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Marloes Coenen’s Call for UFC Featherweight Division Unlikely to be Heard

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It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the movement — albeit a relatively small one — began for the UFC to create a women’s featherweight division around the best 145 pound fighter on the planet, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

There were murmurs when Zuffa signed Cyborg to a contract early in 2015. By the time Brazil’s one-woman wrecking crew actually made her UFC debut against Leslie Smith in May this year, the issue became a more prevalent talking point. Now, with two UFC wins at 140 pounds in the bag, and a whole host of footage available detailing the traumatic, physically destructive experience the fighter puts herself through to make weight, the conversation seems to be more widespread than ever before.

On Friday it was former Strikeforce champion, and top Bellator featherweight Marloes Coenen who added another voice to the collective cry from those who believe the UFC has a duty to create a women’s featherweight division.

“I think it’s a very big disgrace for the UFC that they don’t build a division around her (Cyborg) at 145.” Coenen told MMAMania ahead of her Bellator 163 bout with Talita Nogueira on November 4.

“I mean she has proven to be attracting people, wanting to tune in to watch her fight, then they come up with this catch weight at 140? I mean come on, take us women in the sport seriously and give us more divisions. I mean look at Bellator, they opened up the 145, I don’t have to make the 135. I can fight at my own weight.”

The 140 pound catchweight Coenen mentions is right at the centre of the debate. When Zuffa first signed Cyborg to a contract, they did so with the intention of eventually making the much anticipated superfight between then bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and historically the top pound for pound woman in the sport, Cyborg.

Despite her best efforts, it soon became apparent that Cyborg could not make 135 pounds, and that, combined with the defeat of Rousey to Holly Holm in November 2015, meant that the charade was over. Sort of.

By the time Cyborg was pencilled in to make her UFC debut against Leslie Smith earlier this year, talk of ever making 135 pounds was almost extinct. Why then was she booked to fight at 140 pounds?

At the time that was put down to the opponent. For all Smith’s heart, determination, and wildly entertaining offense, she is essentially a flyweight who competes at 135 pounds because the UFC does not have a flyweight division. Fighting anyone at 145 pounds would have been a big ask, let alone the most feared featherweight in the history of the sport. Yet that tells only half the story.

The chapters that were overlooked by so many, detailed the statement of intent laid out by the UFC at the time regarding how they would be utilising Cyborg. There is no 140 pound division, not only in the UFC, but in any of the major MMA promotions. What 140 does represent though is an opportunity to make more appealing catchweight fights against willing bantamweights. The likes of Holly Holm and Miesha Tate have both indicated their interest in testing themselves against Cyborg. A fight with Rousey may never materialise, but fights with other top bantamweights could still be big business for the UFC.

When Cyborg made her second UFC appearance, against Lina Lansberg in September, things could not have been any clearer. Lansberg’s previous fight had been at 145 pounds, yet still the UFC were booking her and Cyborg at 140. The mandate was out for all to see. The UFC were not interested in 145 pounds. Not for Cyborg, not for anyone.

Avid fans of the Brazilian made their feelings known, even starting a petition pleading with the UFC to start a full and complete 145 pound division. At the time of writing, with the petition now live for one full month, only 2,000 people have put their name to the cause. It is a number unlikely to make a dent in the intentions of the UFC.

That isn’t to say that the promotion cannot be swayed by public opinion. Dan Henderson would not have got a shot at the UFC middleweight championship without hordes of fans making it clear that they wanted to see a rematch with Michael Bisping become a reality.

More than that, when there is a cause worth fighting for the MMA community has shown in the past that it can come together in a hurry. When Nick Diaz was suspended for five years by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, an online Whitehouse petition was started. For it to be recognised it needed 100,000 signatures within one month. It did that and more, reaching over 115,000 signatures before the deadline.

If the petition for a featherweight division hit those sort of numbers, maybe the UFC would acknowledge it. At the very least, they might provide a formal response or we would get another one of those future promises from Dana White when asked about it at an upcoming event. Yet it hasn’t, and it won’t. The gap between 2,000 and 100,000 is vast.

