MMA

Marina Rodriguez, the Strawweight Logjam, and an Aging Division

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Image for Marina Rodriguez, the Strawweight Logjam, and an Aging Division

Strawweight has long been the quintessential women’s division of MMA. Like men’s light heavyweight of the late 2000s/early 2010s, strawweight is an epic cast of characters, master tacticians, and global stars. Joanna Jedrzejczyk defined the division in the UFC as a merciless and charismatic champion at the division’s opening before Rose Namajunas emerged as a foil for the fierce Pole.

Is flyweight bound to overtake strawweight as the golden division of women?

Since the title departed from Joanna in 2016, the division has been a revolving door between a handful of elite competitors who could all become champions given the right night. Stacked with names like Claudia Gadelha, Carla Esparza, Jessica Andrade, Michelle Waterson, and Zhang Weili, most of WMMA’s greatest and most competitive fights take place at 115lbs- but is that bound to change? If you’ve ever wondered how to bet on MMA, then lay down some money on any of these women, on any given night and you could come up big.

Strawweight: The Immediate Future

The iron is certainly still hot in the division, and incredible fights lie on the horizon for MMA fans. Next month, Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas will contend again for the belt. While the merit of giving Zhang another crack at the belt despite being finished in her last fight and only defending the title once is a bit shaky, there’s plenty of storylines rising from the rivalry to make the rematch a must-see.

After Zhang-Namajunas at UFC 268, most pundits and fans agree that Carla Esparza deserves the next title shot. She has a win over the current champ Namajunas and owns a five-fight win streak- including a win over last night’s victor Marina Rodriguez, albeit a split decision.

The outcome and nature of Rose and Weili’s rematch could affect the division and its next challenger in several different ways, but should it put the champ out of action for a while or even create a situation demanding a trilogy between Namajunas and Zhang, it could make Esparza wait for a good while, who last competed in May. A rematch between Marina Rodriguez and Esparza could keep the division moving should Esparza opt to not sit on the sidelines.

What’s Next for Marina Rodriguez?

In her win over jiu jitsu magnate Mackenzie Dern last night, Rodriguez put her Muay Thai skills to work against Dern. Her fighting style and placement in the division is not unlike the strawweight OG Jedrzejcyk, who also works a fluid Muay Thai game. Joanna’s ambitions have been cloudy since her Fight of the Year against Zhang last year, and only seems interested in the highest profile of fights at strawweight. Regardless, Joanna vs. Rodriguez is the fight to make in early 2022, and could elect a new challenger for later in the year.

Past the current squad of Namajunas/Zhang/Esparza/Rodriguez is where things get interesting. Where the division once had a steady flow of prospects climbing the mountain at 115lbs, it may be starting to thin a bit at last. There’s no sense in overlooking quality contenders like Yan Xiaonan and Tecia Torres, and there’s names like Amanda Lemos, Virna Jandiroba, and Amanda Ribas to keep things spicy.

Past that, there aren’t a ton of fighters that jump off the page as women likely to take the division by storm. Most of the prospects in the division are quite young in their careers and need several more fights to round out their games (i.e. Loma Lookboonmee, Cheyanne Buys, and Cory McKenna). With such a gap in between the top five and everyone else, it begins the question- is women’s MMA shifting north?

Flyweight: The Deep Future

Not only are the contenders changing, but the division also advancing in years. Of the top 15, the average age is 32.3- bookended by Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Ribas on the bottom (28) and Felice Herrig at the top (37). In two or three years, flyweight could overtake strawweight as the greatest women’s division.

Just take a look at some of the names under the age of 25:┬áthere’s Maycee Barber (22), who will likely miss her prediction of becoming the youngest UFC champion, but still has a good chance of becoming one. The woman she just beat, Miranda Maverick (24), just made the move to Elevation Fight Team in Colorado and looks destined to become an elite talent. Casey O’Neill (24) is 3-0 in the UFC with three stoppages. Mariya Agapova (24) won a Performance of the Night bonus last night for her stunning finish of Sabina Mazo. And while she only has one UFC fight, Erin Blanchfield is only 22 and seems to have everything she needs to become a wonder at flyweight.

While that’s just the start of what’s good at flyweight, the point is that shifts in intrigue with MMA weight classes is normal and are a part of an ever-shifting sport. The pulling of resources from 115lbs is an effect of the addition of flyweights to the roster in 2017, but only now is the spotlight starting to slowly shift across the MMA landscape.

Of course, the flyweight rankings currently suffer under the tyranny of Valentina Shevchenko, who doesn’t to be getting bored with shredding contenders any time soon. The question looming in the shadows in all of this is this- two years in the future, which of the aforementioned young guns will be one to overthrow the queen and declare a new era?

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Chris Presnell is a staff writer for MMASucka. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @mmaecosystem.

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