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Nuñes, Cyborg, Spencer & the Fate of the Women’s Featherweight Division

Currently to the date of this feature, if you check the fighter rankings on the UFC’s official website, the women’s featherweight icon will feature Amanda Nuñes’s picture and no other contenders collapsing under that photo. It’s almost like the women’s featherweight division in the UFC no longer exists. Other womens divisions in the UFC like bantamweight, flyweight and strawweight are growing but featherweight has seemed stagnant for its whole existence.

When Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm fought for the inaugural featherweight championship, there were high hopes for the inherent contenders that it might attract. Finally, female fighters who couldn’t drop to 135 having a platform in the biggest MMA organization in the west. After the controversial fight that awarded de Randamie with the featherweight belt, many fans felt dissatisfied with the officiating since there were arguments of striking after the bell; twice.

A post shared by Germaine de Randamie (@ironladymma) on Jan 6, 2017 at 9:30am PST

It didn’t help de Randamie’s image when she chose to forfeit the title while she refused to fight a much-anticipated contender in Cris “Cyborg” Justino.

A post shared by ®️Cris Cyborg 🕊🔥 (@criscyborg) on Jun 7, 2019 at 11:03am PDT

This eventually resulted in the match between Cris Cyborg and Tonya Evinger for the vacant featherweight title. Cyborg became champ after a three-round victory over Evinger and went on to defend the title twice. Cyborg won a decision against former bantamweight champ, Holly Holm, and had a vintage first-round victory against Yana Kunitskaya just three months later. Fans were wondering who was going to be booked next against this champ who at the time was on a 10-fight win streak. When it was announced that bantamweight champ, Amanda Nuñes, would move up to challenge Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title, fans were both excited and baffled on how this fight was arranged so quickly.

However, fans and enthusiasts didn’t ask too many questions since the UFC was making quite a few puzzling decisions toward the end of 2018 with the last minute decision to move UFC 232 from Las Vegas to Inglewood, California and the bout between Henry Cejudo and TJ for the flyweight title. When fight day came in December, fight fans were shocked when Nuñes knocked out the one most dominant female fighters in MMA; adding to Nuñes’s list of top names she has defeated along with Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate.

A post shared by ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Amanda Nunes🦁 (@amanda_leoa) on Jan 4, 2019 at 12:29pm PST

As the fight world marveled in the fact that Amanda Nuñes was now both the bantamweight and featherweight champ, questions arose on what was next for Cris Cyborg. With very few fights going on within the division, there were reports that stated that the UFC was going to dismantle the featherweight division. Cyborg herself speculated on whether to go into boxing, professional wrestling or perhaps something different entirely. Of course, other ladies of the division prepared to make the switch to bantamweight or were already contenders that floated in between both divisions. For fighters like Cyborg, dropping to 135 lbs. has proven to be problematic and not a realistic option for the future.

A post shared by ®️Cris Cyborg 🕊🔥 (@criscyborg) on Jun 8, 2019 at 10:56am PDT

It seemed that the Cyborg/Nuñes super fight was made for the same purpose the Dillashaw/Cejudo was created; to find a reason to scrap a weight class. The plan backfired with Cejudo and the men’s flyweight division after Cejudo’s victory. It worked with women’s featherweight. But recent developments have sparked some change.

Recently, it was announced through ESPN that Cris Cyborg would be fighting Felicia Spencer at UFC 240. Spencer is coming off a submission win over Megan Anderson. She is also a former Invicta featherweight champion, like Cyborg, and is unbeaten in her career. So is this fight an attempt by the UFC to revive the division? If so, why make this decision when just months ago they seemed to want to dismantle it? Maybe the promotion is trying to attract more prospects? Perhaps attain contenders from other promotions? Or just incentivize for prospects to return to the division?

A post shared by ®️Cris Cyborg 🕊🔥 (@criscyborg) on Jun 3, 2019 at 9:09am PDT

This also brings us to the featured bout between Tonya Evinger and Lina Lansberg which ended in a decision for Lansberg. Evinger, a long-time female competitor, is a past opponent of Cris Cyborg and one of the few fighters besides Marlos Coenen, Holly Holm, Charmaine Tweet, and Gina Carano to be formidable opponents in MMA. Outside of those names, Cyborg only has losses Amanda Nuñes and Erica Paes. Lansberg is also a former featherweight contender who was put in front of Cyborg. The fact that both fighters could have easily taken their bout at 145 but choose not, might be some sort of sign of how they feel about returning to a weight that’s easier to reach. Perhaps these competitors don’t believe they can achieve UFC gold and contend with the top fighters in the division? Maybe it comes down to simply feeling better to fight at a lighter weight?

Whatever the reasons may be for the lack of fighters in women’s featherweight, time will tell the fate of the division and what the UFC decides to do with it.

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