Matchmaker Series – Women’s Strawweight

Zhang Weili, Chinese Market UFC
SHENZHEN, CHINA - AUGUST 31: Zhang Weili of China celebrates after her victory over Jessica Andrade in their UFC strawweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre on August 31, 2019 in Shenzhen, China. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

The strawweight division is one of the most entertaining divisions in the UFC today. The last UFC event which went on normally with a full crowd in attendance saw champion Zhang Weili and challenger Joanna Jedrzejczyk put on an all time classic fight.  It was easily the best fight at UFC 248. It was also quite likely the best fight of this year and maybe one of the greatest fights of all time.

Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili

Rose Namajunas is currently set to to face Jessica Andrade in a rematch from UFC 237. Rose looked spectacular in the first round, but Andrade landed a spectacular KO slam, which sealed the deal in her favour.

However, there may be a better match up to be made. Weili made it known last year that she believes Rose is the best martial artist in the world. It’s an intriguing match-up. Were it not for that one critical error, Rose may still be champion. Rose’s wins over Joanna were convincing.

We have already seen Joanna and Weili face off. Without a doubt it was a classic, but booking the same fight again may be a bit too soon. Rose on the other hand has been out of action for a while and the fans are eagerly awaiting her comeback.

If the UFC intends to build Weili into a bigger and bigger star, they need to have her face popular opponents who are a big draw.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Tatiana Suarez

Tatiana Suarez has drawn comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov. She has a very similar style. Both Suarez and Khabib have grappling heavy styles and are dominant on the ground.  And just like Khabib, Tatiana is unbeaten.

Joanna on the other hand is a striker. Perhaps the best striker that the division has seen. Styles make fights, and the grappler versus striker matchup is a classic. If the UFC decides to book Joanna versus Tatiana, it could arguably be the best striker versus grappler fight that the strawweight division has seen till date.

But it doesn’t just end there. Tatiana shot to fame with her victory in the Ultimate Fighter 23. The coach on the other side? None other than Joanna herself. There’s history to this fight and the fans would love to see it.

Angela Hill vs. Paige Van Zant

While styles make fights, storylines also make fights. In January this year, Conor McGregor returned after a hiatus longer than a year. McGregor, is easily the most famous star the sport has seen.

When Conor fought he faced the most active fighter on the UFC roster, Donald Cerrone.

While Conor’s fanbase is vastly larger, Paige Van Zant has a solid case for being one of the most popular fighters in the strawweight division. In addition to her in-ring accomplishments, Paige has a growing following on Instagram.  A series of pictures along with her significant other Austin Vanderford have been the talk of the MMA community as of late. Van Zant has fought twice in the last four years, with her last fight happening more than a year ago.

Angela Hill is at the other end of the spectrum. Hill has been breaking records as one of the most active fighters. Not just in her division, but in the entire UFC. This has some significant parallels with Cerrone. However, before Cerrone lost to McGregor, he had also fallen short against Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje before that. Hill on the other hand is on a winning streak. Not only that, but Joe Rogan mentioned on his podcast, that it looked like Hill had “turned a corner”.

Paige has indicated that she wants to return to action soon. Should she agree to fight at 115 pounds, Hill would be a great matchup for her.

Jessica Andrade vs. Nina Ansaroff

Jessica Andrade briefly held the title. She won it with a highlight reel slam on Rose Namajunas in her home country. In her first defence she faced Weili Zhang, in Weili’s home country of China.

Andrade suffered an early knockout at the hands (or should I say knees and elbows) of the current champ. In the wake of her loss, Andrade has said that she was not at her best. With no title defences and a quick knockout the former champ is not likely to get a rematch against Weili. Even though she won four fights in a row before that loss.

Nina Ansaroff also won four fights in a row before her last fight which was a loss. That loss came against none other than Tatiana Suarez, whom many expect to be the champion sometime in the future. Ansaroff can sometimes be overlooked as a fighter because of comparisons with her partner, Amanda Nunes who is one of the biggest names in the sport.

Both women are highly ranked within the strawweight division as it stands. This will be an interesting fight to witness.

Michelle Waterson vs. Tecia Torres

Michelle Waterson had a goal of becoming the “mom champ”. The karate hottie has an amazing life story. Waterson used to work as a ring girl for a promotion and her fortunes changed based on a chance encounter with Donald Cerrone. Soon Waterson found herself circling the inside of the octagon and doing it successfully. Waterson lost to Jedrzejczyk in her last outing. Despite that she showed some incredible endurance.

Tecia Torres has a great life story too. The tiny tornado has overcome obstacles in her life to become the world class martial artist she is today. Unfortunately, Torres has been on a slump. Her last victory came against Waterson. Having said that, Tecia’s losses have come against the stiffest of competition – Jedrzejczyk, Andrade and Weili. That’s a row of killers too.

The UFC ought to run it back between these two.

Strawweight contenders galore

At one point in time, the UFCs heavyweight division had a reputation for being the most volatile division. The strawweight division has challenged that notion in recent times. After Rose beat Joanna for the title, the title has changed hands almost every fight. The current champ Weili broke that trend against Jedrzejczyk, but even that was a close fight.

With so much of action taking place not just at the top, but throughout the division as a whole, the strawweights may be the one division that we all need to watch out for.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry Ashwin, I don’t think much of your suggestions. While I would like to see a Weili/Rose fight, Weili just finished one of the most brutal fights in WMMA and is targeting Oct. for her return. Rose, on the other hand, hasn’t fought for nearly a year. I’d like to see her back in action asap, hopefully at UFC 249 against Andrade.

    If Rose prevails and is willing to challenge Weili in a timely manner, that should be Weili’s next defense. Normally, I would not be in favor of a fighter that got such a serious whupping from the champ to get another chance any time soon. However, if Andrade prevails over Rose again, given that as the champ she gave Weili a chance for the title on short notice and in the challenger’s home country, I would make an exception for her.

    JJ vs. Tatiana would be a good match-up – if Tatiana wasn’t out indefinitely due to her neck injury. This match-up can be revisited when JJ is ready to get back in the cage as she probably needs a good rest in the meantime. If Tatiana is ready when JJ is, let’s do it; otherwise it’s back to the drawing board.

    Perhaps you missed the newsflash but Nina is out on pregnancy leave and upon her return wants to fight at 125.

    As you mentioned, Tecia and Michelle have fought before. In fact, that was Tecia’s last victory. With all the upcoming talent, I’d much rather them face someone new and was quite disappointed when Tecia’s fight with Mizuki was postponed or cancelled. Likewise, I was bummed when Michelle and Carla’s fight was as well, as they have been competing a long long time but have yet to face each other.

    Just a minor correction, both Rose and Weili have successfully defended their title once.

    I think you highly overrate PVZ’s popularity among MMA fans. She might have one of the highest fan bases outside MMA due to her extracurricular activities, but not so much among hard cores. If Angela wants the fight, she should by all means get it as she has earned it given her run of victories taken on short on notice. However, I would think she would want to fight an opponent higher up in the ranks that could get her on the path to challenge for the title more quickly.

  2. Hey, JR. Thanks for your feedback. I think all of your points are great. Really appreciate that you’ve considered the context behind each of these. In particular, your observations on the injury/fight-readiness of Weili and Tatiana were spot on.

    As a general trend, I picked the fights which I thought would be the most exciting in a somewhat idealistic way.

    Do feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@omnishwin), Reddit (User Name:KidWinTinker) or Facebook (Ashwin Viswanathan) if you want me to cover anything MMA related in particular. I check Twitter more often so if you want to reach me quickly that’s the best bet.

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