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Posted July 4, 2014 by Dan Frederick in Editorials
 
 

Historic Inaugural UFC Strawweight Match Relegated to FightPass

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Claudia Gadelha, image from InvictaFC.com

The UFC is launching a women’s Strawweight division in dramatic fashion, with a 16-woman title tournament on The Ultimate Fighter Season 20. What’s more, they’re initiating a soft-launch of the division with some matches this summer prior to TUF 20, meaning the fledgling Strawweight division can hit the ground running once a champion is crowned in late November or early December. Hopefully, this will also develop a compelling challenger for the first Strawweight champion.

It was very welcome news when the UFC announced that powerhouse and world #3 ranked Claudia “Claudinha” Gadelha (11-0) was fighting surging Finnish prospect Tina “Jelly Bean” Lähdemäki (5-0) on July 16, even if the matchup seemed a bit lopsided. It wasn’t a big deal that it was on a Fight Night card; only hardcore fans know who Gadelha is, and Lähdemäki is almost unknown. That it wasn’t going to be on the main card wasn’t a huge deal. By all rights it should have been a main-card fight for the historic significance alone, but often specific spots on a card are negotiated well in advance with managers. And hell, Gleison Tibau vs Pat Healy didn’t make the main card either, even if Justin Salas vs Joe Proctor somehow did.

However, with four of the five prelims also being televised, the fact that Gadelha vs. Lähdemäki, the first fight in a brand new division, has been relegated to FightPass and is the only fight out of 11 that’s not airing on television is, frankly, bullshit.

Not only is this match a historical first, it’s also a fight between undefeated fighters with legitimate title implications. Gadelha could more than plausibly challenge the first Strawweight champion with just two more wins, and if Lähdemäki can manage the upset, she immediately becomes a fringe contender herself. As 15 of the 16 women on TUF 20 will leave the show on a loss, the UFC will sorely need a credible Strawweight title contender.

Tina Lähdemäki on top, image from mmaViking.com

Furthermore, the UFC made the decision months ago that they’d be starting the division in the summer and had at least a couple of months to plan all this. If there were no spots available on this card, there’s no obvious reason they couldn’t have put it on a card where it would have gotten the launch it deserves. The UFC could just as easily have push this match back to UFC 176, which still has open spots, and launch the division with Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Juliana Lima—both entertaining, skilled fighters. That fight is on a card where the bout order is officially “To Be Decided,” as of July 3rd.

Really, there are a number of solutions that could have ensured the first Strawweight match in UFC history wasn’t given the dubious honor of curtain jerking on an internet-only match. I understand that some divisions are more popular or lucrative, and that’s something that comes as divisions are established and as stars are made. However, the message this sends is that at least for now, the Strawweight division could very well be a sideshow. Some people might be all for that, particularly those who aren’t WMMA fans, but they’re hardly the audience the UFC is targeting with female athletes. Furthermore, putting aside the ethics, if the UFC wants to make serious money out of this division, then they have to at least try to treat newly signed fighters as stars when they’re ranked top 5 in the world like Claudia Gadelha, and give the division as a whole some respect. As promoters, if the UFC wants its fans to treat a new division as a big deal, they have to treat it as one themselves.

Now, I certainly still have to give Zuffa credit for making Strawweights the focus of TUF 20 for their official launch, and due to that I can only give them so much criticism here. However, it doesn’t make their handling of what should be a milestone event any less hamfisted. Hopefully, that the UFC chose to launch the Strawweight division on FightPass will just be a future trivia question, and the way they handle the upcoming title tournament is far more important. Still, you can never redo history.

 

You can follow Dan Frederick on Twitter @DCDry

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Dan Frederick

 
Ragtime Freight Hopper