’s WMMA Pound-for-Pound Top 10

By: Staff
Sep 28, 2017

Jessica Andrade shook up the strawweight rankings, and she is reconfiguring the pound-for-pound list, too.

Though the women’s strawweight class is among the sport’s deepest and most talented divisions, Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk and former challenger Claudia Gadelha cast a long shadow over the rest of their contemporaries, as they dominated everyone in their path, save for each other. With Gadelha having lost to Jedrzejczyk twice, however, the division seemed in a holding pattern until UFC Fight Night 117 in Saitama, Japan, where Andrade bloodied and battered her fellow Brazilian to win a unanimous decision and earn the biggest win of her career. Following the victory, the former bantamweight debuts in our pound-for-pound midst at No. 4, while “Claudinha” falls from third to fifth.

After UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta, Valentina Shevchenko understands the professional and promotional pain Gadelha faces with Jedrzejczyk. Shevchenko’s first bout with Amanda Nunes in March 2016 was competitive, with “Bullet” coming on late but losing a unanimous decision; and in their championship rematch, she lost a split decision most felt she deserved. With the defeat and Andrade’s ascent, Shevchenko drops one spot to No. 6, while contemplating whether or not a move to the UFC’s nascent women’s flyweight division is the right career choice.

Speaking of flyweight, both the UFC and Bellator MMA are focusing their efforts on fleshing out their respective divisions. Bellator will crown its inaugural women’s champion with a rematch between unbeaten Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Emily Ducote on Nov. 3, while the UFC will determine its first 125-pound women’s champ on Dec. 1 with the conclusion of “The Ultimate Fighter 26.” That bodes well for our newest entrant, as 10-0 Agnieszka Niedzwiedz debuts at No. 10 courtesy of her May win over Vanessa Porto and the inactivity of Julianna Pena. “Aga” is now in line for a shot at Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Jennifer Maia, our seventh-ranked entrant, and should be one of the most prized flyweight prospects for the sport’s two top promotions.

Read More » Sherdog Divisional Rankings

1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0)

Even a prizefighting fool needs to pay due reverence to Cristiane Justino for her 12-plus years of undefeated work, and Amanda Nunes’ recent run has been sensational. Yet, let there no be no confusion: “Joanna Champion” is the truest queen that cagefighting has to offer. In a pro career spanning less than six years, Jedrzejczyk has taken a stranglehold on the best division in the myopic realm of women’s MMA and lorded over one of the best weight classes in the entire sport. Carla Esparza? Savaged her for the strap. Claudia Gadelha? Twice defeated. Karolina Kowalkiewicz? Dominated her as an amateur and as a pro. Andrade? Pieced her up mere months ago. Because 115 pounds is such a hot division, “Joanna Champion” is not yet out of challengers, as more and more prospects continue to bubble up. In the meantime, however, the only immediately worthy challenger that the undefeated Pole has not wiped out is Rose Namajunas, the woman Jedrzejczyk will now meet on Nov. 4 at UFC 217 in New York. As she deserves, this will be the second time in as many trips to Madison Square Garden that Jedrzejczyk figures into a UFC title tripleheader.

2. Amanda Nunes (15-4)

Over the last three years, few fighters have blazed a path quite like Nunes. Since her September 2014 ground-and-pound loss to Cat Zingano, “The Lioness of the Ring” has not just gone 6-0 but ripped those challengers apart, save one: Valentina Shevchenko. While the Brazilian has blown away the likes of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Sara McMann, two of her key wins have come over Shevchenko, and her UFC 215 title defense over “Bullet” on Sept. 9 was highly dubious. Nonetheless, the 29-year-old remains perhaps the most dynamic woman in MMA and, in spite of the disputed result, has Shevchenko talking about moving down to 125 pounds. With the women’s bantamweight division craving depth -- not just in the UFC but in the sport on the whole -- the question now centers on who is going to fight Nunes next. The truth: There is no great answer. Top contender Raquel Pennington has not fought since November and is returning from surgery, and the UFC’s top 135-pound prospect, Ketlen Vieira, has spent less than three years as a pro fighter. Even still, the women’s bantamweight division remains one on which the UFC has a stranglehold, and as such, it will continue to farm for talent. That means Nunes’ next title defense is not far off, and when it happens, it will still come against quality opposition.

3. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (17-1, 1 NC)

Must we rehash these stats? Do you really need contextualization for Justino’s domination? Fine. She has not lost since her pro debut, meaning she is undefeated over 19 bouts spanning well over 12 years. More than that, Justino has not merely defeated everyone woman that has stepped in front of her in that time period; she has trashed them, finishing each opponent other than Vanessa Porto in 2005 and Yoko Takahashi in 2008. She has cleaned the clock of nearly every notable featherweight for a decade and any enterprising bantamweight who dared to bump up to 145 pounds for a payday. Now at 32 years old, Justino’s star has finally started to shine, as the UFC has crafted its women’s featherweight division around her and she wears its title. Resultantly, the question becomes one of who is to challenge the raucous Brazilian; the UFC women’s featherweight division remains underdeveloped, even behind Bellator MMA’s. The strange irony is that given the lack of depth among 145-pound women, the most meritorious fights for “Cyborg” are still those against accomplished bantamweights, so there is little surprise that former UFC bantamweight queen Holly Holm has called out the Brazilian for her first title defense. While Justino-Holm may not thrill everyone’s sensibilities, “The Preacher's Daughter” would still be the most relevant opponent “Cyborg” has faced in four or five years.

4. Jessica Andrade (17-6)

This is 2017, so the idea that any competitive fighter can leap into the elite echelons by dropping a weight class is largely dead. Andrade had been a competitive UFC bantamweight, going 4-3 in that run with wins over Rosi Sexton, Raquel Pennington, Larissa Pacheco and Sarah Moras; she was, most conservatively, a top-15 fighter at 135 pounds. However, the last 16 months have been a shocking revelation, as “Bata Estaca” dropped 20 pounds to make the strawweight limit and instantly turned into one of the best women in the sport. She completely destroyed Jessica Penne and Joanne Calderwood last year and beat former Invicta champion Angela Hill in February in one of the year’s best fights. No one held it against the Brazilian in May when she was dominated at UFC 211 by the queen of the sport, Joanna Jedrzejczyk; that is just what “Joanna Champion” does. However, the lack of competitiveness seemed to reinforce the idea that the women’s 115-pound division was about Jedrzejczyk, former challenger Claudia Gadelha and everyone else as an also-ran. That was a fool’s notion. At UFC Fight Night 117 in Saitama, Japan, Andrade overcame a rocky start to turn Gadelha into a bloody mess, brutalizing “Claudinha” for the final two rounds of the fight. This is unquestionably the biggest win of Andrade’s career, as Gadelha ranks as the best woman in the sport she could have defeated without winning a title. Now, Andrade finds herself right back in the title hunt, but there may not be an immediate push for such a quick second title bid for her, should Jedrzejczyk dispose of Rose Namajunas in November,. As a result, Andrade may have to settle for feasting on more top-10 opposition, which is just fine by us.

5. Claudia Gadelha (15-3)

It seems unfortunate, even unfair, that Gadelha’s career has been defined by her defeats. For over seven years now, she has been one of the very best fighters at 115 pounds, which also happens to be one of the premier divisions in MMA. She has beaten underrated fighters like Kalindra Faria and Herica Tiburcio, former divisional No. 1s like Jessica Aguilar, pound-for-pounders like Ayaka Hamasaki and former UFC title challengers like Valerie Letourneau and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. However, despite her accomplishments, Gadelha’s two losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk cast the Brazilian as “Joanna Champion’s” beta. In light of that, “Claudinha” looked better than ever against fellow Brazilian Jessica Andrade at UFC Fight Night 117, blistering her in the standup for four minutes. Then, Gadelha’s cardiovascular Achilles’ heel showed up once again as she tired and then got slammed, slashed and smacked around by Andrade en route to losing a unanimous decision. While the Andrade loss may offer legitimate insights into Gadelha’s ceiling and her ongoing stamina issues, it is not a refutation of her truly awesome resume. Rather, it is a reminder of the depth and quality present in the women’s strawweight division.

6. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3)

Few fighters are in as sympathetic of a position as Shevchenko. Admittedly, part of it is her quaint charisma. She has a quiet charm that belies being a professional prizefighter, her trademark celebration is a traditional Kyrgyz dance, and she is obsessed with firearms to the point of being nicknamed “Bullet” and having a gun tattooed on her hip. However, the real thrust of her predicament is one that MMA fans understand well. It is difficult when you have two losses in a short period of time to your archrival and that individual happens to be champion. Look at Joseph Benavidez or Claudia Gadelha; the MMA world now recognizes this as one of the most frustrating and pitiable scenarios in the sport. The 29-year-old is just 3-2 in the Octagon, but she has an outstanding win over Sarah Kaufman, plus victories over two then-pound-for-pound entrants in Holly Holm and Julianna Pena. Her two losses came to current champion Amanda Nunes in close, competitive fights. Most scored their UFC 215 main event in Edmonton, Alberta, 48-47 for the challenger, who wound up losing a razor-thin split decision that hinged on the fifth and final round. Her performance in the rematch certainly showed that Shevchenko is one of MMA’s finest, but it goes down in the history books as a loss nonetheless and one that has serious professional implications. While we have no qualms with Shevchenko taking on new, interesting foes at 135 pounds, the real question centers on what she will have to do to realistically earn a third crack at Nunes. Wisely, Shevchenko has already started about talking moving down to 125 pounds, where she could be an immediate focal point of the UFC’s nascent division.

