The UFC women’s bantamweight division has had four different champions in the last 10 months.
As chaotic as that sounds, finding the next contender to challenge Amanda Nunes for the belt also is complicated because of Holly Holm’s loss to Valentina Shevchenko via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night Chicago on Saturday.
A handful of fighters believe they deserve a shot at the title, and they all have legitimate cases. Before we dive into the potential contenders, though, let’s throw Holm and Miesha Tate out of the picture. Sure, they were the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked contenders, respectively, entering the weekend, but Tate received a medical suspension after breaking her nose at UFC 200 and Holm has lost two consecutive fights.
So who could we see fighting Nunes at a potential UFC 205 championship bout?
This easily is the UFC’s most tantalizing financial option.
Despite staying out of the limelight for months, Rowdy still is the promotion’s most recognizable female fighter. UFC president Dana White also recently stated that Rousey will have an automatic shot at the title once she returns.
But the question is: When will Rousey return? She hasn’t fought since losing to Holm at UFC 193 and hasn’t given any indication as to when she will be back. She also might not be the most deserving fighter, given that she hasn’t been inside the octagon since November.
That said, the Holm loss opens up the door for Rousey, the third-ranked contender, to make her long-awaited return in a fight for the championship.
Pena demolished Cat Zingano at UFC 200 via unanimous decision, and she has won seven consecutive fights dating to “The Ultimate Fighter.” During her post-fight press conference at UFC 200, Pena made a fiery plea that she has earned the chance to fight for the title.
“I don’t know what else I have to do,” said Pena, the fourth-ranked contender. “I’m ready to fight for the title, and I’m ready to go and get what’s mine.”
Shevchenko lost to Nunes at UFC 196 via unanimous decision, but she sounded more confident than ever Saturday after defeating Holm. The Kyrgyzstani fighter took a shot at Nunes and said the champion is “scared” of a rematch.
Nunes, on the other hand, believes neither Shevchenko, the seventh-ranked contender, nor Pena is ready to fight her for the belt.
CRIS “CYBORG” JUSTINO
This one’s a long shot, but Justino was very successful in her first UFC fight when she obliterated Leslie Smith via TKO two months ago at UFC 198. That said, Justino likely would have to trim down to fight at bantamweight — something she hasn’t been able to do in the past.
Justino also appears to be more concerned about finally fighting Rousey than going for the belt.
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