There’s an old saying that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But occasionally, you get a second chance to make history. The UFC should take advantage of that opportunity.
As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, Amanda Nunes successfully defended her bantamweight title at UFC 207 last month after utterly annihilating former champion Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds. The UFC was rightly criticized for failing to promote Nunes leading up to her fight with Rousey. Since Nunes can’t rely on Dana White and company to put her in the spotlight, she’s taking steps to grab the spotlight for herself.
In a recent interview, Nunes floated the possibility that she will move up to 145 pounds and challenge for the UFC’s brand-new women’s featherweight title. The inaugural title bout will take place at UFC 208 next month, when former bantamweight champion Holly Holm faces Germaine De Randamie. It’s still unknown how many fighters will call the UFC’s new division home, but adding someone with the new and rising star power of Nunes can only be a boost.
Oddly enough, the UFC already had a chance to have a two-division champion who could have defended both belts at the same time – with their biggest star, no less. Conor McGregor was already the reigning UFC featherweight champion when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 last year to win the lightweight title. McGregor became the first UFC fighter to ever hold two title belts at the same time, and the possibilities were endless at how the UFC’s biggest star could defend both belts simultaneously.
I argued as much in a previous column (Shameless plug alert!). However, the UFC inexplicably stripped McGregor of his featherweight title (I still refuse to believe that McGregor voluntarily “relinquished” that belt) and just gave it to José Aldo – whom McGregor knocked out in 13 seconds at UFC 194 to win it from in the first place. An “interim” featherweight title bout (Oh, how I loathe “interim” title bouts now) was held between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis at UFC 206 last month.
But there was just one problem – Pettis didn’t make weight for the fight, so only Holloway was actually eligible to win the belt. Luckily, he did when he finished Pettis in the third round. The UFC created a fine mess all its own when it decided to give the featherweight title to a fighter who got knocked out to lose it in the first place, then had one fighter compete for an unnecessary “interim” title who couldn’t even make the 145-pound weight limit.
The UFC should not repeat its mistake with the new women’s featherweight title should Nunes decide to move up a weight class. While she has contenders at bantamweight to worry about, including Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Peña, Nunes could help get the fledgling UFC women’s featherweight division off the ground and lend it some instant credibility.
Imagine the stylistic match-up between Nunes and Holm. Both are decorated strikers and Nunes has been much improved since joining American Top Team and capturing the bantamweight title. De Randamie is no slouch either, as she has won her last two fights by knockout. But fighters like Holm and Nunes present a much bigger step up in competition for “The Iron Lady.”
Nunes has already made some history on her own, by being the first Brazilian female and first openly gay fighter to win a title in the UFC. Being the first female two-division champion in the UFC and the cornerstone of a brand new division could further add to Nunes’ increasing profile.
It remains to be seen where UFC will find the talent to fill out its new women’s featherweight division. One such candidate could be Cat Zingano, who has a history with Nunes. Zingano defeated her in 2014, which gave Zingano a bantamweight title shot and actually kickstarted Nunes’ title run as well. It looks like Zingano hasn’t forgotten about Nunes, either:
— Alpha Cat Zingano (@CatZingano) January 5, 2017
Of course, there is also current Invicta FC featherweight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino lurking out there as well. “Cyborg” would finally have a home at 145 pounds in the UFC, after previously competing in special attraction, 140-pound catchweight bouts. That is, if “Cyborg” and the UFC can make nice and keep working together going forward.
Invicta also has some talented featherweight fighters of its own who could benefit competing under the bright lights of the UFC, including Megan Anderson, Charmaine Tweet and Amber Leibrock. But if the UFC really wants to generate buzz for its new division, it will let its newest star have the opportunity to make history. Again.
Photo Credit: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty