Sherdog.com’s WMMA Pound-for-Pound Top 10

By Sherdog.com Staff Feb 1, 2017

In less than 14 months, Valentina Shevchenko has put herself on the map among the pound-for-pound elite, and now she's headed for an Ultimate Fighting Championship title shot.

Shevchenko pulled out a sweet second-round armbar to tap fellow pound-for-pound entrant Julianna Pena in the UFC on Fox 23 main event on Jan. 28 in Denver. “Bullet” is now 3-1 since entering the UFC in December 2015, with increasingly impressive wins over Sarah Kaufman, Holly Holm and now Pena. With her latest conquest, she rises to No. 4 in these rankings.

More importantly, her win over Pena sets up a rematch with the only woman to beat her in the Octagon: UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, our No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound fighter. The Ronda Rousey era is over, and she's gone from this list; The Nunes-Shevchenko rivalry may be what takes the women's bantamweight division into its next great era.

Another era could be over soon, too. Our third-ranked entrant, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, has been a staple of this list since its launch. However, in spite of her lofty status, she was flagged for a banned substance in an out-of-competition test by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. While her punishment remains to be seen, it's likely that her time on the pound-for-pound list will be over in the near future.

1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (13-0)

Jedrzejczyk is the queen of the sport and looked every bit the part in her last UFC strawweight title defense, blistering fellow Polish countrywoman Karolina Kowalkiewicz for four of the five rounds and handing her foe the first loss of her pro career; she had also defeated Kowalkiewicz as an amateur back in 2012. “Joanna Champion” has bested the best at 115 pounds. With her Kowalkiewicz victory and pair of wins over another pound-for-pound standout, Claudia Gadelha, the question now centers on what challengers the UFC can develop for the Olsztyn, Poland, native. Michelle Waterson's recent high-profile win over Paige VanZant may jump her to the front of the line, but the development of other fighters such as Jessica Andrade, Alexa Grasso, Angela Hill and Tatiana Suarez could change things for the better in a hurry.

2. Amanda Nunes (14-4)

Since her third-round stoppage loss to Cat Zingano in September 2014, Nunes has been on fire. Her demolition of Miesha Tate in March saw her take the UFC women's bantamweight title, and her 48-second humiliation of Ronda Rousey in December saw her keep it. That made her one of the year's true breakout stars. Nunes' recent resume also includes wins over Olympic silver medalist and former UFC title challenger Sara McMann, as well as the surging Valentina Shevchenko, who figures to rematch Nunes next time out. Shevchenko gave “The Lioness” her most competitive fight in her recent run; and since the loss, Shevchenko has ripped off brilliant wins over Holly Holm and Julianna Pena to emerge as a pound-for-pound standout herself. Nunes' second title defense figures to be a massive challenge, and a second victory over Shevchenko would bolster the Brazilian's resume and legacy.

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

For over 11 years, Justino has run roughshod over every woman she has faced. The difficulty for the former Strikeforce featherweight champion and current Invicta Fighting Championships 145-pound queen has been consistently finding quality opponents, but she has managed to stay active over the last two years. With her UFC debut and the promotion's launch of a 145-pound division, it seemed like there would finally be a chance to see Cyborg fight the best women in the world on a regular basis. Instead, Justino in December turned down a spot in the inaugural UFC women's featherweight title fight and then was flagged by the USADA for a potential doping violation. The 31-year-old has dominated women's MMA in an unprecedented and unmatched manner throughout her career, but her blown test could put her on the sidelines for a while and remove her from this list.

4. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)

Shevchenko has been a revelation since her UFC debut just over 13 months ago, going 3-1, with that lone loss coming against current champion Amanda Nunes. She has since nabbed consecutive impressive wins over fellow pound-for-pound entrants Holly Holm and Julianna Pena; and her brilliant second-round armbar finish on the latter at UFC on Fox 23 showed Shevchenko's well-rounded MMA improvements since she began focusing on the sport more intently a few years ago. After all, between kickboxing and muay Thai, MMA is essentially Shevchenko's third sport. Courtesy of the Pena win, she is now due for a UFC title shot and rematch with Nunes later this year. A win over the Brazilian would not only be a massive pound-for-pound achievement but also likely help set up a trilogy and make Shevchenko-Nunes a historically noteworthy rivalry in the sport.

