At last weekend’s UFC 259 event, Amanda Nunes successfully retained her Featherweight Championship against her challenger Megan Anderson.
The story coming out of the fight was, for a bit, all about Nunes’ greatness among all fighters, not just women. However, in the days since the event, the conversation has shifted to the longevity of the women’s featherweight division.
A major catalyst for that discussion is that Megan Anderson was let go from the company as her six-fight contract with the UFC had run out with the promotion choosing not to resign her.
While it is truly saddening the UFC isn’t resigning her, it gives us the opportunity to discuss the bigger picture of the women’s featherweight division.
Here are the main discussion points concerning the division’s future.
A Strong Comparison
The first point to bring up when discussing a UFC division’s longevity would be the most relevant and recent comparison: the men’s Flyweight division. It was not long ago, the men’s Flyweight division was going cut from the UFC until it was saved by Henry Cejudo dethroning the all-time great UFC veteran Demetrious Johnson.
The reason why the division was struggling so much was not only because of Johnson’s incredible skill of dispatching his opposition and therefore lack of challengers, but it was a reason. Having no one to legitimately challenge the champion takes a toll on the division. Going into a bout knowing who the winner will be taking a bit away from the fan’s viewing experience. This is especially true when a champion has dispatched of every legitimate contender so it feels as though the UFC is trying to sell us on a challenger who has no business being in the cage with the champion at all.
The saving grace for the men’s Flyweight division was Johnson finally losing the belt to someone the fans could galvanize. Henry Cejudo was an Olympic Gold Medalist and talked trash which eventually made him a polarizing figure in the MMA world. The women’s Featherweight division doesn’t appear to have a saving grace anytime soon. And that’s not an indictment on Nunes because her greatness should be celebrated. But in terms of an entire division, it does no favors.
The Level of Competition
In the last section, the idea of the challenger was only briefly mentioned because it does deserve its own section. A normal path to the championship for a challenger in any division is to create enough hype around the challenger by some combination of incredible wins and performances inside the cage and mainstream excitement around the challenger.
There have been various combinations of both in the past. Names like Conor McGregor and Chael Sonnen come to mind as fighters who were great in the cage but were pushed to the title because of their ability to excite the fans through the use of the microphone. Other fighters like Kamaru Usman and Petr Yan earned their shots at the title by not fully utilizing the interview portion of MMA, but by letting their incredible skills inside the cage speak for themselves. The distinct problem with this in terms of the women’s Featherweight division is that no fighter has truly impressed enough recently in either department to warrant a shot at Nunes’ Featherweight title, more on that later.
Therefore the plan for the UFC recently as it pertains to the Women’s Featherweight Championship challengers is this: because there is no one who either talks the talk or walks the walk, they have to manufacture a challenger and spin a narrative so fans (hopefully) get excited.
The Division Doesn’t Really Exist
The first two sections are very important to understand why the division might be failing. However, if there is one major point to understand that truly ends the argument of whether or not the division is failing is this:
You can count the number of fighters in the women’s Featherweight division on one hand with fingers to spare.
It is as simple as that. The UFC is telling us they aren’t concerned with the division they really never wanted in the first place. The UFC is the biggest MMA promotion in the world. If they wanted to sign more female 145-pound fighters, they could. Because the UFC only has four women’s Featherweight fighters under contract (really three because Nunes is a Bantamweight originally), they are telling us the division is not long for the promotion.
The only thing that is currently saving the division from extinction is the fact that the greatest women’s fighter of all time is the current champion.
Until Nunes loses that title or retires, the division will probably stick around.
Once Nunes is no longer the champion, however, the division will most likely be cut from the UFC.
Featured Image: UFC