#WMMADebate: The Top Ten Fighters in WMMA History

What does it take to be considered one of the G.O.A.T.’s? An amazing record? Viscous finishes? High profile fights versus elite competition? All of the above?

In this edition of WMMA Debate, Idrees shares his thoughts on the Top Ten Fighters in WMMA History and why they deserve a spot in history. Check out his picks below!

10) GINA “CONVICTION” CARANO (7-1-0)Image result for gina carano
While her time in the sport of MMA was short-lived “Conviction” left her mark regardless. The Xtreme Couture product spent three years as a mixed martial artist, adding wins over such names as Rosi Sexton, Tonya Evinger, Kelly Kobold, Julie Kedzie, Kaitlin Young and Elaina Maxell to her list of victims. The kickboxing stylist became one of the biggest stars of the EliteXC promotion, competing four times for the organization, three on CBS. Carano would then jump ship to Strikeforce where she would compete for the promotion’s 145-pound title.

Gina Carano is not just on this list for her accomplishments inside of the cage, but her overall impact on the sport. She became the first woman to appear on ESPN’s Body Issue at a time where Women’s MMA was still considered a sideshow. In 2008 she was one of the most searched athletes on both Google and Yahoo. The first true face of WMMA Carano paved the way for the Rouseys, Jędrzejczyks and others after her to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.


9) MIESHA “CUPCAKE” TATE (18-7-0)Image result for miesha cupcake tate
Tate’s mixed martial arts career began in 2007 where she was invited to compete in a one-night women’s tournament. After capturing a decision victory in her debut against Jan Finney Tate would experience the first setback in her career, coming in the form of a devastating headkick knockout curtesy of Kaitlin Young in the semi-finals of the tournament. “Cupcake” would dust herself off and win her next five matches, four ending inside the distance. The streak earned her another appearance under the Strikeforce banner where she would struggle to take Canadian striker Sarah Kaufman down over three rounds, eventually losing the contest via decision.

Tate would stop her next two opponents outside of Strikeforce before returning to the promotion for a third time at their Strikeforce Challengers 7 event in 2010. “Cupcake” picked up three straight victories before challenging newly minted bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen at the Strikeforce/M-1 Global co-promoted event. She would earn her first major MMA title by submitting Coenen in the fourth stanza. The win would net “Cupcake” the biggest fight of her career as she would defend her belt against the streaking Ronda Rousey eight months later.

Tate would lose the bantamweight title to Rousey and go on to pick up one more victory for Strikeforce before moving to the UFC. Tate would finish her UFC career with a 5-4 record, capturing the UFC bantamweight crown before dropping her last two outings for the outfit. Tate has since retired from active competition but hardcore fans recognize her importance to the sport of MMA and her place in WMMA history.


8) TARA LAROSA (22-5-0)Image result for tara larosa
One of the first things fans who are unfamiliar with LaRosa will notice is her impressive record, what is even more impressive than that is the fact that she did it against the best at the time. Facing the likes of Jennifer Howe, Modafferi, Baszler, Kedzie, Hitomi Akano, Julia Berezikova, Kobold, Davis, Sally Krumdiack, Amanda Buckner, Carina Damm, Rin Nakai and Porto. You would be hard-pressed to find another fighter on the women’s scene who experience such a high level of success against quality opposition for such a long period of time.

In her career LaRosa also held one of the longest win-streaks in WMMA, going fifteen fights without a loss over a five-year period. Although she finished her career with five losses on her record it is important to keep in mind that the majority of her defeats came near the end of a long career. Some of her career accomplishments include holding titles in the Damage Fight League, Bodog Fight and UWC promotions in addition to capturing many world titles on the grappling scene.

 


7) MIKU MATSUMOTO (23-4-0)Image result for MIKU MATSUMOTO
Long before the 105-pound division gave birth to stars like Ayaka Hamasaki, Seo Hee Ham and Michelle Waterson Miku Matsumoto was the queen of the atomweight division. Competing as a small strawweight Matsumoto could hold her own against the best the sport had to offer at the time. The Japanese grappling specialist finished her career on a high note, compiling a twelve-fight unbeaten streak with ten stoppage victories, seven in the first round.

