When "Carano vs. Cyborg" pulled in 856,000 viewers on Showtime, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there could be a market for women’s MMA outside of Japanese all-girl leagues and one-off fights in the U.S. Strikeforce and Bellator are both planning high-profile women’s tournaments, and 2010 could be the year that women finally gain some measure of equality in the sport. In honor of the coming revolution, we’ve launched a top 5 women’s pound-for-pound list in our Power Rankings section; get to know these warriors below, and let us know what you think.
1: Megumi Fujii (18-0)
Armed with grappling credentials that include two BJJ championships at the Pan American Games and nine All-Japan Sambo titles, Fujii has tapped 15 of her 18 opponents during her five-year MMA career, and outpointed the other three. Her relentless, inventive ground attack is reminiscent of Kazushi Sakuraba in his prime, and at just 115 pounds, the 35-year-old packs more talent per ounce than any other woman in the world. In a sport where retiring undefeated is a mythical feat, Fujii just might pull it off.
Watch this: Fujii’s "Alive" and "Hurt" highlight reels.
2: Tara LaRosa (17-1)
Though Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg draw more attention, hardcore fans know that Tara LaRosa is the most talented female fighter our country has to offer. The former women’s bantamweight champ of BodogFight, LaRosa has run through a who’s who of U.S. talent including Roxanne Modafferi, Amanda Buckner, Shayna Baszler, and Kelly Kobold. She hasn’t lost since 2003, and she’s finished her last seven fights by stoppage. The word is that she’ll be competing next in a women’s 125-pound tournament for Bellator; if that works out, get ready for a whole new batch of YouTube highlights.
Watch this: Tara LaRosa vs. Shayna Baszler
3: Cristiane "Cris Cyborg" Santos (8-1)
If Fujii is the female Sakuraba, then Cyborg is the female Wanderlei Silva. Women’s MMA has simply never seen a striker as balls-out aggressive as Cristiane Santos. Though the Chute Boxe product made her name in the U.S. by beating up undersized grapplers, her fight against fellow-kickboxer Gina Carano earlier this month showed what she could do against somebody her own size (i.e., tear her to shreds and eat her soul). Suddenly, 145 pounds is the new marquee weight class in women’s MMA — and Santos will be at the top of the heap for a long time to come.
Watch this: Cris Cyborg vs. Gina Carano
4. Yuka Tsuji (22-1)
Nicknamed "Vale Tudo Queen," Tsuji held Smackgirl’s 115-pound title from June 2005 until the organization folded last year. In April, the 34-year-old submission specialist won Valkyrie’s featherweight championship with a first-round armbar of Kate Martinez. Tsuji’s only career defeat — a submission loss to Ana Michelle Tavares — came six years ago, and she defeated Tavares by TKO in a 2007 rematch. The only thing left for her to do is take on Megumi Fujii to determine Japan’s true queen of grappling. They can’t avoid each other forever…
Watch this: Tsuji’s bumpin’ highlight reel by "Shorty."
5. Sarah Kaufman (10-0)
MMA’s most promising female up-and-comer, Sarah Kaufman transitioned from a background in ballet to a career in knocking girls the hell out. The young Canadian ended her first eight fights by TKO, picking up Hardcore Championship Fighting’s 135-pound women’s title along the way. Since then, Kaufman has appeared twice in Strikeforce Challengers events, using her pinpoint striking and impressive takedown defense to pound out unanimous decisions against Miesha Tate and Shayna Baszler. Don’t be surprised if Sarah becomes Strikeforce’s first 135-pound women’s champion sometime next year.
Watch this: Sarah Kaufman vs. Miesha Tate