’s WMMA Pound-for-Pound Top 10

By Staff Jun 8, 2017
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is even further ahead of the pack without even lifting a finger this time.

At UFC 212 on June 3 in Rio de Janeiro, previously fifth-ranked Claudia Gadelha went home to Brazil to take on Poland's Karolina Kowalkiewicz, our sixth-ranked pound-for-pound entrant on our last list. It was a pairing of women previously turned away as challengers by “Joanna Champion,” the unanimous second-best versus third-best in the strawweight division. What resulted was Gadelha tearing Kowalkiewicz apart in just over three minutes. Not only does the win move the 28-year-old Brazilian up to into our P4P top three with the victory, it reinforces how truly dominant Jedrzejczyk is, as a woman she has now beat twice just might be the second-best woman in the game.

The rise of Gadelha sees Kowalkiewicz fall to No. 8 in this update, but it also means that “Claudinha” has bumped down her Brazilian countrywoman Cris Cyborg to the fourth spot.

Cyborg has been plagued by weak and infrequently solid opposition at 145 pounds, but perhaps those days are changing. While a fight with actual UFC featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie is hardly forthcoming and her desired bout against Invicta Fighting Championships ace Megan Anderson will have to wait, Justino will still end up on the UFC 214 card on July 29 in Anaheim, California and have the chance to put yet another knockout victim on her ledger.

But before Justino steps into the cage again, UFC 213 is still on deck three weeks prior, with our No. 2 fighter Amanda Nunes defending against No. 5 Valentina Shevchenko in a rematch for the UFC women's bantamweight title. For Nunes, is the chance to reiterate her place as the second-best woman in the world behind the 14-0 Jedrzejczyk. For Shevchenko, not only can she even the score after her March 2016 unanimous decision loss to “The Lioness,” she can leave Las Vegas with UFC gold and a spot truly among the sport's elite.

Read More » Sherdog Divisional Rankings

1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0)

With her fifth straight defense of the UFC women's strawweight title, there's no question Jedrzejczyk is the top woman in the sport and even her nearest competitor, Amanda Nunes, would have to do a lot of work at 135 pounds -- or another weight class -- to close the gap. At UFC 211 in Dallas, Texas, Jedrzejczyk turned away what many thought may be her most difficult challenger to date, former bantamweight Jessica Andrade, who had dropped 20 pounds to 115 and run roughshod over everyone she had faced. Instead, “Joanna Champion” shut the Brazilian out with ease and grace, setting FightMetric records in the process. The 29-year-old Pole's run over her last seven bouts is as good as any sustained run by a woman in the sport's history: Claudia Gadelha twice, Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Andrade. What's also notable in all of this is that Jedrzejczyk is so ahead of the pack that her dominance reaffirms itself by proxy. For instance, at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, our third-ranked Gadelha tore through now-No. 8 Kowalkiewicz in just over three minutes. While Jedrzejczyk has already beaten both twice – she topped Kowalkiewicz first as an amateur back in March 2012 -- “Claudinha” showing how dominant she when she's not facing Jedrzejczyk is a reminder of how outstanding the champion is. The most likely next challenger for Jedrzejczyk is exciting and charismatic Rose Namajunas, but unless Gadelha can somehow earn a third crack at the Polish star in the interim, the queen of the sport could be bound for 125 pounds, eventually.

2. Amanda Nunes (14-4)

Nunes is working on crafting a legacy. “The Lioness” is now 7-1 with six stoppages in her UFC tenure and has been increasingly and brutally dominant over her last five bouts, thrashing Shayna Baszler, Sara McMann, Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey. The other woman she defeated in that run, Valentina Shevchenko, was merely beaten rather than completely bashed. However, Shevchenko bounced back soundly with a pair of outstanding wins over former UFC women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm and another pound-for-pound entrant: Julianna Pena. Nunes will make the second defense of her UFC crown against Shevchenko at UFC 213 on July 8. With Shevchenko having further established herself as one of the best fighters in the world, a second win over “Bullet” would be even richer and more outstanding than Nunes' first. Beyond that, a second win over Shevchenko, who appears to the be the most stylistically intriguing fight for Nunes right now, would put the 28-year-old Brazilian in position to reign for some time at 135 pounds, given the lack of new, immediate contenders.

3. Claudia Gadelha (15-2)

No fighter wants to play the second fiddle position in their weight class. The likes of Joseph Benavidez and Jon Fitch are truly great, historically noteworthy fighters, but are defined by their failures to become champion despite being long-running No. 2 fighters. Gadelha is, in a bittersweet fashion, entrenched as the second best strawweight woman in the sport, given her two losses to top dog Joanna Jedrzejczyk. That said, at UFC 212 in front of a partisan Brazilian crowd, the 28-year-old Gadelha showed how far she is ahead not just of other strawweights not named Jedrzejczyk, but how far she simply is ahead of most fighters not named Jedrzejczyk. “Claudinha” destroyed the third-best 115-pounder in the world Karolina Kowalkiewicz, a pound-for-pounder in her own right, instantly reigniting questions about who she has to beat to get a third shot at “Joanna Champion.” For now, Gadelha is likely to knock off any 115-pound opposition she faces other than the champ and keep adding to a muscular resume that includes wins over Valerie Letourneau, Herica Tiburcio, Ayaka Hamasaki, Jessica Aguilar and Cortney Casey.