Over the three-year 12-0-0 run “Supernova” captured the DEEP Lightweight (106-pound) crown and picked up victories over notables Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc, Hisae Watanabe, Lisa Ellis and Seo Hee Ham. Matsumoto retired in her prime, having avenged all four of her losses before stepping away from the sport at the age of 28. Unfortunately for fans, they were never treated to the super fight between Matsumoto and Fujii. With her dominance not only is Matsumoto one of the pioneers in Japanese WMMA but one of the top women to ever compete in the sport.


Image result for cris cyborg

6) CRISTIANE “CYBORG” JUSTINO” (20-1, 1 NC)
Everyone has heard the name “Cris Cyborg” by now, even casual fans of the sport. She has been in the pound-for-pound discussion for the majority of her career and has not tasted defeat in thirteen years. Justino has won titles in every major organization she has competed for, including Strikeforce, Invicta FC and now the UFC. She is a BJJ World Champion who has knocked out seventeen of her twenty opponents she holds a win over and is one of the more marketable fighters on the UFC’s roster. So, why is “Cris Cyborg” not ranked higher?

Simply put, she is dominant over the lesser of the five major WMMA divisions. It is true that Justino has big names on her resume, but with the exceptions of Marloes Coenen, Charmaine Tweet and Gina Carano all of those names moved up a category to fight “Cris Cyborg”. These names include Shayna Baszler, Tonya Evinger, Yana Kunitskaya and Holly Holm. With the clear size and strength advantage Justino has made easy or short work of most of her foes. Continuing, “Cris Cyborg” has not faced a top ten ranked fighter in her division in more than two years as the UFC does not have a true featherweight class.

What has also hurt her in this listing is the failed drug test in 2011, confirming what most fans suspected. Justino also had a scare when she tested positive for a banned diuretic in 2016. Even with all of this considered she deserves to be ranked in this compilation for not only her dominance but also for her big-stage performances and impact on the sport of mixed martial arts.


5) AMANDA “THE LIONESS” NUNES (16-4-0)Image result for amanda nunes
American Top Team’s Amanda Nunes made her name on the regional circuit in Brazil. After dropping her first professional bout she would go on a six-fight unbeaten streak. She picked up knockout victories over Vanessa Porto and Ediane Gomes before being signed by Strikeforce, the number two promotion in North America at the time. Nunes was quickly booked in a high-profile featherweight clash with Canadian striker, Julia Budd. Showing why she was so successful in Brazil Nunes knocked out the Muay Thai champion in just fourteen seconds.

After making a statement in her Strikeforce debut at 145-pounds Nunes set her sights on the bantamweight division. She would face Alexis Davis in her 135-pound debut for the promotion. After a hard-fought first round which saw both fighters have success, Davis would turn it up a notch in the second, ending the fight by strikes on the ground at the 4:53 mark. The heavy-handed Brazilian would then move on to Invicta FC, where she went 1-1 for the all-female organization. Although her stints in Strikeforce and Invicta yielded mixed results she would not experience similar setbacks inside of the Octagon.

The “Lioness” made her octagon debut at UFC 163 in 2013. Nunes would get back on track at the event, stopping Germany’s Sheila Gaff in the first round. She followed that up with an equally impressive performance against 10-time Muay Thai World Champion, Germaine de Randamie. With two straight first round finishes under her belt Nunes was poised to earn a title shot in her next outing. Her next fight would be against Cat Zingano. After turning in a strong first round Nunes struggled to keep up with Zingano in the next too. Zingano finished Nunes in the third but the victory would be Nunes’ only defeat under the UFC banner.

