If there's still any doubt over the future of women's mixed martial arts thanks to the absence of Ronda Rousey from the Octagon, this weekend proved that the sport is in very capable - and powerful - four ounce gloves.
While some pundits and keyboard critics have always questioned the sustainability of female fighters at the sport's highest level, up-and-comers like Angela Lee and Mackenzie Dern are proof positive that WMMA's best days are still to come, even if its current superstar ends up calling it quits. Although they still have some growing to do, the pair of rising stars backed up their hype with big wins over the weekend, showcasing their impressive talent in the cage as well as their ability to bring in eyeballs.
Let's take a look at how Dern and Lee fit into the picture of WMMA's future.
A Void to Fill?
As a pioneer for women in the UFC and the sports world at large, Rousey broke many barriers and reached an insane level of stardom during her reign as the women's bantamweight champion. Since her downfall was so abrupt and heartbreaking, it's understandable that some would be concerned over the future of female fighters in the Octagon without her.
Thankfully, the promotion has a roster of incredible women who've helped to fill the void left by Rousey. From former champs like Holly Holm and Miesha Tate, to current title holders like Amanda Nunes and Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the ever growing pool of female fighters continues to show fans just how exciting women can be in the UFC. Add in veterans like Cat Zingano and WMMA's pound-for-pound queen Cris Cyborg, plus rising stars like Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson, and it's hard to say that the promotion is starving for viable possible replacements for Rousey.
The question is: are there enough up-and-comers outside of the UFC who can take up the mantle when the current guard steps down? Thanks to the likes of Lee and Dern (and likely countless others yet to be discovered), the answer is an emphatic yes.
Diamonds in the Rough
This weekend was a great showcase for rising WMMA talent across the globe.
Lee, One Championship's 20-year-old phenom, put on a Khabib style beatdown in her first title defense over in Thailand. The undefeated atomweight improved to a perfect 7-0 with her third round TKO decimation of Jenny Huang.
Training with the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Shinya Aoki, and Ben Askren, it's clear that Lee has skills that go well beyond her young age, all she needs is a little more time in the cage to go along with them. As Lee's experience grows and she takes steps up in competition, more and more fans will undoubtedly gravitate to her.
Between her fierce interview statements and bona fide grappling acumen, Dern would seem like the natural choice to take over the remaining spotlight left by Rousey. However, the BJJ ace needs to make sure that she continues to round out her game and not let fame distract her from meeting fight requirements.
WMMA's Bright Future
While both Lee and Dern have some things to work on as they progress up the MMA ladder, they are without a doubt two of the sport's must-see women.
Lee, who contributes to Champions' #FighterBlogs section, has accomplished so much at such a young age, there's no telling how high her star could rise under ideal circumstances. Whether its going up to strawweight or pioneering an atomweight division in the UFC, Lee has serious potential to become a powerful force should the promotion ever come calling.
Likewise, Dern is also a very exciting rising star who could very well find herself at the top of the sport if she plays her cards right. The Rouseys and Demian Maias of the world have shown that expert grapplers can dominate in the cage, so there's no reason why Dern couldn't do the same, as long as she can make her intended weight class and keeps improving all areas of her MMA game.
The best part of all this, aside from the amazing fighters, is that Lee and Dern are just the tip of the spear of a new wave of women who will ensure the future of female fighters.