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By running roughshod over Jessica Andrade, Weili Zhang ushered in a new era for the UFC —both in the strawweight division and for Chinese mixed martial arts.
Zhang’s 42-second stoppage of Andrade at UFC Fight Night 157 was swift and brutal, and more importantly, it gave China its first champion in the history of the Las Vegas-based promotion. By outbrawling an opponent who was coming off a pair of fearsome knockout wins, “Magnum” showed her considerable fighting chops. If she proves capable of an extended reign at 115 pounds, her marketing power for the UFC in the world’s most populous country could be even more impressive.
Regardless of what the future might bring, Zhang’s 20-bout winning streak – including her most noteworthy victory to date – makes her a deserving entrant into our female pound-for-pound poll.
1. Amanda Nunes (18-4)Nunes continued to make her case as the female “GOAT” at UFC 239, where she patiently waited for an opening before dispatching Holly Holm with a head kick and follow-up punches 4:10 into the opening stanza of their co-main event encounter at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That makes nine consecutive victories for “Lioness,” including six in title bouts. With a resume that also includes wins over the likes of Cristiane Justino, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Germaine de Randamie, the next task is simply finding a suitable challenge for the two-division champion. After Justino parted ways with the UFC, Nunes was booked against de Randamie in a bantamweight title tilt at UFC 245 on Dec. 14.
2. Valentina Shevchenko (18-3)It was far from enthralling, but Shevchenko was in completely control throughout her title defense against Liz Carmouche in the UFC Uruguay headliner. Even though her volume was lacking, a technical “Bullet” floored her opponent twice and did well in grappling exchanges with the physical Carmouche. The end result was a sweep of the scorecards and the fourth consecutive 125-pound victory for the reigning champion. The 31-year-old Tiger Muay Thai representative now owns victories over Carmouche, Jessica Eye and Joanna Jedrzejczyk in title bouts and continues to look like one of the most dominant champions in any UFC division.
3. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (21-2)It was only natural to wonder how “Cyborg” would fare coming off her first defeat in more than 13 years, but the heavy-handed Brazilian bounced back nicely at UFC 240, earning a unanimous decision victory against Felicia Spencer in the evening’s co-main event in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on July 27. It was the last fight on Justino’s UFC deal, and shortly thereafter promotion head Dana White confirmed that he was “out of the Cyborg business,” clearing the way for the ex-champ to join another organization. Regardless, Justino re-established herself as the clear No. 2 featherweight in the world.
4. Weili Zhang (20-1)Zhang was devastating on her home soil, putting an end to Jessica Andrade’s title reign in just 42 seconds at UFC Fight Night 157 in Shenzhen, China. “Magnum” pummeled Andrade with punches, elbows and knees at close range for a surprisingly quick finish to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history. Zhang’s professional winning streak is now at 20, a run that includes four victories in the Octagon. While the 30-year-old Black Tiger Fight Club member figures to be a valuable asset as the promotion continues to make inroads in China, she also showed she may just be scratching the surface of her potential by dispatching one of the most powerful women in the division. Zhang is expected to compete in the United States for her next title defense, but assuming her progression continues, a pay-per-view headlining spot in China is a realistic goal in the future.
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.
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 seems as though the 26-year-old could be leaning toward an early retirement. If she does decide to stick around, “Thug” Rose has shown a propensity to make great strides from bout to bout, and that includes UFC 237, where she battered, bloodied and dropped Andrade on the feet. Given a little more time to clear her head, it’s possible that Namajunas’ perspective could change, but don’t expect a quick turnaround either way.
7. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-3)Once regarded as the top female pound-for-pound talent in the sport, Jedrzejczyk now finds herself looking up at the top of two separate divisions following a loss to Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight strap at UFC 231. While the 31-year-old Poland native showed no quit in the bout, she simply had no clear answers for her opponent over the course of the 25-minute affair. Jedrzejczyk will return to 115 pounds for her next Octagon appearance when she faces Michelle Waterson at UFC Fight Night in Tampa on Oct. 12.
8. Germaine de Randamie (9-3)De Randamie made a great case to be the bantamweight No. 1 contender at UFC Sacramento, where she starched the previously unbeaten Aspen Ladd in just 16 seconds in the evening’s headliner. That makes five consecutive victories for the Dutch kickboxer, a streak that also includes wins over Raquel Pennington and Holly Holm. With Cristiane Justino out of the picture, “The Iron Lady” will get a chance to avenge a previous loss to Amanda Nunes when they square off for 135-pound gold at UFC 245.
9. Julia Budd (13-2)Budd continued to display her newfound penchant for finishing fights at Bellator 224, as she wiped out the previously unbeaten Olga Rubin at the 2:14 mark of Round 1 in the evening’s headliner in Thackerville, Okla., on June 12. The 36-year-old “Jewel” extended her winning streak to 11 with the fastest stoppage of her career and has now finished three of her last four foes under the Bellator banner. Budd has already targeted matchups with recent signee Leslie Smith or Rizin powerhouse Gabi Garcia in a potential cross-promotional duel.
10. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (10-0)Macfarlane had her hands full with Veta Arteaga at Bellator 220, but a powerful elbow from top position in third round quickly changed the course of the fight. The blow opened up a massive cut on Arteaga’s forehead, and moments later, a doctor entered the cage to halt the contest to give Macfarlane her third successful title defense. In her post-fight interview, “The Ilimanator” expressed a desire to give Arteaga an immediate rematch due to the nature of the stoppage. Regardless of what lies ahead, Macfarlane remains one of the brightest rising stars in the California-based promotion.
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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, Eric Stinton, Ben Duffy, Jay Pettry, Jacob Debets, Keith Shillan, Edward Carbajal, Jason Burgos, Guy Portman, Anthony Walker, Tudor Leonte, Cole Shelton, Abhinav Kini, Mike Sloan, Tom Feely and Tyler Treese.