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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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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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