5. Claudia Gadelha (14-2)

Gadelha is an outstanding fighter with great wins on her record. Unfortunately, in the last 25 months, she has gone 2-2 and lost to Joanna Jedrzejczyk twice. While there is no slight in having two tough, competitive losses to the best woman in the sport, it leaves Gadelha in a tough position professionally and from a promotional standpoint. In order to get another crack at “Joanna Champion,” Gadelha will inevitably need to rattle off a long, impressive string of victories, similar to Joseph Benavidez in his quest for a third fight with Demetrious Johnson. However, “Claudinha” just turned 28, competes in a deep, talented division and now works out of Luttrell's MMA and Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- a move that could pay rich dividends. Her situation could be a lot worse.

6. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-1)

Perhaps this is just what “Joanna Champion” does to her vanquished challengers. While only one of Kowalkiewicz's losses to Joanna Jedrzejczyk happened as a pro -- Jedrezjczyk choked her out as an amateur in March 2012 -- her situation is still partially reminiscent of Claudia Gadelha's. Over the last two years and change, Kowalkiewicz has carved out a rock-solid resume at 115 pounds, the best women's division in the sport. However, she was dominated in lopsided fashion by Jedrzejczyk, and the injection of new blood into the division means her road back to another title shot could be a difficult one. Nonetheless, at 31, Kowalkiewicz is seemingly in the prime of her career, and there remains a large chunk of the 115-pound elite she has yet to fight. That bodes well for her chances to keep earning pound-for-pound credentials.

7. Ayaka Hamasaki (14-1)

In her last Invicta atomweight title defense, Hamasaki struggled against savvy striker Jinh Yu Frey but managed to retain her crown on a fortunate second-round cut stoppage. While it may not have been an inspiring performance, it was nonetheless another victory over a quality 105-pound fighter. In addition to her atomweight wins over the likes of Frey, Amber Brown, Herica Tiburcio and Nago Sugiyama, the first half of Hamasaki's career features a slate of great triumphs at 115 pounds. Her style is not always thrilling to watch, but the 34-year-old Abe Ani Combat Club product has been getting the job done against top competition for over seven years now and has done it in two weight classes.

8. Holly Holm (10-2)

Holm has lost her last two bouts, dropping the UFC women's bantamweight title via fifth-round submission to the now-retired Miesha Tate before being upset by Valentina Shevchenko over five rounds in July. Even so, Tate was a pound-for-pound talent and we have come to recognize Shevchenko as one herself. Holm's position is still buoyed by her November 2015 blowout of Ronda Rousey, the single most significant win in women's MMA history. It may seem like a lifetime ago, but it is still barely a year old. While it does not necessarily portend great opposition, Holm will get the chance to make history and become the first woman to win Ultimate Fighting Championship titles in two weight classes when she moves up to 145 pounds to face Germaine de Randemie for the inaugural UFC women's featherweight title. The 145-pound talent pool is lacking and there are still plenty of worthwhile bantamweight opponents for Holm, but what is most important for the 35-year-old is simply getting a W and maintaining her status as a pound-for-pound stalwart, new title belt or not.

9. Jennifer Maia (14-4)

Brazil's Maia is 7-1 in her last eight bouts; and in 2016, her hard-fought five-round decisions over Vanessa Porto and Roxanne Modafferi put her on top of the 125-pound division and made her Invicta champion. Flyweight remains the black sheep of women's divisions, but despite its low profile, Maia has great prospects for meritorious, interesting fights. There is a lot of up-and-coming 125-pound talent Invicta can bring in, and Bellator MMA has announced plans to crown a flyweight champion, as well. A true Curitiba native, Maia's aggressive, wild striking style could make her a cable TV asset for Bellator, too.

10. Julianna Pena (8-3)

In her biggest fight to date against Valentina Shevchenko, Pena had moments of success and nearly armbarred “Bullett” at the end of the first round at UFC on Fox 23. However, she wound up submitted by an armbar herself late in Round 2, dashing her hopes of the UFC title shot she has been so vocal about wanting. Nonetheless, Pena has a host of lopsided, dominant wins in the division; she is one of its most dynamic fighters; and she is still just 27 years old. More importantly, there is not exactly a wealth of hot contenders at 135 pounds. It seems feasible that “The Venezuelan Vixen” could end up with some top-10 wins in short order and be right back on the doorstep of a UFC title shot.

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