One of the best stories of 2014 has been the return to action of women’s bantamweight contender Cat Zingano. After missing out on a coaching spot and title fight opposite Ronda Rousey due to injury late last year, Zingano has gone through difficult times in her personal life that have kept her out of action.
She’s back now, and her third-round TKO over Amanda Nunes at UFC 178 last month set up a fight that many have been waiting for: Ronda Rousey vs. the rightful No. 1 contender, “Alpha” Cat Zingano. Looking at the current landscape, there are a few different outcomes we might be looking at past Rousey vs. Zingano.
As of this writing, 10 of the Top 15 fighters in the UFC women’s bantamweight division don’t have fights booked. Aside from Leslie Smith vs. Jessica Eye at UFC 180 and Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington at UFC 181, the fights involving the key players aren’t scheduled yet, so we don’t know the next moves for a lot of the women in the division.
Zingano is the most legitimate threat to Rousey in the division, and like Rousey, she has yet to taste defeat in mixed martial arts. Despite all this, Rousey will be a heavy favorite to defeat her.
If Rousey is able to hand Zingano her first loss at UFC 182, then what? Who might be next for Rousey and the rest of the top of the UFC women’s bantamweight division?
The Top Five
Aside from Cat Zingano, the women in the Top Five have all lost to the champion, with Sarah Kaufman being the only one who lost to Rousey outside of the UFC. Believe it or not, these women might be the farthest away from the title, despite their high rankings.
2014 has seen Miesha Tate bounce back from two straight losses and take home unanimous-decision victories over Liz Carmouche and Rin Nakai. She’s going to need a lengthy winning streak with strong performances to get back into the title conversation.
There are plenty of fights for Tate to take, and a bout with Sara McMann or Alexis Davis might make sense. Tate might also best be served as a stiff test for new entrants to the division.
McMann had a surprisingly tough fight against former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Lauren Murphy back in August but left with a split-decision victory. The UFC needs to be a bit careful what it does with McMann, because she could be a bona fide hype-killer. Her wrestling credentials could make her a veritable nonstarter for young prospects who are just starting out in the UFC.
Her only loss is to the champion, so a few impressive finishes might align McMann for a rematch with Rousey toward the end of 2015 or early 2016.
On The Rise
The archrival and nemesis of the “Four Horsewomen” is the undefeated Brazilian, Bethe Correia. After a decision victory over Rousey team member Jessamyn Duke at UFC 172, she threw up four fingers and lowered one of them, firing the first shot at Rousey and her crew.
That earned her a fight with another member of the Horsewomen, Shayna Baszler. Correia finished Baszler at UFC 177 and has made it onto the champ’s radar. With the UFC looking for Rousey to make a quick turnaround after her next fight, the 31-year-old out of Pitbull Brothers will likely fight for the title in 2015.
The UFC announced this week that undefeated prospect Holly Holm will make her Octagon debut at UFC 181 on December 6 against Raquel Pennington. Holm, who trains out of the famed Team Jackson-Wink in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a former world champion boxer and posted a 33-2-3 record in professional boxing record and went 2-1 in kickboxing before going 7-0 in MMA.
She’ll get a game opponent on the feet in Pennington, who’s willing to brawl in a fight that will likely be fought in Holm‘s stand-up comfort zone.
Cyborg and Carano
UFC President Dana White has gone back and forth about the status of Gina Carano entering the Octagon. White went from saying that he was going to get a deal done one week to telling FoxSports.com that Carano was “the hardest human being we’ve ever dealt with and I didn’t see it coming.”
With the door most likely close to shut on a fight between Carano and Ronda Rousey, the only remaining matchup of intrigue for Rousey outside the UFC is against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
Cyborg is scheduled to make her 135-pound debut on December 5 at Invicta FC 10 on UFC Fight Pass. No opponent has been signed as of yet, but with a win, Cyborg would likely get shipped over to the UFC for a superfight with Rousey or a top-contender fight against someone else in the upper end of the women’s bantamweight division.
A lot of fighters in the Top 15 of the women’s bantamweight division simply don’t have fights booked for the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015. We know Rousey and Zingano will finally face off, likely at UFC 182 on January 3, but beyond that is speculation.
The UFC is doing a good job of signing female prospects from around the world and from Invicta, and the talent pool in the bantamweight division might start to catch up with its dominant champion.
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