2015 has been a sensational year for women in mixed martial arts. More promotions than ever before have been promoting women’s fights and new champions have been crowned right, left and center. Bellator have begun to develop their featherweight division, Invicta FC have continued to promote outstanding shows — only not enough of them — and the UFC crowned two new champions in incredible fashion.
We saw Ronda Rousey receive unprecedented mainstream media coverage, Joanna Jedrzejczyk become the new favorite of MMA’s hardcore fans, and Holly Holm beat a seemingly unbeatable champion in Australia. With so much great action taking place throughout the year, here is my countdown of the top 50 women fighters in 2015. The criteria is simple, only their 2015 records, level of opposition, and performances are taken into consideration.
15) Valerie Letourneau (8-4)
2015 record: 2-1
Most notable win: Maryna Moroz (UFC Fight Night 74)
At the turn of the year, Valerie Letourneau had fought only once in the UFC. Her gritty performance against Elizabeth Phillips at UFC 174 in June 2014 had done little to catch the eye. The Montreal native, like so many others within the UFC, faced a dilemma. Stuck in between the two weight classes the UFC promoted, would she perform better by continuing as an undersized bantamweight, or by trying to make weight as an oversized strawweight. Letourneau opted to test her ability at 115 pounds and the results through 2015 fully justified the decision.
Letourneau debuted at strawweight with a win over The Ultimate Fighter season 18 finalist Jessica Rakoczy. The weigh-ins made for uncomfortable viewing, with Letourneau looking barely conscious as she shuffled up onto the scales. The American Top Team fighter followed that up with a more impressive performance against Ukrainian prospect Maryna Moroz. Letourneau looked healthier at the weight, dropping Moroz early and out-landing her on the feet to get another decision win. That improved Letourneau’s UFC record to 3-0, and meant that when the company was keen to get strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk onto the UFC 193 card with Ronda Rousey, Letourneau was the best available option to challenge for the 115-pound title. In Melbourne in November, Letourneau surprised many by pushing Jedrzejczyk through five hard rounds. It was not enough to win the UFC title, but Letourneau made Jedrzejczyk look beatable for the first time in 2015 and earned herself many new fans in the process.
In Melbourne in November, Letourneau surprised many by pushing Jedrzejczyk through five hard rounds. It was not enough to win the UFC title, but Letourneau made Jedrzejczyk look beatable for the first time in 2015 and earned herself many new fans in the process.
14) Tecia Torres (7-0)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger (UFC 194)
With a perfect 7-0 record that includes wins over Paige VanZant, Rose Namajunas and former RFA strawweight champion Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, it is somewhat surprising that Tecia Torres continues to slip under the radar as a legitimate title challenger in the UFC’s strawweight division. In part that may be down to the memories of The Ultimate Fighter 20, where Torres was upset in the opening round by Randa Markos, before losing a second time in the quarter-finals against eventual winner Carla Esparza.
More than that though, Torres’ performance at UFC 188 against Angela Hill was considered by many to be wholly underwhelming. Torres dominated the fight from bell to bell, cruising to a unanimous decision, but it was rarely exciting. Still, a win is a win and this was a tough card to be a part of. Fighting in Mexico City at altitude, Torres was not the only fighter who struggled to show their best. Just ask Cain Velasquez whose gas tank emptied in a hurry in the main event, defeated by Fabricio Werdum for the heavyweight title. In reality, Torres had found a way to navigate her way through murky Mexico City waters and keep her undefeated record intact.
A mouthwatering bout with Michelle Waterson fell through in December when Waterson was forced to pull out injured. Her replacement was every bit as testing. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger was coming in to the UFC off the back of a career-best performance, getting the better of Zoila Frausto over five rounds to win the RFA title. Torres landed 126 strikes to Jones-Lybarger’s 53, as she sent a message to those who needed reminding of her status as a top five strawweight.
13) Mei Yamaguchi (15-8-1)
2015 record: 3-0
Most notable win: DEEP Jewels Featherweight Grand Prix
For former Valkyrie featherweight champion Mei Yamaguchi, 2015 was a chance to catapult herself back to the top of women’s MMA in Japan. It was an opportunity she grabbed with both hands. While old foe Ayaka Hamasaki gained attention stateside by winning the Invicta FC atom weight title, it was Yamaguchi who was the big achiever at 105 pounds in Japan.
