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 strawweight division.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk has finally silenced a majority of her critics by defeating Claudia Gadelha by unanimous decision on the TUF 23 Finale card during International Fight Week. While Gadelha came out strong and won the first two rounds, she faded down the stretch whereas JJ Champion looked like she could fight another two or three rounds. She dominated so much in the championship rounds that the judges scored the bout 48-46, 48-45, 48-46. Now that she has defeated her biggest rival and toughest opponent, who does she face next?
The clear answer has to be the winner of Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 201. Both are top five fighters and a win would be four straight for Namajunas and three for Kowalkiewicz. KK versus JJ would also have the added bonus of both fighters being Polish. The UFC has only been to Poland once, in 2015, and having both of these fighters compete for the belt in their home country would be great. But Namajunas won't be an easy fight. She has already beaten top five fighter Tecia Torres and was dominant against Paige VanZant. These two are sure to have an explosive match.
Since the next championship fight is already established, we might as well take care of the rest of the top five. I believe Gadelha will want to come back strong by facing one of the weight class's best. I see Torres as an excellent fight. Both are coming off losses and would put on a show for UFC fans. A win for Claudia keeps her in the mix and a win for Torres may earn her a title shot down the line.
Carla Esparza does not have any fight lined up and last fought at UFC 197. Of course she would like a chance to reclaim her belt, and the best way to do that is win tough fights. If Namajunas wins, Esparza should look to fight KK. This would give Esparza a chance to take on a Polish striker before rematching Jędrzejczyk. If Kowalkiewicz, it would not make sense for Esparza to fight Namajunas. She already beat her for the TUF finale and it would not advance her position that well. Instead, Jessica Andrade would be a good opponent for her. Andrade is new to the division but is already ranked sixth. Stopping that momentum would be massive for Esparza.
Outside of the top five, it is a bit harder to pinpoint the best matchup for each fighter. No. 7 Joanne Calderwood is coming off a catchweight win against former title contender Valerie Letourneau and will want to ride that momentum to a potential top five ranking. Her next opponent should be Namajunas or Andrade, depending on what happens at UFC 201. This would give her a fight against a higher ranked opponent that would challenge her. It also might boost her to ranking.
No. 8 Maryna Moroz is 2-1 in the UFC and is looking to cement herself as a serious contender. However, much of the fighters ranked above her will likely be booked for other fights, so she should look for a fight in which she can still prove herself. No. 11 Michelle Waterson would be that opponent. Waterson is undefeated in her professional MMA career and won her UFC debut in spectacular fashion. However, she has not fought in over a year due to both a knee and a hand injury, but it may be time to get back into the Octagon. This would be an exciting fight for two of the division's rising talents.
The UFC would be smart to put two of its more beloved strawweights, Letourneau and VanZant, against each other. These two would create a huge draw from UFC fans. It would also become a battle of the ages as there would be an 11-year gap between the two fighters. Though VanZant is scheduled to fight in August against Bec Rawlings, Letourneau may need some time to recover from her loss to Calderwood, making for a fight against VanZant in late 2016 very promising.
JJ Champion has been absolutely dominant in the UFC and as a result has climbed the pound-for-pound rankings to ninth. She has beat her demons from the controversial win against Gadelha and could now start her true reign in the strawweight division. However, she will have plenty of competition in the top five to deal with and has the rest of the division waiting for their chance to move up the rankings. Now the second longest reigning champion in the UFC, she will not go down without a fight — pun intended. Jędrzejczyk could bring the same stability to the 125-pound division that Ronda Rousey brought to the bantamweight division, but she has plenty of women hoping to be the next Holly Holm.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)