Another UFC PPV is done and into the history books as UFC 250 lived up to it’s billing with a highlight filled card.
Double champion Amanda Nunes retained her featherweight belt with a dominant performance over Felicia Spencer, where the two 50-44 scorecards were deeemed generous in Spencer’s favour. A striking masterclass from the Brazilian, who’s now on an 11-fight win streak stretching back to 2014, saw ‘The Lioness’ become the first fighter in history to defend two belts, in two different weight classes, while holding both belts simultaneously.
It means she continues her streak of cleaning out her divisions and it begs the question “who’s next?”
UFC commentators Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan began discussing this during the fifth round of her bout, such was her dominance against Spencer. Dana White said in the post-fight presser that “there is always someone next” and that he had “no interest” in making a trilogy super-fight with 125lbs champ Valentina Shevchenko because Nunes is 2-0 up. So who is really available?
When you go down the rankings of the 135lbs division, there are no stand-out challengers. #1 Germaine De Randamie and #2 Holly Holm have already been beaten recently and convincingly by Nunes. #3 is Aspen Ladd, who has won four from five of her UFC bouts. Three of those were KO/TKO victories, but the first time she stepped up to top level competition she was KO’d in 16 seconds by Germaine De Randamie. With a 9-1 record she’s best placed for a title fight but the expectation would once again be that Nunes storms to victory.
Beyond Ladd, Juliana Pena and Irene Aldana are hovering in the rankings at #4 and #5 but again neither of their CV’s stand up as a firm competitor for Nunes’ belt.
With Amanda Nunes’ revelation that she’s likely to take the rest of the year off to heal up and prepare for parenthood (her partner Nina Ansaroff is due to give birth in September), it may give the UFC a chance to build a new challenger for her.
A mini tournament between Ladd, Pena, Aldana and Ketlen Vieira could be the way forward. Aldana and Vieira fought most recently in December 2019, with Aldana earning a KO victory. Mixing the matches of the tournament up may be a way to bring new eyes to the division too with new matchmaking.
Aspen Ladd vs Irene Aldana would be an interesting battle of striking. Ladd would have to fight down the rankings which could be an issue for the likes of Sean Shelby to convince her, however the promise of a title shot with two back-to-back wins should be enough to do it.
The winner of that fight would then face the winner of Juliana Pena vs Ketlen Vieira in what could become an interesting grappling match. Pena has the advantage on the feet between the two but with Vieira’s priority to take the fight down to the ground it may not matter too much.
The winners fight each other and the UFC bill the “tournament finale” as a big deal, maybe even a co-main event slot on a PPV card to give it more eyes. While the skillset of each fighter won’t change in two fights, the reputation could grow massively. Two back-to-back performances against high level competition also makes them seem like a much more dangerous threat towards Nunes’ crown.
The Lioness right now is overseeing her kingdom with little threat of a real challenge coming her way any time soon. The UFC need to build for the post-Nunes era and this may be the only solution.