In February at DEEP Jewels 7 Yamaguchi faced Miyoko Kusaka in the featherweight (105lbs) Grand Prix quarter-finals. It took her only 44 seconds to stop her opponent and secure her place in the finals at DEEP Jewels 8 in May. After a short detour for an exhibition bout with Emi Tomimatsu, Yamaguchi rocked up in Tokyo looking to add the DEEP Jewels Grand Prix to the Valkyrie and Next Cinderella tournaments she had won earlier in her career.
In the semi-finals, Yamaguchi faced perhaps her toughest test of the Grand Prix, drawn against undefeated talent Mina Kurobe. After two rounds no doubt had been left, Yamaguchi was awarded a unanimous decision to move on to the final later that night. There she faced Satomi Takano in a highly entertaining back and forth contest. Ultimately Yamaguchi’s class told, beginning to overwhelm Takano in the second round and eventually forcing referee Kenichi Serizawa to stop the action with only three seconds left in the fight. If there had been any doubt, Yamaguchi had proven that night that she was one of the world’s best at 105 pounds.
12) Valentina Shevchenko (12-1)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Sarah Kaufman (UFC on FOX 17)
By the time Valentina Shevchenko eventually got the call from the UFC, she had established herself at the top of most people’s UFC bantamweight wishlists. Before the year began she was already 10-1 as a pro. Not a bad haul in a division where fights are hard to find and wins are even more difficult to come by.
The decorated Muay Thai and Kickboxing champion opened her mixed martial arts year with a win in her Legacy FC debut. Facing 18-fight veteran Jan Finney, Shevchenko won by unanimous decision in a one-sided, if uneventful, three round fight in February. That win came only 25 days after Shevchenko had beaten Lindsay Haycraft at the first Legacy Kickboxing event on February 2.
Then with the UFC’s bantamweight division down to the bare bones and desperately in need of new signings, Germaine de Randamie pulled out of her bout with Sarah Kaufman at UFC on FOX 17. It was Shevchenko the UFC called upon to fill the void. Taking a massive step up in competition on only 9 days notice, the 27-year-old scored by far the biggest win of her career, impressively defeating one of women’s MMA’s all-time greats and positioning herself handily for big opportunities in 2016.
11) Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (14-1)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Charmaine Tweet (Invicta FC 11)
In 2015, Cris Cyborg did exactly what was expected from her. We have become accustomed to her devastating performances, battering her opponents until they break before her. On the rare occasions, she has been able to test herself against truly world-class opposition those beatings can last a few rounds as they did in both fights against Marloes Coenen. Invariably though, Cyborg has faced good rather than great opposition and that has meant that opponents have been smashed in a hurry.
That is what we saw in 2015 as Cyborg faced Charmaine Tweet and Faith Van Duin inside the Invicta cage. Both opponents are good featherweights, but Cyborg is a great one. The Brazilian did what great fighters so often do against good opposition, she made them look bad. Tweet lasted 46 seconds in February. Van Duin one second less in July. Both fights were equally violent. In 2015, Cyborg was at her ferocious best.
But that wasn’t the real story for Justino in 2015. Instead, we were taken through a wretched charade that saw her forced to try and drop her fighting weight to 135 pounds in search of a big money bout with Ronda Rousey. A 140-pound fight in the Invicta cage was earmarked for the end of the year as the first step towards that. Invicta’s failure to promote an event in November or December, combined with Ronda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193 put an end to a seemingly dangerous attempt to make 135 pounds. Now Cyborg is focused on defending her Invicta featherweight title and will do so against Daria Ibragimova on January 16.
10) Claudia Gadelha (13-1)
2015 record: 1-0
Most notable win: Jessica Aguilar (UFC 190)
Nova Uniao strawweight Claudia Gadelha is the highest ranking one-fight wonder on our list for 2015. Injury put paid to a proposed bout with Aisling Daly early in 2015, then proceeded to keep Gadelha on the shelf and away from a mouthwatering rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk towards the end of the year. Sandwiched in the middle was a truly outstanding performance against a fighter long considered the best in the world at 115 pounds.
