Image via Instagram/marloescoenen
Late last month, the UFC left us all scratching our heads by putting together its first ever women's featherweight title fight without including the world's premier female featherweight, Cris "Cyborg" Justino.
Instead of pitting Cyborg against an eligible opponent to determine the first queen of this new division, the organization opted to pit Germaine de Randamie, a former kickboxer with a 6-3 MMA record, against Holly Holm (10-2), a former bantamweight champion on a two-fight losing streak. This bizarre women's featherweight title fight will headline UFC 208 on February 11 in Brooklyn.
The intention here is not to disparage the talent or championship quality of either De Randamie or Holm, but simply to emphasize that it was hard to take the UFC's inaugural women's featherweight title fight seriously without Cyborg in the red corner. Of course, when Cyborg was notified of a potential violation by USADA—which is regrettably not the first drug test-related hiccup of her career—things seemed to shake out quite favorably. Though Cyborg is far and away the best female featherweight on the planet, she wouldn't be able to compete with a USADA infraction hanging over her head. And so, Holm and de Randamie's looming women's featherweight title fight suddenly holds a bit more water.
Now that Cyborg is out of the picture and the UFC's upcoming women's featherweight title fight is no longer completely devoid of legitimacy, the organization seems poised to monopolize the women's featherweight division. With a bank account that encroaches on bottomless, they're likely to snipe top talent from Invicta Fighting Championship and other small promotions around the world in the hopes of establishing the Octagon as the ultimate proving ground for female featherweights.
As it turns out, however, they're going to have a bit of competition in its effort to do so.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Viacom-owned Bellator MMA—the sport's second biggest promotion—will be crowning its own women's featherweight champion. And they'll be doing so mere weeks after Holm and De Randamie vie for UFC gold.
Bellator's newly announced women's featherweight title fight will go down at Bellator 174, on March 3. This title showdown will pit featherweight veteran Marloes Coenen (23-7) against streaking Canadian Julia Budd (9-2).
Coenen will enter this fight with a loss in the rear-view mirror. That said, she is one of the most experienced competitors in women's MMA, having fought 30 times and battled elite opposition like Cyborg (twice), Miesha Tate, Liz Carmouche and Sarah Kaufman. Budd will enter the fight on a seven-fight win-streak, all of which occurred under the bright lights of either Invicta and Bellator. Her only two professional losses, interestingly, were dealt by the two halves of the main event of December's UFC 207: Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes. Both these losses occurred all the way back in 2011. Needless to say, Bellator's upcoming women's featherweight title fight is a good one.
The UFC's newly minted women's featherweight belt, of course, is the more prestigious of the two. As significant as Bellator's Coenen-Budd bout is, this really can't be denied. Yet in booking a compelling women's featherweight title fight of its own—and scheduling it less than a month after the UFC's—Bellator is blasting a clear message out to the MMA world: that the UFC is not the only viable platform for the world's elite female featherweights to perform on. Bellator has a featherweight division of its own, and with a legitimate champion being crowned on March 3, it will be nothing to smirk at. In other words, the UFC's monopoly on the women's featherweight division is far from a done deal.