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She took an entirely different route to get there this time around, but Rose Namajunas is now 2-0 against Weili Zhang.
“Thug Rose” relied on her grappling and top control down the stretch to eke out a split-decision triumph over Zhang in the UFC 268 co-main event at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night. It wasn’t nearly as emphatic as her first victory over the Chinese standout, when she won via head-kick KO in 78 seconds at UFC 261 in April, but achieving victory by different means is often the sign of a champion with staying power. While Namajunas is entering the conversation as perhaps the top strawweight of all-time, she remains firmly behind Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko in Sherdog’s female pound-for-pound rankings at No. 3.
Note: Previous ranking in brackets.
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 don’t appear to be any worthwhile challenges in that division at the moment. “Lioness” was supposed to return to 135 pounds to defend her bantamweight crown against Julianna Pena at UFC 265 but was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. The bout has been rescheduled for UFC 269.
2. Valentina Shevchenko (22-3) Shevchenko added another scalp to her collection in the UFC 266 co-main event, gradually building to a fourth-round stoppage of Lauren Murphy at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 25. That’s six consecutive title defenses — and eight straight victories overall — for “Bullet,” who is well-established as the greatest female flyweight in UFC history. With victories over the likes of Murphy Jessica Andrade, Katlyn Chookagian, Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye, Shevchenko seems to be running out of challenges at 125 pounds. However, the UFC has not shown interest in booking a trilogy between Shevchenko and two-division champion Amanda Nunes at this point in time.
3. Rose Namajunas (11-4) After a shockingly quick head-kick KO victory over Weili Zhang in their first meeting at UFC 261, Namajunas relied on a different approach in the rematch, relying on her takedowns and grappling down the stretch for a split-decision triumph in the UFC 268 co-headliner at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 6. With the win, the reigning strawweight queen improved to 4-0 in rematches during her UFC tenure. Another return date against inaugural 115-pound champion Carla Esparza could be on the horizon for Namajunas, who fell to “Cookie Monster” at “The Ultimate Fighter 20” finale in December 2014..
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 Bellator – since her upset loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in December 2018. Justino’s next title defense will come against Sinead Kavanagh at Bellator 271.
5. Weili Zhang (21-3) Zhang had a far better showing the second time around against Rose Namajunas, but she nonetheless wound up on the wrong end of the scorecards in a split decision loss in the UFC 268 co-main event. While it wasn’t nearly as discouraging as a head kick KO defeat, Zhang falls to 0-2 against Namajunas, which means she may need another champion to be crowned to be a factor in the title picture anytime soon. Regardless, the 32-year-old Chinese standout is well established as one of the top 115-pound talents in the sport and will be a tough out for most anyone in the division.
6. Jessica Andrade (22-9) Andrade was in peak form at UFC 266, as she walked Cynthia Calvillo down and landed power punches until her opponent was unable to defend against the Brazilian’s onslaught at the 4:54 mark of Round 1 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 25. The former strawweight champion bounces back from a TKO loss to reigning 125-pound champ Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 261 while winning for the second time in three Octagon appearances since moving up to flyweight. Andrade currently ranks second in UFC women’s history in wins (13) and finishes (seven).
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. 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. De Randamie has won six of her eight promotional appearances, with her only two defeats both coming at the hands of Nunes. “The Iron Lady” was scheduled to meet Irene Aldana at UFC 268 before an injury forced her out of the bout.
8. 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.
9. Julia Budd (16-3) Budd made her Professional Fighters League debut at the organization’s championship event on Oct. 27, where she captured a unanimous decision over Invicta FC veteran Kaitlin Young. Budd has won three straight since relinquishing the Bellator featherweight crown to Cristiane Justino in January 2020. The only women to beat the 38-year-old Canadian in MMA competition are Budd, Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey, which makes her an interesting foil for Kayla Harrison if the two-time Olympic gold medalist remains with the PFL. However, Budd’s days in the featherweight rankings could be numbered if she continues to compete at 155 pounds.
10. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-1) For five rounds, Macfarlane struggled to navigate the size and strength advantages of Juliana Velasquez en route to a unanimous decision loss in the Bellator 254 headliner on Dec. 10 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. That ended the championship reign of the Hawaiian, who captured the Bellator’s inaugural 125-pound crown and defended it four times, all while becoming one of the California-based promotion’s biggest stars. Considering those credentials, Macfarlane may not be far off from another title shot — and an immediate return date with Velasquez might not be that farfetched.
Other Contenders: Seo Hee Ham, Ayaka Hamasaki, Holly Holm, Carla Esparza, Liz Carmouche.
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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