The Women’s Strawweight Division of the UFC is one of my favorites of the entire roster. For a while, it was only Joanna Champion who reigned supreme but then it was Thug Rose. Eventually, the Colorado native got dumped on her head and even semi-retired.
The dumper, Brazilian, Jessica Andrade, took the belt and in her first defense, got smoked like a Montecristo in Havana by China’s Weili Zhang. At this point, everyone was shocked and we all felt like we entered a new era.
Maybe Weili could be the world champion for a long time or potentially even longer than Joanna. Her first defense, though…Yup. Joanna.
What a war!!! This was one of if not the greatest fight of all time. People were quick to say that it was the greatest women’s mixed martial arts fight ever and while I also agree with this statement, it may be the best ever, period.
You have to give it to Rose, though. She beat Jessica Andrade in the rematch, she beat Joanna twice, and now she has knocked out Weili Zhang to become the UFC Women’s Strawweight World Champion for the second time!
The first didn’t last for very long as she won The Ultimate Fighter reality show tournament to become the first-ever UFC Women’s Strawweight World Champion only to get absolutely destroyed in her first defense of the title by Joanna whose last name will be omitted for time purposes but y’all know the lady. Just call her Joanna Champion because even if she doesn’t have the belt, she is still the world champion in her own eyes.
There are actually no fights scheduled for any of the top ten of this division right now which is kind of strange but it won’t stop us. Let’s play handicapper today as well as matchmaker because I think I have a good idea who will be next for a few of these ladies.
Mackenzie Dern vs Marina Rodriguez
Okay, this one isn’t signed yet but UFC President Dana White has said that it won’t be long. Both Brazilians have agreed to fight and this one is a contrast in styles if I have ever seen it.
Both women have high ceilings and each got their start in professional mixed martial arts at a later age.
She reached the pinnacle of that sport and that is when she decided to make the move to mixed martial arts.
Mack may have got it going too early, though, because it has taken a while for her to get her other skills outside of playing BJJ up to the UFC level.
Her ability to get the fight to the mat or her wrestling is weaker than most and she, of course, is just another striker without it. That is where the submission masters struggle.
Dern has improved her wrestling but even then, these are the smallest women in the UFC and, of course, the smallest competitors overall in the UFC.
This makes it even more difficult for her to tie up with her opponents and this is accentuated by the fact that she has more or less the best Jiu Jitsu on the planet so her opponents have to sell out to stay on their feet.
This makes things very difficult for her. Even with improved wrestling, she was still struggling. Why? Well, her striking wasn’t good enough. She does have natural power in her hands but the technical boxing was never really there.
She needed this technique to get her opponents thinking about something other than the inevitable takedown attempt. This was about the time that Mackenzie began training with Jason Parillo in Orange County.
Jason is one of the best boxing coaches in MMA. He is the man responsible for leading Michael Bisping to a world title in case you were questioning his credentials. The guy is legit. Heck, even Bisping’s old nemesis, Luke Rockhold, is training there now…and with the help of Mike if I might add.
Parillo is the man and he is part of the reason I took Mackenzie to get the decision win over Virna Jandiroba in her last fight. I’m pretty sure that was a (+350) or even higher payout too which was silly and if Virna would have got the win, I still wouldn’t be mad at that play.
They thought Mackenzie was submission or bust but against another great BJJ player, it made sense that Virna could survive but Mack would be a little cleaner on the feet. That’s how it played out.
Dern has hands now but I don’t think she will have any sort of advantage on the feet OTHER THAN the threat of the takedown against Marina Rodriguez. I emphasize that because it is a major threat and I don’t know how many of you saw Conor McGregor fight Khabib Numragomedov but Khabib dropped a far better striker.
Casuals will say it was because Conor sucks or Khab is that good everywhere but it was a classic fake level change into an overhand right. It was thrown in the classic manner and attempted to be defended in a classic manner.
This technique could very well be used by Mackenzie in this fight. We have seen Marina’s weakness and it is her takedown defense and ground game. The two women are light years apart on the mat and several years apart on the feet.
That’s tough because you can’t factor in the submissions without the takedown. I think this is a pretty even fight to be honest with you.
Marina is a special fighter and both women have seen their respective wrestling games improve since their first fight for the UFC inside the Octagon.
Mackenzie, though, is already a world champion grappler and she has the biggest edge of any one particular area this fight ends up going.
That is the biggest question at hand, no doubt, because she only needs one takedown. Heck, she could jump her back on the feet and get to the neck from there. Mackenzie could also clip Marina.
Take Marina’s last three fights before her most recent win over a non grappler in Michelle Waterson. She got taken down 9 times on just 14 of her opponents’ attempts. She doesn’t want to be on her back, of course, but what were the results of those fights?
- A win.
- A draw.
- And a split decision loss.
Not bad, considering her takedown defense was virtually non-existent in those fights. Guys, she isn’t going to simply get up or hang on if she is on the bottom with Mackenzie Dern.
Heck no, Dern isn’t there or she would be a world champion already. Amanda Ribas beat Mackenzie and Cynthia Calvillo is probably a better wrestler than Mackenzie as well but Dern knows the formula.
That’s what martial arts does for you. It teaches you to strive for perfection. That’s just one benefit but we will focus there. How to strive for perfection, I should say.
You think you have it and then you realize you know nothing and you find new ways to learn and work harder/more efficiently to perfect your craft even more. If Mackenzie is arguably the best female grappler on planet earth then she knows the way and has a positive attitude towards competing.
