Now that International Fight Week is over, we have a lot to talk about.
UFC 200 became the largest event in MMA history, three new champions were crowned, Brock Lesnar won in his return and the UFC was sold for $4 billion. With all the excitement that has taken place over the last week, it is important to take stock and see where the sport stands. Here is the state of the UFC's men's bantamweight division.
Once again, the 135-pound division has been shaken up by a champion losing. Amanda Nunes defeated Miesha Tate for the bantamweight belt at UFC 200 in spectacular fashion. After destroying Tate's face, she took her back and submitted her with a rear-naked choke. The champion has lost in this division for the third straight time. Now that Ronda Rousey has lost her stranglehold on the division, it appears to be a free-for-all for the belt. Nunes will likely want to stop that with her first title defense, but who should she go up against.
Tate will all in likelihood not get an immediate rematch against Nunes. She had not successfully defended the belt and she lost convincingly. She will have to wait her turn and fight once or twice before getting another shot at the belt. In the meantime, she should take notes from Holly Holm and fight someone outside of the top five to get back into the swing of things. If Liz Carmouche ever returns to the Octagon after missing UFC 191 with an injury, that would make for an interesting opponent for Tate.
Holm is the most probable fighter for Nunes to face in her first title defense. Holm is fighting No. 7 Valentina Shevchenko in a week and is favored to win that fight. This would give her a solid win over a top 10 opponent and she would be fighting someone she has never faced for the belt. It makes the most sense for the UFC to throw a big name at Nunes in order to market the fight better and Holm would have definitely earned her way to the belt.
The biggest problem with that plan is if Shevchenko wins. "Bullet" is 1-1 in the UFC, but her loss came to Nunes. She has a strong Muay Thai background and relies heavily on takedowns in her fights, which is something Holly struggled with in her fight against Tate. Shevchenko winning would throw yet anonther monkey wrench into the bantamweight division, but would likely propel her to a top five ranking.
If Holm does lose, Julianna Pena will likely be next in line to fight Nunes. She has yet to lose since entering the UFC, a feat that no other top 15 bantamweight can claim. The former TUF winner has been impressive inside the Octagon and is coming off a great win against Cat Zingano to cement herself as a real contender at 135. The UFC matchmakers may even feel that Holm has not earned her title shot and could feasibly give Pena her chance. And what better way to put your 4-0 UFC record on the line then to go for the belt?
The one big question mark in the division is whether Rousey will ever return to the Octagon. After losing to Holm, she has been MIA from the UFC, but has still appeared in Reebok ads and has made other public appearances. All signs say that she will eventually return, but she may want to focus more on her work movie career instead. She was already the champion, so she has nothing left to prove.
If the prodigal daughter does return, she could also potentially be given a title shot. She was the most dominant fighter in the division's history and Nunes will be a new opponent for her. She is also one of the UFC's most marketable stars so putting her in a title fight makes sense for everyone. However, I would be surprised if Joe Silva didn't want to make sure that Rousey was fully prepared to return by giving her a warmup fight before the championship fight instead.
The rest of the division is full of women who are most likely at least two fights away from a title shot. Zingano will need to recover from her loss to Pena and win in dominating fashion to retain her top five status. However, if she does go on a win streak, she may make for the most interesting match up for Nunes considering she is the only person to beat her in the UFC. I would not be surprised if Nunes wanted to avenge that loss and show that she can beat any bantamweight in the world.
Sara McMann is a fighter that seems to attract question marks. She is 3-3 in the UFC, but all her losses are to some of the best in the division — Rousey, Tate and Nunes. She function as the gatekeeper to the top five and any fighter who wants to prove themselves have to go through her first. However, she may be tired of that role and go for the title herself. She is coming off a solid win against Jessica Eye and will be looking for another top 10 fight. Winning that could see her face a top five fighter early next year. If McMann can go on a run through the division, she may find herself back in contention for a title shot. She just needs a couple more fights to get there.
Raquel Pennington is another fighter that could make a potential run in the UFC. She is 4-2 and both her losses were by split decision. They also happened to be against Jessica Andrade, who she later beat, and Holm the fight before she went against Rousey. Her most recent fight was her closest yet against Bethe Correia and she would like to use the momentum from that fight to her advantage. She should fight McMann and the winner of that fight gets a top five opponent. If she can build on her two-fight win streak, she could be challenging for the belt in her future.
Rousey losing the title has created one of the most chaotic divisions in the UFC. And with the limited pool of fighters to choose from, many bantamweights are not getting a lot of fights in a year. This means that any opportunity that is given to them, the fighters have to make the most of it. Nunes in all likelihood has eight fighters who are primed to make a run at her belt. She will have to be ready for all of them. While Holm, Pena or Rousey could be her first opponent, she has women like Tate, McMann and Pennington breathing down her neck as well. The turbulence that exists at 135 is a fans dream, and I would encourage all UFC fans to stay tuned to see how this division plays out in the coming 18 months.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)