Keep An Eye On:

Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson (6-3-0): For some, it might be tough to be taken seriously in mixed martial arts with a nickname like “The Karate Hottie” and a job as a waitress at Hooters. For Waterson, it’s just part of who she is and she is proud of her accomplishments.

First known from her time as a contestant on the Muay Thai-themed “Fight Girls” show, Waterson began training with the renowned Jackson’s MMA camp and has created a buzz with her blossoming MMA career. Beginning her tenure in mixed martial arts in the Ring of Fire promotion, Waterson racked up a 6-2-0 record with most wins surprisingly coming by submission.

She then faced her toughest test to date in professional boxer and MMA prospect Elena “Babydoll” Reid in April of this year. Waterson was overwhelmed by the punching power of Reid and was dropped numerous times in the fight, but showed huge heart in persevering well into the second round. Despite the setback, Waterson’s future remains bright in the sport and her camera-friendly appearance, much like that of Gina Carano, will aid in her pursuit of higher-profile fights.

 

Kaitlin Young (4-2-0): Young became an overnight sensation on November 24th, 2007, when she won the 2007 HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix by viciously knocking out Suzi Smith, Miesha Tate and Patti Lee in a combined total of 1:45.

Following the devastating victories, Young was offered a chance to compete in the co-main event of a Tuf-N-Uff card on February 1st, 2008, but succumbed to a second-round armbar from Sara Schneider after dominating the first round. Despite this, Young was called in to face undefeated star Gina Carano on the debut EliteXC card on CBS, “Primetime.” Carano proved to be a bit too much for Young, as the doctor stopped the fight after two rounds.

Young was then scheduled to face Sarah Kaufman in EliteXC, but the promotion folded and the fight was cancelled. Young has not competed since the bout with Carano over a year ago, but her highlight reels will live on forever and fans can be certain that they will see her back in action soon enough.

 

Miesha “Takedown” Tate (6-2-0): Once known only as the recipient of the brutal head-kick knockout from Kaitlin Young in 2007, Tate has battled back and risen to the challenge. Following a decision victory over Elaina Maxwell at a Strikeforce event in June of 2008, Tate scored four straight stoppage wins and became the Freestyle Cage Fighting Women’s Bantamweight Champion in the process.

After her title win, Tate was set to face Kim “Sugar Free” Couture at Strikeforce Challengers 1 on May 15th of this year, but Couture withdrew from the fight due to her impending divorce from husband Randy Couture. Instead, Tate was matched against undefeated Canadian Sarah Kaufman.

Though Tate came up short in the fight, she became both the first woman to win a round against Kaufman and the first to take Kaufman the distance. Training with boyfriend Brian Caraway and former UFC star Dennis “Superman” Hallman at the Victory Athletics camp, the talented wrestler has a bright future ahead.

 

Alexis Davis (6-2-0): After losing her professional debut to future Strikeforce star Sarah Kaufman, Davis went on a spree with six wins in a row. This did not go unnoticed, and Davis was soon matched against top-ranked Tara LaRosa.

Davis nearly took LaRosa the distance in a competitive bout, but was defeated after the doctor stopped the fight with mere seconds remaining in the third round. With her lone losses coming against two of the best female fighters in the world – and arguably the two best in North America – Davis has nowhere to go but up and will likely compete on a card of the calibre of a Strikeforce Challengers in the future.

 

Jennifer Tate (5-1-0): Like Michelle Waterson, Tate was also a member of the “Fight Girls” cast and has since transitioned into mixed martial arts. After picking up four stoppage victories, including a submission of Tonya Evinger, Tate debuted in EliteXC against Shayna Baszler on October 26th, 2007. However, she was completely dominated and submitted with an armbar in just 44 seconds.

Following a one-year layoff, Tate returned against Sara Schneider on November 1st, 2008. She defeated Schneider by Split Decision, but has not fought since then. A future appearance in Strikeforce or Bellator seems likely.

 

Tonya Evinger (7-3-0): Evinger lost her professional debut against Jennifer Tate, but came back strong with four straight wins, including a submission of Ginele Marquez. After a submission loss to Vanessa Porto, Evinger received a chance to compete against Gina Carano at EliteXC: “Uprising” on September 15th, 2007, but was submitted with a rear naked choke with seven seconds left in round one.

Since that time, Evinger has defeated Kat Alendal, Julie Kedzie and Sara Schneider, but has not fought since the fight with Schneider in June of 2008. When not competing, Evinger is still attempting to convince Gina Carano to marry her, though Carano has thus far thwarted her charms.

