Current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes has been on the winning streak of a lifetime over the past three years. Since her last loss, which came against Cat Zingano at UFC 178, Nunes has come out victorious in every major fight that the UFC has put in front of her. Mixed martial arts legends Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate fell victim to the Brazilian’s brutality in 2016 when the pair both proved to be unable to survive a single round with the dominant champion.
Top contenders Valentina Shevchenko, Shayna Baszler and Sara McMann also failed to defeat ‘The Lioness’ in recent times, but this does not mean that she is unbeatable, nor does it prove that these combatants are incapable of climbing back to the top of their division. Yet, Nunes’ current run speaks for itself, and it forces us to consider – who can possibly dethrone her? Below is a few females who have the potential to complete the demanding task.
This list would be void of all legitimacy if the former title challenger, Cat Zingano, was not the first name that was mentioned. The Alliance MMA member came into her fight with Nunes undefeated and on a quest for gold. She had recently become the first woman in UFC history to earn “Fight of the Night” honours with her devastating knockout finish of Miesha Tate in April of 2013 and carried a wave of momentum into the contest. However, Nunes almost finished Zingano in the first round, and many felt that the fight should have been stopped. Cat managed to survive the early onslaught, and her commanding grappling allowed her to mount the exhausted Nunes and finish the fight in the third round. Considering the brutality of the finish, it is undeniable that this is a rematch that we must see in the very near future.
Although Zingano has not competed since UFC 200 last July, she has been extremely active in the gym and is still a very key component in the 135-pound division. The champion’s progression since the defeat is evident, but since we have very little material to judge ‘Alpha’ Cat from, it remains to be seen whether or not she can replicate her previous victory over Nunes. I believe she is more than capable of beating anyone in her weight class on her day, and the prospect of her being granted a title shot upon her return is very appealing to me.
It is impossible to write about potential champions at bantamweight without mentioning Holly Holm, whose recent run has proved just how much the sport of mixed martial arts progresses in a short period of time. Just over 16 months ago, she was moments away from successfully defending her world title against Miesha Tate at UFC 196, yet what happened that night changed the course of her career dramatically. Losing her belt to was devastating, but coming out on the wrong end of a decision against Valentina Shevchenko in her rebound fight was probably even worse.
Despite her highly controversial loss to Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural women’s featherweight championship, Holm proved her extraordinary talent on multiple occasions in the fight and finally regained her credibility with a vicious knockout victory over Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night 111.
So, can she beat Nunes? Absolutely. What Holly represents is some of the most high-level boxing skills in MMA history, and movement to go alongside it. Her kicking is excellent, especially her head kicks, and she is more than capable of fending off grappling attacks from her opponents. Nunes’ awkward striking, range control and overall talent inside of the octagon may be enough to defeat Jackson-Wink’s prized possession, yet Holm is a tough matchup for the champion. She has more experience in world title fights and combat sports than just about anyone in the UFC and is no stranger to dethroning seemingly unstoppable kingpins at bantamweight. Although Nunes’ overall MMA skillset may be more honed and well-rounded, Holm definitely has the weapons necessary in her arsenal to reclaim her place as a world champion in the UFC once again.
Germaine de Randamie
Since De Randamie’s featherweight title was stripped for her refusal to face top contender Cris Cyborg, an air of negativity has surrounded the Dutch fighter.
She was recently forced to withdraw from her latest scheduled fight against Marion Reneau but the contender still has high aspirations for her career. After leaving the 145-pound division for good, De Randamie hopes to grow upon her recent three-fight win streak in the weight class she truly belongs in. However, her wish for a rematch against Nunes has been thwarted by a halt in her momentum. Therefore, I do not expect to see this fight within the next year, but that does not remove its relevance.
Despite Nunes defeating De Randamie in 2013 in dominant fashion, Germaine has proved in her latest run that she has grown massively as a martial artist. Once she has all of the elements of her game fitting together entirely, the 37-0 kickboxing ace can truly begin to implement the sublime striking skill that has caused her to rise to the pinnacle of combat sports. In the pair’s previous fight, De Randamie failed to stop Nunes’ far superior ground game and paid the price. Such a devastating TKO defeat is sure to have driven her to improve upon her grappling skills, and I believe in a rematch she would come into the fight ready to defend her opponent’s takedowns just enough to have some success on the feet.
If Germaine could drag Nunes into a stand-up war, the fight would certainly be inside her realm, and there are very few women capable of exchanging blows with the current number eight ranked contender at bantamweight.
In spite of the fact that Peru’s Shevchenko is now 0-2 versus rival Nunes, it is undeniable that she has the ability to be the world champion. Their first fight was close, with Nunes definitively claiming the first two rounds, and Valentina coming into her stride late on to take the third. The rematch was even harder to score. It appears that a majority, including myself, feel that Shevchenko deserved to get her hand raised at last Saturday’s UFC 215, but the judges saw it differently. Nunes walked home with her title and a split decision victory after the contest, but the feud is far from over. Shevchenko has proven in both fights that she can defeat the Brazilian, and a slight elevation in her game might be enough to do so.
The trilogy fight may not be next on the agenda for Nunes but should she continue to retain her grip on the bantamweight championship, these two must face off for one final time. Do not allow the record books to fool you – both of these women are just about as equally matched as it gets in the world of MMA, and either of them could come out on top on any given day. Perhaps ‘The Bullet’ is the only answer to stop the dominance of ‘The Lioness’, and we will see this fight once more.
Exciting times ahead
The women’s bantamweight division has never been as open as it is in 2017. Contenders are always exploding onto the scene, with Ketlen Vieira being the latest after her submission of Sara McMann, and title fights continue to grow in appeal.
However, with Holm looking set to face Cyborg at featherweight, a clear number one challenger has yet to be established. This could leave the door open to a Nunes-Zingano rematch, or it could provide the platform for one woman to step up to the plate and make herself the next in line at 135 pounds. I cannot wait to see how events unfold in the coming months, and I am extremely intrigued to see if anyone can tear the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship from The Lioness’ grasp.
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