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Women’s MMA 2015 Top 50: #30 – #16

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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. If you missed the countdown from 50 to 31 be sure to check it out here, as we continue on towards the top 15.

30) Julia Budd (8-2)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Gabby Holloway (Bellator 133)
When Bellator entered the women’s featherweight market in 2014, Julia Budd was near the top of their priority list and understandably so. She is one of three women — Marloes Coenen and Cris Cyborg the others — who stand head and shoulders above the rest of their division. In 2015 Budd extended her win streak to six, first defeating top ten featherweight Gabby Holloway in February, then following that up with a win over highly touted Brazilian prospect Roberta Paim Rovel in November. Now we are left hoping that Bellator will make the one fight fans clamored for when the division was introduced, Julia Budd vs Marloes Coenen. With the 145-pound weight class fragmented across Bellator and Invicta, Budd vs Coenen in 2016 is as good as we are likely to get for the featherweights.

29) Poliana Botelho (5-1)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Silvana Juarez (XFC International 11)
The city of Muriaé in Brazil has few sports stars and before 2015 no mixed martial artist who had achieved international recognition and success. That changed when Poliana Botelho entered XFC’s season II flyweight tournament. Botelho won her quarterfinal in 2014, before receiving a bye in the semi-final when Taila Santos pulled out. In March, the Nova Uniao fighter starched Antonia Silvaneide da Silva to become the tournament champion. Botelho’s success was celebrated as the people of Muriaé welcomed her home as she toured the city on a fire truck. Her year only got better as Botelho was matched up with Silvana Juarez — XFC’s season I tournament winner — to crown an XFC flyweight champion. In a back and forth contest that saw Botelho dropped in the third and on the verge of defeat, the Brazilian eventually forced Juarez to retire on her stool at the end of the fourth round.

28) Daria Ibragimova (9-1)
2015 record: 3-0
Most notable win: Anastasia Kravets (RFP – Ibragimova vs Kravets)
Having last suffered defeat in 2010 when she was submitted by Cindy Dandois, Russian featherweight Daria Ibragimova made 2015 her most productive year yet and did so in rapid fashion. Over a period of only 21 days in March, Ibragimova defeated Mariam Khalilova, Anastasia Kravets and Anastasia Plisenkova. That improved her record to 9-1 overall and saw her signed by Invicta Fighting Championships. Sadly we would not see Ibragimova again in 2015, but she is now set to face Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino on January 16 at Invicta FC 15. The doubts raised about the Russian’s previous level of competition will not apply when she steps into the Invicta cage to fight one of the greatest of all time.

27) Andrea “KGB” Lee (4-1)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Ariel Beck (Legacy Fighting Championship 49)
If 2014 was the year that Andrea “KGB” Lee emerged as a prospect at 125 pounds, 2015 saw her display a level of in-cage ability that makes a mockery of her young 4-1 professional record. The most versatile and creative striker in all of women’s MMA, Lee’s two wins in 2015 proved that she is much more than just a Muay Thai wrecking machine. In September at Invicta FC 14, Lee outstruck, out grappled, and violently outworked Rachael Ostovich before mercifully submitting her with only two seconds left in the fight. In December, the Karate Mafia fighter made her debut in the Legacy Fighting Championship cage against Ariel Beck. With the promotion’s flyweight title on the line, Beck was all heart and determination, escaping from perilous positions on more than one occasion. Ultimately that only delayed the inevitable as Lee submitted her opponent by armbar in the third round. With Invicta running a flyweight tournament in 2016, and a Legacy title to defend, Andrea Lee’s 2016 promises much.

26) Sabina Mazo (2-0)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Reina Cordoba (Center Real Fights 19)
Before facing Colombian flyweight Sabina Mazo, both Reina Cordoba and Alejandra Lara held impressive undefeated records. Lara was an emerging prospect who had gone 4-0 since turning pro in 2011. Cordoba was a top ten ranked flyweight who had won eight straight and only once gone to decision. That would soon change. Mazo was only one day removed from her 18th birthday when she faced Lara in March. Three rounds later she had won her professional debut and handed her opponent the first defeat of her pro career. That earned her a far greater opportunity in November where she was matched with Cordoba. Mazo was taken down early by her much more experienced opponent, but remained calm, working for submissions off her back and picking Cordoba off with her jab on the feet. That remained the story throughout as the 18-year-old’s straight punches found a home in Cordoba’s face, and she posed a constant submission threat on the mat. The eventual decision victory announcing Mazo as one of the most exciting prospects in the division.

