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The Top 50 Women’s MMA Fighters of 2016

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Women's MMA Nunes

After writing “2016 has been a stellar year for women in mixed martial arts” as my opening line, I checked last year’s submission to find that it began with an almost identical sentence.

While that made me bin my one line of writing, it also says something about the place that women have found in the sport through seizing the opportunities they have fought for. The truth is that in 2016 and beyond, every year will be “sensational” or “stellar”. There will be highs and lows; enthralling fights; and breathtaking moments.

And so, here it is once again. Just like last year’s top 50, the same conditions and criteria apply. To be included a fighter must have a .500 record or better for the year. They are judged based on their numerical record, their level of competition, and their level of performance through 2016 only.

What is different this time around is that the list is no longer a one man show. MMA Latest News’ Editor Keefe McKenna, and MMA Wreckage (and now MMA Latest News) writer Victor Vargas, joined me in compiling 2016’s list. Both have followed and written about women’s MMA in recent years, bringing knowledge and passion to everything they have covered.

Do you disagree with any of our rankings? Are you disappointed that your favourite fighter was not included in this year’s list? Be sure to tell us. Rest assured however the days upon days we spent scouring records and fight footage, mean every possible fighter was considered. Seriously, our initial shortlist was well over 200 fighters and that was the result of over a week’s research to whittle it down even that far.

So with Invicta FC 21 fast approaching, and another female headlined UFC pay-per-view the week after, here are our top 50 female fighters of 2016.

TOP 50 WOMEN’S MMA FIGHTERS OF 2016

50) Rena Kubota (3-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Hanna Gujwan
The face of female shootboxing continued her successful transition to MMA with a pair of wins in the RIZIN ring.

49) Pam Sorenson (5-1)
2016 Record: 4-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Brenda Gonzales
Starting 2016 as a 1-0 rookie, “Bam” ended the year a King of the Cage champion, and snagged a win in her Invicta FC debut.

48) Jenny Huang (5-0)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: April Osenio
Less talked about than Angela Lee, Huang racked up three wins inside the ONE Championship cage to earn an upcoming title shot against the aforementioned poster girl of Asian MMA.

47) Sinead Kavanagh (4-0)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Elina Kallionidou
BAMMA has provided the platform for the Irish prospect to make a name for herself. A one-sided decision win against Elina Kallionidou on the Bellator 169 main card rounded off a great year.

46) Alexis Dufresne (6-2)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Marloes Coenen
If making weight didn’t matter, Dufresne would be much higher on the list. Submitting Marloes Coenen in the first round is a big deal. Sadly, so is failing to make weight by 4.7 pounds.

45) Marion Reneau (7-3)
2016 Record: 1-1
2015 Ranking: 19th
Most notable win: Milana Dudieva
With a different set of judges Reneau might have found herself 2-0 for the year. Her defeat to Ashlee Evans-Smith was at least questionable. Reneau rebounded in impressive form, making easy work of Milana Dudieva in November.

44) Cindy Dandois (8-2)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Jessamyn Duke
Forever ignored by UFC matchmakers, the Belgian had another impressive year, beating Jessamyn Duke and Anjela Pink in less than two minutes combined.

43) Emily Ducote (4-2)
2016 Record: 4-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Bruna Vargas
Bought in by Bellator as opposition for highly touted Brazilian Bruna Vargas, Ducote grabbed her opportunity with an overhand right and a rear-naked choke.

Emily Ducote on her way to submitting Bruna Vargas in her Bellator debut.

42) Kanako Murata (4-1)
2016 Record: 4-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Kyra Batara
The decorated Japanese wrestler emerged as a force in RIZIN in 2016. Five fights against progressively stiffer opposition, ending with a loss against 22-fight veteran Rin Nakai.

41) Jingnan Xiong (9-1)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: 46th
Most notable win: Julia Borisova
Another impressive year for the Chinese flyweight who is quickly becoming one of Asian MMA’s must-see fighters.

40) Maryna Moroz (8-1)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: 34th
Most notable win: Danielle Taylor
Moroz did just about enough in her two 2016 outings to rebound from the disappointment of her 2015 loss to Valerie Letourneau.

