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Juliana Velasquez had her hands full with Denise Kielholtz in her first flyweight title defense at Bellator 262.
The 34-year-old Team Nogueira representative relied on her superior reach and jab to hold off the hard-charging kickboxer for a split-decision triumph in Friday’s main event at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. In passing her most difficult test to date, Velasquez remained unbeaten as a professional and improved to 7-0 under the Bellator banner. The narrow nature of the triumph doesn’t allow for any upward movement in women’s pound-for-pound poll for the Brazilian, but she does maintain her grip on the ninth position. Going forward, Velasquez has a number of interesting opponent options, including rematches with Kielholtz and Ilima-Lei Macfarlane as well as a clash with UFC veteran Liz Carmouche.
Note: Previous ranking in parentheses.
1. Amanda Nunes (21-4) Nunes extended her winning streak to 12 at UFC 259, where she ran roughshod over Megan Anderson en route to a reverse triangle armbar submission at the 2:03 mark of Round 1. The consensus women’s GOAT now has three wins in 145-pound title bouts to her credit, but there doesn’t appear to be any worthwhile challenges in that division at the moment. With retirement no longer on her mind after the birth of her daughter, “Lioness” returns to 135 pounds to defend her bantamweight crown against Julianna Pena at UFC 265 on Aug. 7.
2. Valentina Shevchenko (21-3) Jessica Andrade was supposed to provide Shevchenko with her most difficult test since winning the vacant flyweight crown against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December 2018. Instead, “Bullet” rolled past the Brazilian, landing seven takedowns and finishing the fight in Round 2 with elbows from the mounted crucifix position. That makes five successful title defenses and seven consecutive victories overall for Shevchenko, who will next face Lauren Murphy in the co-main event at 266 on Sept. 25.
3. Rose Namajunas (10-4) Namajunas authored perhaps the most shocking finish of anyone at UFC 261, when she floored Weili Zhang with a head kick and sealed her victory with follow-up hammerfists 1:18 into the opening round of their co-main event encounter. “Thug” Rose can now call herself a two-time UFC strawweight champion, making her the first woman in any weight class within the Las Vegas-based promotion to reclaim a title she had previously lost. Namajunas has run the gantlet in recent years, posting wins over pound-for-pound stalwarts like Zhang, Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (twice) since 2017.
4. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (24-2, 1 NC) It took a little bit longer the second time around, but the result was otherwise the same, as Justino defended her featherweight crown with a fifth-round technical knockout of Leslie Smith in the Bellator 259 headliner at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. “Cyborg” previously dispatched Smith via first-round TKO in her Octagon debut at UFC 198 in May 2016. The 35-year-old Chute Boxe representative has won four straight bouts – three in Belllator – since her upset loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in December 2018. At the moment, Justino appears to have her sights set on a showdown with former UFC bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano.
5. Weili Zhang (21-2) More than a year removed from her all-time classic battle with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248, Zhang saw a 21-bout professional winning streak come to an end at the hands – or more accurately, the foot – of Rose Namajunas at UFC 261. While Zhang seemed poised for stardom prior to her head-kick knockout loss to Namajunas on April 24, the 31-year-old Chinese star shouldn’t be too far removed from contention thanks to a record that included victories in her first five Octagon appearances.
6. Jessica Andrade (21-9) Andrade had no answers for Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261, as she was taken down repeatedly and finished with elbows from the mounted crucifix position in the second round of their flyweight title bout on April 24. The former strawweight champion’s next move should be interesting. She has lost three of her last four UFC appearances, including setbacks to newly-crowned strawweight queen Rose Namajunas and ex-champ Weili Zhang. However, her 1-1 record vs. Namajunas could set the stage for a trilogy bout down the road.
7. Germaine de Randamie (10-4) De Randamie showcased a new element to her game at UFC on ESPN 16, as she submitted Julianna Pena with a guillotine choke in the third round of their bantamweight encounter at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 3. It was the first submission victory ever for the Dutch kickboxer, who rebounded from a five-round defeat to Amanda Nunes in a title bout at UFC 245 last December. De Randamie has won six of her eight promotional appearances, with her only two defeats both coming at the hands of Nunes.
8. 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.
9. Juliana Velasquez (12-0) Faced with a game challenger in Denise Kielholtz in the Bellator 262 headliner, Velasquez relied on her jab and superior reach to capture a closely-contested split-decision triumph on July 16 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. It was the seventh triumph for Velasquez under the Bellator banner — and arguably her most difficult to date. The 34-year-old Team Nogueira shouldn’t lack for interesting matchups in the coming month: Rematches with either Kielholtz or Ilima-Lei Macfarlane could both be appealing, as is a fresh showdown with former two-division UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche.
10. Julia Budd (15-3) It wasn’t as dominant as the majority of her performances, but Budd nonetheless added another victory to her ledger at Bellator 257, eking out promotional newcomer Dayana Silva on April 16. The former featherweight queen has been victorious in 13 of her last 14 professional appearances, with her lone defeat coming to current 145-pound champ Cristiane Justino in a title bout at Bellator 238. Budd’s latest win might not be enough to accelerate her path toward a rematch with “Cyborg.”
Other Contenders: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Seo Hee Ham, Ayaka Hamasaki, Holly Holm, Carla Esparza.
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, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Mike Sloan, Tyler Treese and Lev Pisarsky.
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