Over at jiMMA, I have been compiling some Who's Whos of women's MMA. One of the most common criticisms I hear about the current women's MMA scene is that the divisions are weak. I think the bigger problems are that the fighters are spread out over many countries and many organisations, so that the best fighters are not all in one place fighting one another. This stifles the growth of the fighters and of women's fighting in general.
Here is a run down of who the top ten fighters in the division (according to fightmetric) are, with a few videos of their handy work.
1 - Ronda Rousey (5-0)
Even if you are not a fan of women's MMA, you should probably have heard of Ronda Rousey by now. She is an elite judo player, having won a bronze Olympic medal and has used that base to run through her first five professional opponents, winning every fight by armbar in the first round. Coming into her most recent fight against Miesha Tate, there was some discussion about whether she could win as easily as she had previously against a much lower level of opposition. In the end she dispatched Tate towardsn the end of the first round.
Although Rousey dealt with some striking aggression from Tate in that fight, she has yet to face an opponent who attacks from the outside, refusing to clinch. With only one and a half years as an MMA fighter, it remains to be seen where Ronda's stand up game is as yet. That being said, she has not needed it so far. Rousey's next test comes against Sarah Kaufman (#2), although no date has been set for that bout yet.
- Sarah Kaufman (15-1)
Sarah Kaufman was originally in line for a shot at previous 135lb Miesha Tate, before Rousey jumped the queue. She has won against many of the top fighters in the division, including Tate and her only loss was at the hands of Marloes Coenen.
She is a well rounded fighter with decent wrestling and good striking. With ten knock outs out of fifteen wins, she has proven she has the power in her hands to do damage. While she had been letting her hands go and getting involved in some grueling brawls (see her fight with Alexis Davis), Kaufman also has the ability to stifle an opponent with clinches against the cage.
Kaufman's next fight ought to be against Ronda Rousey for the Strikeforce 135lb title.
3 - Miesha Tate (12-3)
Before losing to Ronda Rousey on March 3rd, Miesha Tate was the number one ranked 135lb fighterwith six wins in a row, against the likes of Zoila Gurgel and Marloes Coenen. Despite looking foolhardy rushing into clinching range with an experienced judoka in her last fight, Tate has proven over her career to be a much more skilled and smart fighter than that.
Tate has good kickboxing, although she tends to use it more to close distance and set up a more wrestling based attack than to do damage. There are no plans announced yet for her next fight and how soon she returns will depend largely on how much of a push Strikeforce is looking to give the women's divisions.
4 - Marloes Coenen (19-5)
Marloes Coenen is another former Strikeforce champion. While her native Holland is famed for kick boxing, Coenen has excelled at grappling. What she lacks in pure wrestling ability, she makes up for with the ability to submit opponents from her back.
A member of the Golden Glory team, Coenen left Strikeforce last year after deals with most of that group's fighters fell apart. She is now signed with all female promotion Invicta and faces Romy Ruyssen, although that fight will be at 145lb. Should Strikeforce put some promotional muscle behind the 135lb division, it would stand to reason to bring Coenen back at that weight.
5 - Alexis Davis (11-5)
Alexis Davis had decent skills in all areas of a fight, maybe weighted more towards grappling than striking. Her biggest asset though, is her tenacity as she showed in her TKO win over Amanda Nunes (video below). In her recent fight with Sarah Kaufman, that tenacity was perhaps her downfall as she opted to stand and trade with the superior striker rather than grind out a result by neutralising her opponents offence.
Despite losing her last fight, Davis remains a major player in Strikeforce's bantamweight division and some people have suggested a fight with Miesha Tate might be best for her next,
6 - Sara McMann
Sara McMann is an Olympic level wrestler who has been fighting professionally for around a year. In that year she has defeated all comers. She is an incredibly powerful athlete and her take downs are absolutely brutal. She has finished three out of her five wins but as always with prospects, it remains to be seen how well she will adapt other aspects of the fight game to her aresnal.
Much is made of Ronda Rousey's Olympic judo credentials and it is clear that soon the same things will be said about Sara McMann's Olympic silver medal in wrestling. She has so far opted to steer clear of Strikeforce, but there is no doubt that when a deal can be done, she will be a force to reckoned with in their division.
7 - Rin Nakai (11-0-1)
Rin Nakai is one of only two Japanese fighters to make it into this top ten. Her low ranking in the list is more due to the majority of her fights having come at 145lbs.
Nakai has a strong judo background, which she uses to control fights. Having trained all aspects of MMA for a good few years, she is very comfortable striking as well as grappling, possessing power in her hands coupled with fierce aggression.
Should she make the move down to 135lbs permanent (and she should because it is definitely where her 5ft 1in frame is best suited), Nakai would surely be a welcome addition to either a blossoming Strikeforce women's scene or as part of Invicta's growing roster of talent. As always with the women's divisions, it is not always a case of a lack of depth, but rather that the best fighters are too spread out.
8 - Hitomi Akano (18-9)
Akano is a veteran of 27 pro fights and at 37 years old, might be reaching the end of her relevance, especially as this division seems to be moving forward with an influx of strong prospects.
14 of her 18 wins have come via submission, with most fights where she did not submit an opponent going to a a decision. Akano has the ability to take fights to the ground against most opponents, but has struggled against opponents who possess a high level of grappling. On the ground, there are few people more dangerous and wily at 135lbs.
Having lost her last fight to Sara McMann earlier this year, we can expect Akano to finish out her career fighting in Jewels in Japan.
9 - Elaina Maxwell (6-4)
Elaina Maxwell is a Sanshou fighter trained by Cung Le. As you would expect, she has a great stand up game with the ability to finish fights. She is another fighter who straddles two weight classes, often fighting at 145lb and catchweights, as it is sometimes tricky to find fights with the best female fighters diluted across many countries and organisations.
Since leaving Strikeforce after losing to Miesha some four years ago, Maxwell has won four of her five fights and could feature as a decent addition to any future Zuffa female roster.
10 - Amanda Nunes (6-2)
Amanda Nunes came int Strikeforce as a very well thought of prospect. She delivered in her debut with an incredibly quick demolition of Julia Budd but was derailed when she lost by TKO to Alexis Davis.
She has a background in Brazilian Ju Jitsu but her fighting style is based around power and aggression, with her six wins all coming by knockout.
At 23 years old Nunes is one of the more exciting prospects in the division with a lot of time to develop.
There you have it then, a who's who of the female bantamweight division. At the moment, Strikeforce is very much the place to be, but it remains to be seen how Invicta will take off. Either way, the time is right and the depth is there for one organisation to try and corner market in 135lb female fighters and put together a strong, consistent roster.
There are plenty of good fighters missing from the list, do not hesitate to add some names in the comments section of who you think I have missed that might make some waves.