Jessica Eye stepped up to accept a fight against the No. 2-ranked Sarah Kaufman at UFC 166, and the former No. 1-ranked flyweight got the split-decision victory in her debut. It was a big win that will shoot her up the rankings, but is she a threat to the champion?
That is a very interesting question that I instantly began to wonder.
When Eye first announced her UFC signing I was one of the many who questioned the permanent jump to 135. I didn't doubt her skills, but against the larger, stronger women I wondered if it would be too much. We already had seen former top-ranked flyweights falter in Sheila Gaff and Rosi Sexton.
As UFC 166 drew nearer I began to reflect on Eye's fight library, and how she matched up with Kaufman. And at the weigh-ins it was Eye who looked like that true bantamweight. I was sold on her move, but that doesn't mean she still won't face challenges in the division.
Eye's biggest asset is her athleticism. She is a true athlete. Many of the female fighters are not. They have achieved their level of success through dedication to their craft. They are technical fighters who lack the athleticism to ascend to greatness.
When Ronda Rousey entered the sport we saw what a top-level athlete with elite-level technical ability can do.
Eye is continually improving her skill set, but her speed and athleticism is what was on display at UFC 166.
That puts her in the top half of the bantamweight division, and that means she is just one or two more wins away from headlining a card for a chance at the UFC strap. That's how quickly female fighters can ascend in a shallow division.
And Eye can get there. That's step one. Does she have a realistic threat to dethrone Rousey? That's hard to say, but what I can say is that she has just as good of a chance as anyone else in the division.
Rousey has yet to take center stage against a dynamic athlete. No disrespect intended to Miesha Tate, Liz Carmouche or any of the other female fighters Rousey has destroyed in her MMA career. They just are not the same type of athlete. Eye is in that realm.
If she can use her footwork, speed and movement to remain out of range of Rousey then she can turn it into a stand-up fight. That evens the playing field and makes Eye a threat to shock the world. How likely is that? We would have to see the fight to find out, but we are a little ways off from seeing that occur.
Answering the question of if Eye is a threat to Rousey is one of the hardest questions to answer because of the stylistic matchup. The bottom line is that Eye can earn a title shot soon, and her athletic ability is more significant compared to many of Rousey's former opponents.
It's a new dynamic that Rousey hasn't seen. And anything unseen is more dangerous. Evil came to the UFC just before Halloween, but it could stick around a whole lot longer.
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