The women’s flyweight division almost scared me off this project. Given the UFC went years without implementing the division, many of the best fighters who belonged in the division spent their time plying their trade in other divisions that were receiving more exposure. Some, like Alexis Davis and Liz Carmouche, moved up to the bantamweight division. Others, like Joanne Calderwood and Maryna Moroz, depleted themselves to make strawweight. Either way, it left flyweight bereft of the best talents and difficult to judge who the best of the rest for the past decade were. Thus, I’m expecting more disagreement about this division than any other… provided y’all care enough about it to argue about it.
1. Valentina Shevchenko: Even though Shevchenko spent most of the decade fighting at 135, she did enough in a short time to make herself the undisputed queen of the flyweights for the 2010’s. She laid down what might have been the beatdown of the decade over Priscila Cachoeira, easily handled Joanna Jedrzejcyk to claim the flyweight crown, and delivered one of the greatest head kick KO’s in MMA history to defend that crown against Jessica Eye. The less said about her win over Liz Carmouche the better, but Shevchenko’s abilities scared her into inactivity… something Ronda Rousey couldn’t do to Carmouche.
2. Barb Honchak: This may be a surprise to many, but Honchak was the standard of the division at the midpoint of the decade, perhaps even owning the longest reign at the top. With wins over Vanessa Porto, Leslie Smith, and Roxanne Modafferi, it isn’t like Honchank was claiming wins over a bunch of nobodies either, despite many looking at the division in such a way. She clearly lost something when she returned from a three-year hiatus, leaving many fans devoid of the chance to see her when she was at her best when she finally came to the UFC. Given her lack of activity the last half of the decade, I can understand others rating her lower.
3. Jennifer Maia: Some may think I’m overrating Maia, but a case could be made Maia was the best flyweight in the women’s division circa 2016-17 in the world. During that time period, the former professional boxer secured wins over Porto, Modafferi, and Agnieszka Niedzwiedz to make a solid stake to that claim. She also scored wins over Jessica Andrade and Zoila Frausto earlier in the decade. I want to say she’s still one of the best, but she has since missed weight in two consecutive fights. Her days at flyweight may be over.
4. Vanessa Porto: Speaking of Porto, she has been the unsung hero of the division, one of the few who has stayed true to 125 despite it not being a part of the UFC landscape until 2017. It’s funny she still isn’t a part of the UFC roster as she’s currently riding a four-fight win streak. Some would argue the Brazilian scrapper is no longer at her peak, but she is the reigning Invicta flyweight champion. No one has ever accused Porto of being an elite fighter, but something needs to be said for steadiness.
5. Jessica Eye: It’s easy to say I’m overvaluing Eye’s recent 4-1 stretch since the UFC incorporated the women’s flyweight division, but I’m also taking into account her run at 125 earlier in the decade. The fight that put Eye on the map was a 58 second submission win over Zoila Frausto when the Brazilian was at the peak of her powers all the way back in 2012. Eye’s recent wins over Katlyn Chookagian and Viviane Araujo shouldn’t be ignored either. If anything, Eye’s bantamweight run only proves she should have been fighting at flyweight the entire time.
6. Katlyn Chookagian: Speaking of Chookagian, she’s got a run similar to Eye’s in that she began her career most prominently at flyweight before moving to bantamweight to get into the UFC. Her most recent wins over Alexis Davis, Joanne Calderwood, and Maia are all quality wins and her win over Sijara Eubanks in 2015 looks far better now than it did at the time. If she had ever been able to figure out a way to finish her opponents, Chookagian probably would have found more success.
7. Roxanne Modafferi: The sentimental favorite of the MMA world, no one had a more up-and-down decade than Modafferi. A six-fight losing streak early in the decade had most believing her career was near the end. However, she changed things up with her training, made flyweight her permanent home, and went 8-5 to close out the decade against some of the best competition 125 had to offer. I wanted to put her higher on the list, but it’s hard to ignore that hideous start to the decade.
8. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: Like Modafferi, there’s a part of me that wanted to rank Macfarlane higher. She is charismatic. She’s fun to watch. She finishes her fights more often than not. She’s still undefeated too. But who is her best win? A washed-up Valerie Letourneau? Veta Artega? Kate Jackson? I’d say Alejandra Lara, but she doesn’t exactly have much on her resume either. A scary thought for future opposition: I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of the Hawaiian yet. Here’s hoping Bellator can find her some top competition.
9. Andrea Lee: I hate putting Lee here. Despite her accomplishments the past decade, it still feels like she could have done more. Nonetheless, Lee never fought outside the division which means her resume is buffed up more than others who may have had more impressive careers overall, but did so while splitting their time in other divisions. Quantity has to count for something and Lee has just enough quality with wins over Montana De la Rosa and Ashlee Evans-Smith.
10. Joanne Calderwood: JoJo spent most of her career at strawweight, punching in only five official fights at flyweight. But who else am I going to put here? After all, Calderwood sports a 4-1 record at 125, her most recent win coming over Lee, impressive enough in the eyes of the UFC brass to award the soft-spoken Scot the next title shot against Shevchenko. Given the lack of women who opted to ply their trade at flyweight for the decade, that’s good enough for me.
Honorable Mentions: Tara LaRosa, Liz Carmouche, Nicco Montano.
LaRosa was the best flyweight at the start of the decade, but almost all of her accomplishments came in the 2000’s. Carmouche may be more effective at flyweight, but most of her career was at bantamweight. Montano was the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion… but that was the only significant win of her flyweight career, not to mention the only win of her UFC career thus far.