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Sherdog’s WMMA Pound-for-Pound Top 10

John Brannigan/Sherdog.com illustration


Julianna Pena lived up to her vow to shock the world.

Pena’s submission of Amanda Nunes in the UFC 269 co-main event is not only an “Upset of the Year” candidate for 2021, but perhaps one of the greatest shockers in the history of the sport. Pena has been through a lot in her UFC tenure to get to this point: a serious knee injury, an extended hiatus to become a mother and losses in two of three bouts from 2017 to 2020. Now, she owns a finish over an opponent widely regarded as the female GOAT.

Pena’s emergence makes for an interesting situation in Sherdog’s latest pound-for-pound rankings. Valentina Shevchenko has been the most dominant female in MMA the past few years, so despite a pair of losses to Nunes (the last one coming in 2017), she ascends to the top spot. Rose Namajunas, with five solid pound-for-pound triumphs to her credit in recent years – including an avenged defeat against Jessica Andrade – moves to No. 2. Pena checks in at an unlikely No. 3, while Nunes falls from first to fourth.

Perhaps an immediate rematch will be in store, giving Pena a chance to further solidify her status, or for Nunes to regain the status quo. For now, though, it’s a moment meant to allow us to celebrate the beautiful unpredictability of MMA.

Note: Previous ranking in brackets.

1. Valentina Shevchenko (22-3) [2]

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.

2. Rose Namajunas (11-4) [3]

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.

3. Julianna Pena (11-4) [NR]

Pena entered UFC 269 as a massive underdog, and she exited the event with the biggest upset of 2021 along with the bantamweight title in tow. A tenacious Pena survived a slugfest with Amanda Nunes and when her Brazilian foe fatigued, “The Venezuelan Vixen” capitalized with a takedown and rear-naked choke submission. Pena, who is victorious in seven of nine Octagon appearances, could be in line to face Nunes in an immediate rematch — but the 135-pound division appears to be more wide open that it has been in years.

4. Amanda Nunes (21-5) [1]

Nunes was a victim of 2021’s biggest upset at UFC 269, as she suffered a second-round submission loss to Julianna Pena in the evening’s co-main event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Nunes emptied her gas tank in a firefight against “The Venezuelan Vixen” in Round 2, and once she was unable to get the knockout, she succumbed to a rear-naked choke to relinquish the bantamweight belt. Considering she entered the bout with the unofficial title of women’s GOAT, an immediate rematch with Pena is a realistic possibility unless Nunes elects to defend her 145-pound title next.

5. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (25-2, 1 NC) [4]

It was business as usual for Justino at Bellator 271, as she dispatched Sinead Kavanagh via knockout 1:32 into the opening round at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on Nov. 12. It was the fifth consecutive win for “Cyborg,” who performed as expected in her latest title featherweight title defense. Unless Bellator can persuade two-time PFL lightweight champion Kayla Harrison — who was in attendance — to join the fold, challenges will remain scarce for the heavy-handed Brazilian at 145 pounds. The Chute Boxe standout thus far has finished all four of her opponents in Bellator MMA.

6. Weili Zhang (21-3) [5]

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.

7. Jessica Andrade (22-9) [6]

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 among the leaders in UFC women’s history in wins (13) and finishes (seven).

8. Germaine de Randamie (10-4) [7]

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.

9. Juliana Velasquez (12-0) [8]

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 (16-3) [9]

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.

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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