July was a busy enough month in the sport, but the women’s divisions in MMA saw a lot of activity in the upper echelon of the sport, with titles changing hands and contender pictures becoming clearer.
We begin with the strawweight division, where the top two consensus fighters squared off in a rematch in which Claudia Gadelha challenged champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. The resilient Brazilian came up short on the scorecards by unanimous decision. Should Joanna Champion remain at the top, it’s difficult to see how Gadelha gets another shot at the belt, but there are some compelling and challenging matchups for both fighters.
The night after that was UFC 200, where Cat Zingano returned to action for the first time since her loss to former bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey in February of 2015, to take on Julianna Peña in a fight that helped sort out the middle of the top ten of that division. Peña would win two of the three rounds on all scorecards for a unanimous decision win, and could either have a #1 contender fight next or get a title shot straightaway.
That same card was (through a series of mishaps and misadventures) headlined by Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate for the bantamweight title, where Nunes’ heavy hands earned her the strap after a great early start with heavy pressure, along with a use of accuracy and range. After putting the hurt on Tate standing, she capitalized on the opportunity by pouncing on Tate, taking the back and sinking in a deep rear-naked choke for the win. She also improves to 13-4 with her lone UFC loss being to former title challenger, the aforementioned Cat Zingano.
The following week was UFC Fight Night 91: McDonald vs Lineker, where hard-nosed Cortney Casey defeated Romanian fighter Cristina Stanciu by TKO, and former Invicta champion Lauren Murphy lost by unanimous decision to CFFC vet and UFC newcomer Katlyn Chookagian.
That event was then followed by UFC on Fox 20: Holm vs Shevchenko, where Felice Herrig bounced back from her loss last year to Paige VanZant with an exciting submission win against Hawaiian fighter Kailin Curran. Herrig’s time away seems to have paid off in terms of preparation as well as dealing with anxiety, while Curran drops to 1-3 in the UFC. In the main event of that card, Kyrgyzstani/Peruvian fighter Valentina Shevchenko managed to pull of an impressive and technical performance for the unanimous decision upset against fellow striker and former bantamweight champion Holly Holm. Shevchenko smartly and calmly kept finding success with her counters and leg kicks, landing a few takedowns for good measure. With this win, Shevchenko may be next in line for a title shot that would also serve as a rematch against new champion Nunes, but no challenger has been decided on as of yet.
After that, it was on to Invicta FC 18, headlined by Jodie Esquibel taking on Mexican phenom Alexa Grasso, in a bout that Grasso won by repeatedly negating Esquibel’s takedown attempts and using her striking, angles, footwork, and speed to win a clear unanimous decision and continue her amazing run at strawweight. After withdrawing from a fight against then-champion Livia Renata Souza last fall, she seems primed to take on the current champion and former UFC talent, Angela Hill. Other noteworthy items from the card include the steady progression of talented prospect Aspen Ladd, who picked up a TKO win over Jessica Hoy, as well as what may be the future of women’s featherweight – Megan Anderson. Anderson got yet another brutal TKO win over former UFC fighter Peggy Morgan in a bout that showcased Anderson’s physicality and improved fighter IQ, although it may have been something of slight mismatch. Japanese fighter Mizuki Inoue improved to 12-4 with a submission win over Lynn Alvarez (who had not fought in almost two and a half years). Former UFC fighter Jessamyn Duke’s downfall continued with her 5th straight loss. Duke falls to 3-5 with 1NC, having lost this bout by armbar submission against Belgian grappler Cindy Dandois.
Finally, we had UFC 201 this past weekend, where Polish kickboxer Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated Rose Namajunas by split decision in another fight that showed displays of patience, timing, and doing damage over time. Namajunas put forth a valiant effort and landed some great shots with her counter game, but didn’t seem to do as much damage as Kowalkiewicz appeared to have dished out more damage overall. With this win, UFC president Dana White appears to agree that Kowalkiewicz should be the next clear title challenger, and may even have the fight take place in Poland as well. Namajunas now stands at 5-3 as a professional, while 3-2 in the UFC after winning three straight bouts during her stint on The Ultimate Fighter.
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