The Strawweight Division’s Value

Fighters are building extensive legacies across numerous divisions in the UFC. At Saturday night’s UFC 261 pay-per-view event, Kamaru Usman notched yet another title defense to his welterweight run, further clearing out a division that he has dominated since 2019. The victory gave him his fourth title defense, putting him just a little closer to the still distant record of nine wins by all-time great Georges St. Pierre.

The dominance from Usman is similar to what is being seen in other weight classes. People like Israel Adesanya and, as shown last night, Valentina Shevchenko, have built up quite the resume of wins through their past few fights.

But that’s not the case for everyone. There are some divisions where the belt is like a hot potato, and the matchups are less predictable than ever. If there’s a division to best encapsulate this idea currently, it’s the strawweights.

At UFC 261, the UFC Strawweight Championship changed hands yet again. In a shocking and sudden manner, Rose Namajunas started her second reign as champion with a head kick knockdown of Zhang Weili. Namajunas had previously held the belt back in 2019, although she lost it after taking a brutal slam loss to Jessica Andrade in Brazil. The dramatic loss back then for Namajunas was just one of the many memorable bouts that the division has put on as of late.

The top fighters at strawweight have now all taken a loss to at least one other fighter among the ranks, making it a competitive weight class at the top of the ranks.

The unfortunate side of things is the weight class is not being promoted as one of the most exciting – and quite frankly it never has. Since its inception in 2014, the UFC Strawweight Championship has been put on the line 13 times. In those appearances, it has only been showcased in the main event of one pay-per-view card and three times in the main event of TV “Fight Night” cards, which rarely air title fights in the first place.

Most of the title fights have taken place during PPV weekends, although they have often played second (or even third) fiddle to another fight that is the greater attraction. But why? It’s hard to explain. At this point, the strawweight division provides a case as one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC. The fights have been consistently explosive and the results have been often surprising.

Every title fight in recent years has been fan-friendly highlight-reel action. If you want quick finishes, look to Zhang’s 2019 victory against Jessica Andrade, or look at Namajunas’ win just last weekend. If you crave a longer fight to watch, settle in for the 25-minute striking war that was Zhang against Jedrzejczyk.

There’s one thing that the strawweight division doesn’t have, and that’s a long-standing champion. A case could be made that this hurts the division’s ability to build up a star that could be marketed to the public. And that’s fair, but that’s the formula that’s being seen in numerous divisions currently. With that being said, what has made so many fights in the division interesting as of late was the unpredictability.

When Namajunas started her first title run in 2017, she defeated Jedrzejczyk while being billed as a heavy underdog. Similarly, she entered Saturday’s bout as an underdog and prevailed again.

Zhang’s first title win in 2019 also saw her enter as an underdog, despite needing only 42 seconds to score a win.

The unpredictability of the fights, and how close some of the fights have been, makes for quite the viewing experience. In the end, what brings the “Fight Night” jitters to many matchups is the unpredictability of what will happen. The strawweight division currently produces that like no other, and it’s time they get put on a brighter stage while doing so.

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