What does bantamweight mean?

UFC 190 Weigh-in
UFC 190 Weigh-in / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

What does it mean if you fight in the bantamweight division?

MMA weight classes have been around for almost as long as the sport has. The introduction of such weight divisions allows the sport to be viewed as more professional as well permitting athletes of all sizes to have a chance at becoming a world champion, headline pay-per-view events, and push themselves into stardom.

Despite the established relationship between weight classes and combat sports, it is not difficult to find that the smaller weight classes struggled to find momentum at first and in fact, were not even a part of the original divisions, only coming in once the sport had laid its foundations and found a place amongst loyal fight fans. Such was the case for the bantamweight division. 

A division whose upper limit is 136 pounds for a non-title fight and 135 when the strap is on the line, it wouldn’t be until 2010, when the UFC’s parent company Zuffa LLC purchased World Extreme Cagefighting that MMA’s leading promotion even had a bantamweight division. Despite the initial rejection of smaller weight classes, Dana White would be proven wrong about their value quickly enough. It all started with Dominik Cruz being promoted to champion and becoming the UFC’s first-ever bantamweight title holder. The fighter-turned-commentator was perhaps one of the best fighters in the world at his peak and was unfortunate to have to relinquish his title due to injuries, an aspect that would plague his career throughout.

This eventually led to one of the UFC’s most intense rivalries between Cruz and Team Alpha Male, an MMA gym containing the likes of future bantamweight champions T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt. Garbrandt would defeat Cruz before getting into an even more fiery encounter with teammate Dillashaw, which ended when Dillashaw knocked him out twice to become champion. While it has never been particularly stable at 135 pounds, this is perhaps why fans have come to adore the weight class.

Looking at the talent pool available now, it can be argued that bantamweight has never been more competitive or as exciting to watch. Between controversial champion Aljamain Sterling, even more controversial top contender Sean O’Malley, and killers such as Petr Yan, Marlon Vera, and Cory Sandhagen all waiting in the wings for a shot at the title, it’s safe to say the 135-pound division is stacked. Oh, did I forget to mention Henry Cejudo is coming back to challenge for the belt, looking to become a two-time bantamweight champion?

While the men’s division has been chaotic and exciting since its inception in the UFC, the women’s 135-pound division was revolutionary. Not only would this be the first women’s MMA weight class in the UFC but it introduced us to two of the greatest female fighters of all time, both within a reasonable shout to be included in the greatest of all time category regardless of gender.

The first athlete is Ronda Rousey. She was the first UFC bantamweight champion and became a star, rivaling Connor McGregor and perhaps being the face of the UFC when her reign began. One Holly Holm head kick put the champion out for good and Rousey was never the same. Thankfully, the greatest women fighter of all time was about to get her shot.

Amanda Nunes, despite being an unknown talent, showed the world why she deserved to be at the top when she knocked out champion Miesha Tate in the very first round to win the title. Despite being labeled the G.W.O.A.T., Nunes would suffer one of the most shocking upsets when she tapped out to Juliana Peña in 2021 before reclaiming the belt, which she still holds to this day. Without a 135-pound division, without Rousey, without Nunes, it is safe to say that women’s MMA would not be anywhere near the level of development or the level of fans it has garnered since becoming the UFC’s first-ever women’s weight class.

For that alone, bantamweight is historic. 

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