The UFC’s women’s bantamweight division used to be the most predictable in MMA.
It was Ronda Rousey, then everyone else.
But since Rousey’s defeat to Holly Holm a year ago, the 135-pound weight class has become a jumbled mess at the top. Holm lost the belt in March to Miesha Tate, who then lost to current champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 200 in July. No one other than Rousey has successfully defended the belt since the division was formed in late 2011.
Nunes is scheduled to defend the belt against Rousey in the superstar’s December return, but Tate is hoping to scrap her way back into a murky title picture Saturday at UFC 205 in New York City.
“It’s thickening, that’s for sure,” Tate said of her division. “I think the biggest problem we’ve faced is that people were saying we don’t have depth, but I think that we’ve disproved that now.”
Tate will face Raquel Pennington to open the pay-per-view portion of the UFC’s Madison Square Garden debut on Saturday. The former champion enters the bout ranked No. 1 in the division despite her loss.
“I’m going to go win this fight on Saturday and then I’ll be able to be in the discussion for a title shot in the near future,” Tate said.
The division is becoming crowded at the top. Along with Rousey, Nunes and Holm, Tate also is competing for the spotlight with No. 3 Valentina Shevchenko and former “Ultimate Fighter” winner Julianna Pena, not to mention Pennington, Tate’s opponent at MSG.
Pennington is ranked No. 8 in the division and on a three-fight winning streak entering UFC 205. The Colorado native thinks she can enter the title picture herself with a win in the biggest fight of her career.
“I think I’m right there, obviously I’ve worked my way up,” Pennington said. “But there’s no telling what can go on, business can come down to business, there’s a lot of politics and stuff that play into this, but I’m just patiently awaiting my turn.”
Pennington isn’t putting too much into Tate’s loss to Nunes and is preparing for the former champion’s best.
“A fight’s a fight, you can’t really sit here and dictate how it will go. I think you can dream of how you want it to go, but at the end of the day it’s going to come down to who wants it more,” Pennington said. “I think it’s going to come down to me focusing what I can control and that’s me as the athlete, just being bigger, faster, stronger, more precise and smarter.”