7. Jennifer Maia (14-4)

Maia remains one of the sport’s under-the-radar champions, which may seem hard to believe. After all, how does a Chute Boxe product who fights like a Chute Boxe product not get requisite attention? Well, the Invicta Fighting Championships titlist has not fought for a year, which does not help her case. Also, Maia has never been seen as a great, top-flight prospect but rather a tough muay Thai battler likely to lose to the best in her weight class. The biggest culprit, however, is that Maia has found her stride in the flyweight division. Since her December 2014 loss to current “Ultimate Fighter” competitor DeAnna Bennett, Maia has gone 5-0 and more importantly won back-to-back five-round decisions over Vanessa Porto and Roxanne Modafferi, the two top 125-pounders in the world at that point. However, in the 12 months since Maia beat Modafferi, the UFC and Bellator MMA have started to emphasize flyweight women. Maia now stands at a curious juncture of the present and future. She could be a prized free agent for either promotion and put herself on the map, especially if she can defend and retain her Invicta title. However, if she does not catch a contract and chooses instead to head back to Invicta, her next bout figures to be against undefeated Pole Agnieszka Niedzwiedz, who would be a serious threat to cool Maia’s hot streak and hurt her earning potential.

8. Ayaka Hamasaki (14-2)

Before dropping to 105 pounds almost three years ago, Hamasaki had a distinguished career as a strawweight, submitting an MMA legend in Yuka Tsuji, topping Emi Fujino and taking a pair of wins over Seo Hee Ham. In fact, the only woman to beat Hamasaki at 115 pounds was a fellow pound-for-pound entrant, the much larger Claudia Gadelha. That was until Hamasaki moved back up to strawweight to face former Invicta champion Livia Renata Souza at Invicta 22 on March 25 and got absolutely torched in less than two minutes. Even with the resounding defeat to Souza, Hamasaki remains incredibly accomplished in two weight classes and is still the top atomweight woman in the world. Presumably, the crushing defeat to Souza will do what the Gadelha defeat did and send Hamasaki back to 105 pounds to defend her Invicta title in the rapidly improving weight class over which she reigns. There, she is 5-0 with wins over Herica Tiburcio, Jinh Yu Frey, Amber Brown, Mei Yamaguchi and Naho Sugiyama.

9. Julia Budd (10-2)

Budd has only lost twice in her career, and those losses came nearly six years ago. More than that, they came against current UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and the former queen of the sport, Ronda Rousey. Since 2012, however, Budd has quietly and methodically worked her way through a wide swath of the 145-pound division, and in March, she pounded out perennial standout Marloes Coenen to become the inaugural Bellator MMA women’s featherweight champion, retiring the Dutch pioneer in the process. The women’s 145-pound class may not have incredible depth, but Budd’s recent wins over Coenen, Gabrielle Holloway, Roberta Paim Rovel, Arlene Blencowe and Charmaine Tweet are all high-quality victories. Injuries have been a big part of why the 34-year-old Canadian has not been especially active, which has hurt her not just physically but promotionally. However, the real problem is that Budd is the second banana at 145 pounds, a division that is nearly completely synonymous with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, now the UFC’s featherweight queen. It is a positive that Bellator has started to emphasize the division, and the arrival of undefeated Brazilian Talita Nogueira should give Budd an immediate top-flight foil. Nonetheless, Budd has her work cut out for her to be seen as anything other than a champion in the shadow of “Cyborg.”

10. Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (10-0)

Given her youth, judo skills, natural top game and Poland’s staggering recent trend of churning out elite fighting women, Niedzwiedz was already an outstanding bantamweight prospect. However, though she had some initial trouble dealing with the cut to 125 pounds, Niedzwiedz’s move to flyweight has paid immediate dividends. She cleaned up on Christine Stanley in her Invicta debut and, despite missing the flyweight limit, punched out solid Brazilian Samara Santos in December. At Invicta 23, she made the leap from prospect to contender, earning a unanimous decision over perennial Brazilian standout Vanessa Porto for the biggest win of her career. At just 22 years old, “Kuma’s” future looks incredibly promising, and that promise may be actualized sooner rather than later. The win over Porto makes her far and away the top contender to fellow pound-for-pounder Jennifer Maia’s Invicta title, and with the UFC and Bellator MMA looking to stockpile their respective women’s flyweight divisions, Niedzwiedz should be in the big time soon.

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