In the co-main event of UFC 261 on Saturday, “Thug Rose” knocked out Weili Zhang with a picture-perfect head kick to become the first two-time champ in the history of the UFC 115-pound division. The fight was shocking in its optics — Namajunas was a hefty underdog, and even those predicting the upset probably weren’t seeing “completely unblocked head kick” in their tarot cards — but instability at the top has become a hallmark of the strawweight division. It sounds odd to say that about a division in which Joanna Jedrzejczyk rattled off fight straight title defenses, but it’s true. The division has been defined by the rivalries between the five women who have held the title: Namajunas, Zhang, Jessica Andrade, Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza.
Namajunas is building a nice case for herself as the most dominant champion to date; she is now 1-0 against Zhang, 2-0 against Jedrzejczyk and 1-1 against Andrade, who is currently plying her trade as a flyweight. Notably, Namajunas is 0-1 against Esparza, who choked her out to win the inaugural belt in 2014. Esparza has been something of an afterthought since getting dethroned by “Joanna Champion,” but she has quietly amassed a four-fight win streak, and her upcoming bout with Xiaonan Yan is a likely title eliminator. If we get Namajunas-Esparza 2 for a belt sometime this year, that would be just about the most strawweight thing ever. The carousel spins on.
Here is the brief but eventful history of the UFC strawweight title. It tells a story of a division with surprising depth and parity from day one, a division that continues to grow and develop as its initial crop of contenders have taken turns knocking each other off the throne.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration