When Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche battled in the first women’s fight in UFC history, there was skepticism the division could survive. After all, a lack of competition and depth were the main reasons the UFC refused to add women until 2013.
But just under four years later, the women’s bantamweight division is thriving, even as Rousey’s career appears all but over.
Now, the UFC will debut its third women’s division with the inaugural featherweight title between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 on Saturday at Barclays Center. Despite the success of both the 135-pound division and 115-pound division, which debuted in late 2014, the new featherweights have found they still need to prove their division can survive in the UFC.
“Holly has said this before, but a division has to start somewhere,” de Randamie said. “It started with Liz Carmouche and Ronda Rousey and only a few names being signed in the bantamweight division. Look at the division now. It’s rolling.”
Women’s featherweight also may be rolling soon, but it’s debut has been rocky. As of Thursday, de Randamie and Holm are the only women’s featherweights listed on the official UFC roster, and both remain ranked among the top 10 bantamweights. Neither woman ever intended to fight at 145 when they began training MMA, although de Randamie has two previous fights at the weight.
Although there aren’t many featherweights now, finally having the division at MMA’s highest level will be a big boost for the future, Holm said.
“It’s always going to keep growing and always keep getting better,” Holm said. “You see more and more people think they do have the opportunity to have big goals and dreams, so more of them started to take it more seriously, so you’re going to have more and more getting better and better.”
De Randamie sees an opportunity for some marquee talent to join the division immediately.
“I believe there’s a lot of girls, even bantamweight girls that can go up that don’t want to cut that much weight anymore,” de Randamie said.
The Dutch kickboxer cited Bellator featherweights Julia Budd and Marloes Coenen as possible names to join the promotion. Others have considered Invicta FC interim champion Megan Anderson as a possible contender. A few have even floated a return by women’s MMA pioneer Gina Carano, who last fought in 2009.
But the conversation always returns to one name: Cris Cyborg Justino.
If bantamweight was created for Rousey, featherweight exists solely because of Justino, who has held the Invicta featherweight title since 2013 and twice fought at 140 pounds of the UFC. But Cyborg twice turned down a featherweight title fight while recovering from her latest weight cut. She is currently on the shelf after being flagged for a potential violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy and her return has yet to be determined.
De Randamie and Holm agreed Justino will likely have her shot at the title when she is ready, but for now, they have business to take care of.
“In the end, there will be a new featherweight champion crowned Saturday,” de Randamie said. “I’m fighting Holly Holm on Saturday, not Cris Cyborg, my focus is on Holly Holm and I think people should respect that, too.”
UFC 208 at Barclays Center
Main card, 10 p.m. on pay-per-view
Women’s featherweight title: Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie
Anderson Silva vs. Derek Brunson
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Tim Boetsch
Jared Cannonier vs. Glover Teixeira
Jim Miller vs. Dustin Poirier
Prelims, 8 p.m. on FS1
Randy Brown vs. Belal Muhammed
Wilson Reis vs. Ulka Sasaki
Nik Lentz vs. Islam Makhachev
Ian McCall vs. Jarred Brooks
Early prelims, 6:30 p.m. on Fight Pass
Marcin Tybura vs. Justin Willis
Ryan LaFlare vs. Roan Carneiro
Phillipe Nover vs. Rick Glenn