39) Viviane Pereira (12-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Valerie Letourneau
The undefeated Brazilian was given little chance in her UFC debut against Valerie Letourneau. Pereira outworked the former title challenger to retain her undefeated record.

38) Livia Renata Souza (9-1)
2016 Record: 1-1
2015 Ranking: 23rd
Most notable win: DeAnna Bennett
Souza’s quick stoppage of DeAnna Bennett was impressive, but no more so than her back and forth five round losing effort against Angela Hill for the Invicta title.

37) Irene Aldana (7-3)
2016 Record: 2-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Faith Van Duin
Aldana was a savage in the Invicta cage in 2016. The Lobo Gym fighter’s performance in her UFC debut against Leslie Smith, even in defeat, proved that she belongs in the UFC.

36) Rose Namajunas (5-3)
2016 Record: 1-1
2015 Ranking: 5th
Most notable win: Tecia Torres
Never in a dull fight, Namajunas traded competitive wins and losses with top strawweights Tecia Torres and Karolina Kowalkewicz in 2016. The decision loss to Kowalkiewicz saw Namajunas narrowly miss out on a title shot.

35) Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (9-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Christine Stanley
Poland’s other top female fighter — after Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz — returned to competition following the birth of her Son in 2015 and looked mightily impressive in doing so.

34) Tatiana Suarez (4-0)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Amanda Bobby Cooper
While only one of her 2016 wins counts on her record, Suarez made it clear that she is a top-end prospect by winning The Ultimate Fighter season 23 in dominating fashion.

33) Carla Esparza (11-3)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Juliana Lima
Facing one of the most underrated and tough to beat fighters in the strawweight division, Esparza won all three rounds against Juliana Lima to get back in the win column.

32) Veronica Macedo (5-1-1)
2016 Record: 5-1-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Karine Gevorgyan
Five wins across Europe in any calendar year is worthy of note, but Macedo did find success harder to come by in her losing UFC debut against Ashlee Evans-Smith.

31) Angela Lee (6-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: 31st
Most notable win: Mei Yamaguchi
Lee took a significant step up in competition against Mei Yamaguchi in May and passed the test with flying colours. The 20-year-old is one of the brightest prospects in the sport.

Angela Lee and Mei Yamaguchi in their fight of the year contender.

30) Rin Nakai (19-2-1)
2016 Record: 3-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Kanako Murata
One of MMA’s more intriguing characters rebounded from being released by the UFC with two Pancrase wins, and a third round submission of surging prospect Kanako Murata at RIZIN’s end of year event.

29) Cortney Casey (6-4)
2016 Record: 2-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Randa Markos
Casey blasted her way past Cristina Stanciu and Randa Markos to become a player at 115 pounds. A November decision defeat to Claudia Gadelha came with no shame attached.

28) Istela Nunes (6-0)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Mei Yamaguchi
Like Angela Lee ranked below her, Brazilian prospect Istela Nunes snagged a big win over Mei Yamaguchi in 2016. That, and her perfect 3-0 year, suggest big things are to come in 2017.

27) Ariane Lipski (8-3)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Sheila Gaff
The Brazilian finished two notable opponents in 2016, and her two minute war with Sheila Gaff at KSW 36 was a whole lot of fun.

26) Claudia Gadelha (14-2)
2016 Record: 1-1
2015 Ranking: 10th
Most notable win: Cortney Casey
Far and away the second best strawweight on the planet, Gadelha gave Joanna Jedrzejczyk all she could handle for the first half of their championship bout before losing by decision. Gadelha rebounded well, comfortably beating strawweight powerhouse Cortney Casey.

25) Mizuki (12-4)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Lacey Schuckman
Shared between DEEP Jewels and Invicta, Mizuki has now won four straight since losing to Alexa Grasso. A step up in competition is definitely required in 2017.

24) Mina Kurobe (9-2)
2016 Record: 4-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Saori Ishioka
Kurobe started the year on a two-fight losing streak, but rebounded with four straght wins to earn herself an upcoming DEEP Jewels title shot against Naho Sugiyama.

