This weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has finally given its female strawweight championship a UFC pay-per-view headlining slot four and a half years after its inception.
Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk headlined a UFC Fight Pass event and a Fox Sports 1 card in her almost three year reign, everything else was a co-headlining spot, at times lower.
Women’s MMA has seen vast progress in its short existence. This unfortunate case of questionable promotion is deserving of criticism but the exclusion of the atomweight division is something that deserves scorn. I have not been able comprehend its UFC absence for years; luckily, I am not alone in this sentiment.
Invicta FC atomweight Alesha “Half Pint” Zappitella has been vocal on the atomweight exclusion subject in the past. A tweet that saw her critique some of the UFC’s prelim fighters and tagging the UFC’s twitter account for her shot in the promotion last week had many fans supporting the young atomweight contender. I was amongst them and decided to reach out to her for comment.
Here’s the interview between yours truly and Alesha Zappitella.
Juice: How’s it going Alesha? How are you doing today?
AZ: It’s going well. I’ve been training hard for my next fight and getting prepared for school to be out for the summer (I work for an Elementary school).
Juice: When’s your next fight? Has it been announced?
AZ: I’m waiting on the promotion to announce my next fight. All I can say is that it is an exciting matchup.
Juice: Fair enough. I’ll trust you on that one. Your base is wrestling correct?
AZ: Yes, I have wrestled since I was 5 years old
Juice: Impressive. For men with good wrestling credentials it’s almost a foregone conclusion that they will take up MMA at some point. That doesn’t seem to be the case on the women’s side. Did you ever think MMA would be a career you pursued?
AZ: I always had an interest in Mixed Martial Arts. When I was young I wanted to do some sort of striking, but with wrestling all year round I never had time. By the time I got to high school I started watching UFC and realizing that it was something I could see myself doing. When I realized that college wasn’t the path in life for me, I devoted all of my time to my real passion, learning the martial arts and becoming the most well rounded artist I could be and I am still evolving daily.
“I devoted all of my time to my real passion, learning the martial arts and becoming the most well rounded artist I could be”
Juice: That’s a great attitude. Always awesome to see people pursue their interests and in your case you’ve obviously been successful. WMMA has come a long way in a short amount of time. Yet, does it ever feel like you’re in No Man’s Land or perhaps No Woman’s Land at this weight? It seems like a lot of girls in this division seem to bounce around from organization to organization always looking for fights since there is no atomweight division in the UFC.
AZ: I love Invicta, they care about their fighters. Which is something I have not found with any other promotion I have fought for. However, it does feel like I am in No Man’s Land. I work just as hard, if not harder than any man or other female mixed martial artist out there, and at the end of the day the fact that I just don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else is disheartening.
However, that isn’t slowing me down. I need to be a pioneer for the atomweight division. Atomweights are very exciting fighters to watch. We are just as skilled as any other weight class. Yes we are smaller, but we set a faster pace which usually end up being very exciting fights to watch.
Juice: Your words on Invicta seem to reflect what virtually all women who have fought for the promotion say. The fact that they took up the mantle for females in the sport when Strikeforce was about to go under to make sure the girls had somewhere to go is a fact I’m sure you also appreciate.
I originally reached out to you because of your tweet during last week’s UFC Ottawa card. You certainly minced no words and I respected your outspokenness. There is definitely some characters in the division Jinh Yu Frey, Seo Hee Ham and yourself not only are interesting people but all have exciting fighting styles. Do you see parallels in atomweight and men’s flyweight as far as the perceived interest because you are the smallest of your respective genders’ divisions?
AZ: I see how the divisions get compared but it isn’t the same. Men have weight classes that range from 125-265 lbs. Women have weight classes from 115 lbs to a 145 lb weight class that is underdeveloped, some of the best in the world at that weight are yet to even have their shot. Women are naturally smaller, girls who are around, or like me, less than five feet need a place to strive for in the big leagues.
So much about WMMA in the UFC up to this point is about what sells. And small, attractive, skilled women martial artists will sell. We have it all. With that being said, I don’t see how anyone can’t be a fan of the men’s flyweight division with exciting fighters such as Demetrius Johnson and Kai Kara-France.
Juice: Love that you mentioned France. He’s one of my favorites as well. It’s unfortunate that those guys are unsure of their standing but it seems like a lot of fans are now rallying behind men’s flyweight. It would be very unfortunate if the men’s flyweight roster is cut but if I knew for a fact that the women atomweights would get their shot in its aftermath it would soften the blow substantially.
I don’t know much else you can say to make your point to UFC brass on why you girls deserve the chance, I’ll definitely cosign all your statements. Any last words you want to say to them? Or any plugs for your social media, website, sponsors, Invicta, fans, etc.?
AZ: My entire life has lead up to this. I have been breaking down barriers for women since I was five years old, getting atomweights in the UFC is the next step. I haven’t reached the pinnacle in my career, myself and other atomweights deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @aleshazapp. I want to thank Invicta for all that they have done for WMMA and my career. I want to thank all of my sponsors that have stood by me from my high school days in wrestling to the ones I have picked up along the way. I also want to thank my coaches and teammates at Scorpion Fighting System for pushing me to be the best martial artist I can be every day.
I also want to thank my parents for pushing me towards my dreams no matter what path I take in life, as well as my wrestling coaches along the way who never let me give up on myself. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without my supporters. Also, thank you for this interview and your support of the atomweight division.