No division saw more turnover at the top than the 115-pound ranks. After Rose Namajunas ended Joanna Jedzejczyk’s 966-day run as the strawweight champion, the belt changed hands in three of the last four title fights.
Most recently, current champ Zhang Weili defended the belt for the first time when she earned a split decision win over Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 in one of the greatest mixed martial arts fights of all-time. While many wouldn’t flinch if the two ran it back immediately, a handful of strawweights also have a claim at the next shot.
Here’s a look at the strawweight division:
Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk (3/7/2020)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: In less than two years on the roster, Zhang Weili became the first Chinese UFC champion and came out as the winner of the greatest fight in women’s mixed martial arts history. That’s quite a way to announce yourself as a promotional star. She won over plenty of fans during UFC 248’s buildup with her quick wit and willingness to talk trash with Jedrzejczyk, and her telling Jedrzejczyk to “shut up” during the media day face-off was one of the more humorous moments of the year. Dana White told media afterward that she continues to check the boxes of someone the UFC wants to promote heavily, and the next step on that path likely points to her second defense – whomever that may come against – taking place at Madison Square Garden.
Last Fight: TKO loss vs Zhang Weili (8/31/2019)
Next fight: vs Rose Namajunas @ UFC 249
Outlook: Before Zhang Weili emphatically took the title belt in front of fans in her home country, Jessica Andrade did the same thing just three months prior. When Andrade slammed Rose Namajunas into the ground, it was a picture-perfect testament to the power the Brazilian brings to the 115-pound division. In her strawweight run, she holds a 7-2 record with four finishes. Up next, she returns to the well of her success as she takes on Namajunas for the second time in the span of a year. The catch, though, is that Namajunas dominated much of their fight until the fateful slam, so where the two make adjustments in the rematch could clear up Andrade’s path back to a title shot.
Last Fight: KO loss vs Jessica Andrade (5/11/2019)
Next fight: vs Jessica Andrade @ UFC 249
Outlook: Before Namajunas lost her belt to Andrade in Brazil, the 27-year-old looked as good as ever, piecing Andrade from range with an array of strikes. In fact, Namajunas said the UFC offered her a chance to regain her belt against Zhang, but Namajunas turned it down. Instead, she gets an immediate crack at avenging her most recent loss to Andrade. Should she prove victorious, it’s almost certain that Namajunas would get the call to challenge for gold for a third time. Since knocking Jedrzejczyk out to take the belt, it’s been an interesting journey for Namajunas. She has fought just twice in the previous two years, and she’s heading into her second rematch bout in that span. If Namajunas can call back to and improve on what she showed in her last bout, it’s hard to not get a little giddy at the thought of a fight between her and the current champion.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Nina Ansaroff (6/8/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: The path looked clear for Tatiana Suarez heading into her UFC 238 bout with Nina Ansaroff. If Suarez won in dominant fashion, it seemed like the 29-year-old was bound for a title shot against then-champion Andrade. Instead, although Suarez won, she faced a bunch of adversity by way of a scrappy performance by Ansaroff and, on top of that, Suarez suffered an injury to her neck. It is that injury that has kept Suarez out of the Octagon for nearly a year. At the UFC 248 post-fight press conference, Dana White mentioned that the injury is still causing some problems and is still unsure when Suarez will return to action. When healthy, Suarez is one of the most daunting fighters in the division with her wrestling acumen, making her an interesting matchup against any of the other top women at 115 pounds.
Last Fight: Split Decision Loss vs Zhang Weili (3/7/2020)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: The path looks murky for the most dominant champion in the division’s history. Although her battle at UFC 248 was legendary, she left the Octagon empty-handed. The two could very well run it back, sooner than later if Andrade beats Namajunas in their April bout. She looked as good as she had in some time and clearly has plenty of years ahead, but the loss also was her fourth straight in title bouts. How she carves her path back to another opportunity for gold is something that is unclear, but Jedrzejczyk’s last performance sparks plenty of good faith that she’ll be just fine in figuring it out.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Tatiana Suarez (6/8/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Though Ansaroff brought Tatiana Suarez into the deepest waters in which she’d been, the loss halted the momentum gained from winning her last four fights before that. Ansaroff announced a few months later that she was putting her career on hold as she and fiancée Amanda Nunes focused on building their family, and in early March, the two announced their first child is expected in September.
Outlook: While Gadelha and Waterson are longtime contenders, Yan Xiaonan brings new, exciting blood to threaten to throw a wrench in the conglomerate at the top of the strawweight division. She looked dominant during her unanimous decision win over former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in Auckland and seems primed for a big-time fight to prove her place. Perhaps a matchup with Gadelha or Waterson could be the performance that could catapult Yan up the ladder. However, Gadelha and Waterson are veterans for a reason, and as those two rebuild their campaigns for the belt, a win over an up-and-coming force like Yan could be just the spark they need.
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