23) Charmaine Tweet (9-5)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Latoya Walker
Two top ten opponents, two impressive wins. Tweet went 25 minutes with Jessy Miele in March, before handing Latoya Walker her first career loss via spinning back fist. Now Megan Anderson, and Invicta’s interim title awaits.

Charmaine Tweet lands the spinning back fist that hands Latoya Walker her first career defeat.

22) Katlyn Chookagian (8-1)
2016 Record: 3-1
2015 Ranking: 38th
Most notable win: Lauren Murphy
After winning CFFC gold in the first half of the year, Chookagian made a successful start to her UFC career by defeating Lauren Murphy. Chookagian’s end of year defeat to Liz Carmouche was the first of her career.

21) Weili Zhang (10-1)
2016 Record: 6-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Emi Fujino
Six wins in a year is impressive no matter the level of competition, and Weili Zhang has beaten some notable opponents on her way to securing a Kunlun Fight title. Emi Fujino and Karla Benitez were two of six fighters who were put away inside the distance in 2016.

20) Liz Carmouche (11-5)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Katlyn Chookagian
After more than 18 months away from the cage, the former title challenger made a statement in her return bout against Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 205.

19) Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-1)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Marion Reneau
Two UFC wins in an increasingly competitive division is a solid return for a fighter who had not fought since December 2014. Evans-Smith was particularly impressive against Veronica Macedo in September.

18) Leslie Smith (9-7-1)
2016 Record: 2-1
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Irene Aldana
Such was the audacity of Smith’s acceptance of a fight with Cris Cyborg, that she almost deserves bonus points for even getting in the cage. The fighter put in a career best performance in December, winning a stand up war with highly touted Mexican Irene Aldana.

17) Alexa Grasso (9-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: 44th
Most notable win: Heather-Jo Clark
Dominant and thrilling performance in an Invicta main event? Check. Successful UFC debut against an opponent who is hard to look good against? Check. Next up is Felice Herrig in a bout that will tell us plenty about Grasso’s standing within the strawweight division.

16) Michelle Waterson (14-4)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Paige VanZant
Remember how impressed everyone was with Rose Namajunas’ dominant performance in defeating Paige VanZant in 2015? Michelle Waterson did the same thing a whole lot quicker, submitting VanZant little more than three minutes into their December bout.

15) Sarah d’Alelio (11-6)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Andrea Lee
A move to flyweight has produced the goods for veteran Sarah d’Alelio. More focused than ever, d’Alelio upset “KGB” Lee at Invicta FC 16, before picking up Super Fight League and Bellator wins to round out the year.

14) Julianna Pena (8-2)
2016 Record: 1-0
2015 Ranking: 8th
Most notable win: Cat Zingano
The highest ranked of all the 1-0 fighters who made this list, Pena made beating Cat Zingano look a lot easier than anyone expected at UFC 200. A win over Valentina Shevchenko next time out would likely see her fight for the bantamweight title in 2017.

13) Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (5-0)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Emily Ducote
Bellator might not have planned for Ilima-Lei Macfarlane to become their standout flyweight, but the Hawaiian forced her way to the top of their division in 2016. Her wins over Rebecca Ruth and Emily Ducote moved her way ahead of the pack.

12) Megan Anderson (7-2)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Peggy Morgan
Three wins. Three finishes, each more impressive than the one before it. Anderson has forced her way into the featherweight division’s top five and earned every bit of her upcoming interim title fight at Invicta FC 21.

11) Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-1)
2016 Record: 2-1
2015 Ranking: 9th
Most notable win: Rose Namajunas
Kowalkiewicz retained her undefeated record with back to back wins against Heather Jo Clark and Rose Namajunas. While her title fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk was largely one sided, Kowalkiewicz fought her heart out and did manage to do the unthinkable and rock the champion in the fourth round before falling to defeat.

Keefe: “In a somewhat surprising turnaround from last year, incredibly, 4 of the top 10 from the 2015 edition of this list did not even crack the top 50 this year. They were – Holly Holm, Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey and Tonya Evinger – who were ranked at #1, #3, #6 and #7 respectively.

