February 10, 2017

UFC 208: Holly Holm vs. De Randamie -- More Championship Farce Than Championship Fight

By Schwan Humes

Tomorrow night at UFC 208, we will have a new division introduced into the UFC, and simultaneously we will have a new champion crowned in this division. As a fan of mixed martial arts, I welcome new divisions and new opportunities for fighters. This is especially the case when discussing female MMA fighters, who still have limited presence in the sport as a whole, including the biggest organization in regards to the quality of fighters, amount of money generated, brand recognition, and number of fighters, The Ultimate Fighting Championship. But what I want to discuss is the logic behind the introduction of this division, as well as the legitimacy of this title fight when you take into account the participants involved in the featherweight title tilt.

The fighter who has long defined the women’s featherweight division is one Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. She broke into the national scene in 2008, and since that introduction she has lorded over the division, cutting a swath through any and all challengers to her reputation as the best female fighter in the world and champion of the featherweight division. Marloes Coenen, Shayna Baszler, Hitomi Akano, Gina Carano, Daria Ibragimova, and Charmaine Tweet are some of the names Justino has faced and completely dominated in the past eight years; during this time she was both Strikeforce champion and Invicta FC champion.

So the UFC brought in Cyborg, twice having her fight at catch weights, once again because there was not enough depth in division for the UFC to justify bringing her in as a legitimate featherweight. Matchmakers decided to give her showcase fights at 140 to expand her brand and allow her to fight in the Octagon, which was the best option for all parties involved. This is especially true given the fact that the UFC had no intentions of implementing a featherweight division in their organization. It was the best we could hope for, even though it really made no sense at all to the MMA establishment, or the fans supporting it.

It was during this time that Justino got flagged for a banned substance, and was summarily suspended from activity. Then all of a sudden, the UFC had plans for a featherweight division. On top of that, they also had two fighters in position to fight for the title in this division. Now it would have made sense to take a look at Invicta, as the promotion had already taken one for the team on behalf of the UFC when it cleaned out its entire strawweight division so that the UFC could introduce it into its organization. Cyborg had been fighting in Invicta for almost three years; it would have been easy for the UFC brass to bring her in from the word go, and even while she was suspended it made more sense to bring in women in that weight class from the organization they had routinely showcased on their Fight Pass platform. They inexplicably decided to go another direction, picking the former bantamweight champion and winner of the biggest upset in mixed martial arts history, Holly Holm. Then they matched her with Germaine de Randamie, a dynamic and historically dominant muay thai fighter but middling MMA fighter, to introduce the new division to their fans across the world.

On a certain level it makes some sense, as the UFC is big on pushing names, getting butts in seats, and securing pay-per-view buys, so involving Holm makes sense because she has some name value, even though she is on a two-fight losing streak and hasn’t won a fight in about a year. But de Randamie, as good a striker as she has been, hasn’t been much better than average. All the opponents she has faced in the Octagon no longer fight in the UFC, save one, and that one (who also happens to be bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes), defeated her decisively.

So in Holm and de Randamie you have two bantamweight fighters who are 6-3 combined in the UFC, which is a good record, except for the fact that neither fighter has won a fight in the division in about a year. Not to mention the fact that neither currently fights at the weight they are going to compete for a title in. When you introduce these facts, the world championship fight loses a bit of its luster, and a lot of the sense that should go into matchmaking.

You have two women who are far from “needle-movers,” who fight a weight class below the one that is being introduced into the fold; it doesn’t make much sense financially or in regard to the future of the division moving forward. So why not bring in featherweights from Invicta or other organizations to compete for the belt? Or if not bringing in two featherweights, at least bring one in opposite Holly Holm? Germaine de Randamie isn’t a draw, a contender at bantamweight, nor a champion at bantamweight. To legitimize the fight, why not bring in the best available featherweight to fight Holm, instead of another bantamweight. It’s not like any fighter worth her salt is going to turn down a fight for a UFC title on pay-per-view; the only reason a featherweight isn’t involved in this fight is the UFC didn’t want one to be.

What’s worse is Holm has been noncommittal about fighting in the division moving forward, and was totally dismissive of fighting in it when the best fighter in the division was still occupying it. So it doesn’t bode well for the division that one half of the title fight isn’t committing to the division long term, and the UFC has been less than proactive in seeking out and signing other fighters to fill the division, which makes me question how much the organization is invested in the weight class.

As stated earlier, I have no ill will towards any fighter; it’s a hard way to make a living and I want fighters to get as many opportunities as they can to make money and establish or expand their brands. But while Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie is great for the two fighters involved, I don’t know that it’s great for “their” division or for the other fighters who occupy it. And there are plenty of fighters who would benefit from this type of exposure and this sort of opportunity who aren’t going to get a chance at either, while two women who have already gotten to perform on the big stage, compete in big fights, and receive relatively big paychecks get yet another chance. It’s hard for me to get behind it from a sentimental perspective, and even more difficult to get behind it from any sort of legitimate sporting position, and as good as the fight may end up being, it’s not a fight that sells and not a fight that guarantees any sort of fireworks. In name the UFC 208 main event is a championship fight, but in every other measurable aspect the words “championship level” really don’t apply or make sense when referring to this fight and the fighters involved in it.

UFC 208: Holm vs. de Randamie takes place February 11, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

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