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UFC on FOX 20 Aftermath: Bedlam in the women's bantamweight division

Esther Lin photo

The UFC has faced relentless criticism over the past couple years for making money fights over the bouts that adhere to pure sport.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz at welterweight? Twice? Sure, why not put the entire featherweight division on ice for a year, and create an interim title when the champion isn't hurt?

Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson in a rumored rematch for the middleweight title? Take a seat, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman, and let the story play out.

And so on, and so forth.

Curiously, the one marquee division in which the company hasn't let the promise of the biggest bucks get in the way of the divisional scheme is women's bantamweight, of which we were so vividly reminded at Saturday's UFC on FOX 20.

Rather than go with a ready-made rematch between Miesha Tate and Holly Holm at UFC 200, coming off Tate's stunning fifth-round submission win over Holm to claim the bantamweight belt at UFC 196, Tate asked for and got Amanda Nunes, followed just two weeks later by Holm vs. Valentina Shevchenko.

What unfolded was a demonstration of just how deep the talent runs at 135 pounds these days. Nunes mauled Tate in the first round and claimed the title. Shevchenko had her way with Holm, who has stunningly dropped two in a row since beating Rousey last November. And, while we're at it, Cat Zingano, who seemed poise to crack the top tier once again, was swept aside by the rising Julianna Pena at UFC 200.

It makes for an exciting time for hardcore fans, who have a bunch of new matchups to ponder.

It's also a disaster for luring in the casual fans who made 2015 such a blockbuster year. Rousey's return will be big no matter who she fights. But, with all due respect to the superb talents of Nunes and Shevchenko, the UFC's gone from having multiple 135-pound women's title fights which could headline major events to a potential Nunes-Shevchenko matchup which has "Fight Pass card in Europe" written all over it.

Last year will forever go down as the example as to how big this sport can blow up when everything clicks. This month, however, has been a reminder just how wildly unpredictable this sport can get, and how the best-set plans can be blown to bits.

UFC on FOX 20 quotes

"I have to get back in there and go forward. I know I'm capable of more. I just have to believe in myself more. I know I can do more than the way I performed tonight." -- Holly Holm, on her loss to Shevchenko.

"I worked on getting my anxiety under control which was a huge factor. And this was the first fight where I felt relaxed and where I felt like I did everything in the fight I know I'm capable of, things I do in the gym." -- Felice Herrig, on her impressive win over Kailin Curran

"My biggest goal is to pay my house off so my wife doesn't have to continue to work. I would like it so my wife doesn't have to work, and if I could pay the house down low enough and refinance, she doesn't have to go back to work." -- Eddie Wineland, on what he'll do with his $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus after defeating Frankie Saenz

"She's definitely scared. I'm ready for five rounds, for sure. I will take whoever I need to fight next. But I think she's definitely scared." -- Shevchenko on Nunes, who handed Shevchenko her only UFC defeat

Stock report

Up: Edson Barboza. Finally, Barboza has rounded into the legitimate title contention that's been expected of him for so long. Barboza masterfully picked apart Gilbert Melendez on Saturday night, with swift and brutal kicks, and just as important, highly improved takedown defense. The guy who once seemed to make mental lapses at the worst time has been replaced into a patient and smart fighter who's now scored back-to-back victories over Melendez and Pettis. Barboza's evolution from the fighter who lost to a downtrending Jamie Varner to the fighter he is today has been a joy to behold.

Down: Gilbert Melendez. Melendez's other UFC losses have been easy to justify. He probably should have gotten the call against Benson Henderson; he was winning against Pettis until he made a mistake and lost in the blink of an eye; he lost a tight one to Eddie Alvarez. The loss to Barboza, though, is disconcerting. Coming off a PED suspension, the former Strikeforce and WEC champ simply didn't look like the Melendez of old. With a 1-4 record in the UFC, "En Niño" needs to go back to the drawing board and fast.

Up: Francis Ngannou. It's hard not to get excited when a fresh faces comes along and starts making waves in the heavyweight division. Ngannou improved to 3-0 in the UFC by running over Bohan Mihajlovic, making for his third straight knockout victory in the UFC and seventh straight finishes overall. While it's way to soon to call the 29-year-old Parisian by way of Cameroon a contender, a step up in competition is certainly called for at this point.

Up: Felice Herrig. Time off appears to have done Herrig a world of good. Herrig put on an inspired performance in taking our Kailin Curran on Saturday night, moving into position for a rear-naked choke and sticking with it despite Curran's best efforts at shaking it off. Herrig's always been as newsworthy for her social media presence as anything else, perhaps now she'll make a real run in the strawweight division to go with it.

Up: Eddie Wineland Did the inaugural WEC bantamweight champion's knockout win over Frankie Saenz mean he's going to once again become a contender at 135 pounds? Probably not. But with so much rapid turnover in the sport over the past couple years, there was something fun in seeing Wineland, one of the sport's good guys, win with his bread and butter after a tough couple years. If Wineland has a few more fights like this left in him, we all win.

Interesting calls

Hallelujah ... after all these years, we've finally seen a referee dock a point for a fence grab. John McCarthy penalized Alexander Yakovlev for grabbing the fence in his unanimous-decision loss to Kamara Usman, after Yakovlev grabbed the fence early, often, and in a blatant manner. Sure, we had to see about a billion of them happen before one finally got called, but this was at least a step in the right direction.

Joe Rogan's protestations to the contrary, Herb Dean's stoppage in the Ngannou-Mihajlovic fight was fine. It was pretty clear in the replay that Mihajlovic went limp from one of Ngannou's hammerfists and then came back around. At that point, Dean can stop the fight any time.

Fight I'd like to see next: Barboza vs. any elite lightweight

There's an embarrassment of riches atop the lightweight division at the moment. How do you even go ahead and book things at the top, with the likes of champion Eddie Alvarez, a newly minted superstar in Diaz, the incredibly exciting Tony Ferguson, former champion Rafael dos Anjos, and a cold-blooded killer in Khabib Nurmagemedov? After knocking off Pettis and Melendez, Barboza's name belongs in that mix. And it's hard to pick just one out of the bunch, because you could throw all of these guys' names into a hat, pick matchups at random, and probably never go wrong.

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