It would be easy to label 4 of the previous year’s top 10 not making the top 50 this time around as merely a freak occurrence, but is it possible that 2016 saw the beginnings of a changing of the guard at bantamweight? Amanda Nunes bulldozed her way to the top at the expense of Tate and Rousey, fighters like Valentina Shevchenko, Julianna Peña and Raquel Pennington have also had big years.

While it is far too early to write off three of the previously mentioned foursome — as Tate settles into retirement — as well as other members of the ‘old guard’ such as Cat Zingano, 2017 should provide some answers as to whether the tide at bantamweight is truly changing or not.”

10) Valentina Shevchenko (13-2)
2016 Record: 1-1
2015 Ranking: 12th
Most notable win: Holly Holm
About as good a .500 record as you could put together in a year. Shevchenko gave Amanda Nunes by far the most competitive fight the Brazilian was involved in all year. Following that defeat, Shevchenko countered her way to a clear five round decision win over Holly Holm that moved her within one win of a title shot.

9) Jennifer Maia (14-4-1)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Vanessa Porto
2016 was the year that the Brazilian Chute Boxe product put it all together. Having turned her career around with three successive wins in Brazil, Maia defeated Vanessa Porto in one of the best women’s fights of the year to become Invicta’s interim flyweight champion. That title was later upgraded to undisputed status before Maia made a winning defence of the belt against Roxanne Modafferi in September.

Jennifer Maia and Vanessa Porto ready for their Invicta FC interim flyweight title fight.

8) Ayaka Hamasaki (14-1)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: 25th
Most notable win: Amber Brown
Remaining one of the most undervalued champions in MMA, Ayaka Hamasaki solidified her spot as the top atomweight in the world. Amber Brown and Jinh Yu Frey were considered formidable challengers, but Hamasaki put both away to retain her Invicta FC title.

7) Sara McMann (10-3)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Alexis Davis
After a dismal 2015 that saw the Olympic silver medallist fall away from title contention, McMann had a vastly underrated 2016. McMann had little trouble beating Jessica Eye by decision in May, before becoming the first fighter to ever submit Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Alexis Davis in December.

6) Raquel Pennington (9-5)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: 32nd
Most notable win: Miesha Tate
Slowly but surely “Rocky” has been working her way into contention at 135 pounds. 2016 was the year that she forced her way in. After winning competitive fights against Bethe Correia and Elizabeth Phillips, she put in a career best performance to defeat Miesha Tate at UFC 205.

5) Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (17-1)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: 11th
Most notable win: Leslie Smith
One of the questions always asked of Cyborg is whether her level of competition matches up to the other top female fighters in the world. Again in 2016 it didn’t. Leslie Smith was not a featherweight, and neither Daria Ibragimova or Lina Lansberg were near the top five of the division Cyborg fights in. Still, you can only beat what is in front of you and the Brazilian did that emphatically.

4) Jessica Andrade (15-5)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Joanne Calderwood
Making the decision to stop being an undersized, yet competitive, bantamweight has turned Jessica Andrade into a title threat. The Brazilian smashed her way past former title challenger Jessica Penne, before submitting Joanne Calderwood in the first round. Another performance like that and she is going to be hard to overlook as a strawweight contender.

3) Angela Hill (6-2)
2016 Record: 4-0
2015 Ranking: Unranked
Most notable win: Livia Renata Souza
Angela Hill did everything a top ten fighter is supposed to in 2016. She finished lesser competition quickly; looked good against a former title challenger; and found a way to win a five round war against a legitimate top-ten talent. Four wins, all achieved impressively, is the perfect response after being cut from the UFC little more than a year ago.

2) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (13-0)
2016 Record: 2-0
2015 Ranking: 2nd
Most notable win: Claudia Gadelha
Joanna Champion had another brilliant year. Claudia Gadelha was not only the best contender in the division by a distance, she was a also a fighter who many thought had beaten Jedrzejczyk in their previous fight. After two dreadful rounds, the champion ran the table from round three onwards, retaining her title with a stunning performance. Jedrzejczyk followed that up with a dominant, one-sided win over Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205.