For a start the issue has become confused. Where many are insisting a 145 pound division must be created, in essence all they really want is for Cyborg herself to be promoted at 145 pounds. It’s a reasonable request, and it doesn’t need the UFC to go out and find 20 or more featherweights to bring into the company to make it happen either.

Creating an entire division though, as Coenen, and the most vocal cheerleaders who campaign for women’s MMA to be given a fair crack of the UFC’s whip continue to call for, would require far greater investment. At a transitional time, when the company’s new ownership are reportedly looking to cut costs, that seems unlikely.

To make it even more difficult, the other notable 145 pound fighters are under Bellator contract and could not be signed. Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd have been the clear two and three ranked featherweights in the world for some time, and both would be out of the equation.

Arlene Blencowe and Gabrielle Holloway, boasting modest 7-6 and 5-4 records respectively, have both been fighting in Bellator too. Could the UFC call up Charmaine Tweet and Megan Anderson from Invicta? Absolutely, and both would be worthwhile additions to the company. Beyond that though, the featherweight waters get shallow in a hurry. The top twenty-five is packed with part-time fighters juggling MMA careers with gruelling schedules away from the cage, with .5 records and little room for major development.

By contrast, when Dana White said publicly at the back end of 2015 that the next division introduced to the UFC would be women’s 125 pounds, the depth of available talent at that time was far beyond what we see today at 145. One year on, we are still only a small step closer to the company adding women’s flyweight into the mix, with Valerie Letourneau and Joanne Calderwood competing in the company’s first ever 125 pound women’s fight in Canada back in June.

That is a division packed with emerging talent, and a bunch of top prospects already competing in the UFC. If the promotion went full force at 125 pounds tomorrow, they could build the division around fighters already under contract before even looking elsewhere. Katlyn Chookagian, Valerie Letourneau, Jessica Andrade and more. Even Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye have competed at 125 pounds in the past and could be tempted to reinvigorate their careers at flyweight.

Flyweight doesn’t need a petition, nor does it need the perceived ill-treatment of one big star to force action. That division is ready to go, yet still the UFC are holding back until they are absolutely sure it is the right time to make a big move.

As far as featherweight goes, it will take a lot more than 2,000 names on a petition, and the words of a heroic MMA pioneer or two, to create serious traction with the UFC.

Cyborg might get to fight at 145 pounds in the UFC before her career is over. In truth, she probably should, but even if she does, a full women’s featherweight division could be a long time coming.

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Interviews

UFC 219’s Jimmie Rivera to TJ Dillashaw “Defend Your Belt or Vacate.”

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest had the chance to talk to #4 ranked UFC bantamweight Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera ahead of his fight at UFC 219 against John Lineker.

Rivera (21-1) extended his unbeaten run to twenty when he defeated Thomas Almeida at UFC Long Island in July. Originally scheduled to face former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, we began by asking Rivera how the opponent change had affected his preparation for UFC 219.

The only thing that’s changed is the game plan, everything else stays the same. Cruz is more of an irritating fight because he just doesn’t stop moving, but with Lineker, he’s going to stay in the pocket and bang, and I love that.

Recently, Rivera posted a video to his Twitter account of him sparring with the recently crowned bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. He told us about the context of this video, and how the sparring went down between them.

It was 3 or 4 years back. I think TJ had just lost to (John) Dodson on TUF. My teammate Louis Gaudinot was actually fighting Tim Elliott at the time, and we were in Milwaukee so I got to train with (Urijah) Faber and Dillashaw.

I just sent it to TJ to say, don’t forget what happened. I was getting the best of him, and I don’t really brag about it. But he wants to leave the weight class and fight DJ for the money fight, and I want to fight for the belt, so it’s defend your belt or vacate.

After briefly referencing the potential superfight between Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw, I asked Rivera about his thoughts on the somewhat flawed UFC rankings system, and title fights being put together purely for entertainment value.

