The UFC women’s division has come a long way in the last year, and Ronda Rousey is no longer the only female that can main event a pay-per-view. With a few big names now in the women’s bantamweight title picture, there are multiple marquee matchups that can be made in 2016.
After beating Holly Holm for the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 196, Miesha Tate will defend her championship on July 9 at UFC 200. The champ’s next fight was expected to be against Rousey, who hasn’t been in the octagon since she dropped the belt to Holm in November, but Tate will instead be challenged by Amanda Nunes.
Nunes has never challenged for the belt, and she gets the title opportunity after winning three straight fights. Nunes fought at UFC 196, as well, defeating Valentina Shevchenko by unanimous decision.
Much of the sports world is waiting to see Rousey fight again. Before her shocking loss to Holm, Rousey was arguably the sport’s biggest star, male or female, winning her first 12 fights in dominant fashion. Two of those victories came against Tate, who was Rousey’s toughest challenge before she was upset by Holm. Tate says she would be willing to face Holm again down the line, but she’s hoping for a third fight against Rousey if she can retain the title in July.
“I feel like I have unfinished business there,” Tate said on FS1 last week, referring to Rousey. Tate didn’t make it out of the first round against Rousey when they first met in 2012, but she became the only woman to reach the third round against Rousey in late 2013 before she submitted to an armbar.
Rousey isn't available to fight in July because she will be filming a movie. A title fight between Rousey and Tate might not take place until the final quarter of 2016.
Tate’s plans could mean that Holm will have to wait until 2017 for a shot at winning back the belt, and her title opportunity might have to come in a rematch against Rousey. Holm was hoping to meet Tate at UFC 200 since she probably would have retained the belt if she could have survived the final round of their UFC 196 fight.
"As far as how she won the belt, it wasn't like she was just dominating me," Holm told Ariel Helwani on Monday on The MMA Hour. "I was ahead. I was winning that fight. And yeah, she totally had round two and dominated round two. But in my eyes and I think most people's eyes, that's why a rematch made sense. It wasn't like really one-sided. I felt like I was winning and she came with a submission in the end. I don't see why they wouldn't want to see a rematch with something like that."
But the women’s division is deeper than ever, and Holm doesn’t have to wait for a title shot in order to land a marquee fight. Cris “Cyborg” Justino is set to have her first UFC fight next month, facing Leslie Smith at a catchweight of 140 pounds on May 14 at UFC 198. Holm passed up the fight when it was offered to her, hoping she would get her rematch with Tate.
"We were not interested in that right now," Holm’s manager, Lenny Fresquez, told the Albuquerque Journal on Mar. 31, regarding the fight with Justino at UFC 198. "(Holm) just wants to fight Miesha."
But with the realization that Holm might have to wait a while for a shot at the belt, a fight against Justino in 2016 might seem like a better option than it did a few weeks ago. Soon after she beat Rousey, Holm said she would be open to facing Justino, even at a heavier weight.
Holm vs. Tate was the co-main event of UFC 196, which reportedly sold around 1.5 million PPV buys. Before Holm dropped the title UFC president Dana White predicted that a Rousey-Holm rematch could sell close to two million PPV buys.