1) Amanda Nunes (14-4)
2016 Record: 3-0
2015 Ranking: 4th
Most notable win: Ronda Rousey
There was no discussion or debate. No argument could be made for any other fighter to top this list in 2016. After defeating Valentina Shevchenko, one of the most dangerous contenders in the division, Nunes fought for the title at UFC 200. Facing the second greatest fighter in the history of the women’s bantamweight division, Nunes battered Tate before submitting her in little more than three minutes. The only way you can follow that up, is by facing the greatest of all time. Nunes did that at UFC 207, rattling Ronda Rousey’s head with punch after punch after punch until Herb Dean stopped the contest with only 48 seconds gone. In one year Nunes had effectively retired Miesha Tate, and may have done the same to Ronda Rousey. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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*WATCH* DaveNoseMMA – Aljamain Sterling Knockout Aftermath

Harry Davies

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In this video, MMA Latest’s Dave Noseworthy shares his thoughts on Marlon Moraes’ brutal knockout of Aljamain Sterling that took place this past weekend at UFC Fresno.

Check out Dave’s thoughts below:

 

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Fight Announcements

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou Official for UFC 220

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UFC 220 in Boston, Massachusetts has its main event. Stipe Miocic (17-2) will put his belt on the line for the third time against rising heavyweight star, Francis Ngannou (11-1)

Rumors surrounded the match-up for UFC 220 after Ngannou’s first round knockout over Alistair Overeem, at UFC 218. The Cameroonian heavyweight called for the fight himself. In his octagon interview proceeding his most recent victory, Ngannou stated:

“I’m feeling good… I’m on my way to a title shot”.

The heavy handed Ngannou has finished all of his opponents in all of his six UFC bouts. A streak which includes a kimura submission over Anthony Hamilton and a TKO victory against former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei Arlovski. Overall, he holds a ten fight win streak. His only defeat came by way of unanimous decision to Zoumana Cisse, in his second professional MMA fight.

If victorious, Ngannou would become the first African-born champion in UFC history.

Not to be diminished, Stipe Miocic rides his a streak of his own into the beantown match-up. Five consecutive wins, five knockouts and the past four of which, ended in the first round. A victory in Boston for the champ would make him the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history. Currently, Miocic is one of three heavyweights, in the promotions entirety, whom has successfully defended the belt twice.

UFC 220 will be held at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on January 20th, 2018. The pay-per-view (PPV) card will also feature light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, as he faces challenger Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir.

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Events

Ladies Fight Night 7: “Double Trouble” Preview

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Polish women’s federation Ladies Fight Night is going to celebrate their second birthday this year on the 15th to 17th of December. Two days, two events with a lot of great bouts.

LFN in Poland is being titled the new Invicta FC. The Polish owners created this federation to give European women a chance to fight on a big platform.

Hosting their first ever event in December 2015, LFN will hold two great cards next week, that will feature women who have fought under many prestigious promotions, such as the UFC, Invicta, Bellator, Glory, and Kunlun.

Two days of fantastic fights, intensified by a double dose of sports impressions. The name is not accidental, LFN 7 / LFN 8 combines two events, during which the best Polish fighters will be shown, as well as the best fighters from Europe (including France, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and Romania)

The stakes are high, and we are electrified by the clashes between warriors such as Żaneta Cieśla vs Silvia La Notte and Patricia Axling vs. Cindy Silvestri. Mainly due to their vastness of their experience in the cage.

In the fight of the evening, the talented Romanian Cristina Stanciu will face Magdaléna Šormovádo. Stanciu fought twice in the UFC, but she was unfortunately cut from the promotion after suffering consecutive losses to Cortney Casey and Maryna Moroz.

Judyta Rymarzak vs Marta Waliczek is an amazing fight between two experienced kickboxers. Both making their pro MMA debuts on the night, we will witness a one-of-a-kind duel between two kickboxing perfectionists, as they look to transcend their skills into the MMA world.

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