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Pound-for-Pound In-Depth: MMA’s Top Five Greatest Female Fighters

(Submission savant Megumi Fujii. Photo courtesy of Sherdog.)

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

Just outside the Top 5: Roxanne Modafferi, Erin Toughill, Miku Matsumoto, Gina Carano


Cagepotato Comments

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itsgalf- August 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm
So the real question is...would you do them?
Yuka Tsuji for me
Randy Pan- August 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm
I think this is a stupid mentality to have toward female MMA. Female fighters have to earn whatever respect they get, so most female fighters throw down when they fight. Let the fights speak for themselves.

Oh yeah, and props for generic sexist joke. Real original, brah. Keep that big brain pumping out misspelled comments.
Goog- August 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm
This is like "The Top Five Colors of Toothbrushes to Own". Sure, you can pick a favorite, but it ultimately doesn't matter.
right hand crazy- August 21, 2009 at 10:44 am
sorry man, but that's bullshit. the majority of men's fights in MMA are total snoozefests. you get maybe one spectacular fight per card, if you're lucky. but more often than not if there's a female fight on the card it's going to be action packed and entertaining. i've rarely seen a female fight and thought "that was kinda boring" afterward. not just because they're chicks and they usually have surprisingly nice asses, but because they WORK. they get in there and throw down. most guys want to say that's how they do it, but then you just watch them circle and throw solitary jabs for 5 minutes. never seen a chick do that shit.
rh- August 21, 2009 at 10:39 am
What, no Hisae Watanabe or Sakato Shinashi, even as just outside the top 5? I know Watanabe is rumored to have retired, but leaving them off any women's p4p list is every bit as criminally delusional as including lesnar on a men's list.


Bruce Smiths shoe man- August 21, 2009 at 10:23 am

100% agree with you. It's humbling!
ihateemo- August 21, 2009 at 10:10 am
@ El Famous Burrito

Indeed, and there is still not a beer in my hand. Who do these women think they are?

But seriously folks...

- No mention that Megumi Fuji trains with Josh Barnett? Not that this tidbit is a factor either way, but it seems like an odd nugget to omit. Or is he blacklisted on the site?

- No Elena Reid? Maybe not top 5, but not far off surely? The beating she gave to my girlfriend Michelle Waterson was a thing of beauty.

- Funny that Marloes Coenen is getting buzz as the next contender to take on Santos for the 145lb belt in Strikeforce when your video of the week shows Erin Toughill kicking her ass. I know Toughill was injured recently but wouldn't she be recovered for a title fight?

- STILL no beer. Goddam women.
El Famous Burrito- August 21, 2009 at 9:08 am
I noticed there's not a whole lot of sammich-makin' going on in these videos...
Jeffro- August 21, 2009 at 8:58 am
Womens MMA is kind of like the WNBA. Yeah, there very talented and exciting, by why watch when the men do it so much better.

I cant get into seeing chicks getting punched in the face, unless, of course, they talk back to me.
CAP10- August 21, 2009 at 8:34 am
Sorry, but I think there still is some doubt left as to women's MMA's marketability. The real test will be if anyone will tune in to watch Cyborg fight anyone who isn't Gina Carano.
MC Obscene- August 21, 2009 at 8:31 am
Man, those Megumi Fujii videos got me pumped! I want to see her in Strikforce!!!
dbiggles- August 21, 2009 at 8:11 am
i wish kaufman would move up to face cyborg that bitch has some nasty hands.
shitbag- August 21, 2009 at 8:03 am
God damn that Megumi Fujii is amazing, I never even heard of her. Shit, some of the best submission/jits regardless of gender.
portland mma- August 21, 2009 at 7:46 am
I guess I could see an argument for Kaufman over Roxy based on how Sarah looked against Shayna Baszler, plus I dont think Roxy has fought in a year or so but it bothers me to have a top 5 list without Modafferi.
ACEness- August 21, 2009 at 7:41 am
Was the whole point of this list just to have Carano "just outside the Top 5" kinda feels that way.