Why Irene Aldana deserves a world title shot against Amanda Nunes

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
(L-R) Irene Aldana strikes Ketlen Vieira in their women's bantamweight bout during the UFC 245 event at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 14, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(L-R) Irene Aldana strikes Ketlen Vieira in their women's bantamweight bout during the UFC 245 event at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 14, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Double champion Amanda Nunes needs challengers. She needs them both at featherweight and at bantamweight.

They might be tougher to come by in the UFC at featherweight because of the promotion’s lack of depth in the 145 pound weight class. At bantamweight, deserving and credible contenders for Nunes are available, but the UFC seems reluctant to promote those who have worked their way into worthy positions as logical next title challengers after Nunes has taken out the biggest known names in the division.

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Take, for example, Irene Aldana. The Mexican fighter is on a roll and put a stamp on her status as the true No. 1 contender at bantamweight last month at UFC 245 when she knocked out previously undefeated Ketlen Vieira. Afterward, UFC president Dana White wouldn’t admit she’s deserving a title shot, next.

“We’ll see where you guys rank her. You know?” he told assembled members of the media after the event when asked if Aldana would challenge Nunes, next. “After winning that fight, we’ll see where she gets ranked and we’ll figure out what’s next for her, but yea [her performance was] impressive.”

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The rankings he was referring to were the UFC’s own rankings, which are determined by media member votes, but are ultimately controlled by the UFC itself. Unfortunately, these rankings do not dictate who gets title shots.

For example is White’s current public position that Conor McGregor could potentially get a shot at the lightweight title if he beats Donald Cerrone at welterweight later this month. For those not keeping score, McGregor has not fought in over a year, making him supposedly ineligible for ranking.

Beyond that, he’s lost and been finished three out of the last five times he’s stepped into a professional ring going back to 2016, and his opponent this month Donald Cerrone has lost two-straight fights. Though he hedged on calling Aldana what she deserves to be recognized as — the No. 1 title contender at bantamweight — White didn’t flinch or blush at saying he’s interested in giving former featherweight king Jose Aldo a shot at bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo … after Aldo had just lost to Marlon Moraes.

Though the fight was close, Jose Aldo is officially 0-1 at bantamweight. That’s good enough to potentially make him the No. 1 contender at men’s bantamweight, according to White.

White and Co. are in control of who gets title shots, not the media nor its dubious and inert rankings system. For some reason he and the promotion are avoiding saying the obvious – that Irene Aldana is the No. 1 contender at bantamweight and deserves the next crack at champion Amanda Nunes, who also just recently fought and won.

Aldana has fought and won twice since losing a close decision to former title challenger Raquel Pennington in July. Yet, she has been dropped down a spot in the last rankings adjustment.

Overall, Aldana has won five out of her last six fights and been one of the most active fighters at bantamweight over the past several years. In large part because they’re tampered with and controlled by the promotion itself, the UFC rankings are an incoherent mess.

UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes smiles after her unanimous-decision win over Germaine de Randamie during UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 14, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes smiles after her unanimous-decision win over Germaine de Randamie during UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 14, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Let’s examine the top-five currently ahead of Aldana on those problematic rankings at bantamweight.

Pennington sits at No. 5 ahead of Aldana. She did indeed beat Aldana this past summer, but has not fought again, since, has lost two out of her last three overall, and has already had a recent crack at gold when she was bested by Nunes in 2018.

She’s also lost to the most recent title-challenger Germaine de Randamie. Pennington is an excellent fighter, but she can’t be considered at this point closer to another title shot before Aldana has even received her first.

“The Ultimate Fighter” winner Julianna Peña sits at No. 4 despite going 1-1 since January 2017. The top-position terror and new mother should certainly be considered for title-contention soon if she keeps winning, but her recent record and activity level simply do not eclipse Aldana’s, at present.

Former bantamweight champion Holly Holm is No. 3. She has not yet fought again since getting stopped in the first round by Nunes and she has lost five out of her last seven fights overall, going back to 2016.

Aspen Ladd sits at No. 2 after a month ago getting back on the winning track. She’s a great contender, but recently was stopped by de Randamie, so has a little more work to do before building the type of momentum Aldana currently has.

For her part, de Randamie currently sits at No. 1 and it’s hard to argue with it, in and of itself. Still, she just had her shot at the bantamweight title and fell short in an exciting effort.

There are certainly those at bantamweight, like de Randamie and Holm, who have accomplished more in their careers than Aldana has in hers thus far. Those folks have already had multiple cracks at gold and even been champions, before.

Of those at bantamweight who have not yet faced Nunes, who have not yet gotten a title-shot, Aldana has put together the most impressive recent record and built the most momentum. Anyone fighting Nunes has an uphill battle ahead of them, and the champion would likely be favored against any challenger, right now.

So, deciding who gets to fight her next isn’t about who has a great chance at beating her. It should be, however, about who has earned the right to fight her and potentially shock the world just like she did years ago.

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