Welcome to year eight of the annual “Prospects the UFC Should Sign” series, in which we’ll examine five MMA prospects per division the UFC should sign this year.
This series started during my time as a writer for Bleacher Report, continued through my tenures at Today’s Knockout and FanSided and now it continues again this year at Combat Press.
Let’s examine the women’s bantamweight division, the original women’s division in the UFC. It’s been thinned out due to the recent addition of the flyweight division, so the UFC needs to look to add talent here.
In picking these prospects, I’ll try my hardest to stay away from fighters who are currently in top organizations, such as Bellator or the Professional Fighters League, but a couple may pop up. In the past, I’ve had some great picks on the list and some that haven’t worked out. Below are the previous year’s selections, followed by the five women the UFC should offer roster spots to this year.
2014: Leslie Smith, Rin Nakai, Larissa Pacheco, Agnieszka Niedźwiedź*, Pannie Kianzad*
2015: Tonya Evinger, Irene Aldana, DeAnna Bennett, Agnieszka Niedźwiedź*, Pannie Kianzad*
2016: Irene Aldana, Lina Länsberg, Taila Santos, Jennifer Maia, Julia Berezikova
2017: Aspen Ladd, Ji Yeon Kim, Taila Santos, Juliana Velasquez, Sinead Kavanaugh
2018: Antonina Shevchenko, Katharina Lehner, Julia Avila, Marina Mokhnatkina*, Rizlen Zouak
2019: Julia Avila, Duda Santana, Sarah Alpar, Lisa Verzosa, Gisele Moreira
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
As a flyweight, Hailey Cowan probably needed a little more time to season. However, after re-assessing her weight cut and how she basically has no body fat, Cowan appears to have decided to move up to 135 pounds. In her new division, she is definitely a person who deserves a look from the UFC. The bantamweight division is far more shallow than flyweight, and the talent at the bottom end is closer to where Cowan is at right now, which would allow her to gain more experience at a slower pace to build her up properly.
Cowan’s background is actually collegiate gymnastics, which explains why she is such a top-level athlete who is strong as hell and so flexible. That athletic career has transitioned nicely to an MMA career. The Blitz Sport MMA product did lose her pro debut to top flyweight prospect Victoria Leonardo, but she has since rattled off four straight wins. In 2019, Cowan scored a rear-naked choke finish of Invicta vet Sarah Click before adding a unanimous nod over Bellator vet Jessica Middleton in a fun fight. She was scheduled to finish the year out by fighting Lisa Mauldin, but complications in her weight cut to 125 pounds forced her to bow out of the contest. This apparently prompted the move to 135.
Cowan’s not ready to step in the cage with Amanda Nunes or Holly Holm. She’s one that the UFC could try to prep for contention in a few years. She has to be built up properly with more appropriate match-ups. Cowan is marketable and has a good backstory that fans can get behind. If she can continue getting impressive finishes like the terrifying head-kick knockout she hit on Jessica Sotack, there’s no denying her a chance in the UFC.
Since her last appearance for Invicta in 2016, Stephanie Egger has been rather quiet. However, she had an interesting 2019 that put her back in the spotlight.
The Swiss fighter is a good grappler with some decent striking ability. That well-roundedness allows her to counter her opponent’s biggest weakness, whatever that may be. The Buddy Gym export fought just once in 2019 — her December fight was canceled less than two weeks before the bout — and scored a decision win over Japanese star Reina Miura. It was easily the biggest win of her career. She also competed at the ADCC World Championships, losing to world champ Gabi Garcia on points.
Egger is 31 years old, so it’s time to strike while the iron is hot. The women’s bantamweight division can use all the depth it can get, and Egger would certainly be a welcomed addition. She’s much improved and could hang with some of the better fighters in the division right now.
No matter what you think of it, the reality in women’s fighting is that the UFC and Bellator favor women who are more physically attractive. These companies know these women are more marketable. However, when you look past the good looks of Jamila Sandora, you’ll find an impressive prospect with a chance to make waves in the UFC’s bantamweight division.
A member of the respected Parana Vale Tudo gym, Sandora has run up a 5-0 record thus far in her pro MMA career. She has good size for the division and is pretty well rounded. On a more critical note, her strength of schedule leaves something to be desired. It’s not always easy getting good competition on the Brazilian regional circuit. In 2019, she fought just once, besting prospect Claudia Leite by unanimous decision. She had a high-profile bout scheduled for the inaugural Ares FC card against Olympic judoka Rizlen Zouak, but it was canceled on the day of the fight due to the outdoor humidity.
Sandora is a marketable and clearly skilled fighter. The UFC makes a lot of trips to Brazil, too. A fighter the caliber of Sandora could make a quick run up the ladder, and the UFC should definitely give her a look in 2020.
Yes, Pam Sorenson is a featherweight fighter, but she has competed at 135 pounds in the past. Given how shallow the bantamweight talent pool is in the UFC and how we are just going to assume the UFC featherweight division is done, Sorenson’s only chance to compete inside the Octagon will be at her former weight class. She could be a mainstay, too.
Sorenson is a pretty well-rounded fighter, though she doesn’t really stand out in any specific area. She’s just solid. The Cellar Gym fighter likes to strike. When you watch her scrap, expect to see more kickboxing than wrestling. Sorenson is an experienced veteran who turned pro in 2015 and has competed consistently for top regional promotions such as Invicta and King of the Cage. Her most notable wins have come against Nicco Montaño, Brenda Means, Jessica-Rose Clark and Kaitlin Young.
If Sorenson is willing to cut down to 135, then she’s a fighter the UFC should snap up. There are less than 30 rostered bantamweight ladies in the UFC, so the division can use all the help it can get.
Lisa Verzosa is possibly the best bantamweight prospect out there right now. The 24-year-old has a bright future in MMA. She has demonstrated great progression from fight to fight and has the right style to be successful in the sport.
Verzosa, a member of the Base Vancouver camp, is pretty well rounded, even at this point in her career. She has good wrestling and submission grappling, but she also has shown that she can bang on the feet in exciting fashion. The big knock on her thus far, though, is that she tends to go the distance — all of her five pro wins have come by way of decision. Verzosa scored two victories in 2019, solidifying herself as a top bantamweight. She started off the year by beating The Ultimate Fighter alum Katharina Lehner and then took out Kerri Kenneson.
The UFC likes finishers, and Verzosa is not a finisher. However, she is an exciting fighter. She owns wins over two women the UFC has taken looks at in Lehner and Shanna Young, which should also be a consideration. Expect to see Verzosa in a Reebok fight kit at some point in 2020.