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The strawweight division is much more interesting with Rose Namajunas in it.
After being slammed on her head and contemplating retirement in 2019, “Thug” Rose made a triumphant return to the Octagon at UFC 251, as she gained a measure of revenge with a split-decision victory in a rematch against Jessica Andrade. Footwork, movement and accurate striking carried Namajunas, who looks like an interesting potential foil for reigning strawweight queen Weili Zhang. While the series between Namajunas and Andrade is currently tied at 1-apiece, recency bias allows for the Trevor Wittman protege to swap positions with her Brazilian rival in our latest pound-for-pound poll.
1. Amanda Nunes (20-4)Nunes was completely dominant against Felicia Spencer in the UFC 250 headliner, winning a lopsided unanimous verdict that wasn’t as close as the judges’ scorecards (50-44, 50-44, 50-45) indicated. That makes 11 consecutive triumphs for Nunes, who joins Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo as the only two UFC fighters two successfully defend titles in two different weight classes. “Lioness” is having a baby with her wife, UFC strawweight Nina Ansaroff, and has expressed a desire to spend the remainder of 2020 on the sidelines while she focuses on her family.
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. Her next title defense is expected to come against Joanne Calderwood.
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. Rose Namajunas (9-4)A devastating slam KO defeat to Jessica Andrade at UFC 237 had Namajunas contemplating retirement, but ultimately “Thug” Rose decided against calling it a career. The former champion made a triumphant return to the Octagon at UFC 251, where she racked up on early lead on the scorecards and held off a hard-charging Andrade down the stretch for a split-decision triumph at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi. While a trilogy with Andrade could be in store someday, Namajunas likely earned herself a shot at regining 115-pound champion Weili Zhang.
6. Jessica Andrade (20-8)Andrade struggled to solve the Rose Namajunas puzzle for two rounds at UFC 251, but “Bate Estaca” made things interesting with a rally in the third round of their strawweight rematch in Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately for Andrade it wasn’t enough, as the Brazilian dropped a split decision to Namajunas in contest that earned “Fight of the Night” honors. After winning seven of eight UFC appearances June 2016 to May 2019, the Brazilian has dropped back-to-back fights in the Octagon..
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.
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.
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