UFC’s Meaningless Women’s Featherweight Title Fight
The announcement last week that Holly Holm would fight Germaine de Randamie on February 11 at UFC 208 in the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title bout was received with well-deserved derision.
For years, the UFC had avoided the division and tried mightily to shrink its top star to fit into its 135-pound weight class. When the promotion absorbed fighters from Strikeforce in 2013, including the women’s bantamweight division, UFC didn’t carry over the featherweight division, claiming – not without merit – that there wasn’t enough talent. As recently as mid-September, UFC President Dana White was negative on the idea of a 145-pound women’s weight class opening in the UFC in the near future, if ever.
So what changed in the course of three months?
For starters, about one week after White’s September comments, 1.3 million people tuned in to watch Cris Cyborg – the reigning undisputed queen of the 145-pound division for more than eight years running – destroy overmatched opponent Lina Landsberg in a 140-pound catch-weight bout. Cyborg’s pair of bouts in the UFC were contested at 140-pounds with the idea of getting her ready to move down to 135, but her tough weight cut for the Landsberg fight appeared to be the final nail in her bantamweight coffin. However, the fight proved irrefutably that Cyborg is an attraction, which UFC is in great need of.
The UFC has major performance goals to hit over the next two years, which is inevitably going to influence matchmaking to put an even greater focus on moneymaking fights than there has been in the past. Even outside of those major moneymaking fights, their regular monthly pay-per-views need to keep being churned out. Due to timing issues that left them unable to find a main event, the promotion had already abandoned a pay-per-view date in January by the time it came to fill the main event void in February. With the clock ticking down to the ticket on-sale date, the promotion felt the need to announce a fight that could headline the show.
UFC went to Cyborg and offered her a slot in the first women’s featherweight title bout in February. Citing the need for bit more recovery time from her harsh weight cut in September, she declined the date and stated she’d be ready to fight the following month. But, UFC still needed a main event for February. They attempted to push together a Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway men’s featherweight title bout for the date, but as of this writing Holloway, who fought a little over a week ago, hasn’t committed to the date. With just about every other major star unavailable, the UFC announced the Holm vs. de Randamie title match.
Holm vs. de Randamie is the most illegitimate championship match in UFC history. That certainly is not to say they are the worst fighters to compete for a UFC championship, but rather they are meeting for a championship bout without any hint of merit. Holm has never fought at featherweight and has lost her last two fights at bantamweight. She’s in this position because she’s a major name and a win could potentially set up one of the biggest fights in MMA history. De Randamie has fought twice at featherweight, most recently more than four years ago, and has a 1-1 record in the weight class. She has won two fights in a row against opponents with a combined zero UFC wins, and prior to that was stopped in the first round by reigning bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
Holm and de Randamie will fight for a belt, but it will be a meaningless accessory until Cris Cyborg fights for the title. After that point, it should rightfully be considered a legitimate championship. Before that, it’s not a championship worth recognizing.
Of course, even after Holm and de Randamie fight, Cyborg may not be the next fighter in line for the title. The UFC is about making the biggest fights possible, and if Holly Holm wins in February, there may be a much bigger fight for her than Cris Cyborg. Ronda Rousey returns from a 13-month absence on December 30 to challenge Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title. Rousey’s last fight brought more interest after the fact than any in MMA history. Rousey, entering the night as the unbeatable dominant champion and the biggest star in the sport, was crushed by Holm, who fought levels above the defending champion on the feet.
Immediately following that afternoon in Australia, the obvious direction was a rematch between Holm and Rousey in what could have been the biggest fight in MMA history. But Rousey wanted time off, and Holm wanted to remain active. Holm has lost both of her fights and the bantamweight title since then, but a featherweight title win will allow the UFC to promote her rejuvenation, and a rematch with Rousey would still be enormous.
The first step is for Rousey to beat Nunes at UFC 207, which is a tall task. With Rousey publicly talking about winding down her career, the UFC has to believe the ideal exit for her will be to beat Nunes, avenge her defeat to Holm, and then culminate with the long-awaited Rousey vs. Cyborg fight. For their part, UFC badly wants the Rousey vs. Cyborg fight, projecting it to the biggest fight in company history.
Perhaps the Holm vs. de Randamie championship match will be remembered as the first step toward one or two of the biggest fights in MMA history, but for now it is just a featherweight fight masquerading as a championship match in attempt to add luster to a pay-per-view.