Alan Jouban laments fall of the UFC women’s bantamweights: ‘The division is in shambles’
Raquel Pennington was crowned the new UFC women’s bantamweight champion with a grueling win over Mayra Bueno Silva at UFC 287. Her first title defense is likely coming against Julianna Pena later this year.
Pena, who holds a win over arguably the greatest women’s fighter of all-time in Amanda Nunes, hasn’t competed since 2022, she’s 3-2 in her last five fights, and she doesn’t actually own a victory over anybody on the current, active UFC roster. Meanwhile, based solely on the UFC rankings there are only two fighters competing at 135 pounds under the age of 30 — Karol Rosa and Chelsea Chandler — and they possess a combined 7-4 record in the UFC with both fighters currently coming off losses.
It wasn’t long ago that women’s bantamweight was a marquee division with stars like Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, and Miesha Tate all competing there. That’s a far cry from the diminished roster that currently fights there now, and UFC analyst Alan Jouban admits it’s really started to concern him for the future of that division.
“There was a while, maybe even still, where the men’s light heavyweight division just made no sense,” Jouban explained on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “When Jon Jones left, and [Daniel Cormier] went up, and all these things happened and it’s just new champ after new champ and all the things that happened with the draws and the no-contests, this and that. The division makes no sense. There’s no clear cut contender or superstar. Obviously, [Alex] Pereira came in and now wears the gold. We look at the women’s division, the bantamweights, and you said it pretty good — it’s a wasteland.”
Jouban pegs Pena as the biggest draw at 135 pounds, but it’s still hard to argue that she’s truly the best in the world, especially after her most recent performance was a one-sided drubbing from Nunes back in 2022.
“It’s crazy to me that when you look at the top 15 in that division, the biggest star in that division is Julianna Pena because she can talk it,” Jouban said. “She’s the one that realistically when we talk about Pena, she’s tough. But you can’t just have a champion that’s tough, and she has a gimmick where she likes to talk trash. It does make it more entertaining than some of the girls that aren’t as polished in the PR department of selling fights.
“But when you think about she shocked the world, she beat Amanda Nunes, but then I look at the rematch, and we kind of saw what reality looks like in that five-round beatdown. It really was, it was a beatdown for 25 minutes.”
Outside of Pena at the top, Jouban really doesn’t see anybody else that immediately stands out to him as either a true No. 1 contender or a prospect worth watching for the future.
A deep dive on the rankings didn’t provide much hope either with the overall roster at 135 pounds looking puddle deep right now.
“Really, I look deep down and I’m looking at the rest of the division, the top 15, trying to find some spark, some glimmer of hope,” Jouban said. “Who’s on there? Holly Holm is No. 6. Irene Aldana had a shot. Ketlen Vieira, [Mayra] Bueno Silva, there’s nobody on there. Miesha Tate’s in the top 15, love Miesha, but her time has came and passed. The division is in shambles for awhile and we’re going to have to find a way to correct that or find some new stars to emerge.
“There’s nobody that just stands out or has something about them that’s special. Those people are gone so now the people that were at the middle of the division are at the top of the division.”
The other two women’s divisions in the UFC have seen consistent growth or at least the emergence of legitimate contenders in recent years. Flyweight has arguably become the best division for women in the UFC with an amalgamation of fighters who previously competed at either 135 or 115 pounds plus prospects who eventually evolved into contenders like Erin Blanchfield.
At strawweight, Tatiana Suarez has long been pegged as a future champion but she’s not alone, especially with fighters like Amanda Lemos, Loopy Godinez and even Gillian Robertson getting attention lately.
That’s just not the case at bantamweight where the UFC’s own website has 72 fighters listed at 135 pounds but still includes fighters like Shayna Baszler, Bethe Correia and Sarah Kaufman, who have all retired. Even former Strikeforce star Gina Carano is listed in the division despite the fact that she never competed in the UFC and hasn’t fought since 2009.
“That’s a problem,” Jouban said. “We’re going to have to figure this out. I don’t think the fans are going to be happy with some of the title fights or main events that we’re going to be getting. I keep scrolling for it looking. I look at No. 15, Chelsea Chandler. She’s 5-2. She’s got seven professional fights under her belt and she’s No. 15 in the world. Then a lot of the girls above her, they only have 10 or 11 fights.
“Julianna Pena’s the only one that’s going to get on a microphone to try and sell a fight worth watching even though you might not care about the fight. You’re going to care about the back and forth. The intrigue. If it’s not the two best fighters in the world or believably the two best fighters, at least create some intrigue but Julianna Pena’s the only one.”
Just after UFC 297 ended this past weekend, Nunes hinted that her retirement could potentially come to an end after she called it a career this past June and relinquished both of her belts at 135 and 145 pounds.
As much as it might inject some excitement to get Nunes back, Jouban doesn’t believe that solves any long term problems that plague the bantamweight division.
“Even if Amanda comes out of retirement, yeah it would give a little bump, oh OK, that’s exciting news but that doesn’t fix the division,” Jouban said. “Because even when Amanda was here, it was Amanda fighting the next girl in line, the next girl in line. Now there’s no Amanda and the next girl in line is the champion.
“Bantamweight division, we’ve got some work to do. We need some new stars to emerge very soon in the UFC.”