Top 5 Female MMA Fighters Of All-Time
The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is still a fairly new phenomenon, having only been steadily introduced to the western world through the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in late-1993. As is the case with most sports, female competitors didn’t get the opportunity to participate, or at least not in a competitive setting, for another few years. Similarly to their revolutionary sanctioned cross-combat fights that pre-dated the UFC, Japan were also ahead in their efforts to get women involved in MMA, with documented female contests going back to the mid-1990’s.
From there, it took a long while for the women to get their fair shake elsewhere in the world, with them only being afforded chances to compete in promotions such as Strikeforce and Bellator MMA in the mid-to-late-2000’s. It was a historic few years for the sport, and most specifically, women’s MMA (WMMA), but everyone knew, until they broke into the world’s premier organization, the UFC, there was still work to be done. Then, in February 2013, nearly a full two years following Zuffa's (the company that then owned the UFC) acquisition of Strikeforce, they put on their first female mixed martial arts bout. It is arguably WMMA’s biggest milestone, getting the prestige of being shown on the grandest stage, after many years of struggling to break through into a male-dominated sport.
For this list, I’m going to rank the top 5 female mixed martial artists of all-time, taking into account their full resumes and accomplishments, both in and outside of the UFC. As is the case with many lists counting down the best to ever do anything, there are some notable omissions:
Gina Carano, was the first real female superstar in MMA. Her career wasn’t the longest, nor did she defeat the highest calibre opposition, but it’d be difficult to overlook her as an all-timer, for what is still an incredibly young sport.
Holly Holm, the women to end the reign of Rousey and take on the best of the best. She’d be a lock for a top 10 spot, but her short-comings and late start to MMA hindered what could have been a longer and more storied career.
My final honorable mention is Rose Namajunas. She has had multiple title reigns, having beaten some of the best to ever compete, one of whom is on this list. Should she continue to build on her legacy, I see no reason to think that she couldn’t crack this list further down the line.
So, let’s get into it, here is my list for the top 5 female MMA fighters of all-time:
5. Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Overall MMA Record: 16-4-0 (UFC Record: 10-4-0)
Top Accolades: UFC Women's Strawweight Championship (One time, with Five Successful Title Defenses), Most Wins in UFC Women’s Strawweight History (10)
Most Notable Wins: Carla Esparza, Jéssica Andrade
For a time, Joanna Jedrzejczyk was considered one of the top two, if not, top one, female fighter in MMA. She climbed her way to a record of 14-0-0, dominating any fighter that stood in her way. She looked practically unbeatable, or at least until Rose Namajunas got her shot at Joanna’s strawweight title. Namajunas, the massive +500 underdog (per Tapology.com), shook the world that night, knocking out Joanna inside the first round. She then got the better of the rematch as well, taking a unanimous decision in what was a closely-contested fight. Following the back-to-back losses, Joanna went 2-2, beating fighters she was expected to beat, and picking up two decisions loses in title fights, one at flyweight against the much larger, Valentina Shevchenko, and one against the then strawweight champion, Weili Zhang.
Many will look back at Joanna’s career with a skewed view of just how good she was and what she achieved. The losses that have come against her, for the most part, have been close, and all have come against strong opposition. At one time, she could have conceivably retired, and many would have chalked her career up as the best in women’s MMA, and I think it’s important to recognize that, with newer top-contenders still to replicate her level of dominance.
4. “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey
Overall MMA Record: 12-2-0 (UFC Record: 10-2-0)
Top Accolades: UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship (One time, Inaugural, with Six Successful Title Defenses), Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Championship (One time, Last, with One Successful Title Defense), First Female UFC Champion, UFC Hall of Fame (First Female Inductee)
Most Notable Wins: Miesha Tate (x2), Julia Budd, Sarah Kaufman
Wherever you put Ronda Rousey on a top 5 or 10 list of female MMA fighters, you’re going to be met with some level of contention. Her rise to the pinnacle of the sport and the mainstream media has only really been paralleled by Conor McGregor within the MMA bubble. She had her fans and detractors, but you’d have been hard pressed, at that time, to find many people criticizing her skills and predicting her downfall.
She ran through her competition, both in Strikeforce and the UFC, and she without-doubt, established herself as the best female fighter on the planet. Her 12-0 record spoke for itself, her list of competition was a who’s who of the strongest bantamweight fighters at that time, and the manner in which she won all her fights, was emphatic to say the least.
Unfortunately, for Rousey, the hype and self-belief could only carry her so far. She was pumped up by her coaches and the media to believe she could beat high-level male fighters, and there was even talk that she could beat Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match, despite her showing limited striking in her fights. Things had gone too far, and it all came crashing down when she took on Holly Holm at UFC 193. Holm made her look foolish as the more accomplished striker, using her speed, timing, and movement, to outmanoeuvre and punish the sloppy striking of Rousey. Then, by the time Rousey realized she was out of her depth on the feet, she looked to go back to her grappling, but it was too late. The fight, her title reign, and consequently her legitimate fighting career, was then ended with a devastating head kick from Holm (pictured below).
