The UFC is headed south to Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bellator is headed to Israel; and ONE Championship stays in Asia, as usual. Only the Legacy Fighting Alliance will hold a card in North America when the promotion travels to Belton, Texas. International cards are usually not the best places to look for quality, competitive fights, and this weekend’s offerings in women’s MMA are no different. There are a few diamonds in the rough, however.
The UFC will go on a two-week hiatus after this weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 22 event. The card opens up with the ladies, and they are two of the most compelling bouts of the weekend.
Also, as a note, ONE Championship: Age of Dragons has two fights that will not be featured here. Jorina Baars meets Christina Breuer, but this fight is exempt because it is a kickboxing bout. The showdown between Ritu Phogat and Nam Hee Kim is also absent, because it is a fight between two debuting contestants.
In addition, Hailey Cowan and Lisa Mauldin will no longer fight at LFA 78, because Cowan was unable to make weight.
With that out of the way, time to dive into the rankings.
A star system will be utilized to tier the bouts. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Four stars signifies a can’t-miss fight that should be watched live. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Three stars will be awarded to a fight that can be watched on DVR or tape-delay. ⭐️⭐️ Two stars signals a fight that could be good, but is not required viewing. ⭐️ One star goes to fights that mean very little or hold low potential for violence and entertainment.
Bellator 234, DAZN, tape-delayed 6 p.m. ET on Friday
The featured preliminary-card contest on the Bellator 234 card is a featherweight bout between “Big Bad” Olga Rubin and Sinead “KO” Kavanagh. The former title challenger Rubin is looking to bounce back from her first-round TKO loss to champion Julia Budd. Kavanagh is out to right the ship after two straight losses.
Rubin was undefeated coming into the Budd fight. She was untested, sure, but already held a respectable record that includes a win over veteran Cindy Dandois. Kavanagh has been poorly inconsistent. Kavanagh holds a 2-4 record in the promotion and has looked the part of the common SBG Ireland fighter. The problem with both combatants here is the overall landscape of the featherweight division in Bellator.
Rubin holds the much more impressive record. Her sole loss came to the featherweight queen, but given how quickly and dominantly Budd dispatched of her, it’s hard to see another title shot in her near future.
Kavanagh’s borderline .500 record makes it difficult to promote her against the likes of someone like Budd. Bellator chief Scott Coker could take the approach of hand-feeding opponents to his champions, but Budd has defended her belt enough times that this plan of action won’t fly anymore. Moreover, the addition of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino to the Bellator roster means that there is a big obstacle between Kavanagh and a chance at gold.
Rubin’s recent blunder is mostly to blame for the lack of intrigue in this match-up. The stakes are not just lower, but almost inconsequential. Neither woman registers many exciting performances or finishes in their fights, which doesn’t help matters. Watch if you must, but you shouldn’t be worse off for missing it. It’s also airing on a tape delay, with the fight having actually taken place on Thursday.
LFA 78, UFC Fight Pass, 9 p.m. ET on Friday
Strawweights Cheyanne “The Warrior Princess” Vlismas-Buys and Rebecca Adney meet during the prelim portion of the LFA 78 card.
Vlismas-Buys had some eyes on her when she began her professional career. She’s a training partner of Miesha Tate and a client of Tate’s management agency. As such, she has the unofficial endorsement of women’s MMA royalty and, much like her veteran counterpart, she has the “marketability” to match.
Vlismas-Buys began her pro career with the LFA. Unfortunately, she followed her debut win with a decision loss to Helen Peralta. The Peralta fight should have been her catapult to bigger and better things. It was on the lower end of the Invicta FC 29 card, but it featured an interesting rivalry between the two women. The relative ease with which Peralta handled Vlismas-Buys slowed her hype, but her 3-1 record makes it appear as if she’s ready to come back and perhaps get some of the attention that was extinguished a year ago.
Adney is 0-2 in her professional career. That’s about all that needs to be said of this match-up. It is meant to improve Vlismas-Buys’ record and give her an almost assured win on U.S. soil after the last two international fights she had.
