Matchmaking the UFC Strawweight Division

UFC Strawweight Division
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - APRIL 24: Rose Namajunas poses for a post fight portrait backstage during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

The UFC strawweight division is one of the most stacked divisions in the sport at the moment. With a recent change in champion, a number of top contenders and exciting rising contenders, the division is thriving. We will look to try and match the UFC strawweight division.

UFC Strawweight Division Matchmaker

Title Fight – Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza

Throw it back to UFC 261 and you’ll remember that Rose Namajunas devastatingly knocked out Zhang Weili in just 1:18 to recapture the strawweight belt. Looking phenomenal in doing so, Namajunas became the hunted at 115lbs.

Carla Esparza put on the performance of her career this past week at UFC Vegas 27. Dominating Yan Xiaonan and gaining a TKO in the second round, Esparza improved to 5-0 in her last five.

This fight certainly has the narrative, the two have met previously. Back in 2014, both women competed in the TUF 20 final, where Esparza finished Namajunas to be crowned the inaugural strawweight champion.

Esparza has the edge in the wrestling game with Namajunas being favoured in the stand-up realm. Book the fight, it makes sense and has a strong narrative. Esparza is more than deserving of a shot at the belt and Namajunas will certainly want to get that one back.

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 12: (R-L) Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza face-off in their strawweight championship fight during The Ultimate Fighter Finale event inside the Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort on December 12, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Weili Zhang

Does anyone remember the co-main event at UFC 248? Was it instantly forgettable? Absolutely not. In what was the fight of the year and arguably the greatest women’s fight in MMA history, we have to see it again.

Since their first bout, Joanna Jedrzejczyk is yet to compete. We told you that Jedrejczyk is focused on making a return and we’ll certainly all tune in to watch. Zhang has only competed once since UFC 248, losing the title to Namajunas. Does the fight make sense? Absolutely. Make it a #1 contenders fight for the winner of Namajunas vs. Esparza. Ranked #1 and #2, both women are in a position to compete for the title with another win. If the Namajunas vs. Weili fight isn’t made next, this one certainly needs to be booked, and quick.

Marina Rodriguez vs. Mackenzie Dern

The dark horse at 115lbs is certainly Marina Rodriguez. With elite striking, a reasonable ground game and the ability to go five rounds, Rodriguez has burst onto the scene in 2021 with two big wins over Amanda Ribas and Michelle Waterson.

Mackenzie Dern has made vast improvements since losing to Ribas back in 2019. Since that fight, her striking has come on leaps and bounds, using it effectively to get the fight to the ground. Her BJJ has and always will be elite and arguably the best in the UFC. 4-0 since her fight with Ribas with three finishes, Dern is ranked #6 as it stands.

This is a classic striker vs grappler match and needs to happen. Rodriguez will really test the stand-up of Dern and if Dern can get it to the floor, it’s in her wheelhouse. Rodriguez defended well against Ribas on the ground so can hang down there with Dern, but she is certainly a different animal. The winner of this one could certainly position themselves in the title picture.

Further Down the Rankings

  • Nina Nunes vs. Felice Herrig
    Having stepped away from the sport to welcome a new baby, Nina Nunes returned in April of this year. Unfortunately for her, she was on the wrong end of a submission at the hands of Mackenzie Dern. She is also without a win since 2018. Felice Herrig is somehow still ranked in the top 15, just. Having dropped her last three fights, ‘Lil Bulldog’ hasn’t won a bout since 2018. This fight makes sense for both women to try and get back in the win column.
  • Yan Xiaonan vs. Michelle Waterson
    Xiaonan needs to bounce back after her dominant loss at the hands of Esparza recently. Although she looked like a killer in her early UFC career, there were huge holes in her ground game exposed by Esparza. Michelle Waterson will return to strawweight having recently competed at flyweight at short notice. At 1-3 in her last four, Waterson needs a big win next to remain relevant in the 115lbs division and a win over Xiaonan could provide this.

Alternative Matchmaking

Although the above fights make the most sense, there are alternative bouts that could also happen within the UFC strawweight division. The champ, Rose Namajunas could rematch Weili Zhang as their first fight was over so quickly. The former champion, Jedrzejczyk taking on Rodriguez makes a lot of sense. Both women have elite stand-up and it would provide a barnburner.

Mackenzie Dern and Carla Esparza would also provide an interesting fight. With Esparza’s wrestling-heavy style, she may need to rethink her strategy against the jiu jitsu phenom. That leaves Xiaonan who seems out of favor having been so solidly dominated last time out. If the UFC doesn’t book the Namajunas/Zhang rematch, make it an all-Chinese affair. Xiaonan vs. Zhang would provide fireworks.

Whatever happens, the UFC strawweight division is one of the hottest in the sport right now and it’s exciting for those competing at 115lbs.

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