Gadelha met Jessica Aguilar at UFC 190 in Brazil. It was another big night for women’s MMA with Ronda Rousey’s knockout of Bethe Correia in the main event drawing close to one million pay-per-view buys for the event. While fans reveled in Rousey knocking out her overmatched opponent, it was Gadelha’s performance in the main card opener that should have wowed the paying audience.
Perhaps it was the fact that Aguilar was making her UFC debut and was not well known to the sort of audience attracted by Rousey. Maybe Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s emergence as the new number one at 115 pounds had made everyone forget everything that came before her. After all, many were already proclaiming Jedrzejzyk unbeatable despite Gadelha being unlucky to lose to her by split decision only eight months earlier. While all the above points played their part, what really stopped many fans from acknowledging what Gadelha had achieved in Rio de Janeiro was her own performance. She took one of the best strawweights in the world and made her look like she was no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and that’s what made this win so impressive.
9) Karolina Kowalkiewicz (8-0)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Randa Markos (UFC on FOX 17)
As 2015 began anyone who had seen Polish sensation Karolina Kowalkiewicz fight was already wondering when we would see her in the UFC’s octagon. She was already 6-0 with notable wins over Simona Soukupova, Jasminka Cive and Mizuki Inoue. The latter had taken place in the Invicta cage at the end of 2014 and left Invicta fans clamoring for another Kowalkiewicz appearance in 2015. That would not happen, but what we got instead was much better.
In February at KSW 30 Kowalkiewicz faced tough Brazilian Kalindra Faria. The experienced World Series of Fighting vet had lost only once in her last 12 bouts. That defeat had been a five round decision against arguably the number one strawweight in the world at the time, Jessica Aguilar. After Faria started off the aggressor, it was Kowalkiewicz who came on strong to get the nod from two of the judges after three rounds of thrilling action.
Then came the news we were all waiting for. Karolina Kowalkiewicz had signed with the UFC. Her first assignment was against The Ultimate Fighter 20 semi-finalist, Randa Markos. Once again Kowalkiewicz worked her way into the fight, taking time to find her rhythm and timing. Once she had, she started picking off her opponent to impress all three judges and make it 8-0 as a pro.
8) Julianna Pena (7-2)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Jessica Eye (UFC 192)
Given the unfortunate training injury Julianna Pena suffered after winning season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, it was just good to see her back in the cage in 2015. The Ultimate Fighter, particularly in recent years, has offered no guarantee of top-level success for the winners. Now that we have seen Pena’s two 2015 performances inside the octagon proper, she looks a safe bet to remain a fixture at the top end of the bantamweight division for some time to come.
When the Spokane native made her return after almost 15 months out of the octagon in April, Pena’s performance suggested she felt she was making up for lost time. The “Venezuelan Vixen” took less than four minutes to maul Milana Dudieva and stop her with vicious ground and pound. In a division that has little more than twenty active fighters — by far the smallest in the UFC — any impressive performance will earn you a big fight, and that is exactly what Pena was rewarded with.
At UFC 192 Pena opened up the pay-per-view main card against Jessica Eye in October. Eye was one fight removed from a title eliminator against Miesha Tate and provided a clear step up in competition. The bout wasn’t always exciting, but Pena was pushed harder than she had been before. All three judges scored the bout 29-27 for Pena — Eye had been deducted a point in round two for an illegal knee — as she made her way into the division’s top ten. Even bigger tests await in 2016.
7) Tonya Evinger (17-5)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Irene Aldana (Invicta FC 13)
Invicta FC bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger is the product of an era where women were not afforded time to develop their skills before facing top talent. Opponents were hard to come by, and long winning streaks were even more difficult to obtain. Debuting in 2006, Evinger was dropped in at the deep end facing the likes of Vanessa Porto, Gina Carano, Julie Kedzie, Alexis Davis and Sara McMann. By 2011, Evinger had amassed an unremarkable 9-5 record. What has followed since that time has been spectacular.
Going into 2015 Evinger had won six straight improving her record to 15-5. At Invicta FC 13 in July, Evinger faced Irene Aldana for the bantamweight title Lauren Murphy had vacated when she left for the UFC. Aldana had impressed in two previous Invicta appearances, submitting Peggy Morgan and Colleen Schneider in less than four minutes combined. Dana White even posted a picture of himself with Aldana and Alexa Grasso to his Instagram page proclaiming them the future of MMA. The 24 minute and 38-second beating that Evinger put on Aldana forced everyone to have a rethink. From opening bell until the fight was finally, mercifully stopped in the fourth round, Evinger battered her opponent to become the Invicta FC bantamweight champion.
