This Saturday night in the UFC 208 main event, a new champion will be crowned as the Women’s Featherweight division finally opens in admittedly bizarre and confusing fashion. However, behind that quite heavy mist of confusion is a genuinely intriguing clash of elite strikers that have taken very different paths to this fascinating point. One brings name value and a game with strengths and weaknesses that have been shown and proven on the biggest stage. The other brings a vicious under the radar striking skillset that has been often undermined by inactivity and inconsistency. Either way, whilst certainly not a marquee matchup, there’s a definite interest in this upcoming PPV headliner.
Dutch striker Germaine De Randamie made her MMA debut in December 2008, losing via submission to Vanessa Porto. It’s indicative of ‘The Iron Lady’s career that over eight years later she has only entered the cage on eight occasions since that night. In fact, it was almost two years after that unsuccessful debut that De Randamie returned, outpointing Nikohl Johnson to earn a spot in Strikeforce. In January 2011, her promotional debut would come and in successful fashion too when she scored a first round knockout Stephanie Webber. Unfortunately though De Randamie’s momentum would be quickly halted as she came up short against Julia Budd in a fight that somewhat exposed her lack of grappling skills.
That defeat would be worsened by more inactivity too as De Randamie didn’t return until almost 14 months later. Nonetheless she would be victorious, using her smooth striking to comfortably defeat Hiroko Yamanaka. Once again though, De Randamie would be unable to capitalise on her victory due to another long layoff, not fighting again until over eleven months later. Regardless, that fight would be a pivotal one in the Dutchwoman’s career as it would mark her UFC debut. In one of the first female fights inside the octagon, De Randamie would use her clinch and physicality to closely outscore veteran Julie Kedzie, making her UFC debut a successful one.
With a new home promotion De Randamie would finally make a quicker return to competition, fighting Amanda Nunes just over three months later. However, whilst on paper it seemed to be a match of hard hitting strikers, Nunes would highlight her opponent’s flaws by scoring an early takedown before quickly finishing De Randamie with ground and pound. The loss was a revealing one and it would be well over a year until the striker returned as inactivity stunted her progress once more. Nonetheless, that return would again be a successful one as De Randamie put on a striking clinic to score a dominant 2nd round stoppage victory over Larissa Pacheco.
On the surface little had changed in the Woman’s Bantamweight division since De Randamie’s last fight sixteen months prior. Ronda Rousey was still the dominant champion with Miesha Tate the consistent and scrappy second best. However, two weeks before De Randamie’s victorious return we had seen the debut of a new contender, her name was Holly Holm. Making her MMA debut in March 2011, the former multi-time Boxing champion had been carefully managed to an impressive record of 7-0 with six knockouts. After much speculation and discussion Holm had finally joined the UFC but her debut was deemed a somewhat underwhelming one as ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ narrowly outpointed a then unheralded Raquel Pennington.
With the hype now slightly lessened, Holm would look better in her second showing even if still unspectacular as she defeated Marion Reneau on points. With the contender list almost empty and a planned Miesha Tate rematch out of favour with management, Ronda Rousey needed a both credible and commercially viable opponent. The only name that seemed to fit that bill, Holly Holm was suddenly awarded a shot at the world title after just two fights inside the octagon. The clash of two undefeated women, one a Boxing champion and the other a Judo Olympian was an appealing one to the casual viewer but seemed a mismatch to the more experienced onlooker.
That very common theory would be vehemently and violently vanquished on fight night though as Holm unforgettably battered Rousey before knocking her unconscious with a devastating head kick. In startlingly dominant fashion, Holly Holm had become the UFC Bantamweight champion and in doing so, skyrocketed her fame and popularity. On the biggest night under the brightest lights, Holly Holm had shined and all of her strengths had been accentuated by Rousey’s questionable and somewhat naïve tactics. To the less educated Holm had now supplanted Rousey as the unbeatable destroyer, but the analytical eye couldn’t forget the lingering concerns that had come with her first two octagon showings.
Those concerns would quickly come to fruition too as less than four months after her coronation, Holm was unseated as champion by the aforementioned Miesha Tate. As had been suggested before, Holm was a less impressive force when she was made to lead and Tate forced her to do just that, circling patiently until takedown opportunities arose. Though Holm was admirable in her heart and concentration, eventually Tate’s determination would be too much for her as she was choked unconscious in the fifth and final round. It had been a brief stint as champion for the only recently crowned queen, and the wider audience had now been exposed to the flaws and weaknesses that had been somewhat ignored following the Rousey destruction.
Meanwhile as Holly Holm had both won and lost UFC gold in stunning fashion, Germaine De Randamie hadn’t fought once, watching as the division’s foundations changed in almost every way. Two months after Miesha Tate’s victory though and ‘The Iron Lady’ finally returned, fighting in her home country against Anna Elmose. Even with the 14 month layoff, De Randamie looked sharper than ever, battering Elmose before quickly finishing her with a brutal salvo of knees in the clinch. Slowly rising up the division, De Randamie was still struggling to gain any notoriety even though her rare but sporadic performances were mostly impressive. Whether it be due to card placement, inactivity or inconsistency, Germaine De Randamie just wasn’t a factor in the discussion of top 135lbs female fighters.
Holly Holm on the other hand, still very much was and next would be booked in a FOX headline clash with fellow striking specialist Valentina Shevchenko. Once again, though favoured Holm would struggle to force the action when unable to counter and the roles were in fact reversed as Shevchenko regularly outboxed her to take a clear five round decision win. In a matter of mere months, Holly Holm had lost again on the big stage and was left stranded in the now rapidly changing Bantamweight division. However, the UFC needs PPV main events and with a lack of available of belt-holders, it was apparently now immediately necessary for the Women’s Featherweight division to begin after years of seemingly no interest.
The fight wouldn’t involve the long-time division dominator Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino though due to their desperate rush and with that came opportunities. Instead the fight would bizarrely be a match between Bantamweight fighters Holly Holm and Germaine De Randamie. In fairness, a recent ‘Cyborg’ failed drug test has understandably silenced some of the complaints surrounding her omission from the inaugural title fight, but it still must be said that the choice opted for is certainly out of left field. In reality though it’s not all that surprising as PPVs simply need to be sold and even if far from well known, De Randamie has UFC credibility and Holm is a legitimately popular fighter.
Regardless of all those surrounding financial factors though, inside the cage there is a genuine intrigue. Two excellent strikers, one with a chance to propel her career and the other a shot at revitalising redemption. For De Randamie, it’s a chance to show the world her ability as she performs on the biggest stage of her career. For Holm, it’s a chance to regain some of what came with that first UFC title victory. One fighter is an almost unknown and unheralded talent, the other a fighter capable of greatness that has both thrived and fallen in front of the world. They have one link though: striking excellence, and that’s what will shine through on fight night.