UFC President Dana White has long gone on the record that the divisions in Women’s MMA are not deep enough for the UFC to support female fighters. That may be changing as women continue to make an impact in the sport, particularly on the heels of Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman.
On the amateur fight circuit, this writer has personally seen female bouts double the attendance figures over an all-male card. If Dana White fails to see that aspect of it, there are plenty of other promoters who do, such as Scott Coker of Strikeforce and Bjorn Rebney of Bellator.
The well is deep with talent and there are more female fighters out there than most people think. Some do not stay in the game long, but others seem to have been there for almost a decade. When I started this list, I intended to make it the top female fighters to include female boxing legends like Mia St. John (46-11-2, 18 KOs) and Christy Martin (49-6-3, 31 knockouts); however, it turned out that there were plenty of female MMA fighters to make this list, although one boxer/kickboxer made the cut based on her amazing record.
Lucia Rijker, a Dutch professional female boxer and kickboxer has been dubbed by the press as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the World”. Her boxing record is 17-0 (14 K.O.’s) including the WIBF Welterweight Title, and her kickboxing record is 37-0 (25 K.O.’s), with five world titles to her credit. She had her sole defeat in October 1994 at an exhibition Muay Thai kickboxing match against a male opponent, Somchai Jaidee of New Zealand by way of a second round knockout.
She appeared as a female boxer, Billie “The Blue Bear”, in the 2004 film, Million Dollar Baby. Not completely forsaking the fight game for films and television, she is currently working as Ronda Rousey’s striking coach. This connection to Rousey and her unblemished record is why she made the list.
Jessica Aguilar made her professional MMA debut on February 18, 2006 at Absolute Fighting Championships 15. She faced Lisa Ellis and was defeated by submission due to a rear-naked choke in the second round. She bounced back with a string of 3 victories in the Orlando, Florida based Combat Fighting Championship series. She made her Bellator debut at Bellator 24 on August 12, 2010, defeating Lynn Alvarez by submission due to an arm-triangle choke in the first round to advance to the semi-finals of the Bellator tournament. Despite dominating Zoila Gurgel at Bellator 31, she lost by way of a controversial split decision. She made up for that loss by winning against Carla Esparza at Bellator 46 and rematched her nemesis, Lisa Ellis, at Bellator 58 in November 2011. She earned her 14th career victory against Megumi Fujii at Bellator 69 on May 18, 2012 by unanimous decision and became the current Bellator Season 3 Womens 115 lbs Tournament Semifinalist
Megumi Fujii (25-2) holds black belts in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and as a result is renowned for her quick takedowns and submissions. Her most popular move is the Inazuma Toe Hold submission, dubbed the Megulock. She was trained in MMA by Shooto veteran Hiroyuki Abe and former UFC Heavyweight Champion and King of Pancrase Josh Barnett. She has trained several other female MMA fighters herself, including current top fighter Hitomi Akano.
Fujii made her MMA debut on August 5, 2004 by defeating Yumi Matsumoto by submission in just 40 seconds. She has defeated the likes of former UFC commentator Erica Montoya, Ana Michelle Tavares, Misaki Takimoto, Keiko “Tama Chan” Tamai, Masako Yoshida, Cody Welchin, Lisa Ellis and Carla Esparza. After an incredible 22-fight win streak she lost to Zoila Gurgel in the finals of the tournament at Bellator 34 in October 2010. After stopping Emi Fujino, Mika Nagano and Karla Benitez she suffered her second loss to Jessica Aguilar at Bellator 69 on May 18, 2012.
Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (10-1-1 No Contest) lost her debut fight in her native Brazil, but went on to 4 back-to-back victories there following that bout. Santos made her US MMA debut on July 26, 2008 against Shayna Baszler at EliteXC: Unfinished Business in Stockton, California, winning by TKO in the second round. Less than a year later Cyborg made her Strikeforce debut against Hitomi Akano winning by TKO in the third round. She fought Gina Carano on August 15, 2009 for the Women’s Featherweight Championship. Santos won via TKO at 4:59 of the 5:00 first round. After the match she stated that she had the utmost respect for Carano, and that it was an honor to fight her.
Santos next defended her title against Marloes Coenen and Jan Finney, defeating both women by TKO and KO respectively. Her last fight in Strikeforce was against Hiroko Yamanaka on December 17, 2011. Santos won via a 16 second TKO in the first round. On January 6, 2012, Santos tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid and that result has been changed to a no contest. Santos had her license suspended for one year and was fined $2,500.
Sarah Kaufman made her Strikeforce debut as a late replacement against wrestler Miesha Tate in 2009. Less than 18 months later she became the first Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion. After one successful title defense, she lost the Strikeforce title to Marloes Coenen on October 9, 2010 by way of submission. She followed quickly with three back-to-bak wins and tried again for the title against current Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey. Rousey gave her, her second career loss with a 54 second arm bar. Ten of Kaufman’s fourteen career victories have come by way of KO/TKO. Although grappling seems to be her Achilles Heel, she holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Miesha Tate began her fight career as a high school wrestler. The catch was, it was an all-male team. She then took up MMA with her boyfriend (and current UFC fighter), Bryan Caraway and set an admirable amateur record of 5 and 1 before turning pro in Evansville, Indiana, with a victory over Jan Finney in an elimination tournament. She lost her second pro fight that night by way of KO via head kick, but that did not prevent Strikeforce from signing her up to fight for them 6 months later. Her and Caraway made their Strikeforce debuts at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson where both fighters took home victories. With four back to back victories in other promotions after her SF debut, she returned to Strikeforce, only to lose to Sarah Kaufman by way of decision.