Nunes would pick up wins over Shayna Baszler, Sara McMann and Valentina Shevchenko before challenging Meisha Tate for the UFC title. In one of her best showings for the promotion Nunes made quick work of Tate, dropping her and taking the back to submit Tate in just 3:16 of the first frame. The “Lioness” would then meet former champion Ronda Rousey in the headliner of UFC 2007. Nunes welcomed the former champ back by knocking her out in just forty-eight seconds. She would then defend her crown for the second time, again picking up a close decision over Shevchenko.

With one of the best resumes in the sport, a high finishing rate and top ten wins in two weight-classes Amanda Nunes has just as much claim as any to being recognized as the best fighter in WMMA history.


4) ROXANNE “THE HAPPY WARRIOR” MODAFFERI (21-14-0)Image result for roxanne modafferi
A pioneer in every sense of the word Modafferi has been competing as a professional for almost 15 years. Despite many fighters with similar mileage falling down the ladder “The Happy Warrior” finds herself still ranked among the top ten in her division. Currently in her second stint in the UFC Modafferi has yet to capture a major MMA title, despite challenging for the Strikeforce, Invicta FC and UFC belts.

Even with her struggles under the bright lights of the octagon Modafferi has seen much success outside of the UFC. The ISKA Karate World Champion seized the K-Grace Open Weight championship by defeating three fighters in one night, including Megumi Yabushita and former Strikeforce queen, Marloes Coenen. “The Happy Warrior” also got her hands on the IFC and Fatal Femmes Fighting straps in her career. More recently she earned the Fusion Fight League Flyweight Championship with a second-round submission over Priscila de Souza.

Before enjoying success at 125 Roxanne challenged for the Strikeforce bantamweight crown. After losing to champion Sarah Kaufman Modafferi looked to flyweight to reinvent herself, but things did not go as planned right away. She would go on a four-fight run without a win. Her struggles continued back up at bantamweight, having mixed success on the Ultimate Fighter 18, dropping bouts to Jessica Rakoczy and Raquel Pennington. She would find her home in her second run as a flyweight competitor. After the failed UFC bid the highly skilled grappler signed on with the premier all-female promotion, Invicta FC.

As an Invicta FC flyweight “The Happy Warrior” found immediate success. After closing out her rivalry with Tara LaRosa in her first appearance for the organization Modafferi began dropping contenders left and right. After going on a 4-1-0 run that saw her outpoint LaRosa, Andrea Lee, Mariana Morais and Diana Bennett she was booked in yet another title fight, this time against surging Brazilian Jennifer Maia. After a hard-fought five round affair Modafferi would again leave empty handed, losing via razor thin split decision. The Syndicate MMA flyweight would win the Fusion Fight League 125-pound crown seven months later before returning to Invicta.

Following her third-round triumph over Sarah D’Alelio Modafferi once again joined the Ultimate Fighter reality show, competing on season 26 to crown the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion. This time, she would find more success. Modafferi knocked out her first two opponents in the first round before meeting Sijara Eubanks in the semifinals. The multi-time BJJ World Champion would prove too much for the veteran however, as Modafferi would be defeated via decision. On the night of the championship fight Eubanks would be replaced with Modafferi in the championship bout due to experiencing medical issues while cutting to 125. Unfortunately for “The Happy Warrior” she would once again fall short on the big stage. Nicco Montano would be awarded the UFC title after outworking the veteran Modafferi for the better part of five rounds.

Roxanne Modafferi has proven over a career that spans almost 15 years that she can hang with the best of them. With her longevity, high-profile bouts and countless titles Modafferi will always be in the discussion as to who is the best fighter in the history of WMMA.


3) JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK (14-2-0)Image result for joanna champion
Entering the sport of mixed martial arts as one of the most accomplished Muay Thai artists in the world Jędrzejczyk made an immediate impact on the Polish MMA scene. Competing as a flyweight Jędrzejczyk went on a six-fight run that included victories over Kate Jackson, Karla Benitez, Julia Berezikova and England’s Rosi Sexton. After earning the rank of the #2 flyweight in the sport the UFC came calling. The opportunity would mean that the Polish striker would have to vacate 125 as the UFC did not have a flyweight division for female competitors at the time.

