MMA’s Most Intriguing Division

MMA’s Most Intriguing Division

Jul 26, 2016, 10:30:56 PM Sport

Congratulations to Valentina Shevchenko on a tremendous performance in her win over former bantamweight champion Holly Holm over this past weekend. She was crisp in her movement, patient, and she completely mastered her spatial awareness in regard to cage position so that her strength – counter striking – would overwhelm her opponent. Oddly enough counter striking is also the main strength of Holm.

Usually in combat sports when a bout features two counter strikers the final result can amount to a snooze fest. It’s simple really: An aggressive athlete falls prey to the counter fighter because they come forward hoping to dictate pace and the terms of engagement. The counter striker truly needs and hopes for a dancing partner to balance what they do well. They like to react, to counter. (Re: Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm.) The right hook and straight left scored points all night long and Holm couldn't adjust at all. She was confused, tentative and her offense was completely nullified. 

There was a reason why Holm looked so stellar in that fight and now finds herself on a two-fight skid. Let’s make this clear: I don’t think her career’s over or that she’s “overrated” or analogous to Buster Douglas. She’s an accomplished combat athlete across multiple disciplines – and the only combatant, regardless of gender, to hold titles in boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts. She’s legit and I don’t smell “one hit wonder” on her. No. She was winning her last fight against former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate before Tate gambled everything and went for the desperation takedown which ultimately won her the belt…for a few months. Holm isn’t trash all of a sudden but her style of creating offense from distance, timing and counter striking was hampered against a fighter who excels in the same areas. It was a bad style matchup.

Shevchenko, an accomplished Muay-Thai and kickboxing champion with three wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, uses precise clinchwork, crushing knees and has a flair for spinning back fists and kicks. However at her core she’s a calculated fighter that loves to react. Someone had to be the lead dancer – and Shevchenko played coy just enough to suck Holm into the type of fight that puts her at a disadvantage. If striking is your thing, this was the fight for you. I found it fascinating.

What’s next for the division? There are divisions in the sport with more talent but there isn’t a single one that has seen so much upheaval in such a short amount of time. It’s like an eternity since Rousey seemed insurmountable and stood above all the other talented women at bantamweight. Rousey dropped the title to Holm, who then lost it to Tate…who was finished by Amanda Nunes in the first round at UFC 200.  Did you get all that? Not a single successful title defense from any of the aforementioned women and now the spotlight is directly on Amanda Nunes and her first fight since becoming the queen of the 135 class.

I always felt the division would eventually catch up to Rousey but the hot potato nature of her former championship is curious and worthy of attention. Is there any fight in the current division that has a true favorite and underdog? Any of the women can pop up and take center stage – as the recent present has proved.

The UFC put themselves in a bad position in what they’ve done since Rousey’s been on hiatus. First off they were pushing Holm to wait until Rousey returned for an immediate rematch, which, in my opinion, would’ve been a disaster considering the manner in which Holm took the title from her. They would’ve set themselves up for a colossal disappointment with that one as Rousey would be far better suited to get a fight that caters to her style. A crisis was averted there as Holm wanted to stay active – a decision that’s scorned for some strange reason when factoring Rousey has yet to inform anyone of a return date – so she could defend against Tate. Was it a bad move for Holm? No. She lost the fight – one she controlled – in an all-or-nothing gamble.

As opposed to booking an immediate rematch with Tate to headline UFC 200 – one of the cases that made obvious sense – UFC brass put Tate in against Nunes. No slight against the new champion, who deserved the opportunity, but to keep the storyline and financial interests aligned, I felt having a triangle of Holm, Tate and Rousey going for the gold sells itself. Holm just lost it, Tate won it in incredible fashion…and Rousey could be moved into the picture against any of them. Again, I think Rousey’s initial fight upon her return should be against anyone not named Holm. Had they got Rousey to come back for UFC 200 to fight Tate, no matter the winner, Holm would be there. Oh well.

I’m sure that wasn’t on the table which is why Holm opted for the Schevchenko challenge. I hope the new ownership won’t act in such a petty fashion as Zuffa did regarding her when she went against wishes to sit on the bench and shine the belt until Rousey returned, whenever that happens to take place.  

As talented as Nunes is she isn’t a popular name or star – and this is where I hope the UFC puts the promotional strength behind her to enhance her in the eyes of the casual viewer. (They already own the die-hards.) She’s strong in all facets of MMA but she isn’t fit enough to keep the gas going for more than three full rounds (which Schevchenko proved a few months ago). They pushed other athletes on their roster to the moon after wins not as impressive as hers so they should help create a new star.

It’s imperative because another great fighter in Julianna Pena is right on the cusp of a title shot that she deserves. Sitting at 4-0 in the UFC (7-0 if you care to factor in her TUF victories) and coming off a massive victory over Cat Zingano, logically, the title fight versus Nunes is the way to go. However logic doesn’t apply much to the UFC as Michael Bisping will be defending his middleweight title against Dan Henderson in the fall/winter but you understand the point.

Losses in MMA aren’t apocalyptic – unless you carry two losses to a division champion – as it’s a short-term memory sport, for the most part. Pena and Shevchenko are alive in the queue and I feel Holm and Zingano are both two wins away from being title challengers once more. I’m not sure where Tate goes after she heals up her broken nose but an argument can be made that you can throw her right back in with Holm (both coming off losses) or opt to sideline her to set up a trilogy fight with Rousey in the fall/winter. Maybe these ladies take the main event or co-main at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden.

I always pay closer attention to the female fights and even more so now. Maybe it’s because they seem to fight harder and push to take chances, I don’t know. Hold on to that belt ladies or keep losing grip of it – it’s great to see new stars being made.


(This article can also be found here.)


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