UFC 208 in Brooklyn another sign of growing women’s MMA

Ronda Rousey may never fight again, but her mixed martial arts legacy continues to grow each time the UFC adds a new women’s division.

The latest addition, featherweight, will debut in Saturday’s UFC 208 pay-per-view main event at Barclays Center when Holly Holm faces Germaine de Randamie in the inaugural championship bout.

Nearly four years ago, it was Rousey who competed in the UFC’s first women’s fight, winning the inaugural bantamweight championship fight after proving to UFC brass under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner that female fighters can be bankable stars. The UFC added a strawweight (115-pound) division after the success Rousey and her peers achieved.

Rousey’s reign in the 135-pound weight class lasted until November 2015, when Holm stunned the longtime champ with a knockout victory. Now, it’s Holm’s turn to play pioneer at 145 pounds.

The arrival of featherweight to the UFC is, to some degree, overshadowed by the woman who won’t be fighting in Brooklyn, and it’s not Rousey. Cris “Cyborg” Justino has been regarded as the best female featherweight in MMA for years, and hasn’t lost since her debut in 2005. Her last 11 wins have come via knockout, and she is 2-0 in the UFC while competing in 140-pound catchweight bouts.

But UFC president Dana White said Cyborg declined two proposed title fights and, shortly thereafter, news of a failed test for a banned diuretic spread. She is appealing the test, conducted by USADA, but faces the possibility of a lengthy suspension.

A championship bout featuring Cyborg seems inevitable, but that’s down the road. This weekend, it’s all about Holm and de Randamie.

“At the end of the day, it’s me versus Holly this weekend,” de Randamie told Newsday on Wednesday. “It’s not Cris versus me or Cris versus Holly. It’s Holly and me fighting, not Cris, so it is what it is, I’m sorry.”

Holm, a former boxing champion who dropped the UFC bantamweight crown last March, is aiming to become the first women to become a UFC champion in two weight classes. De Randamie, who won numerous kickboxing titles before focusing on MMA, has lost only to current bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes since arriving in the UFC in 2013.

The 145-pound weight class currently lacks depth, but more women may follow Holm and de Randamie from bantamweight. And, with a clear path to the UFC, perhaps more athletes will pursue an MMA career. Two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo Kayla Harrison is looking to debut in the sport and likely would fight at 145.

“I bet you right now, there’s girls saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they opened a 145 [division]. I bet I can make that,’ ” Holm told MMA Fighting.

At this rate, flyweight (125-pound) and atomweight (105-pound) UFC divisions may not be far behind. Their additions would up the total to five women’s divisions. The overwhelming majority of female fighters compete between 105 and 145 pounds.

Should that day arrive, chalk up a few more victories for Rousey. And, for that matter, whichever woman claims the first featherweight crown Saturday.

Scott’s picks

amNewYork predicts USaturday’s UFC 208 winners (weight limit in parentheses):

  • Holly Holm over Germaine de Randamie (145): Tough call, but Holm’s success against superior competition will help her overcome reach and height disadvantages.
  • Anderson Silva over Derek Brunson (185): The Spider is a GOAT, and even at 41 he’s not washed up yet.
  • Ronaldo Souza over Tim Boetsch (185): Jacare, a ground wizard and solid striker, has this in the bag. But Boetsch has pulled off shocking upsets before.
  • Glover Teixeira over Jared Cannonier (205): Cannonier is taking a steep leap up in competition. Seems like too much, too soon.
  • Dustin Poirier over Jim Miller (155): The Diamond hits hard and is a slick grappler. Still, submission-minded Miller has a good shot in a ground war.
  • Randy Brown over Belal Muhammad (170)
  • Wilson Reis over Ulka Sasaki (125)
  • Nik Lentz over Islam Makhachev (155)
  • Jarred Brooks over Ian McCall (125)
  • Marcin Tybura over Justin Willis (265)
  • Ryan LaFlare over Roan Carneiro (170)
  • Rick Glenn over Phillipe Nover (145)