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It was a strawweight championship fight for the ages.
The UFC 248 co-main event clash between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk was so competitive, so entertaining and so brutal that’s it’s a shame anyone had to lose. Ultimately, that burden fell on Jedrzejczyk, who came out on the wrong end of a split decision.
Neither Zhang nor Jedrzejczyk will see their pound-for-pound status change after Saturday night, but if the Chinese champion continues to impress, it’s not difficult to imagine her ascending past current No. 3 Cristiane Justino as time passes. After all, Zhang resides in perhaps the deepest women’s division, while “Cyborg” might quickly run out of challenges in Bellator MMA. For now, however, let’s simply appreciate the efforts of two of the sport’s pound-for-pound best, as Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk takes an early lead for 2020 “Fight of the Year.”
1. Amanda Nunes (19-4)It wasn’t a breathtaking knockout like some of her recent efforts, but Nunes showed a different aspect of her game at UFC 245. “Lioness” grounded Germaine de Randamie repeatedly and controlled the majority of their fight from top position en route to a unanimous decision victory in a bantamweight title clash at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Additionally, Nunes had to survive a few moments of adversity — something she hasn’t experienced of late — to earn her 10th straight triumph in the Octagon. Nunes will defend her featherweight crown next when she meets Felicia Spencer at UFC 250 in Brazil on May 9.
2. Valentina Shevchenko (19-3)Shevchenko continues to look unstoppable in the UFC women’s flyweight division. “Bullet” absolutely overwhelmed Katlyn Chookagian in the UFC 247 co-main event in Houston, eventually trapping her opponent in a mounted crucifix and raining down strikes for a technical knockout stoppage at the 1:03 mark of the third round. Shevchenko has won five straight since dropping a closely-contested split verdict to Amanda Nunes at UFC 215, and at the moment, it appears that the most serious challenges for her would come in a trilogy with Nunes or a superfight against strawweight queen Weili Zhang. However, Shevchenko insists that plenty of options remain at 125 pounds.
3. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (22-2, 1 NC)Justino looked quite comfortable in her new home, as she overwhelmed Julia Budd for a fourth-round technical knockout victory in the Bellator 238 headliner at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Jan. 25. The victory gives “Cyborg” championships in four major organizations over the course of her career – Bellator, UFC, Invicta FC and Strikeforce – and re-affirms her position as one of the greatest female mixed martial artists of all time. As has been the case throughout her career, the heavy-handed Brazilian could soon find the pickings slim when it comes to challengers in Bellator’s 145-pound division.
4. Weili Zhang (21-1)One bout removed from a 42-second stoppage of Jessica Andrade, Zhang showcased an ability to prevail in a battle of attrition, as she outdueled Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a five-round classic to retain the strawweight crown in the UFC 248 co-main event. Zhang extended her winning streak to 21 thanks to superior punching power that left a grotesque hematoma on Jedrzejczyk’s forehead. Zhang’s victory was all the more impressive considering that her camp was altered due to coronavirus concerns in her homeland of China. Zhang and Jedrzejczyk could be destined for a rematch down the road, but it will be difficult to top their first meeting, which ranks as perhaps the greatest female fight of all-time.
5. Jessica Andrade (20-7)Andrade’s championship reign proved to be short lived – one of the shortest in UFC history, in fact – as she suffered a 42-second technical knockout loss to Weili Zhang in the UFC Fight Night 157 headliner in Shenzhen, China on Aug. 31. The Brazilian’s willingness to engage ultimately cost her when Zhang clipped her with a right hook and unloaded with knees, elbows and punches in close quarters for a surprisingly quick finish. That ends a four-bout winning streak for “Bate Estaca,” who was coming off consecutive knockout wins over Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Andrade will face Namajunas in a rematch at UFC 249.
6. Rose Namajunas (8-4)Namajunas looked sharp in her second title defense at UFC 237. That is, until challenger Jessica Andrade knocked her unconscious with a slam 2:58 into the second round of their headlining bout in Rio de Janeiro. Namajunas’ reaction after the defeat was one of relief, and it seemed as though the 26-year-old was leaning toward an early retirement. After taking some time off, Namajunas has elected against calling it a career and will return to the Octagon in a rematch with Andrade at UFC 249 on April 18.
7. 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. Once she recovers from the grueling affair, a rematch with Zhang could be in store.
8. Germaine de Randamie (9-4)De Randamie certainly had her moments against Amanda Nunes at UFC 245, but a lack of consistent takedown defense ultimately proved to be her undoing. “The Iron Lady” had some success on the feet and even threatened with a few submissions, but she was largely controlled on the canvas in losing a unanimous decision at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. As long as she’s active, the Dutchwoman figures to remain a top contender, as her only two defeats in nine bouts since 2012 have come at the hands of Nunes.
9. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-0)Macfarlane was rarely threatened in her latest title defense, as she cruised to a unanimous decision over Kate Jackson in the Bellator 236 headliner at Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. Macfarlane was on the verge of a finish in the fourth and fifth rounds, but Jackson relied on her tenacity to survive until the final bell. Macfarlane now has four successful championship defenses to her credit since winning the inaugural 125-pound belt in November 2017. Interesting future challenges loom in the form of streaking flyweight Juliana Velasquez along with recently-signed training partner — and two-division UFC title challenger — Liz Carmouche.
10. Julia Budd (13-3)Budd tasted defeat for the first time since November 2011, falling to Cristiane Justino via fourth-round technical knockout in the Bellator 238 main event at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif, on Jan. 25. While “The Jewel” was able to remain competitive early on thanks to her size and strength, she eventually wilted under “Cyborg’s” trademark offensive pressure. Considering her dominance in the division prior to Justino’s arrival, it’s not unreasonable to think that Budd could earn herself a rematch in relatively short order. Regardless, Budd’s losses are just about as impressive as it gets in women’s MMA: Justino, Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes.
Other Contenders: Tatiana Suarez, Seo Hee Ham, Ayaka Hamasaki, Holly Holm, Nina Ansaroff.
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, Anthony Walker, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Mike Sloan, Patrick Auger and Tyler Treese.