It sucks. When I become champ I won’t be like a TJ or McGregor, I’m going to be like Demetrious Johnson and defend my belt against people coming up, it’s the right thing to do. If you want to win the belt and leave the division straight away, it’s kind of bullshit.

Rivera concluded by telling me that although he isn’t looking past Lineker at 219, “the only fight that makes sense after this one, is fighting TJ for the belt.”

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Announcement

Mark Hunt Returns to Fight Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221

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UFC 221 in Perth has officially added a another Australian to the main card. Joining Robert Whittaker is the knockout legend Mark Hunt.

The Daily Telegraph first reported that Hunt will be stepping into the octagon to face #9 Curtis Blaydes. Some weren’t sure if we would ever see Hunt fight again after he was pulled from the main event in UFC Fight Night 21 against Marcin Tybura. The UFC removed him due to “medical concerns” while Hunt was stating he was perfectly fine.

After getting evaluated and cleared to fight by Australian and American doctors, it looks like his time has come to return.  Hunt’s last fight was back in June when he derailed the Derrick Lewis hype train with a 4th round TKO win.

Hunt had been adamant about calling out #3 ranked heavyweight Fabricio Werdum and trying to get that rematch booked, labelling Werdum a “chicken shit” and a “coward.”

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes who has an 8-1 record, is coming off a TKO victory due to doctor stoppage at UFC 217 in November. Since losing to now title challenger Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, Blaydes has rattled off three straight wins over Alexey Oleynik, Daniel Omielanczuk, and Cody East.

With all this momentum from the win streak, Blaydes looks to capitalize and win the biggest fight of his career against Hunt.

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Valentina Shevchenko vs. Priscila Cachoeira Officially Booked for Belem, Brazil card

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The wait is over. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3, 3-2 UFC) will make her highly anticipated flyweight debut when the UFC returns to Brazil. She will face Priscila Cachoeira (8-0) on the February 3rd card scheduled for Belem, Brazil. Luciana Andrade was the first to report the match-up last week. On Tuesday, the UFC posted an article which stated the bout had been set.

Now that the flyweight tournament is over and the inaugural champion has her crown, many women shall migrate from the strawweight and bantamweight ranks in search of a more suitable weight class. The division is so infantile means a lot moving parts in the rankings. Yet, only women who fought at one hundred and twenty-five lbs. are ranked. Such practices muddy the title picture for the time being. Essentially ruling out the idea of Montano vs. Shevchenko for the first defense of the belt, illogical. An idea that floated around the internet until today’s confirmation of the newest female flyweight match-up. The TUF 26 winner, Nicco Montano called it, “kinda silly”, earlier this week while on The MMA Hour. Montano believes her first title defense, as it stands, should pit her against the original finalist of the flyweight tournament, Sijara Eubanks. Although Eubanks withdrew from the title fight, she is still ranked as the #1 contender in the division.

Shevchenko explained her desire for the flyweight belt on The MMA Hour, a week earlier than Montano, “For me it’s number one, to fight for the title… It doesn’t matter for me, if I have to have one fight before it, okay I will do it… my main goal is to be the champion… It doesn’t matter I move from one thirty-five to one twenty-five. My goal is still the same, to be the champion”. The Russian fighter is coming off an unsuccessful title shot in the bantamweight division against the current reigning champ, Amanda Nunes. The bout went to a decision after close five rounds, Nunes ultimately defeated Shevchenko via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47).

Her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, is not only new to the UFCs female flyweight division but the promotion’s roster as well. Cachoeira originally was scheduled to make her promotional debut against veteran Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 26. The Brazilian fighter withdrew from the bout due to visa issues. As a professional, she is undefeated with four knockouts in her eight fights.

UFC Belem is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018. The card will feature Timothy Johnson vs. Marcelo Golm in the heavyweight division. It will also have Thiago Santos taking on Anthony Smith in the middleweight division.

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