Jędrzejczyk debuted for the UFC in 2014, picking up victories over Juliana Lima and Claudia Gadelha, the latter being a somewhat controversial decision that many felt the Brazilian won. The triumphs were enough for Jędrzejczyk to get the first shot at newly minted UFC Strawweight Champion, Carla Esparza. At UFC 135 the Polish standout got her first shot at UFC gold. Jędrzejczyk battered Esparza for the better part of two rounds before knocking the former champion out to capture the 115-pound crown.

Now the queen of a new weight-class Jędrzejczyk looked for new challenges. The multi-time Muay Thai world champion defended her crown five straight times, with her stock rising with every outing. She looked to tie Ronda Rousey’s record for title defenses against Rose Namajunas at UFC 217, but was knocked out in the first round. The defeat remains one of the biggest upsets in WMMA history. Due to her dominance the American Top Team representative was awarded an immediate rematch at UFC 223. This time she would last the full five rounds but would again leave emptyhanded.

Jędrzejczyk is one of the few fighters in WMMA to dominate two weight-classes. Using punishing precision striking and world class takedown defense Jędrzejczyk was able to climb to the top of the two most talent riched divisions. In defeating some of the toughest and most well-rounded fighters in the sport Jędrzejczyk remains one of the top fighters in WMMA history.


2) “ROWDY” RONDA ROUSEY (12-2-0) Image result for ronda rousey
In many ways Ronda Rousey was the complete package. After gaining experience and looking impressive on the amateur circuit the Olympic bronze medalist made the transition to the pro ranks. Since the start of her professional career Rousey faced stiff competition, with every bout on her resume going against notable and proven competition. It is not just about the names she has defeated, but more how she did it.

Going into the bantamweight title bout with Meisha Tate at Strikeforce Tate vs Rousey “Rowdy” had already compiled an impressive 4-0-0 record over the likes of Ediane Gomes, Charmaine Tweet, Sarah D’Alelio and Julia Budd, all by first-round armbar. She continued the impressive streak by winning the Strikeforce title from Tate and finishing her Strikeforce career by defending her newly won belt against Canadian striker Sarah Kaufman, again, both by first-round armbar.

In less than three years in the sport and only two years competing as a professional UFC President Dana White was fascinated enough with the response from fans and Rousey’s abilities to open the women’s 135-pound division. After being against the idea of women competing under the UFC flag for years White advocated hard for Rousey once she signed on with the industry-leader. The promotion immediately installed “Rousey” as UFC champion as she was the current Strikeforce titleholder at the time. What is even more impressive is that Rousey’s first appearance saw her in the main event slot of UFC 157, opposite Liz Carmouche. She was such a captivating character that the organization booked her above such names as Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson and Urijah Faber.

Rousey would win six straight fights before experiencing her first setback as a mixed martial arts athlete, falling to Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November of 2015. In her last appearance for the UFC “Rowdy” tried to regain her former glory by challenging for the title she called hers for more than two years, but it was not to be. Rousey was knocked out by current champion Amanda Nunes in the first-round and would soon leave the sport for a career in pro wrestling.

Ronda Rousey’s importance to the women’s scene cannot be overstated. While there were many quality fighters before her she had something special that convinced the UFC to take a chance on the women’s divisions. Even though Rousey’s position was only possible through the hard work of the WMMA pioneers before her, every woman currently under UFC contract owes a lot to the controversial Judo black belt. With the combination of skill, accomplishment and impact Rousey will be remembered as one of the best female athletes to ever compete as a mixed martial artist.


Image result for megumi fujii1) MEGUMI “MEGA MEGU” FUJII (26-3-0)
What can you say about “Mega Megu” outside of simply ahead of her time. Debuting in 2004 for the SmackGirl organization Fujii made short work of her opponent that night, stopping Yumi Matsumoto in the first round. Matsumoto would not be the last woman to fall to Fujii as twenty of her twenty-six triumphs have been decided inside of the distance. Fujii would go unbeaten for six years with an insane 22-0-0 professional record before tasting defeat for the first time.

