What does strawweight mean?

UFC 268: Usman v Covington 2
UFC 268: Usman v Covington 2 / Mike Stobe/GettyImages

Everything you need to know about the MMA strawweight division.

The world of mixed martial arts has now long been associated with weight classes. This was not always the case. During the early years of competition, openweight tournaments were held over one night and would crown a ‘champion’ after one man was left standing.

Whilst watching two athletes that are completely different in size can lead to some interesting fights, the lack of weight classes disallowed MMA from being seen as a legitimate sport. By copying boxing’s model of separating athletes, MMA was able to find fighters more willing to compete within weight parameters as they were now able to dream of being world champions against competition that doesn’t outweigh by more than 100 pounds. 

It is not surprising to find that the heavier weight classes tend to have the most intrigue, however, when we flip that onto women’s MMA, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more historic and competitive division than the women’s strawweight division. The lightest division within the UFC that only exists for female fighters, the upper limit is 116 pounds for a fight and 115 if the belt is on the line. Unlike women’s bantamweight and flyweight, the belt has shifted hands multiple times and given us some of the most unforgettable moments of any weight class in the UFC.

Future UFC Hall of Famer Joanna Jędrzejczyk ran the division in its early years, holding the belt for two and a half years whilst defending it a division record five times in a row. She would be upset by Rose Namajunas, who quickly became a fan favorite. Unfortunately for her, a huge slam on her head from Jessica Andrade left Namajunas unconscious and titleless.

Andrade would immediately lose the belt to current champion Zhang Weili, China’s first-ever UFC champion. Whilst Zhang is the champion now, she did get brutally head kicked by Namajunas to lose the belt, who then would lose to Carla Esparza in what has been called the worst title fight in UFC history.

Zhang would KO Jędrzejczyk with a spinning elbow before chocking Esparza out to regain the strawweight crown. If all those title switches and dramatic moments are not enough to convince you as to why strawweight is the best division in women’s MMA then how about the talent pool? Not only are all the former champions but Jędrzejczyk still active but new and hungrier challengers are waiting in the wings, such as Amanda Lemos, Marina Rodriguez, and Tatiana Suarez.

We can even leave the UFC and talk about ONE Championship’s atomweight champion, Angela Lee. Although the names of the divisions are different, Lee competes at 115 pounds, and at age 26, is already proving to be one of the brightest talents in MMA.

She’s already got five title defenses under her belt and it's unlikely anyone will dethrone her anytime soon. Whether we will see her in the UFC is a whole other question but it does showcase the level of talent that exists in the division outside of MMA’s premier company. 

Whilst they might be the smallest competitors whenever they step into a fight, that is far from the truth when it comes to the size of the fight in the competitors. Make no mistake, a strawweight clash anywhere around the world is sure to provide fireworks. That is all the division has been doing since its inception. 

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