When bantamweights Alexis Davis and Sarah Kaufman step into the octagon at UFC 186 on Saturday night, they will hold official UFC rankings of three and five respectively. [#4 & #5 on Today’s Knockout]. Why then is this fight taking place on the prelims, and not the pay-per-view main card?
In fact, when you consider that Kaufman already holds a 2-0 record in previous fights against Davis, the question should be, why has this fight been made at all?
Their last encounter, in March of 2012 under the Strikeforce banner, was a verified barn burner. The two fighters landed 370 strikes combined over three action packed rounds. On paper, their third meeting has serious Fight of the Night potential. That might make this a fight I want to see, but to suggest it was a major consideration for the UFC in booking the fight, would be giving them too much credit. Do they genuinely believe this is a hot rematch that fans need to see a third time? Have they bought into the history that the two hold together?
No, because if they had, Davis-Kaufman III would be opening up the main card instead of a bout between unranked bantamweights, Thomas Almeida and Yves Jabouin.
It says a lot about the state of the women’s bantamweight division that both fighters find themselves in this position. It’s not that Davis or Kaufman are bad fighters. On the contrary, they are excellent women’s bantamweights, possibly as good as anyone in the world whose last name isn’t Rousey.
The issue is that Rousey’s brilliance made both of them look inferior. Neither woman offered much resistance; both were finished in the first round. Kaufman lasted just 54 seconds in her attempt to win the Strikeforce title from Rousey in August, 2012. Things were even worse for Davis, who lasted merely 16 seconds at UFC 175 in July of last year.
There was no doubt left with either performance, as to who was the better fighter. There would be little interest in rematches against either of them, unless all other potential options had already been explored. That is part of the problem.
Both Davis’ and Kaufman’s rankings, however, are justified. They would be expected to beat most fighters in the division. Their records suggest that they would. …That’s the other part of the problem.
Ronda Rousey already holds wins over every top five 135-pound fighter. The UFC has to keep building new challengers for Rousey to plow through and that proves difficult when your top five are much more experienced, and in most cases more skilled than anyone below them.
We have already seen Bethe Correia pushed into the role of contender with not a single top ten win to her name. There’s a very good reason for that. Most of the top ten would beat her. Davis and Kaufman certainly would, and in doing so they would have robbed the UFC of another potential and obvious contender.
The other fighters they might build to challenge – Julianna Pena, Holly Holm, Amanda Nunes – Davis and Kaufman would probably beat them, too. The UFC can not afford to stump their progress. So, you can expect to see plenty of fighters in the six-to-ten range in the rankings getting title shots. At least while Rousey continues to hold the belt.
This is a problem the UFC are well versed in dealing with. Remember when rising welterweight contenders had to be kept away from Jon Fitch because he’d beat them? It didn’t last forever.
We are also seeing a similar thing in the men’s flyweight division at present. Demetrious Johnson has been so dominant that he is now defending his title against Kyoji Horiguchi this weekend. Horiguchi is ranked 7th and hasn’t beaten anyone in the top 15. It’s quite possible that he would lose against every member of the top five. [Not definite, but possible.]
Apply that to the women’s bantamweight division and Davis and Kaufman could be waiting a while before they are given fights against marketable fighters who are on the rise. Matching them together though, well that hurts nobody, especially when it’s hidden away on the prelims. Whoever loses remains one of the best in the division, and the winner is unlikely to work their way back to a title shot.
We didn’t need this to become a trilogy. When it’s all broken down, the real reason this fight was made is not because it would be exciting, but because the UFC simply did not know what else to do with these women.