BY Scottie “The Context” White
March 7, 2020 (Las Vegas, T-Mobile Arena) Switch stances back to when Dana White lens the infamous moment when a reporter asked “When will we see women in the UFC?” White replies – “Never!” Many would suggest that statement will always reign atop (White) foot-in-the-mouth epoch in his meteoric rise as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president. How time changes the needle for sure. In an era when neighboring organizations seem to be thriving with female mix martial artists who were deemed the top of their class on the world stage. In perspective, eyes on these female combatants was zoomed in closer than we imagine, especially seeing the UFC finally create a women division. I mean, we can assume for White to regurgitate his previous declaration of no women would compete in the organisation of the UFC, he would surely have to select two of the best female pugilist to pioneer the beginning of a bantamweight women division in 2013 and therefore be competitive enough to flourish in notoriety among the respective viewing audience.
The two participants were Olympian silver champion Ronda Rousey versus U.S. Marine Liz Carmouche. Up to this anticipated clash, Rousey was a legit judo elite, her previous six fights ended the first round with her patent armbar submission. So of course, heading into the UFC as the main event, there was an unbelievable onus resting heavy on the shoulders of Rousey – Carmouche to set the bar. For the thousands in attendance, this was an acclimation of interest for them as well, seeing the first round commence. Carmouche would work her way into dominant back control of Rousey, locking in a tight rear necked choke from the standing position. In this moment, the building was harmonizing in cheers as Rousey would galvanize women MMA breaking the choke of Carmouche and tossing her adversary to the canvas. Rousey quickly worked for top control in a familiar position to her grappling wheelhouse, as Carmouche vigorously defended a relentless armbar attempt from Rousey. 4:49 in round-one, would render Rousey her seventh straight submission victory as a professional mix martial artist. Rousey successfully broke the grip of Carmouche leading to an arm-bar tapping submission. Epic win for Rousey who would defend her bantamweight crown a total of six times during her title reign, a gateway to women mix martial arts which has produced a combined four active divisions to date in 2020. Listed from lightest to heaviest, Strawweight (115lb), Flyweight (125lb), Batamweight (135lb) and Featherweight (145lb).
On Saturday night, a former flyweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk (16-4) revisited a familiar theater as she co-headlined a championship double hitter versus the current flyweight champion Weili Zhang (21-1) – a first Chinese titleholder in the UFC. When Joanna sat this very throne, she appeared unstoppable, she talked-the-talk and walked it convincingly for five straight title defenses, until Rose Namajunas stopped her via knock out in the first round back in 2017. The stoppage was deemed one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, postured closely to the head kick knock out of Rousey as she suffered her first lost to Holly Holmes.
Joanna has been fighting feverishly to etch her name back in the company of champions once more in the flyweight division. The title has changed hands from Namajunas, to Jessica Andrade, now in the hands of a Zhang who refuted Andrade full blown assault complimented with impenetrable resistance, earning a first-round closer to the brutish engagement. Though Zhang was defending her flyweight title for the first time, she wasn’t portrayed as the competing neophyte in this match-up. Her disbursement of Andrade was consequentially the same fighter who defeated Namajunas – who defeated Joanna. So, coming full circle, the MMA community understood the enticement that Zhang could potentially be the real deal. It didn’t take much to sale the fight! Joanna name would buoy in another title contention for Zhang next opponent and arguably her toughest to date. What a war it would turn to out to be.
From the opening bell Joanna controlled the center, landing several kicks. Zhang was on the ready as well, she didn’t wait to dispense her own punch – kick combinations. Rules of engagement displayed two high level strikers weaving their strategizing webs of punishment. High grades of accuracy registered both fighters on an honor roll for their technical curriculum. Champion Zhang was in her battle zone to defend her title with aggressive forward pressure and solid combinations to refute Joanna offensive onslaught. Joanna stayed the course committing to close quarters flurries in keeping Zhang honest with much improved distant gauging. Punch for punch pounce the head of these flyweight combatants as they raged war on the other. Hard to score heading into the championship rounds, a very difficult score to wager who was actually winning but the action was super entertaining as many were well wishing for a sixth round. Zhang would breach the hip space of Joanna earning some crucial take-downs but crediting Joanna cameo matt-time as she quickly regained standing position to work for separation out the clinch. Clinching is an intricate tool in the arsenal for some fighters in MMA but sometimes can be frown upon if there is minimal action during a fight which may ignite jeers from the rebelling fans. Joanna and Zhang clinched in pockets but remain intensely active as Joanna landed knees and sparked a slicing elbow on the exit. Back and forth striking authority scored effectively from both corners, it would set the tone for the night heading in the main-event. As the minutes ticked away to a sensational co-headliner, the finale was evident in what we just witness; one of – if not the best women MMA championship fight in UFC history.
A great fight such as this isn’t merited from multiple knock downs, bloody crimson mask or lopsided domination. Competing in MMA has evolved in its education, not only from the fighters themselves but the onlookers who embrace the pugilists who compete on a much higher level of elite prowess than its past time. On this night, women proved once again; their mix martial arts thesis is comparable to their male colleagues, highlighting an all-around technical demonstration in performances, high levels of combat striking delegation, and solidifying that women prominence in the sport of mix martial arts deserves increased recognition.
For fight fans who witness it firsthand, this fight is vaulted in their MMA archives as a piece of history to an instant classic of womens MMA. A fight in hindsight where both competitors are winners in the eyes of the mainstream MMA but divided with an official split decision at the end of the day. A lighter revelation to all it, may produce a rematch in the foreseeable future. We’ll have sit tight and remain patient, for this match up is an intriguing index to a possible trilogy between two of the best of this era. A pair of warriors deserving of toeing the battle lines once again, champion versus former champion, who is the best flyweight in the world? Their performance was a beautiful duel of technical mastery in the claw of combat. We salute you.