July 28, 2016

UFC on Fox 20: The Women's Bantamweight Division Gets Even More Interesting After the Holm Loss

By Raphael Garcia

Depth is a major part of successful sports organizations. Dynasties such as the Chicago Bulls and the New England Patriots built much of their success on the abilities of players to jump into key roles at any moment. The UFC looks to build a similar form of depth in each of its weight classes. While lightweight and welterweight were long considered the deepest divisions in the sport, the women’s bantamweight division has grown into a stable of fighters that can be relied upon to offer compelling storylines and matchups. And after Valentina Shevchenko’s impressive win at UFC on Fox 20, the next few months and battles immediately became more interesting

For the better part of five rounds Shevchenko was able to out duel Holly Holm in nearly every facet of the MMA striking game. Her patience and the steady doses of counter-striking she mixed in with her Muay Thai combinations perplexed Holm and forced the former champion outside of her comfort zone. Every time Holm overextended herself on her striking attempts, Shevchenko made her pay with a check hook, leg kick, or thudding jab.

Many people predicted that this would be a very tough matchup for Holm. Shevchenko has a wealth of experience in striking that would trump a vast majority of competitors in mixed martial arts, regardless of gender. For comparison’s sake, Joanna Jedrzejczyk is frequently touted as one of the best strikers in MMA, and Shevchenko has three Muay Thai wins over her.

But what does her win do to the women’s bantamweight division? The current champion, Amanda Nunes, holds a win over Shevchenko, and even though it was less than spectacular, that’s an important fact. She tweeted out the suggestion that Julianna Pena should face Shevchenko next, and the winner would become her next challenger. An understandable idea, but there’s one massive question that immediately disrupts any plans for the division: What about Ronda Rousey’s return?

UFC President Dana White has already promised that Rousey will get an immediate title shot when she decides to step back into the Octagon. She’s the only competitor who has successfully defended the title and her prominence as a mainstream star demands such treatment. But when will that return come? White probably wishes he had his own personal fortune teller to give him that date, because right now it seems further and further off in the distant future.

Until then, does that mean the rest of the division has to wait? The UFC has tried this tactic in the past. Holm didn’t want to wait. She lost the belt to Miesha Tate. Tate didn’t want to wait, nor did she want to grant Holm an immediate rematch. Tate then lost the belt to Nunes, who also doesn’t want to wait. To make things worse, Holm lost this important bout against Shevchenko, basically removing herself from the title picture. And with Nunes holding a recent win over Shevchenko, few can argue that she should be the next challenger.

As Shevchenko continues to celebrate her biggest MMA victory to date, Julianna Pena may ultimately find herself the biggest winner after UFC on Fox 20. With Holly Holm’s upset loss and Ronda Rousey’s status uncertain, the rest of the women’s bantamweight division is thrown into a turmoil that may not be what the promotion desires, but is exciting to watch.

UFC on FOX 20
Holly Holm vs. Valentina Shevchenko: Valentina Shevchenko def. Holly Holm via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46).

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UFC on Fox 20: Holm vs. Shevchenko took place on July 23, 2016 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

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