Women’s bantamweight may be extremely shallow in the current day and age, but it may be historically the deepest women’s division over the past decade. That is mostly due to it being the oldest women’s division in the UFC, meaning most of the talented women at flyweight bulked up to be fighting on the largest stage possible. To be fair, there were several other women who were able to successfully swing down from featherweight – and still swing back and forth – so let’s be fair to the narrative that Ronda Rousey only beat up on undersized flyweights. Speaking of Rousey, she didn’t claim the top spot. That would be....
1. Amanda Nunes: Rousey proved to be the trailblazer, but Nunes proved to be the one that set the trail ablaze. Nunes had some slip ups earlier in her career, but once the Lioness put everything together, there are few who wouldn’t agree she has proven to be the women’s GOAT. She has defeated every woman who has held the UFC’s bantamweight or featherweight title, not to mention owning two victories over the current flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. At 31, Nunes still has plenty of time to add to her already impressive legacy.
2. Ronda Rousey: There’s a narrative out there that Rousey sucks following her fall. It’s not true. It’s just that she had climbed so high, so fast, the fall was unlike any seen before in MMA. Had Rousey handled her fall and potential rebound differently, perhaps her rise would be remembered more than the precipitous fall. Take a moment to think about it. Nine wins in less than a minute. 11 wins in less than a round. Not a single victory that went to decision. Rousey didn’t adjust once the division caught up to her. But she had one hell of a head start on the competition before they did.
3. Miesha Tate: Much like her career nemesis, Tate doesn’t get the respect afforded her now that her career is over. Much of that is due to her past relationship with Bryan Caraway – fair or not – but Tate was an earlier pioneer for the women’s division than Rousey. Never the most physically gifted athlete, Tate got by on immense amounts of toughness and savvy. Remember how she refused to tap to Rousey’s armbar in their first match? Tate topped it off by capturing the bantamweight title from Holly Holm. Once Tate claimed the gold, she seemed to have lost her motivation, but what a hell of a climb to the top it was.
4. Holly Holm: I’ll admit, Holm is this high almost solely based on her monumental win over Rousey. She has gone 2-3 at 135 since her win over Rousey, perpetual punch line Bethe Correia and Raquel Pennington being the victims. Not bad wins, but not exactly the type of wins that solidify a legacy. However, that win over Rousey rocked the sport in a manner that hadn’t been replicated before or since… and may not ever be replicated. Holm has just enough other wins on her record to make her way up this high.
5. Valentina Shevchenko: Shevchenko not only gets a top spot in the flyweight division, she gets a top five spot at bantamweight, the division she spent most of her career at for the decade. Most remember her inability to get past Nunes, but nobody was after 2014. Shevchenko earned her way to a title shot with wins over the likes of Sarah Kaufman, Julianna Pena, and Holm. Had she finished out the decade at 135, she likely would have been the runner-up on this list. However, I think she made the right choice.
6. Sarah Kaufman: Kaufman was the standard bearer at the beginning of the decade as the Strikeforce bantamweight champion. She wasn’t able to maintain that status for long, but she was still a notable figure in the division at the end of the decade, claiming the Invicta bantamweight title in 2018. Her UFC run was disappointing, but Kaufman remained a consistent figure throughout the decade, which is more than can be said of several others beneath her on this list.
7. Cat Zingano: Zingano’s career is one of those that lacked consistency. Plagued by injury and personal tragedy, Zingano blazed her way to nine victories without a loss to open her career, seven within the decade. That included wins over Tate and Nunes. However, the obstacles piled up and Zingano struggled to even step into the cage, securing a single victory after fighting her way to an opportunity at the title. When people talk about the what-if’s of the sport, Zingano is often one that most forget to mention.
8. Alexis Davis: Had the UFC brought about the flyweight division sooner, there’s a good chance Davis would have been able to lay claim to the gold. Instead, she plied her trade at a division above her natural weight class and turned in a more than respectable record at 135. She fought her way to a title fight and claimed wins over the likes of Nunes, Kaufman, Liz Carmouche, and Tonya Evinger. Imagine what she could have done at 125 during her prime….
9. Tonya Evinger: It’s a shame the UFC didn’t bring Evinger aboard until after she was past her prime. Triple Threat ripped off 10 consecutive wins before making it to the big show, claiming the Invicta bantamweight title and posting two successful title defenses and a third that would have been had her opponent made weight. Evinger’s don’t-give-a-damn attitude made her a distinctive fan favorite. However, that may also have been what kept her from plying her trade on the big stage before it was the final act of her career.
10. Juliana Pena: There’s a strong possibility Pena would be in the top five of this list if it wasn’t for her near career-ending knee injury. Her pregnancy hurt her placement on here too, but being a mom is far more important than being a great fighter. Regardless, Pena’s aggression proved to be too much for all but one of her opponents. The Venezuelan Vixen is still only 30. Don’t count out the possibility of her making a run to the title sometime soon.
Honorable Mentions: Germaine de Randamie, Raquel Pennington, Liz Carmouche, Sara McMann, Aspen Ladd
Had de Randamie focused solely on bantamweight endeavors, she probably would have broken through. Regardless, she was briefly the featherweight champion. Pennington’s four-fight win streak was impressive. Otherwise, she was the definition of inconsistency. Carmouche and McMann always seemed to come up short when the lights were brightest. Ladd spent the early part of her career at flyweight, though her most notable work was at bantamweight.