25) Ayaka Hamasaki (12-1)
2015 record: 1-0
Most notable win: Herica Tiburcio (Invicta FC 13)
Before Ayaka Hamasaki stepped into the cage to face Herica Tiburcio for the Invicta atomweight title in July, Japanese fighters had struggled to make an impact with the all-female promotion. Ten times they had fought on Invicta cards, only twice had a Japanese fighter been victorious. One of those was Hamasaki herself, defeating Lacey Schuckman back at Invicta FC 2. The signs were not good for Hamasaki, not least because in Herica Tiburcio she was facing a ferocious pressure fighter who many were calling the next Claudia Gadelha — a fighter who had defeated Hamasaki at Invicta FC 6. Tiburcio was coming off an outstanding dethroning of former champion Michelle Waterson in December 2014 and was not expected to lose her title. Over five tough rounds, Hamasaki was able to control the talented young Brazilian for long periods en route to a split decision victory. Hamasaki may only have won one fight in 2015, but it was a mightily impressive one.

24) Paige VanZant (6-2)
2015 record: 2-1
Most notable win: Felice Herrig (UFC on FOX 15)
With the favorable way that Paige VanZant has been promoted throughout 2015, it would be all too easy to overlook her in-cage talent. Until she faced Rose Namajunas in December, VanZant had done everything she could to ensure that did not happen. In April VanZant faced Felice Herrig, a fighter with ten more fights on her record than VanZant at the time they fought. After losing a competitive first round, VanZant completely overwhelmed Herrig with her energy and movement, winning by unanimous decision. In September she faced Alex Chambers, once again improving as the fight went on before eventually submitting her opponent in the third round. That earned VanZant her first main event slot at UFC Fight Night 80, however, an injury to original opponent Joanne Calderwood hurt VanZant’s hopes of making it a perfect 3-0 for the year. In an instant, VanZant went from a well-matched pick’em fight to a terrible style matchup that she should never have been favored to win. For almost five rounds, Namajunas derailed the hype train in a one-sided fight that forced people to view VanZant in a more realistic way. At only 21-years-old as 2016 approaches, a little bit of pressure removed might not be such a bad thing.

23) Livia Renata Souza (8-0)
2015 record: 1-0
Most notable win: Katja Kankaanpaa (Invicta FC 12)
Brazilian strawweight Livia Renata Souza is one of eight fighters on this list who, sadly, we only got to see fight once in 2015. Few of those had a win as impressive as Souza’s against Katja Kankaanpaa in April. Through a 12-fight professional career, Kankaanpaa had only been defeated once, against Joanne Calderwood at Invicta FC 7. The reigning Invicta strawweight champion held wins over Mei Yamaguchi, Aisling Daly and Juliana Lima, and was expected to make the first successful defense of her title when she faced Souza at Invicta FC 12. The Brazilian had an impressive 7-0 record but had faced nowhere near the same level of competition. After three competitive rounds, Souza locked on a triangle in the fourth that forced Kankaanpaa to tap. Disappointingly we did not get to see Souza defend her title against Alexa Grasso later in the year, however, we now have the prospect of a much more compelling fight against DeAnna Bennett at Invicta FC 15 to look forward to.

22) Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger (6-2)
2015 record: 2-1
Most notable win: Zoila Frausto (RFA 31)
Defeating a fighter once considered the top strawweight in the world, winning championship gold, and forcing her way into the UFC. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger’s haul in 2015 was not a bad one at all. Already promoted by Resurrection Fighting Alliance as their top strawweight with back to back wins in 2014, JJL made it three straight when she defeated Maria Rios in February. Originally her next opponent was set to be Kinberly Tanaka Novaes, but when the Brazilian prospect pulled out of the fight after finding out she was pregnant, in stepped former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto. The two would meet in October for the RFA title. There, Jones-Lybarger outboxed her opponent and controlled her in the clinch for five rounds to win a one-sided decision. It was then Jones-Lybarger’s turn to step up on short notice when Michelle Waterson dropped out of UFC 194 through injury. It would not be a winning UFC debut for Jones-Lybarger, ultimately coming up short against Tecia Torres, but she proved that she can be a competitive force in the UFC’s strawweight division.

21) Sharon Jacobson (4-1)
2015 record: 3-0
Most notable win: Jamie Moyle (Invicta FC 14)
2015 was hectic, exciting and impressive for Sharon Jacobson. Three wins from three fights, a U.S. Open wrestling tournament win, and another year spent as a U.S. Army Sergeant. In January Jacobson competed in her third MMA bout, knocking out Ashley Deen in the first round. Invicta quickly came calling and at Invicta FC 12 in April Jacobson out-scrapped Delaney Owen to win a three round decision in a fight of the night effort. Only two weeks later Jacobson returned to the wrestling mat for the first time since a fourth-place finish at the 2012 U.S. Open. Competing as part of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, Jacobson won the 2015 U.S. Open. The year was rounded off with another fight of the night effort back in the Invicta cage. Facing her toughest test to date, Jacobson squared off with Jamie Moyle at Invicta FC 14 in September. The two fast rising prospects pushed each other all the way to a decision, and it was Jacobson’s hand that was raised to complete an exceptional year.