Rousey did go on to fight once more following her bout with Holm, just over a year after the fact. She took on Amanda Nunes in what is easiest to describe as a one-sided beat down, that only lasted 48-seconds from bell-to-bell.
Many see the sudden end to her run and the manner in which it occurred, as a sign that she was never that great to begin with. I strongly disagree with this notion. I believe that it highlights just how far the competition ramped up in WMMA in such a short space of time. That, as well as the effects of overconfidence and the risks of underestimating your competition.
For me, Rousey was already one foot out the door when she took the Nunes fight. She lost a piece of herself against Holm, and I’m not going to throw out her legacy simply because she lost her desire to compete and took a couple of losses.
3. Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko
Overall MMA Record: 21-3-0 (UFC Record: 10-2-0)
Top Accolades: UFC Women's Flyweight Championship (One time, with Five Successful Title Defenses), Most Wins in UFC Women's Flyweight History (7)
Most Notable Wins: Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Holly Holm, Jéssica Andrade, Sarah Kaufman
Valentina Shevchenko’s greatness is a tough one to place. She has performed admirably across her entire career. Her only loss pre-UFC came due to a cut stoppage against Liz Carmouche, early in her career. She went on to avenge that loss years later. Then, outside of that, she’s only lost to Amanda Nunes, a fighter I have ranked higher on this list.
She may be given a third fight against Nunes down the road, which could do wonders for her legacy with a win, but there is a large contributing factor as to why she’s come up short twice before. It’s due to her size. She was never a true 135-pounder, and that was evident in some of her fights, and it speaks volumes about her skills, considering she had the sustained success that she did against larger fighters.
Since the UFC implemented the women’s flyweight division, Shevchenko has cruised to victories, both with finishes, and with lopsided decisions. She has a strangle hold on the title, and if she had better opposition to overcome in the foreseeable future, you’d have to think she could climb into the top two spots here.
2. Cris “Cyborg” Justino
Overall MMA Record: 23-2-0 (UFC Record: 6-1-0)
Top Accolades: UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion (One time, with Two Successful Title Defenses), Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Champion (First; Last; Only, with Two Successful Title Defenses), Bellator MMA Women’s Featherweight Champion (One time, with One Successful Title Defense), Invicta FC Featherweight World Champion (One time, First, with Three Successful Title Defenses).
Most Notable Wins: Holly Holm, Gina Carano, Julia Budd
To most people, Cris Cyborg will forever be considered the scariest fighter in women’s MMA. Her power and physique is incomparable to any other female fighter, and it has carried her to great success, spanning her 15+ year combat sports career.
She hasn’t always beaten the best there is to offer, largely due to her size, limiting her to fighting at featherweight and above, but almost anyone she’s had to face, she has conquered. She lost her first pro fight, then proceeded to go 20-0, picking up championships in three different promotions.
However, as is the case with most historic runs in combat sports, she was finally beaten. Amanda Nunes had stepped up to 145lbs and done the improbable. Cyborg came rushing in to put Nunes on the back foot early, only to be countered and swarmed on. Nunes then continued to land bombs on Cyborg, dropping her multiple times before the referee mercifully stepped in to end the fight.
Since then, Cyborg went on to fight and win once more in the UFC, before going over to Bellator to pick up their featherweight title with minimal effort. She could go on to defend it countless times, but unfortunately for Cyborg, without a chance to rematch Nunes, it is unlikely she’ll ever eclipse the moniker of “female G.O.A.T.” (greatest of all-time).
1. Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes
Overall MMA Record: 21-4-0 (UFC Record: 14-1-0)
Top Accolades: Top Accolades: UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion (One time, with Five Successful Title Defenses), UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion (One time, with Two Successful Title Defense), and Most Wins In UFC History Amongst Women (14).
Most Notable Wins: Cris Cyborg, Valentina Shevchenko (x2), Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie (x2), Miesha Tate
This should come as no surprise, but Amanda Nunes is undoubtedly the best woman to ever compete in MMA. She has beaten just about anyone worth beating in the sport, and that’s including three of the four other people on this list!
Her greatness hasn’t always been evident, considering she was once 9-4, with three stoppage losses to her name. But she then polished her game and rounded out as the great fighter we all know today. Her run to become UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion was epic. Her then going onto beat Cyborg to become the promotions featherweight champion, and first ever female double-champ, was unforgettable. And her continued dominance ever since, can only punctuate what we already know. Amanda Nunes is the female G.O.A.T..