and Evinger. On its face, it would be a good first fight at bantamweight in the UFC for Evinger, while Holm can show that she’s still in top contention in the division and deserving of a shot at a title she nearly retained against Miesha Tate approximately 18 months earlier.

The reasoning for why they should be matched up is pretty simple, too. Both Evinger and Holm have lost title fights recently, but they have been champions in the past. Both ladies are considered highly ranked — Evinger is not part of the official UFC rankings yet, though — but they are not ranked highly enough to deserve title shots. So, why not pit them against each other and let the better woman win?

Holm makes for an intriguing opponents for Nunes. Some might say that Holm’s style leads to boring fights, but Nunes is one of the only fighters in the division that would be willing to take it to Holm and put on a real fight. This would also allow Holm to use her brilliant counter striking, while incorporating her fantastic kicks as well. Unless the fight goes to the ground, where Nunes would have a clear advantage, it would be really competitive and exciting to watch.

Unfortunately, Holm didn’t have a great performance against Shevchenko in 2016, so this fight seems less appealing from a fan’s perspective. However, for all we know, they could both have very different game plans in a potential rematch.

So, while Evinger did put on a decent short-notice performance at a higher weight class, that doesn’t make her deserving of a title shot at a different weight. It would be an unfair slight to Holm, who lost a very close fight to de Randamie and responded by knocking out Bethe Correia in her very next fight. This is why the pairing of Holm and Evinger makes the most sense and would be a fun scrap for the fans to enjoy, too.