Evinger’s first defense of the title would come in September against undefeated prospect Pannie Kianzad. The Swede was the former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion and held wins over notables such as Annalisa Bucci and Milana Dudieva. Evinger flew out of the traps, quickly driving Kianzad to the mat and beating on her for the entirety of the first round. By the time that frame was over Kianzad’s nose was bloodied, and she looked ready to accept defeat. That would come in the second round, as Evinger dropped Kianzad with a right hand early, eventually worked her way to mount, and then pounded on her with punches and elbows until John McCarthy stopped the action. Say what you want about Evinger’s level of competition now, but remember this, before she brutally beat them down in the middle of the Invicta cage both Aldana and Kianzad were considered legit threats at 135 pounds. Great champions make good fighters look bad, and that’s exactly what Evinger proved she was in 2015.
6) Ronda Rousey (12-1)
2015 record: 2-1
Most notable win: Cat Zingano (UFC 184)
2015 was unquestionably the year of Ronda Rousey… right up to the point when it wasn’t. The former UFC bantamweight champion was not only spectacular inside the octagon for two-thirds of the year, but broke new ground as she became a mainstream celebrity. Who else gets to announce upcoming title fights live on Good Morning America? How many other MMA fighters have had their quotes played live at Beyonce concerts? Not to mention the two Hollywood movies that she appeared in, or the massive numbers Rousey did on pay-per-view throughout the year.
Facing what many pundits had suggested would be her toughest test to date in February, Rousey took only 14 seconds to force Cat Zingano to submit. It was a win so impressive that it almost felt unreal, especially off the back of her 16-second finish of Alexis Davis in her previous outing in 2014. To do it once, that could be a fluke, the product of favorable circumstance in the heat of battle. To do it twice, that was special. It suggested that it didn’t matter who the opponent was, it led Joe Rogan to start proclaiming that Rousey was more than just a once in a lifetime talent, that her talent was once ever in human history.
In August Rousey returned to the cage to face Bethe Correia in what had become a heated rivalry. The general consensus was that Correia was horribly, almost irresponsibly, overmatched, but it didn’t matter. Rousey’s star was burning brighter than ever and with so much contempt on both sides, UFC 190 did close to one million pay-per-view buys. Rousey knocked Correia out in 34 seconds.
By the time Rousey faced her next challenge in November at UFC 193 in Melbourne, her hardcore fans were not questioning whether Holly Holm could make it out of the first round. They were questioning whether she could make it out of the first minute. Holm did make it out of the first round, and by the time she had, Rousey was left sitting on her stool breathing heavily, her face bloodied, with an expression that suggested she had no idea what to do next. Less than a minute into the second frame, Rousey had been knocked out by Holm and lost everything. Her air of invincibility was gone. In truth, Holm smashed that long before she finished the fight. Gone with it was Rousey’s UFC title, now sitting around the waist of “the Preacher’s Daughter”.
It is impossible to deny what Rousey achieved in 2015. Her 2-1 record, and the context that applies, unquestionably puts her ahead of most women in the sport for the year. Still, to pretend that Correia was anything more than fodder would be disingenuous. Just as it would be to ignore that Holly Holm was not considered to be a significant threat before the two fought. Holm was a huge betting underdog, and this was a fight Rousey was supposed to win. All credit to Holly Holm, who was absolutely the main reason Rousey lost everything in Melbourne, but this was never part of anyone’s script. Least of all Ronda Rousey’s.
Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg
The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.
The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.
THIS. CARD. pic.twitter.com/bc4AyNncqy
— UFC (@ufc) October 13, 2017
Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.
Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.
Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.
Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.
With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:
- Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
- Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
- Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
- Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
- Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
- Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
- Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
- John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
- Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions
- The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.
More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.
Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.
There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.
While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.
With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.
Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.
However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.
At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.
The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.
So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.
The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.
Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.
Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.
Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.
The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.
From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.
Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.
If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.
As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.
However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.
James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury
Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.
The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016. James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.
After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.
Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.
Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”
His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.
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