Why isn’t there a Women’s Featherweight Division (145 lbs.) in the UFC?
I hear this argument a lot: If the UFC can build a whole weight division around Ronda Rousey, why can’t they do the same for Cris "Cyborg" Justino? I think that there’s more at play here than simply building a weight division around one fighter.
When Strikeforce was bought by the UFC, and their talent went over to the UFC, there was already a pretty well-established Women’s Bantamweight division. Besides the UFC getting Ronda Rousey, they also got: Cat Zingano, Sara McMann, Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis, Sarah Kaufman, Liz Carmouche, Amanda Nunes, Julie Kedzie, and Germaine de Randamie. Outside of the UFC, there were solid female fighters like Leslie Smith and Jessica Eye as well, who they eventually signed.
Women’s Featherweight doesn’t have even that much depth or real pecking order. As far as known and ranked fighters in Women’s Featherweight are concerned, there’s Cris Justino, Marloes Coenen, and Julia Budd, with Ediane Gomes now fighting at Women’s Bantamweight. A couple other female Featherweights that are ranked in notable MMA webistes have less than seven pro MMA bouts in their resume. Prospects are few and far between as well, with two of the better prospects in the division, Marina Shafir and Veronica Rothenhausler, getting finished by strikes in their most previous bouts, and Rothenhausler retiring from MMA due to multiple concussions.
The Women’s Featherweight division also doesn’t contain many fighters in their early-to-mid-twenties. Marloes Coenen is 34, Peggy Morgan is 35, Latoya Walker is 35, Andria Wawro is 37, Julia Budd is 31, Charmaine Tweet is 38, Annalisa Bucci is 32. Talita Nogueira and Cris Cyborg are 29. Faith Van Duin is 28. That’s not to say that there isn’t any youth in the division, as Amanda Bell, Marina Shafir, and Tamikka Brents, are in their mid-twenties, but that really doesn’t indicate that it’s a "young" weight division like Women’s Strawweight is.
The biggest argument against a Women’s Featherweight division in the UFC is that the overall depth, which entails both overall quality of fighters and quantity as well, is simply non-existent. To counter this argument, others say that by putting in a Women’s Featherweight division in the UFC, potentially more women, athletes and non-athletes, at that weight will want to try their hand at MMA, as it grants money and exposure. From the UFC’s perspective, I wonder how this works.
Let’s not beat around the bush, but the overall skill level of the Women’s Featherweight division is very low. Despite the fact that Rousey defeats her opposition quickly and dominates them, proper skill assessment would show that the top female Bantamweights are generally skilled fighters from a technical standpoint, and have a better overall well-roundedness to them as well compared to female Featherweights. Yes, Cyborg also crushes her opposition, but from a general experience level plus a technical level, besides Coenen, Cyborg’s opposition has not displayed a particularly high level or even a reasonably solid level of skill. With that said, does that skill level matter to the UFC? I would say yes. I think that even with the casual fan, that skill level is something that can be noticeably seen. However, the counter-argument is that the UFC does have some pretty low level fighters on their roster as it is, especially those from TUF: Latin America or TUF: China, but others as well. What’s another couple of low level female Featherweights on the roster?
What’s the endgame here, exactly? The UFC will pay a minimum of $8,000 to show, and $8,000 to win for multiple female Featherweights. They would sign these female Featherweights simply to find contenders to fight Cris Cyborg. That does not include the cost of promoting and whatnot. Is Cyborg worth doing that for? It’s not that dissimilar to what the UFC is doing with Ronda Rousey, if one thinks about it, but I think it’s safe to say that Rousey is indeed a big star for the UFC that has already shown to have strong crossover appeal.
Strikeforce: Carano vs Cyborg averaged 576,000 viewers on the Showtime cable network. It peaked with 856,000 viewers for the night's main event between Carano and Santos. Strikeforce: Miami which had a main event of Nick Diaz vs Marius Zaromskis and co-main evented by Cyborg vs Coenen drew an estimated average of 517,000 viewers on Showtime. Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum, which was co-main evented by Cyborg vs Jan Finney drew an estimated 492,000 viewers on Showtime. While Cyborg was the co-main event of the next two Strikeforce events she was on after Carano vs Cyborg, there’s nothing to indicate that she was much of a television ratings draw for Strikeforce/Showtime. Can the UFC’s promotional muscle elevate Cris Cyborg to become something of a draw?
For one thing, there isn’t a foil for Cyborg. Even though Miesha Tate lost to Rousey twice, there was a general interest in their fights, mainly from things like TUF and just their animosity towards each other outside of the cage, that brought some sort of storyline and interest into their fights. Cyborg has no such opponent though. There’s no particular threat to her, outside of Rousey, from a competitive standpoint, and no Sonnen or McGregor character to really play as Cyborg’s foil.
They could market her as a destroyer, which she is. She could be promoted as someone similar to Wanderlei Silva during his PRIDE days. She does finish opponents, and in generally violent fashion, so that helps. Without having a strong level of competition though, I can imagine that there’s a not-so-high ceiling to how far her popularity could get.
When it comes to adding new weight divisions to the UFC, it has been shown that a weight division was started somewhere else, and built something of a pecking order, before the UFC placed that weight division in their own business. Men’s Featherweight and Men’s Bantamweight were established in the WEC. Strikeforce really helped build the Women’s Bantamweight division, along with Invicta FC. Invicta FC helped build the Women’s Strawweight division, and is still doing so. I would give credit to Tachi Palace Fights for really promoting the Men’s Flyweight division, and it helped that there were Men’s Bantamweights in the UFC that could cut to Men’s Flyweight. Women’s Featherweight has no such building block, and outside of some very hardcore MMA fans, I don’t think that many, even in the MMA community, could really name ten female Featherweights.
Outside of having Cris "Cyborg" Justino, the Women’s Featherweight division simply does not have a lot going for it. It’s not a weight division with a lot of youth, nor does it have an established pecking order. Quantity and quality-wise, it’s severely lacking to the point where many MMA fans find it a truly barren weight division. I can’t say that it’s in the UFC’s financial or business interest to have the weight division in their fold, as the only selling point about Women’s Featherweight is Cris "Cyborg" Justino.