The historic UFC 200, which will emanate from the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 9, is now 10 fights strong. The UFC’s matchmaking team has spent the last few weeks packing the anticipated card with high-profile scraps, and while we can probably expect another four or five fights to be tacked onto the bill, the lineup is closing in on completion.
Unfortunately, reception for the card’s recent matchup announcements has not been especially positive. This is particularly true of a women’s bantamweight title fight pairing new champion Miesha Tate with streaking challenger Amanda Nunes—the evening’s expected co-main event. While nobody is refuting the talent of either woman, there seems to be a widespread opinion that the fight doesn’t pack quite the wallop that we expected from one of the final additions to UFC 200. That is to say, people don’t seem sure that this bout is UFC 200 quality. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that this fight makes a good deal of sense, and is an excellent addition to the mammoth card.
This is first and foremost due to the popularity of the women’s bantamweight division. Though the superstar Ronda Rousey may be out of the picture right now, the division she once ruled still has a stranglehold on fan interest. That might simply be because we’re all interested in seeing who will be on top when Rousey finally does return, but the fact is that the division is still a needle-mover. So, tacking a women’s bantamweight title fight onto the UFC 200 lineup makes a good deal of sense.
This becomes even clearer when you consider the strengths of the new champion, Miesha Tate. Not only is she one of the division’s most talented and recognizable figures, but she’s also telegenic and well spoken. So, while it will undoubtedly be the card’s main-eventers Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz that provide the majority of UFC 200’s pre-fight sound bites, the UFC can also count on the charming and articulate Tate to help sell the card too.
Yes, from a business standpoint, having Tate defend the women’s bantamweight crown at UFC 200 is a very logical move. Many fans, however, are questioning the choice of challenger, arguing that while Nunes has proven herself to be one of the division’s top talents, she is a relative unknown amongst the casual fans whose open wallets are paramount to UFC 200’s success.
Well, here’s the simple response to those concerns: Nunes might not be a superstar, but the Brazilian, who is currently riding a three-fight streak, is the best choice currently available to Tate. A quick look at the champ’s other options is all it takes to reveal this.
The most logical alternative to Tate vs. Nunes seems to be an immediate rematch between Tate and Holly Holm, the woman Tate wrested the title from on March 5. But MMA fans are on the verge of overdosing on rematches. UFC 199, for example, is headlined by a middleweight title rematch between Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman, and co-headlined by a bantamweight title rubber match between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. Then, the night before UFC 200, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha will rematch for the strawweight crown in the main event of a UFC Fight Night. Even at UFC 200, rematches are a major theme. The main event spot is held by a welterweight scrap between Diaz and McGregor—and immediate rematch. One of the strongest features of the main card will pair Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar in an interim featherweight title fight—also a rematch. Indeed, it seems like the last thing UFC 200 needs is another rematch. This instantly deflates the appeal of Tate vs. Holm 2.
This also reduces the appeal of Tate’s defending against a returning Rousey at UFC 200. While Rousey’s comeback will be big business whenever it happens, she’s already defeated Tate twice, which makes their rematch a bit of an awkward sell. Furthermore, we know Rousey won’t be ready by July—physically or mentally. Though she may be eating apples again, the former champ is not expected to be fighting fit until the last quarter of this year.
And then there are the other options for Tate’s UFC 200 dance partner. One of the most high-profile of these choices would be Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who will make a long-awaited UFC debut at UFC 198. The glaring problem with this fight, however, is that Cyborg can’t make the bantamweight division’s 135-pound cap without chopping off a leg. This means that a potential Tate vs. Cyborg bout would not be for the belt. Given that McGregor and Diaz are not fighting for gold, and that Aldo and Edgar are fighting for the interim title, this would mean that UFC 200 would go down without a single legitimate title fight on the bill—not good for a card of its significance.
Beyond Cyborg, of course, there are bantamweight contenders like Cat Zingano and Julianna Pena, who were recently announced for a UFC 200 scrap. At a glance, either woman seems like they could have been an interesting first challenge for Tate. Yet neither deserves the fight like Nunes does.
While Zingano could be sold as a challenger on the merit of her 2013 defeat of Tate, by the time UFC 200 rolls around, it’ll have been almost a year and a half since her last fight: an emphatic, 14-second loss to Rousey. And while Pena, who won season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, is quickly becoming one of the division’s finest contenders, the fact is that she’s not quite there yet. A decision triumph over the inconsistent Jessica Eye—the marquee win on Pena’s resume—does not a title shot make.
So, there it is. Upon examining the other choices for Tate’s first defense—which is an obvious choice for the UFC 200 lineup—its clear that Nunes is far and away the best option of the bunch. Not sold? Give this booking some time to sink in, and its merits will surely dawn on you. It gives Tate a chance to work her charm and emerge as a mainstream star. It keeps the bantamweight division moving in Rousey’s stead. It’s a fresh fight in an era of rematches. And considering the talent of Tate and Nunes, it should be both competitive and entertaining. What more could we possibly ask for from the next women’s bantamweight title bout?
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