There is no betting line released yet for this fight so our blind handicap will be Mackenzie Dern (-145) vs Marina Rodriguez (+125).
It’s about 60/40 at the most for either lady. I don’t think you can take it much farther than that.
Weili Zhang vs Joanna Champion
Because, why not, right?!
How do you not make this fight? These two women put on one of the best shows you will ever see in your life. I don’t care if you watch the UFC every week until you’re 85 years old. You won’t forget Joanna vs Weili.
AND STILL. 🏆
— UFC (@ufc) March 8, 2020
None of us will. The star trek head of the former world champion, Joanna…
Did the Polish warrior slow up after that? Heck no! It appeared that Joanna might be more of a bully after Rose Namajunas literally stood up to her and fought her on the feet for a convincing two victories.
She showed us in her first fight with Weili that she has the heart of a lion, and Zhang can say the same. It was nothing short of remarkable what those two women were able to do for 25 minutes of nonstop action.
The entire world wants to see this fight again and now that both women are coming off of losses, Joanna’s being the Weili fight and Zhang, of course, was just knocked out by a Thuggish head kick from Rose Namajunas.
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) April 25, 2021
I like Weili’s game but she may be a little bit too deep rooted into the Thai boxing game and that is coming from a Muay Thai over everything kinda guy.
It is an art that the Thais, who have never been colonized, by the way, have used for over 1,000 years to defend their country.
It morphed into a ring art but there are no double and single leg takedowns, at least not until you catch your opponent’s kick.
Khalil Rountree Jr is my boy. We trained together for years and have the same mentor but he stands too tall like a Thai fighter and it contributes to him having so much difficulty defending takedowns.
You hear the commentators only refer to the plum or the necktie with two of your hands on the back of your opponent’s head. The object is to pull their body and or head into your knees and elbows from there.
In fact, you rarely see it in a high level fight in Thailand because these guys and girls are just so good at defending it. Weili and Joanna are both well versed here and I would love to see what happens when they both get time to work.
Weili, after her loss to Rose, is taking a page from the new champion’s playbook. The caption mentions a return to her Sanda ways so maybe she is seeing a flaw in her striking and being too “Muay Thai” for the highest level of the UFC.
How do we cap this fight? Well, I went back and watched the first meeting of the two a few minutes ago and I have to be honest. This one is pretty close to 50/50.
If you look at the box score, if you will, from the first fight, Joanna got the better of her and landed at 51% to Weili’s 40% in significant strikes. That is a big difference but you want to know what was also BIG?
Damage should be scored very high and you have to count that but what are the odds of it happening again? Exactly. So, we have to watch the tape and use the statistics as a supplement to said fight tape.
The tape has me stumped so supplementation it is! Joanna was the sharper fighter in there. Weili threw more and obviously did more damage.
She neglected the body, though. Joanna landed 3 times as many significant strikes there. You know, I have to edge Joanna here but not by much.
If they do make this fight and you feel confident enough to bet on it, go ahead, but in my opinion, sit back and enjoy this one because, well, you saw the first fight…
Rose Namajunas vs Carla Esparza
I had to do it!
Shout out to Carla! Everyone and their great aunt Glenda was on Yan Xiaonan to piece up The Cookie Monster for 3 rounds but wow, Carla Esparza 2.0 is a different animal altogether.
Forever a villain to the fans for her lay and pray style of fighting, Carla has finally evolved into the savage she apparently always was.
She has an entirely different mentality in there and quite frankly, it is pretty scary.
I have been watching this woman fight now for nearly a decade and a couple of fights ago, I could see her striking coming around but she was still Carla. She let that monster out, though, against Yan and I am officially on the bandwagon.
Will it be enough to defeat Rose Namajunas?
If you think about it, though, she is about the worst matchup you can imagine for Rose. If Namajunas fights a BJJ girl, she beats her up on the feet. If she fights a striker like the aforementioned two ladies, Weili and Joanna, she TKO’s them.
So, a wrestler could be a problem. Carla will have to watch her limbs on the mat but Rose better watch her face for those elbows IF the fight even gets to the mat.
Well, except for Carla Esparza who submitted her with a rear naked choke on The Ultimate Fighter reality show for the UFC Women’s Strawweight World Title. The Cookie Monster said, I been here for years!
Jessica Andrade is literally the only other grappling-based fighter that Rose has fought in her 7 years fighting for the UFC and Rose got slammed on her head in their first meeting. I know Rose can grapple very well and she will have a length and leverage advantage over Carla if they fight but Esparza will have the strength on her side.
One thing Rose will have going for her is being 5 years younger. Carla will be 34 this year while Rose turns 29. That is enough to be noted but let’s be real. Have we ever seen a better Carla Esparza than we did a few weeks ago?
I think the sportsbooks will go in the opposite direction but I don’t care. Carla looks like the very best version of herself and stylistically, she matches up with Rose Namajunas better than the inverse.
That was a lot of fun and I learned quite a bit. I think we nailed it too!
Obviously, I believe in the lines we set or we wouldn’t have set them where they are but all of the fights we made today are super interesting and very well-matched.
I can’t wait for this one. I can see either woman getting their hand raised but Marina has only defended 5 of 14 takedown attempts from 3 of her last 4 fights.
As for Weili and Joanna, I don’t expect it to be as good as the first fight and I don’t know how it could be but this sport continues to surprise us with how quickly it is evolving so you never know.
I hope the UFC makes this fight sooner than later because we get to see two women, both with momentum on their side, clash styles and body types in a world championship Women’s Strawweight war.