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Carla Esparza belongs in the pound-for-pound rankings just as much as she belongs in the UFC’s strawweight title picture.
After thumping the previously 15th-ranked Xiaonan Yan in the UFC Fight Night 188 co-main event, “The Cookie Monster” takes her opponent’s spot on the bubble in Sherdog.com’s latest female pound-for-pound rankings. The UFC’s inaugural strawweight queen has won five straight in the Octagon and could have a serious opportunity to rise in this poll if her efforts land a title shot in the near future.
Elsewhere, No. 4 Cristiane Justino held serve with a fifth-round technical knockout of Leslie Smith in a featherweight championship tilt at Bellator 259 on Friday. “Cyborg” has won four straight since a devastating defeat at the hands of top-ranked Amanda Nunes in 2018, but there’s no room for her to rise ahead of the trio of Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko and Rose Namajunas at this point in time.
Note: Previous ranking in parentheses.
1. Amanda Nunes (21-4) Nunes extended her winning streak to 12 at UFC 259, where she ran roughshod over Megan Anderson en route to a reverse triangle armbar submission at the 2:03 mark of Round 1. The consensus women’s GOAT now has three wins in 145-pound title bouts to her credit, but there doesn’t appear to be any worthwhile challenges in that division at the moment. With retirement no longer on her mind after the birth of her daughter, “Lioness” returns to 135 pounds to defend her bantamweight crown against Julianna Pena at UFC 265 on Aug. 7.
2. Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) Jessica Andrade was supposed to provide Shevchenko with her most difficult test since winning the vacant flyweight crown against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December 2018. Instead, “Bullet” rolled past the Brazilian, landing seven takedowns and finishing the fight in Round 2 with elbows from the mounted crucifix position. That makes five successful title defenses and seven consecutive victories overall for Shevchenko, who will potentially look to the winner of the Joanne Calderwood-Lauren Murphy fight at UFC 263 for her next opponent.
3. Rose Namajunas (10-4) Namajunas authored perhaps the most shocking finish of anyone at UFC 261, when she floored Weili Zhang with a head kick and sealed her victory with follow-up hammerfists 1:18 into the opening round of their co-main event encounter. “Thug” Rose can now call herself a two-time UFC strawweight champion, making her the first woman in any weight class within the Las Vegas-based promotion to reclaim a title she had previously lost. Namajunas has run the gantlet in recent years, posting wins over pound-for-pound stalwarts like Zhang, Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (twice) since 2017.
4. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (24-2, 1 NC) It took a little bit longer the second time around, but the result was otherwise the same, as Justino defended her featherweight crown with a fifth-round technical knockout of Leslie Smith in the Bellator 259 headliner at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. “Cyborg” previously dispatched Smith via first-round TKO in her Octagon debut at UFC 198 in May 2016. The 35-year-old Chute Boxe representative has won four straight bouts – three in Belllator – since her upset loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in December 2018. At the moment, Justino appears to have her sights set on a showdown with former UFC bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano.
5. Weili Zhang (21-2) More than a year removed from her all-time classic battle with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248, Zhang saw a 21-bout professional winning streak come to an end at the hands – or more accurately, the foot – of Rose Namajunas at UFC 261. While Zhang seemed poised for stardom prior to her head-kick knockout loss to Namajunas on April 24, the 31-year-old Chinese star shouldn’t be too far removed from contention thanks to a record that included victories in her first five Octagon appearances.
6. Jessica Andrade (21-9) Andrade had no answers for Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261, as she was taken down repeatedly and finished with elbows from the mounted crucifix position in the second round of their flyweight title bout on April 24. The former strawweight champion’s next move should be interesting. She has lost three of her last four UFC appearances, including setbacks to newly-crowned strawweight queen Rose Namajunas and ex-champ Weili Zhang. However, her 1-1 record vs. Namajunas could set the stage for a trilogy bout down the road.
7. Germaine de Randamie (10-4) De Randamie showcased a new element to her game at UFC on ESPN 16, as she submitted Julianna Pena with a guillotine choke in the third round of their bantamweight encounter at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 3. It was the first submission victory ever for the Dutch kickboxer, who rebounded from a five-round defeat to Amanda Nunes in a title bout at UFC 245 last December. De Randamie has won six of her eight promotional appearances, with her only two defeats both coming at the hands of Nunes.
8. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4) Jedrzejczyk was all heart at UFC 248. Despite being left nearly unrecognizable by the end of her co-headlining bout with Weili Zhang, the Polish star never kept pressing the action in the strawweight championship clash. Although she outlanded her foe in significant strikes, Jedrzejczyk wasn’t as powerful as the Chinese champion in striking exchanges and came up just short in a split-decision defeat. Once one of the sport’s most dominant champions, Jedrzejczyk only raised her stock despite falling to 6-4 in UFC title fights.
9. Juliana Velasquez (11-0) In a championship matchup of undefeated fighters, Velasquez ended Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s flyweight reign with a clear-cut five-round verdict in the Bellator 254 headliner on Dec. 10. The Brazilian judoka has been victorious in her first six promotional appearances and will make her first title defense against kickboxer Denise Kielhotz at Bellator 262 on July 16.
10. Julia Budd (15-3) It wasn’t as dominant as the majority of her performances, but Budd nonetheless added another victory to her ledger at Bellator 257, eking out promotional newcomer Dayana Silva on April 16. The former featherweight queen has been victorious in 13 of her last 14 professional appearances, with her lone defeat coming to current 145-pound champ Cristiane Justino in a title bout at Bellator 238. Budd’s latest win might not be enough to accelerate her path toward a rematch with “Cyborg.”
Other Contenders: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Seo Hee Ham, Ayaka Hamasaki, Holly Holm, Carla Esparza.
Sherdog’s divisional and pound-for-pound rankings are compiled by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Tristen Critchfield, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Ben Duffy, Jay Pettry, Edward Carbajal, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Mike Sloan, Tyler Treese and Lev Pisarsky.