Next In Line:

Hitomi “Girlfight Monster” Akano (15-6-0): The former SmackGIRL 128-Pound Champion faced near-impossible odds in her Strikeforce debut, as she was matched against a much larger opponent in Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who then missed weight and dwarfed Akano once the fight began.

While Akano showed great heart, she never should have accepted the fight and it marked the first time in her career that she was ever stopped in a fight. Akano has beaten nearly every mid-level challenger there is, and is the only woman to have ever defeated Takayo Hashi, but she has been very inconsistent since the beginning of 2007. She rebounded after the loss to Santos by returning to Japan to compete at Jewels: “Fourth Ring,” where she submitted Miki Morifuji. Still one of the best female fighters in Japan, Akano simply needs to get her career back on-track.

 

Kelly “Blood Red” Kobold-Gavin (16-3-1): Undefeated in her first 17 bouts, with the lone blemish as a Draw with Ginele Marquez that arguably should have been another win, Kobold has tasted defeat in each of her last three fights. Her first loss came against top-ranked Tara LaRosa in a BodogFIGHT Women’s Bantamweight Championship bout in September of 2007, which saw Kobold submit to a fourth-round armbar.

It was her subsequent loss to Julie Kedzie that left fans questioning Kobold’s place among the elite, however, but she was given a huge opportunity when she faced undefeated star Gina Carano at EliteXC: “Heat” last October on CBS. Kobold survived to a decision, but was outclassed on the feet and dropped her third straight fight as a result. Kobold is a tough test for anyone, but three losses in a row, especially after going unbeaten for 17 fights, is a tough pill to swallow.

 

“The Queen of Spades” Shayna Baszler (9-6-0): When fans sit down to watch a Baszler fight, they can be sure that they are in for an exciting battle for as long as it lasts. Unfortunately for Baszler, if she is unable to submit her opponent (all nine of her wins have come via submission), she will lose the fight. Baszler is arguably the top female submission fighter in North America, but has a tendency to be overwhelmed by strikers who can keep the fight standing.

Still, her submission of Roxanne Modafferi remains as a highlight in Baszler’s career, and one must remember that Baszler won three straight fights – including an extremely impressive Twister submission of Keiko “Tama ☆ Chan” Tamai – in EliteXC before her ill-fated battle with Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos at EliteXC: “Unfinished Business.” As with many other EliteXC castoffs, Baszler moved on to the Strikeforce promotion, but came up short in her fight against Canadian standout Sarah Kaufman. If Baszler improves her striking skills, she’ll be a contender once again.

 

Lisa Ward (12-5-0): The Seattle native had an incredible run from 2006 to 2008, losing only to #1-ranked Megumi Fujii, and her submission of Miku Matsumoto (via Scarf Hold Armlock – see YouTube) was one of the most impressive wins in recent years. However, Ward has been hot and cold in her past three fights.

After being upset by Ana Michelle Tavares in the second round of SmackGIRL’s doomed World ReMix Grand Prix in 2008, Ward picked up a respectable submission win over Patti Lee. However, in a rematch with Matsumoto, Ward was dominated throughout the fight and eventually succumbed to an armbar midway through the third round. Ward has the ability to submit just about anyone at the 115-pound level, but the recent inconsistency has put her in a tough spot and it is unclear where she will end up next.

 

Rosi Sexton (10-1-0): With her lone career defeat to Gina Carano, England’s Sexton has risen to the forefront of future contenders with armbar submissions in six of her fights, including a win over Carina Damm. Sexton debuted in EliteXC in August of 2008 and defeated Debi “Whiplash” Purcell in a close Split Decision. However, she was soon left out in the cold after EliteXC ceased operations and nearly a year went by before Sexton returned to action.

She did so on June 19th at Bellator Fighting Championships 10, where she submitted Valerie Coolbaugh with a first-round armbar. Sexton may fight for Bellator again when the promotion’s second season begins, but fights in Strikeforce could also prove interesting.

 

Ana Michelle Tavares (7-2-0): As the only woman to have ever defeated Yuka Tsuji, Tavares immediately established herself as a threat. A further victory over Carina Damm – sandwiched between losses to #1-ranked Megumi Fujii and Tsuji in a rematch – further solidified Tavares’s spot among the best in the sport today.

Tavares was set to compete in the finals of SmackGIRL’s 2008 World ReMix Grand Prix, but the promotion folded before the tournament concluded. Tavares has not competed since her impressive win over Lisa Ward in the second round of the ReMix tournament, but her résumé speaks for itself. No opponent will ever have it easy with Tavares standing across from them at fight time.

 

Erin Toughill (10-2-1): A ten-year veteran of the sport, Toughill is certainly the largest and most powerful woman on this list. Newer fans to the sport may be more familiar with Toughill as “Steel” on the recent remake of American Gladiators, alongside Gina Carano as “Crush,” but Toughill has long been one of the more feared competitors in MMA.

Toughill likely would have won the 2004 SmackGIRL World ReMix Grand Prix had she not been disqualified for an illegal elbow in the final match, but her two knockout victories earlier in the evening – one over Marloes Coenen – spoke for themselves. Toughill competed just once between 2004 and late 2008, but has recently returned to fighting in the Palace Fighting Championship promotion, where she scored three straight wins.

There have been rumours of Toughill taking on the winner of the upcoming fight between Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, but that has not been confirmed. Should it happen, Toughill would be a tough test for either competitor.

 

Carina “Beauty But The Beast” Damm (11-3-0): The “Brazilian Barbie” of MMA proved that there was more to her than just her looks with her impressive run of fights from 2004 to 2006, including victories over Vanessa Porto and Miku Matsumoto. However, Damm dropped back-to-back fights to Matsumoto and Rosi Sexton, then narrowly eked out a decision over Molly Helsel, and her status as a top contender came into question.

Disaster struck in 2008 when Damm tested positive for Nandrolone after a submission win over Sophie Bagherdai and she has not competed in North America since her 11-second knockout of Lashonda Knox one month later. Now over a year removed from the one-year suspension that she faced – which cancelled her scheduled EliteXC bout with Debi Purcell – Damm could return to competition in North America if granted a fighter licence, but she kept busy with back-to-back wins over Ana Maria “India” in Brazil during the latter half of 2008.

 

Vanessa Porto (8-3-0): Porto has already battled many of the best in her 11-fight career. Though she dropped decisions to Carina Damm and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (the latter of which is an accomplishment in itself), Porto holds a trio of wins over the otherwise undefeated Juliana Werner Aguilar and, more impressively, a 2007 victory over Hitomi Akano.

The win over Akano, as well as a submission of Tonya Evinger, put Porto on the map, but she was stopped for the first time in her career by Roxanne Modafferi in April of 2008. Porto rebounded with a win last December, but has not competed since then and appears to be without competition for the time being.