Despite almost every independent promotion holding bouts in various women’s divisions the field outside the UFC is still dominated by Bellator and of course Invicta FC with no other promotion being able to sustain an active division. This is of course due to the relative small field of competitors and the UFC’s enormous appetite for them as evidenced by TUF Season 26 featuring the UFC’s new women’s flyweight division. Even Bellator can only sustain a competitive women’s flyweight division although technically they have a women’s featherweight as well.
The featherweight division has always been scarce and has always been basically all about current UFC champion Cris Justino who prior to entering the UFC was Invicta FC champion. Invicta’s current champion Megan Anderson signed to fight “Cybog” in the UFC but had to withdraw due to “personal reasons” while Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger stepped up to replace Anderson. 8-2 Anderson has only lost once in nine fights or almost four years when she was submitted by Cindy Dandois in September 2015 while her most recent fight was a TKO of Charmaine Tweet in January. The Tweet bout was originally for an interim Invicta title since Santos was still champion but Anderson was later promoted to undisputed champion. Dandois went on to lost to Alexis Davis for her UFC debut in April then followed up with victories in Cage Warriors and Rizin, Tweet hasn’t fought since the loss to Anderson in January.
Just as the UFC’s female featherweight division is based around Santos Bellator’s is based around Julia Budd. 11-2 Budd hasn’t lost since November 2011 when she was submitted by former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey while her only other loss was to current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes with both fights having taken place in Scott Coker’s original MMA promotion Strikeforce. In Bellator Budd is 5-0 with her win over former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen being for the inaugural title and her most recent win against Arlene Blencowe being her first defense. Coenen announced her retirement after the loss, Blencowe is now 10-7 or in Bellator 3-3, and Amanda Bell who is 1-1 in Bellator or 1-2 in Invicta. Bellator does however have undefeated Talita Nogueira who won the 2011 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship so there is at least one fight for Budd.
Women’s bantamweight is where the sport started and grew from the days of Jennifer Howe and Judy Neff through the UFC’s delving into the division with Ronda Rousey. Now that there are divisions at flyweight and strawweight the women’s bantamweight division outside the UFC is actually one of the sparsest. The current Invicta FC champion is Yana Kunitskaya who briefly tasted belt status in November 2016 with a defeat of Tonya Evinger that was quickly overturned to a “no contest”. Kunitskaya lost the follow-up fight against Evinger who as mentioned above moved on to the UFC while Kunitskaya went on to legitimately win the belt with a defeat of Raquel Pa’aluhi in August. Undefeated Shaianna Rincon and Sarah Kleczka are ones to keep an eye on while Invicta FC 27 is headlined by UFC vet Sarah Kaufman vs. Pannie Kianzad.
The rest of the promotions didn’t have much success with bantamweight in 2017. Technically Bellator didn’t hold a women’s bantamweight fight in 2017 however highly hyped “flyweight” Anastasia Yankova missed weight at Bellator 176 fighting instead at a catchweight of 132 making her a prospect for this division. Titan FC still lists Kalindra Faria who won the belt in September 2016 but has since moved on to the UFC where she lost to Mara Romero Borella and had a fight scheduled against Jessica Eye in January. LFA had a couple attempts at bantamweight fights with Anna Crutchfield and Courtney King emerging victorious, Alexa Conners’ win turning into a catchweight at 140.
The impact of the UFC starting up a women’s flyweight division has been felt in different ways in the independent scene. Invicta FC’s champion Jennifer Maia defended the belt against Agnieszka Niedzwiedz in December so is a top prospect to move on but post-TUF 26 the UFC has 15 ranked fighters in this class already and the division just started. Vanessa Porto returns to Invicta in January for the co-main event against
Andrea Lee was not only an Invicta vet but also the LFA champion however Lee has already signed to the UFC. Mackenzie Dern fought four times for LFA/LFC and once for Invicta but also has already signed to the UFC, her downside being she has had trouble making strawweight so usually falls under flyweight. LFA had no other fights in this weight class.
Bellator on the other hand have greatly expanded their women’s flyweight class. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane won the Bellator belt with a triangle armbar of Emily Ducote in November, a fight which upped her record to 7-0. The rest of Bellator’s class is for the most part still developing with Macfarlane defeating Ducote twice in 11 months as an example. As mentioned above Anastasia Yankova is hyped at flyweight but missed weight by seven pounds for her last fight making her a strawweight. UFC vet Valerie Letourneau seems like Macfarlane’s only significant opposition at this point with Letourneau having made her Bellator debut in December with a defeat of Kate Jackson.
Women’s strawweights outside the UFC are like Mom & Pop stores when Walmart sets up shop, they are barely noticable. Invicta FC doesn’t even have a champion in this weight class at this time. In January for instance top prospect Livia Souza makes her UFC debut soon against Jessica Aguilar. Mackenzie Dern if you call her a strawweight after only successfully making the weight one out of three times also makes her UFC debut soon. LFA briefly had Cynthia Calvillo who fought in LFA 1 in January then four times this year in the UFC, a record for female athletes. That isn’t to say there are none as Miranda Maverick and Tiffany van Soest are both still undefeated at 3-0 and as of this writing are still fighting for Invicta. LFA also held flyweight fights with Gabby Romero and Etzel Esquivel but neither are considered top prospects. Bellator meanwhile held no fights in this weight class in 2016. Note that Invicta’s atomweight champion Akaya Hamasaki moved up to strawweight in 2017 but lost to Souza, no word is available on her future weight class.
Women’s super atomweight
- Rizin GP winner: Kanna Asakura
- Others: Rena Kubota
- Invicta: Ayaka Hamasaki
- One Championship: Angela Lee
- Other: Herica Tiburcio
- Other: Miranda Maverick, Tiffany van Soest, Mizuki Inoue
- Bellator: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane
- Invicta: Jennifer Maia
- Others: Agnieszka Niedzwiedz, Karina Rodriguez, Cheri Muraski, Vanessa Porto, Pannie Kianzad, Bruna Ellen
- Invicta FC: Yana Kunitskaya
- Others: Raquel Pa’aluhi, Anastasia Yankova, Shaianna Rincon, Sarah Kleczka
- Bellator: Julia Budd
- Invicta: Megan Anderson
- Others: Charmaine Tweet, Cindy Dandois