UFC: Three Women’s Bantamweights to Watch in 2017

UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes

UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC‘s women’s bantamweight division was dominated by former champion Ronda Rousey since it’s addition to the promotion in 2012. Since her first defeat in 2015, the belt has changed hands a couple of times.

Rousey was knocked out Holly Holm at UFC 193 with a vicious head kick after a little over a round of a striking clinic held by Holm. Since then the bantamweight division has lacked stability which has actually made each fight even more interesting.

Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano, and Bethe Correia before losing to Holm.

Holm was then defeated by Miesha Tate at UFC 196 where she was choked to sleep. Tate took on Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 200 and tapped to a rear-naked-choke in the first round. Three different champions in three bouts.

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Fast-forward to UFC 207 where Rousey returned for a shot at the title and was turned back in a vicious way by Nunes in a first round KO loss to the champ.

We are now in the era of ‘The Lioness’ as we look for possible matchups for the champion. For a division that Dana White famously claimed would never exist in the UFC, it turned out to be one of the more intriguing ones in all of MMA.

So now we look into 2017 with a wide open 135-pound division with plenty of prospects to take on Nunes for the title. Let’s take a look at three bantamweight fighters to watch in 2017.

UFC Bantamweight Raquel Pennington

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Raquel Pennington

‘Rocky’ seems to have spent her entire career under the radar especially with names such as Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate dominating the spotlight in the bantamweight division.

Pennington has been training MMA since she was 19-years-old and is very well-rounded as a fighter. She has good grappling and crisp striking which she seems to now prefer to use over the ground game.

Her resume sports wins over some of the best at 135-pounds including Roxanne Modafferi, Ashlee Evans-Smith, Jessica Andrade and recently Tate.

At UFC 205 Pennington defeated Tate via decision in what ended up being Tate’s last fight. Tate announced her retirement immediately following the bout. Pennington was able to control the center of the Octagon forcing Tate to fight from the outside and look for openings for takedowns from there. Early in the fight she ducked under Tate’s punches and delivered strong left hooks of her own.

In the first round, when Tate shot in for a takedown, Pennington stuffed the takedown and used an arm-in guillotine choke to force Tate to change positions. Tate eventually got the takedown but ‘Rocky’ was able to get back up using the cage.

She used the jab to keep Tate at bay as well and forced the former champion to move backward for quite a bit of the fight. Ultimately, the jab proved to be the premiere weapon in that fight with Pennington tagging Tate up badly on the way to a decision win and marked the end of overlooking Pennington as a legitimate contender.

Pennington is riding a 4-fight win streak into 2017 and is one of just a few that could be put into a title fight with champion Amanda Nunes. She’s one of the gamest fighters in the division and would make for a very good title fight.

Interesting fights for her include the loser of Julianna Peña vs. Valentina Shevchenko, a Holly Holm rematch or even Ronda Rousey should she return to MMA.

Besides, with a nickname like ‘Rocky’ who could resist the possible storylines?

Editor’s Note: Raquel Pennington recently underwent successful shoulder surgery and will be out for nine months.

UFC Bantamweight Cat Zingano

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Cat Zingano

Have you forgotten ‘Alpha’?

Seems like a lot of fans have forgotten the beast that is Cat Zingano.

The 34-year-old veteran rode a nine-fight win streak into UFC 184 where she fought Ronda Rousey for the bantamweight title. Unfortunately, she ran right into an armbar and lost the fight when she rushed recklessly at Rousey.

Reckless, yes, but fun as hell. Zingano is not afraid to get into a scrap and moves with purpose. Watch her face during a fight and you’ll see pure uncensored emotion. Her strikes make dents, and her ground game is very strong.

Against Miesha Tate in 2013, she was able to grapple with her early. When Tate shot on her at the very start of the fight Zingano was able to get a tight guillotine. Tate escaped that choke but Zingano had sent a clear message that she’s dangerous in the clinch.

After landing some brutal knees and elbows, Zingano finished Tate in the third round via TKO.

Against Amanda Nunes at UFC 178 she survived Nunes’ ground attacks in the first round and handled her in the last two rounds. Once Zingano established top position, she gassed Nunes out with a strong ground game and went to work with punches and elbows. She finished Nunes via TKO in the third round.

Sure, she lost in 14 seconds against Rousey and then lost a decision at UFC 200 to Julianna Peña, but that was after over a year layoff from the title fight. Zingano is ready and poised for a title run if she can pull off a couple of wins against top 10 fighters.

Bouts with Holly Holm, Raquel Pennington, or Valentina Shevchenko will help her to get back to the title.

Brutal knees and elbows, strong ground game, and the most primal scream you’ve ever heard in your life. What more could you want?

UFC Bantamweight Julianna Pena

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Julianna Peña

4-0 in the UFC, strong, powerful, tough, and ready for a title shot. Julianna Peña has the skill to take it to any bantamweight on the roster.

Peña has good wrestling and decent striking that has already come a long way from when she first started.

Against Jessica Eye, she moved forward looking to secure the clinch and get the takedown. After surviving elbows and knees from Eye, Peña got the trip takedown. From there she took side control and began to drop elbows. The fight went to a decision, Peña’s way.

She took on Cat Zingano at UFC 200 surviving a barrage of strikes from Cat in the first round. Zingano did take her down a couple of times in the second round, but Peña took over the ground game from there. Peña took her back a couple of times and rode that momentum into the third where she dominated Zingano.

Peña has been waiting for a title shot, asking for it, almost complaining that she hasn’t gotten her shot yet.

She’s scheduled to take on Muay Thai striker Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC Denver. Peña will be looking to clinch and take Shevchenko down as quick as possible and keep her there. It’s going to be a ground fight if Peña has her way and it will be a slow grind type of fight.

With a win over Shevchenko, ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ will secure a shot at Amanda Nunes and finally get to fight for the title she’s been working for.

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