This one is for the hardest of hardcore fans, plus people who just want to see a pretty woman in the cage. Pass here for a made-to-order squash match.
ONE Championship: Age of Dragons, B/R Live, 5:30 a.m. ET on Saturday
Strawweights Bo Meng and Laura “La Gladiadora” Balin will meet on the main card of ONE Championship: Age of Dragons. Meng is most well known for being the sole blemish on UFC strawweight champion Weili Zhang’s record.
The Chinese veteran will make her ONE debut against Balin, who has yet to win in the ONE cage. Like a few of this weekend’s contests, this has all the elements of a squash match. Meng is far superior on the feet and the mat. They have similar amounts of experience, but Balin doesn’t have one standout win in her 16-fight resume. In addition to her victory over Zhang, Meng has two wins over Yanan Wu.
The weight is all on Meng here. Balin is not meant to win and not even meant to make it all too competitive, frankly. If this is your first time seeing Meng, then make the time to catch it. This should be a showcase fight for her.
UFC on ESPN+ 22, ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET on Saturday
Tracy Cortez will make her official Octagon debut on Saturday night against “Miss Sampatia” Vanessa Melo. The bout will open up Saturday night’s proceedings and will also mark the first foray into the bantamweight division for Cortez.
Cortez’s contract-nabbing win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series had many fans of women’s MMA happy. The decision nod over Mariya Agipova maybe wasn’t the most dominant or dynamic performance, as is White’s preference, but she showed determination, grit, and the ability to adjust.
Melo is coming off a decisive loss to Irene Aldana. She showed up overweight and with little preparation on short notice. Melo was little more than a punching bag against the Mexican contender. That sort of UFC debut cannot leave a fighter feeling good about themselves. Melo is undoubtedly seeking redemption, albeit again on short notice.
The only slight criticism for this fight is Melo’s preparedness. It’s hard to get a good grip as to whether she’ll make weight and bring a solid game plan against the talented Cortez. If competitiveness is absent in this affair, then Cortez’s debut should be of enough intrigue to be worth watching at some point this weekend.
UFC on ESPN+ 22, ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET on Saturday
Ariane “The Violence Queen” Lipski was set to meet Veronica Macedo on the prelim portion of the UFC on ESPN+ 22, but Macedo withdrew on Thursday night after suffering through severe headaches. Isabella “Belinha” de Pádua has stepped up on just a day’s notice to take Macedo’s place.
Lipski made her UFC debut earlier this year and has dropped her two fights with the promotion to Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann, respectively. De Pádua lost her pro debut to current UFC fighter Luana Carolina, but she’s been perfect through five subsequent fights. This will be her promotional debut.
Lipski has been through several potential opponents for this fight. Priscila Cachoeira failed a drug test and was replaced by Macedo. Then, Macedo withdrew just two days before the fight. The pairing of Lipski and Macedo held plenty of intrigue and the potential for real fireworks. De Pádua’s entry on such short notice definitely changes the dynamics of the contest.
Macedo had taken this fight on short notice and stated that she still intended to make the flight to South Korea in December to fight Amanda Lemos. Now, she’s out of this fight and could be in jeopardy of not being cleared for the Lemos bout. Meanwhile, this has created an opportunity for de Pádua to make a name for herself against Lipski, a former KSW champion who entered the UFC with high expectations.
What turned out to be a can’t-miss fight between Lipski and Macedo has now turned into what should be a showcase for Lipski. This fight gets a two-star rating based solely on Lipski’s UFC stint thus far. Calderwood is a stiff test for anyone, and we have now seen that McCann is turning a new leaf. However, to think the former KSW champion would lose to a strawweight is quite a stretch. If Lipski is in peak form and has a go-getter attitude, we can see a vintage KSW-era highlight-reel finish from “The Violence Queen.” If she’s tentative and de Pádua’s weight advantage is more pronounced than presumed, then a 30-27 shutout should still be sufficiently entertaining.