20) DeAnna Bennett (8-0)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Katja Kankaanpaa (Invicta FC 14)
When 2015 began DeAnna Bennett was one of the most overlooked talents in women’s MMA. Despite holding a 6-0 record that included wins over Julianna Pena, Colleen Schneider, and Jennifer Maia, she was still not being talked about as a title contender. 2015 would be the year that changed that as Bennett made the drop to strawweight. After defeating Norma Rueda Center in February at Invicta FC 11, Bennett was matched up with former strawweight champion Katja Kankaanpaa at Invicta FC 14 in September. Three tough rounds led to a contentious decision that had some fans complaining, and pushed Kankaanpaa towards retirement. In reality, it was the second that was the swing round, with Kankaanpaa more often controlling the position, while Bennett worked for a number of submissions. All three judges scored the bout 29-28 for Bennett. All three judges got it right, and should be commended for favoring offensive submission attempts over positional grappling with no end product.

19) Marion Reneau (6-2)
2015 record: 2-1
Most notable win: Jessica Andrade (UFC Fight Night 61)
Marion Reneau had been considered too old to become a force at 135 pounds, overlooked for season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter. Two months into 2015 she had quickly proved any naysayers wrong. Reneau made her UFC debut in January against Alexis Dufresne in one of the year’s most one-sided beatdowns. Over three rounds Reneau landed 85 significant strikes, 64 of them connecting with Dufresne’s head as she was systematically dismantled. Reneau got a quick turnaround, returning to the octagon against Jessica Andrade in Brazil in February. After being dropped by Andrade early, Reneau was able to pull the Brazilian into her guard and lock on a triangle to get the submission. Then came a fight which makes more sense now than it did at the time. For three rounds in July, Reneau, who some had favored to get the win, struggled to deal with Holly Holm’s footwork and striking from range. It was a frustrating night as Reneau was clearly outpointed by the crafty striker. Now that Holm has gone on to defeat Ronda Rousey — within two rounds no less– Reneau taking her the distance doesn’t seem like such a bad effort after all.

18) Alexis Davis (17-6)
2015 record: 1-0
Most notable win: Sarah Kaufman (UFC 186)
Another one-fight-wonder in 2015, Alexis Davis claimed the most notable scalp of her career in Canada in April. Given that Davis would announce her pregnancy later in the year and go on maternity leave, submitting Kaufman was a fitting note to leave on. After all, it was Kaufman who Davis had made her professional debut against in 2007. That night Davis was stopped in the third round. The two would fight again on a much larger stage in 2012 when they met under the Strikeforce banner. In a thrilling contest, it was Kaufman who won again and moved on to a title shot against Ronda Rousey. When the two were matched up in Montreal in April it was a chance for Davis to get a win back against one of her toughest opponents. Not only did she do exactly that, but it was a victory snatched — quite literally — from the jaws of defeat. After a difficult opening round that saw Kaufman resist takedown attempts, and light Davis up on the feet, there seemed to be only one winner. The second round started in much the same fashion until Davis was able to toss Kaufman to the mat. As both fought for position, Davis first went for a triangle then transitioned to an armbar to complete the come from behind victory.

17) Julia Berezikova (10-4)
2015 record: 2-0
Most notable win: Juliana Werner (XFC International 9)
Julia Berezikova had not fought since June 2013 when she stepped into the XFC International cage in March. Her opponent, Juliana Werner, was an experienced top-five flyweight, but that did not stop the Russian making a winning return. Werner was dispatched with a second-round kneebar as Berezikova catapulted herself into the top half of the 125 pound top ten. Berezikova fought again in October under the Eurasia Fight Nights banner and proved that she was here to stay. Brazilian Rosy Duarte had won five straight with her most recent effort a win over fringe top ten flyweight Elaine Albuquerque, but she could not handle the Russian’s vicious striking. The end would come little more than a minute into the second round as Berezikova connected with power, often, punches and knees landing to finish the fight. Based on what we saw from her in 2015, the Russian is a threat to any flyweight in the world.

16) Taila Santos (13-0)
2015 record: 9-0
Most notable win: Gisele Moreira (Aspera FC 23)
While many of the fighters in the top 50 are there because they secured quality wins in 2015, Brazilian Taila Santos makes the list for sheer quantity. Nine times she fought from February 1 to November 21. Nine times she was victorious. Only two opponents made it out of the first round, and only one of those managed to take Santos to a decision. The 22-year-old did not face the toughest competition in 2015, but just consider the schedule. Santos fought once in February, twice in March, once in April, twice in May, once more in June, and then completed her year with fights in August and November. Nine straight wins, no slip ups, no getting caught in a bad position and submitted, no unlucky breaks, no punches, kicks, elbows or knees that she did not see coming giving her opponents a flash-knockout win. On top of that Santos has done what good fighters are supposed to do when they face sub-par opposition, she has steamrolled through them at the same pace that she has taken fights in 2015. Who could bet against her being 20-0 by this time next year?

 

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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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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.

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
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • 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.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

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.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

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.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

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.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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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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