We’ve already seen a great example of what arrested development can do to a division: the Yves Edwards-ruled UFC lightweight fold. The UFC didn’t have the resources to resurrect their smallest weight class after BJ Penn and Caol Uno drew for the title in 2003 and things fizzled out after Yves became their uncrowned champion, only able to find meaningful work gatekeeping for Pride’s lightweight division.
Yves Edwards never won a UFC title but if they had one when he fought Josh Thomson, he would have. Meanwhile, Pride’s 160-pound division was only really competitive for Gomi, Kawajiri, Sakurai and Joachim Hansen and all told, the title was only actually fought for twice. It was only when the Kenny Florian moved down and Sean Sherk followed him that the UFC decided to give lightweight another try after a year and a half running on silent.
Today, lightweight is one of the fastest-moving divisions in the sport despite only a few fighters having been at 155 the whole time (Diaz, Stout, Danzig, Edwards, Thomson) and weak title fights with Hermes Franca and Joe Stevenson are almost completely a thing of the past.
The lesson is that the UFC gave the little guys a chance, just how they have done for 145, 135 and now 125. Lightweight wasn’t a terribly interesting division until Frankie Edgar held the title and it still has a lot of room to grow, but Henderson-Melendez is arguably the most interesting fight yet and it’s only going to keep growing with the sport with the UFC putting on 31 cards last year and 6 already this year.
Bellator and Invicta just don’t have the infrastructure to develop and promote female talent. It might not be a terribly profitable enterprise, but the UFC already has a meager harem of ten ladies and even though Dana White himself has hesitantly branded he Rousey era as an “experiment,” the female side of the sport just isn’t going to bloom without at least equal treatment to the lighter men’s divisions.
The women’s division so far makes just as much sense as the cast of Real World on week one, but with the right attention paid to matchmaking and meaningful signings, worthwhile competition will emerge sooner than later. There’s no question that a well-credentialed bitch hunter like Ronda Rousey is the best choice to carry the banner, now it’s up to the UFC to keep faith and make exciting fights.