As a result of Nicco Montaño’s weight cut related medical problems forcing the TUF winner to withdraw from her planed UFC 228 title defense against Valentina Shevchenko, the UFC flyweight division once again finds itself in search of a champion.
With Dana White confirming that number one contender Shevchenko is guaranteed a shot at the vacant 125lb gold, one question remains – who will the former bantamweight title challenger face for the belt?
There are a number of viable options open to White and the UFC. I’ve taken a look at the shortlist of potential suitors below.
Sijara Eubanks (3-2-0)
Flyweight Ranking – 2
Form – WLWLW (excluding TUF exhibition fights)
Last Fight – defeated Lauren Murphy by unanimous decision (UFC Utica)
Sijara Eubanks was one of the stand out performers of TUF 26 and was set to compete with Montaño for the 125lb strap before weight cut related medical issues forced her out of the contest. Her dominant performances on The Ultimate Fighter coupled with a unanimous decision win over Lauren Murphy in her UFC debut earlier this year have left her holding the number two ranking in the division despite only having five professional fights to her name.
‘Sarj’ is currently scheduled to face Jessica Eye at UFC 232 in December so is unlikely to get the nod to face Shevchenko with all parties involved looking to get a title fight booked before the year is out. Should the UFC opt to put the flyweight title on the line at UFC 232 then I expect Eubanks would be a natural stand in should anything occur with either fighter.
Katlyn Chookagian (11-1-0)
Flyweight Ranking – 3
Form – WWWLW
Last Fight – defeated Alexis Davis by unanimous decision (UFC Calgary)
When news of Montaño’s withdrawal began to circulate, Katlyn Chookagian was one of the first to respond, offering to step in and face Shevchenko on 24 hours notice. Unfortunately for all concerned, the 29-year-old wouldn’t have been able to make the 125lb limit in the time available.
Chookagian is the only fighter in the conversation carrying a three fight win streak and is 2-0 at flyweight since the division opened. On the face of it, the former bantamweight would be the natural choice to face Shevchenko for the vacant title later this year. That said, it looks like Chookagian won’t be the one challenging for the vacant belt.
Speaking to Aaron Bronsteter at the UFC 228 ceremonial weigh ins, UFC president Dana White confirmed that he had already started conversations with someone regarding facing Shevchenko for the flyweight title. When asked if that someone was Chookagian, White confirmed that it was not but that she was certainly in line for a shot at the belt down the line.
Roxanne Modafferi (22-14-0)
Flyweight Ranking – 4
Form – WLWWL (excluding TUF exhibition fights)
Last Fight – defeated Barb Honchak by TKO (second round) (TUF 27 Finale)
Roxanne ‘The Happy Warrior’ Modafferi is the most experienced fighter in the top five and was the last person to challenge for the flyweight title, stepping in at short notice for Sijara Eubanks and ending up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision which saw Montaño crowned champion.
Modafferi got back on track with a TKO win over former Invicta champion Barb Honchak in July but it is unlikely that will be enough to secure the Syndicate MMA standout another crack at the vacant title.
Jessica Eye (13-6-0)
Flyweight Ranking – 8
Form – WWLLL
Last Fight – defeated Jessica Rose-Clark by unanimous decision (UFC Singapor)
Jessica Eye may not be in the top five and is perhaps not the most obvious choice to challenge for the vacant title but much like Chookagian, she is 2-0 since moving to flyweight and is an experienced competitor.
The biggest obstacle would appear to be her scheduled fight at UFC 232 with number two ranked contender Sijara Eubanks. With Dana White and Shevchenko both looking to book a fight for the vacant title before the end of the year, it is unlikely that we see Eye involved unless by some freak of nature we see both Eubanks and someone in the title fight drop out and Eye gets the opportunity to step in.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2-0)
Flyweight Ranking – n/a (number 1 ranked strawweight)
Form – WLLWW
Last Fight – defeated Tecia Torres by unanimous decision (UFC Calgary)
Speaking to Aaron Bronsteter at the UFC 228 ceremonial weigh ins, UFC president Dana White confirmed that he had already started conversations with someone regarding facing Shevchenko for the flyweight title. Dana and Joanna have an excellent relationship dating back to the former 115lb champions title reign and after bouncing back from two tough losses to current strawweight champ Rose Namajunas with a win over Tecia Torres, Jedrzejczyk is at a bit of an impasse.
A step up to 125lbs and an escape from the brutal weight cuts the former champion has endured for years feels like the natural next step. Add in the intrigue of her Muay Thai history with Shevchenko (three fights, all won by ‘The Bullet’), it becomes the most marketable fight of all the possible match ups.
While Joanna stepping right in to a title shot would likely upset the fighters already competing at 125lbs, particularly the top five, there is precedent for the UFC booking this type of fight and I can’t see any logical reason why this fight doesn’t get booked.