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UFC women no longer out of their depth

Not long ago, the popularity of women in the Ultimate Fighting Championship depended solely on the dominance of Ronda Rousey.

Now, women's mixed martial arts turns to a new year with a new champion and new faces ready to show the novelty part is over.

On the same November night Holly Holm took away Rousey's bantamweight belt with a stunning knockout by head kick in Australia, Poland's Joanna Jedrzejczyk remained unbeaten with a strawweight title defense over Valerie Letourneau.

Jedrzejczyk, an impressive striker, is expected to next defend her belt this year against No. 1 contender Claudia Gadelha of Brazil.

And both women's divisions have featured riveting bouts revealing increasing depth that will allow female fighting to continue in spite of Rousey's vulnerability.

One bout that entertained Saturday during UFC 195 at the MGM Grand was a strawweight battle between Justine Kish, a Russian who trains in the Southland, and Nina Ansaroff, a U.S. product.

Ansaroff met Kish's first-round advances with punches to the face before Kish accidentally poked her in the right eye. Kish proceeded to a unanimous-decision victory in a bout that marked her return from a two-year fighting absence due to a knee injury.

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“I had to … hurry up to get better before the division got too deep,” Kish said. “I was able to come into this fight at 100% health and confidence and not have any worries.

“I want the belt next.”

Kish is unranked in a division that became even more compelling last month when Paige VanZant, a 21-year-old talent with a Reebok sponsorship deal backing her, was defeated by third-ranked Rose Namajunas in Las Vegas.

Colorado's Namajunas, 23, shaved her head for the bout, in which she served as a little-known injury replacement.

She unleashed a furious attack on Sacramento's VanZant, bloodying her in the first round. Close-up photographs published later depict her attack on the cover-girl opponent.

VanZant's ability to weather the attack lifted her reputation to new heights too, as she retreated to her corner with a bloody face each round before finally surrendering in a fifth-round submission.

“It's been cool, and very humbling every day because there's a lot of responsibility” that goes with being an elite UFC fighter, Namajunas told reporters Saturday at a pre-fight discussion.

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“A lot of people forgot about me, but that doesn't matter to me.”

Saturday's main event, the welterweight title fight between champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Carlos Condit, came after press time. For full coverage, see latimes.com/sports.

Namajunas said she hasn't been told who's next for her and she declined to call out anyone in the top 10 who would be a likely foe.

Namajunas said she's been dealing with some “personal issues” she declined to reveal and her session with reporters was interrupted by a UFC official, who said her boyfriend, UFC fighter Pat Barry, needed to speak with her about something private.

Namajunas and Barry then exited the MGM Grand arena area.

“I'm just trying to get back to training” in Colorado, she said before leaving.

Namajunas said that when she was summoned to replace injured Joanne Calderwood for the VanZant fight, she immediately liked the matchup.

“I knew what she was capable of just by watching her and her experience level,” Namajunas said. “But with all the things that I've done, I couldn't imagine [how VanZant could win] when I matched up all that I know I can do with what everyone else thought I could do.”

Sort of like her sport.

While Holm and Rousey are scheduled to have a rematch July 9 at the new Las Vegas arena, No. 2 bantamweight contender Miesha Tate probably will fight a top-10 opponent in the first half of the year.

The UFC would like to add Southland 145-pound fighter Cris “Cyborg” Justino to its stable when she proves she can make 135 pounds.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

ALSO

Anderson Silva returns to UFC octagon on Feb. 27 to fight Michael Bisping

Condit gets another shot at UFC title, but Lawler won't give it up without a fight

Southland heavyweight Charles Martin has IBF title shot Jan. 16 vs. Vyacheslav Glazkov

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