Bellator invited Fujii to take part in its 115-pound tournament to ground the promotion’s inaugural strawweight champion in season three of their offering. “Mega Megu” looked impressive on her way to the finals, stopping Carla Esparza in the opening round and Lisa Ellis in the semi-finals. She met Strikeforce and Invicta FC veteran Zoila Frausto in the championship fight, eventually dropping a controversial split decision. The controversy did not end there however.

Fjii would then face American Top Team standout, Jessica Aguilar. The pair’s first fight would end in a mindboggling decision loss for Fujii where it seemed clear that the Japanese star did enough to win, by most accounts. The two would meet again more than a year and a half later, with just as much controversy as the fight would eventually be stopped due to a Fujii eye injury sustained by eye pokes. Fujii would retire after the bout, never settling the rivalry with Aguilar.

With a Steller 26-3-0 professional mark, a well-rounded game, a 77% finish rate and names like Megumi Yamaguchi, Emi Fujino, Carla Esparza, Lisa Ellis, Seo Hee Ham and Saori Ishioka on her resume it is easy to see why most hardcore fans consider Megumi Fujii among the best to ever do it.


So, what about it WMMA fans? Who makes your list of “The Top 10 Fighters In WMMA History”?

Idrees on EmailIdrees on FacebookIdrees on Twitter
Idrees
A 16-year supporter of the women’s scene. Host of The MMA Scene Podcast on Anchor and BJJ practitioner.

3 comments

  1. I am so glad to see that Rousey is not number 1. She did a lot for the sport of wmma but she was not a great fighter. A one-trick pony that never evolved. Adapting, growing define a great fighter. Rousey rode her armbar finish until she mistakenly thought she could win other ways. Her striking was like that of a small child

    1. While I’m not sure where I’d place Rousey among the all-time greatest, I certainly wouldn’t call her a one trick pony. 3 out of her last 4 victories were finished with strikes. She KO’ed Davis, who TKO’ed Nunes, in 16 seconds. Her right cross, followed by a knee to the gut, hip throw and ground and pound was a thing of beauty, but Davis says she doesn’t remember anything after the right cross.

      While her striking skills needed vast improvement, her biggest problem was not the lack of such skills, but her believing that her skills were far better than they were. She was grossly over-confident going into her fight against Holm, having seen Holly barely get by fighters, who at the time were not even in the top 10. Meanwhile, she had
      (T)KOed 3 top 10 fighters, 2 in the top 5, in less than 2 minutes total. She looked in far poorer shape going into the fight with Holly, than any that I could remember. Unfortunately, her coach probably convinced her it was her conditioning, not her lack of striking skills which led to her demise with Holm. By addressing such they figured, Nunes, who had lost to Davis and Zingano (who Rousey defeated in a total of 30 seconds between them), would be no problem. Rousey looked in far better condition in that fight, but her striking skills still showed no improvement.

  2. I could pretty much go along with this top 10 list until I came across Roxanne Modafferi, and at #4 no less. I’m just glad I wasn’t drinking a cup of coffee at the time or I could’ve shorted out my keyboard.

    Don’t get me wrong. I get a kick out of the Happy Warrior and admire how she always brings it, despite her years in the cage. However, there are quite a few fighters that have been fighting professionally nearly as long as she has with far better records and results. Her accomplishments outside the cage are noted, but there are other fighters not included in this list with far more.

    Weili Zhang is a kickboxing champion, the Khunlun MMA champion, has also fought at multiple weight classes and is on a 16 fight win streak, 15 by way of finishes.

    Valentina Shevchenko started MMA shortly before Roxanne, although she has not fought as many times, and is a multiple time kickboxing champion, and defeated JJ three times in kickboxing. The only fighter she has lost to in the UFC is the current larger champion, Amanda Nunes, and that just barely. She would probably be the flyweight champ now if Nicco would have fought her.

    Either of these fighters, and probably many more, deserve to be in the top 10 over Roxanne.

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