Tate worked her way back up, amassing 6 wins in a row along with the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship over Marloes Coenen. She lost the title to Ronda Rousey in March 2012, but made a comeback with an arm bar victory over Julie Kedzie in August 2012.
Marloes Coenen began her training with Pierre Drachman and Martijn de Jong at Shooto Holland when she was 14 for self-defense purposes. Five years later ,she made her professional MMA debut and scored eight consecutive victories, winning the 2000 ReMix World Cup. Her first career loss was to Erin Toughill at the 2004 Remix World Cup in Japan. Five years later after victories in Europe and Japan, she made her Strikeforce debut against Roxanne Modafferi, winning by firt round arm bar.
Coenen next went up against Cristiane Santos as the first challenger for the Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship but lost via TKO in the third round. She next faced Sarah Kaufman for the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship on October 9, 2010 and won the fight by an arm bar in the third round to become Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She successfully defended the belt against Liz Carmouche via triangle choke in the fourth. On July 30, 2011 she lost via submission due to triangle choke in the fourth round to Meisha Tate. This was Coenen’s first loss to submission.
She left Strikeforce and was the first fighter to sign with the newly formed Invicta Fighting Championships and began her career with Invictia with a victory over Romy Ruyssen.
Tara LaRosa may not be as high profile as the other fighters on this list, but the New Jersey native got her start in judo. She dropped it for the opportunity to train under the legendary Royce Gracie and to embark on a career as an MMA fighter. She has 21 career wins under her belt with only 2 losses. She fought 5 of those bouts under the now defunct bodogFight banner and became the promotion’s Bantamweight Champion. In addition to bodogFight she has fought for promtions such as MFC, Extreme Challenge, DaMMAge Fight League, Shark Fights and Resurrection Fighting Alliance.
With eight years of fighting behind her, she is set to face Vanessa Porto at Invicta Fighting Championships 3 on October 6, 2012. If she ever makes a move to Strikeforce or Bellator, she would definitely give the fighters in those promotions a run for their money.
Gina Carano started her fighting career in the sport of Muay Thai, achieving a kickboxing record of 12–1–1. In 2006 she took part in the first-ever sanctioned female MMA bout in Nevada with World Extreme Fighting to fight Leiticia Pestova, which she won by KO. She went on to the World Pro Fighting show in Las Vegas to face Rosi Sexton, whom she knocked out in the second round. She made her Strikeforce debut against Elaina Maxwell at Strikeforce: Triple Threat on December 8, 2006, winning via unanimous decision. That fight was the first female fight in Strikeforce.
In the first televised female fight on Showtime’s EliteXC in February 2007, she defeated Julie Kedzie via unanimous decision. Under the Elite XC banner she would fight and defeat Tonya Evinger, Kaitlin Young and Kelly Kobold. She returned to Strikeforce to fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in 2009. Strikeforce created their first Women’s Championship for this bout. She lost via TKO in the final second of round one and has not returned to the cage since, instead pursuing an acting career with a possible return as a fighter in 2013. hips. On an all-female card in Kansas City, Kansas. she defeated Romy Ruyssen by unanimous decision.
Ronda Rousey soars to the top of this list with her unblemished record and all of her victories coming by way of first-round arm bar. Rousey earned a bronze medal in Judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In her amateur MMA debut in August 2010 she defeated Hayden Munoz by arm bar in 23 seconds. Later that year she went on to the Las Vegas based Tuff-N-Uff 145 lbs women’s tournament and submitted Autumn Richardson with an armbar in 57 seconds. In the semifinals she faced Taylor Stratford and won by a controversial arm bar in 24 seconds; announcing her intentions to move forward with a pro-career, she dropped from the tournament.
She made her professional debut against Ediene Gomes in King of the Cage, submitting her via arm bar in 25 seconds. Eventually, the Ventura, California native made her way to Strikeforce, performing a similar feat against Sarah D’Alelio. Two victories later, she took the Bantamweight Title from Miesha Tate and most recently defended it against Sara Kaufman.
Rousey credits her mother, Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, a famous judoka practicioner in her own right, with getting her started in the art of judo. She currently trains with Leo Frincu, “Judo” Gene Lebell, along with Team Hayastan fighters such as Manny Gamburyan, Karen Darabedyan, Sako Chivitchian and Sevak Magakian and Lucia Rijker serves as her striking coach. She is currently the face of “Women’s MMA” and may be the driving force behind a future women’s division in the UFC.
If there is room for honorable mention, that has to go to “The Princess of Pain”, Kathy Long, who first made her claim to fame as a female kickboxer in the 1980s and 1990s. UFC fans would probably most remember her as one of the commentators during UFC 1 alongside Bill Wallace. She held an impressive 18-1 kickboxing record, winning 5 world titles and is a 2-time inductee into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame (including 1992 Full Contact Fighter of the Year). Long transitioned to films, starring in a handful of action and sci-fi B-movies and performing stunt work in Batman Returns for Michelle Pfeiffer. In 2009 at the age of 45 she made her MMA debut and scored a victory over Avery Vilche.