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

Justino hasn't been beaten since her pro debut over 12 years ago and she's absolutely destroyed all 18 opponents she's faced since. However, the larger issue with Cyborg remains her level of competition as a legitimate featherweight, even if she has brutally turned away every woman she's faced, including fighters like Marloes Coenen twice, Charmaine Tweet, Faith Van Duin, Daria Ibragimova and Leslie Smith. That competition is why she's dipped below the likes of Claudia Gadelha on our list, for instance. This is not for a lack of trying, however: Cyborg repeatedly called out newly-minted UFC women's featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie who at first remained publicly evasive before outright stating in late May that she wouldn't fight the 31-year-old Brazilian, labelling her a steroid user and a cheater. When it was clear the UFC champ wasn't interested, Justino changed tactics and sought a showdown with Invicta Fighting Championships titlist Megan Anderson at UFC 214 in Anaheim California on July 29. The fight would have truly been the biggest and best possible fight for Cyborg at this point, but ultimately, Anderson was booked for Invicta FC 24 on July 15, defending her title against Helena Kolesnyk. The former Strikeforce champ will stay on the UFC 214 in her adopted Orange County backyard, but whether she gets a quality featherweight or a pumped up bantamweight once more remains to be seen.

5. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)

Shevchenko has been one of MMA's most pleasant surprises over the last 18 months. It was just December 2015 when she debuted on short notice against former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman and earned a split decision win. “Bullet” has built a 3-1 Octagon record since, including a sound domination of former UFC women's bantamweight champ Holly Holm and a super-slick second-round armbar of our No. 9 entrant, Julianna Pena, in January. The lone loss for the Kyrgyzstani fighter was her March 2016 setback to Nunes. Now, Shevchenko has another date with Nunes lined up. If Shevchenko can avenge her loss to “The Lioness” and take the UFC women's bantamweight title at UFC 213 on July 8, she will join Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos as one of the “Big Three” in WMMA. Even if the 29-year-old Shevchenko is unsuccessful in her championship rematch with Nunes, given her size, there is always the possibility she could be a part of the UFC's embryonic 125-pound women's division, as well.

6. Jennifer Maia (14-4)

She's got tons of high-level experience, is coming into her prime at 28 years old and has the trademark, breakneck muay Thai style that is synonymous with the Chute Boxe Academy. Better still, Jennifer Maia's pair of wins over Vanessa Porto and Roxanne Modafferi have given her the No. 1 spot at 125 pounds and the Invicta FC flyweight title. Even better than that, all of a sudden, the125-pound class is getting the spotlight it never has, long considered the “other” women's division. The UFC and Bellator MMA are both expanding their divisions, while Invicta FC on May 20 put a slew of quality flyweights on display, with the aforementioned Modafferi, unbeaten Pole Aga Niedzwiedz and prospect Andrea Lee notching notable wins. Even with the close and competitive split decision between Maia and Modafferi last September, it's more likely Maia's next Invicta title defense will come against the 22-year-old Niedzwiedz, given her 10-0 record. No matter whom Maia's next challenger turns out to be, if she can retain once more and notch another top-quality win at 125 pounds, she should solidify a tenuous place on this plist and become a coveted target for both the UFC and Bellator as they look to bolster their respective flyweight divisions.

7. 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 starawweight 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.

8. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-2)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz is one of the best fighters in the world, but she's also part of the best women's division, which can make for serious adversity. That goes doubly so when you challenge for the UFC strawweight title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in November and your idea of a bounce-back bout is facing divisional No. 2 Claudia Gadelha, on road in Rio de Janeiro, in June. At UFC 212, Gadelha tore Kowalkiewicz apart in barely three minutes, tapping her with a rear-naked choke and re-affirming the deep stratification at the top of the 115-pound division: it's Joanna, Claudia and everybody else. Fortunately for the 31-year-old Kowalkiewicz, the strawweight division's difficult can be a curse -- especially when you face perhaps the two best women in the sport back-to-back – but it can also be a gift. “The Polish Princess” has notable wins over Mizuki Inoue, Kalindra Faria, Randa Markos and Rose Namajunas and there's no possible way her next booking could be as daunting and challenging as her last two, while also assuring her a legitimate, quality opponent.

9. 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, so 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. Also, with the UFC opening up its women's flyweight division, Pena has already discussed potentially dropping down to 125 pounds, where she could perhaps be an instant power player in the developing weight class.

10. Julia Budd (10-2)

Not only does Julia Budd have a win, at 145 pounds no less, over now-UFC featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie, her only career losses came in 2011, to two particularly noteworthy women in eventual UFC champs Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey. But, pound-for-pounders are not made on whom they lost to, it's the victories that count. While Budd, 33, is limited by the same 145-pound parameters that hurt “Cris Cyborg,” she also has gone undefeated for five-plus years and taken out a good swath of the top featherweights in the world, including Charmaine Tweet, Gabrielle Holloway, Arlene Blencowe and this past March, retiring legendary pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator MMA champion. While “The Jewel” is still going to face that uphill battle of being a true featherweight athlete, not only is the division deepening, but her promoter has shown a push to sign and quickly book 145-pound talent to produce contenders for Budd, with Amanda Bell-Alexis Dufresne and Blencowe-Sinead Kavanagh fights added to the company's schedule in recent weeks.


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