The women’s flyweight division may be the hot topic. It’s filed with a championship to be had, quick changing rankings, new territory for some fighters never exposed to the weight class, and some fighters making their way back to their natural weight class. Now there is a clear champion in Valentina Shevchenko, and the rankings are starting to fill themselves out as the void has been filled with talent, new and old.
The hot new division is not the most exciting women’s division though, that belongs to the strawweights.
The 115 pound fighters may be one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC. The depth of talent compares to that of the lightweight, welterweight, and now light heavyweight divisions in MMA’s top promotion. Remember when the women’s bantamweight division was the center of the UFC with Ronda Rousey snatching up arms and ending fights in seconds? She was in total control of the division and the UFC fanbase.
When Rousey lost the belt, it changed hands time and time again, because there was such a depth of talent under Rousey. She raised the level of competition in the division that fighters had to rise or succumb to, when the talent caught up, the title was traded around, until Amanda Nunes.
The level of competition at strawweight has risen to new levels, and here is a list of some of the most exciting fighters in the division.
Rose Namajunas (#1)
Rose is the first beneficiary of the rise in the level of competition. The wave was started by Joanna, but she will get her due in a moment. I believe that Rose is the best fighter in this division. She recently lost her title, I disagree with how the fight ended, but it is over and done with, respect to the champ. Rose has some of the best jui-jitsu in the division, maybe in the UFC, and is incredibly tough. Rose also added an impressive stand up game, she had power, speed, combinations, great footwork and evaded strikes well. I hope she does not retire, I wish Rose the best in all her future endeavors and life in general, but it’s fun to watch her fight.
Tatiana Suarez (#2)
Suarez brings something to women’s fighting that we have not seen too much of, and that is a different level of wrestling. Suarez has shown the ability to control fights to the extent where she takes very little damage from her opponents while she rains down strikes from ground and pound positions. She hits you until you give up a better position, a submission, or until the fight ends. Her most recent fight at UFC 238 vs Nina Ansaroff showed her toughness as well as she disclosed she was dealing with an neck injury that was reaggravated in the fist round. Suarez will probably get the next title shot, but I thinks she should take one more fight to work on her strike defense more. She showed that she can be touched, even though she took the shots well.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (#4)
Joanna was the first one to take control of the division using her striking to overwhelm opponents. Her pressure and volume was unmatched at the time. She was the queen of strawweight and it almost looked like she was running out of opponents. Joanna ran through the division with ease in a way that was similar to Rousey. She also fell from her throne when she lost her title to Rose and again in the rematch. The level of competition caught up to Joanna and now she finds herself in a position where she may need to remind fans and match makers exactly who she is. The former champ may need to fight once before she gets a shot at the title, as she is coming off a loss in her last fight to Shevchenko, but a decision loss to the flyweight champion should not push her too far out of title contention. Joanna is planning on returning to strawweight where she will likely remain atop the division and in the mix for a title fight.
Weili Zhang #(6)
Zhang has not lost since her professional debut, and she is 3-0 in the UFC. She is knocking on the door of a title shot, but she may need to take one or two more fights before she gets her turn depending on the matchups. Zhang has incredible striking abilities, we have yet to see how she fares on the bottom really, which I suppose tells half of the story of her 100% takedown defense. Zhang will get her title shot eventually, it just may take a bit of time before her name is called. If she can show off some serious KO power that is starting to be introduced to the division, she may have a quicker rise from the hype. The UFC has shown the willingness to reward those who excite the crowd.
Michelle Waterson (#7)
Waterson has looked great recently as she has put together a 3-fight win streak. She is trying to become the first Mom champ in the UFC and has called her shot for the belt in recent bouts. She falls in the same category as Zhang, as far as needing another fight before getting a title opportunity (Zhang vs Waterson would be a great kickboxing matchup to watch also). Waterson is exciting to watch as she throws lots of kicks with bad intentions, and they come from different angles, in a hurry. Waterson is unafraid to throw kicks because if you take her down, she is comfortable on the ground with some slick submission skills. Waterson can also take the fight to the ground if that is where she feels she has the advantage.
Alexa Grasso (#13)
Grasso just had a magnificent performance against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 238. Grasso showed off some great boxing and hand speed. She was never in any danger as she moved in and out of range the whole fight with ease, even with a fighter that pressures forward the entire fight. Grasso did not earn a finish, but she was close a couple of times, and Karolina is one of the toughest fighters in that division. I think that many other fighters would have gone down from the volume that Karolina absorbed. Grasso was very fluid in her strikes but will need to add some power as she will be moving into the top 10. The biggest area in need of improvement will be her ground game, Suarez got the better of her on the ground when they fought, which is typical for a Suarez fight.
Maycee Barber (#13 – Flyweight)
I am a big fan of Maycee. She is a prodigy in the sport of MMA as she has been practicing different disciplines relative to MMA since a young age with the intention of competing in MMA. This makes her dangerous as she has much experience at a young age. She went up to flyweight in her most recent fight against JJ Aldrich, and there have been some talks that the weight cut to strawweight is hard for her. She has not ruled out returning to strawweight though, wherever she goes, excitement is sure to follow. She will be working hard in her next camp as she did come away with the win, but in the eyes of Maycee, there is always room for improvement and you should never be satisfied because you can always be better.
Jessica Andrade (C)
Of course the current champ Andrade cannot go without mention. She brings one-punch KO power that has never been seen in the division before. It was her night when she fought for the belt, and now she has to defend her championship. She has been one of the most exciting fighters to watch as of late, with two highlight finishes in her last two wins. She is one of the main reasons the division is as lively as it is at this point, strawweight never had a fighter that could end the fight in an instance the way Andrade can. Right now, her power has brought her atop the division, but the fight game is always evolving, and it will be exciting to see what she brings to the table next. Or if she continues to abuse her opponents with devastating power in her punches.
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Connor “Rags” Rogowsky is a co-owner of The Scrap and its current President. Rogowsky played football and track collegiately, and holds a Masters of Science in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University. Make sure to follow Rags on Twitter (@rogowskyc).