 

Julie “Fireball” Kedzie (13-8-0): Kedzie has had a rollercoaster career, but she has picked up numerous quality wins and taken some of the best fighters in North America to the limit. The 2005 HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix Champion has the ability to defeat anyone at 135 pounds, but the one blemish on Kedzie’s career has been her submission defence.

With all but two of her losses coming by way of submission, it’s an area that Kedzie must focus on in order to continue competing with the best in the division. However, she took both Gina Carano and Tara LaRosa the distance, and her training with the great talents at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts will surely pay dividends. Kedzie has also recently been training with undefeated striker Sarah Kaufman, which should add new tools to Kedzie’s game.

Kedzie was victorious in her most recent bout with former EliteXC competitor Kat Alendal. Having already battled a who’s who of the 135-pound division, Kedzie doesn’t have anything left to prove, but her career is far from over and fans can look forward to many more exciting fights.

 

Jessica Pene (6-0-0): Quickly making a name for herself with four stoppage wins in six fights, Pene joined the Bellator Fighting Championships promotion at their fourth event and defeated Tammie Schneider by TKO in just 95 seconds. The quick victory marked the third time that Pene has stopped an opponent inside of one round.

Pene also holds a win over Alicia Gumm, who has defeated both Schneider and fellow prospect Michelle Waterson. Having both competed against very similar competition thus far in their brief careers, a showdown between Pene and Elena “Babydoll” Reid would be a great one.

 

Saori Ishioka (7-4-0): Little attention was paid to Ishioka until she made her debut in the Jewels promotion at its inaugural event in November of 2008. Sporting a modest record of 5-3-0, Ishioka quickly made an impact with a Unanimous Decision over a tough challenger in Mika Nagano. She followed it up with a first-round TKO victory over Hanako Kobayashi at Jewels: “Second Ring” and won a Shootboxing match at “Third Ring” in May of this year.

Following that, Ishioka requested a fight with #1-ranked female Megumi Fujii, which took place at “Fourth Ring” on July 11th. As expected, Ishioka put up a very good fight against Fujii and nearly took her the distance, but eventually fell victim to an armbar late in the second round. There’s no shame in losing to Fujii, and Ishioka is sure to be featured prominently in more Jewels cards in the coming year.

 

Mei “V Hajime” Yamaguchi (5-2-0): With a win over Saori Ishioka, Yamaguchi established herself as a force in the former SmackGIRL promotion. She would lose just one time in SmackGIRL, by Split Decision against Emi Fujino, but has since avenged that loss. Yamaguchi challenged current Valkyrie Featherweight Champion Yuka Tsuji at the debut Valkyrie event in November of 2008, but lost a Unanimous Decision.

However, she has since won two straight fights and became the winner of a mini-tournament to determine the next opponent for Tsuji. Should she manage to dethrone Tsuji and capture the title, Yamaguchi will immediately become a force to watch in the sport.

 

Emi Fujino (8-3-0): Fujino began her career with eight straight victories, including wins over Mai Ichii and Mei Yamaguchi. However, she has since dropped three fights in a row and needs to get back to her previous winning ways.

Now competing in the Valkyrie promotion, Fujino has lost decisions to Megumi Yabushita, “Windy” Tomomi Sunaba and Yamaguchi in a rematch. With a few solid wins, she could be in line for a shot at Yuka Tsuji’s title, but that seems a ways off right now.

 

Kyoko Takabayashi (9-4-0): Takabayashi has faced some tough competition in her 13-fight career and has already proven that she can compete with the best. Wins over Saori Ishioka and “Windy” Tomomi Sunaba are more than respectable, and Takabayashi took Megumi Fujii the distance in 2007.

Following the demise of SmackGIRL, Takabayashi moved on to the Valkyrie promotion and was victorious in her first bout and advanced on in their inaugural Featherweight Grand Prix. However, she lost her most recent fight against Mei “V Hajime” Yamaguchi by a controversial Split Decision in the finals of the tournament. Regardless, Takabayashi will be a factor in Valkyrie’s upcoming events as the promotion continues to grow.

 

Yuko “Hiroko” Yamanaka (7-1-1): The dominatrix-turned-MMA-standout became SmackGIRL Open-Weight Champion in 2007 and has never looked back. Though she suffered her first loss to Hitomi Akano at the final SmackGIRL show in 2008, Yamanaka transitioned seemlessly to the Jewels promotion and has racked up three straight wins.

Yamanaka’s lone fault lies in her inability to finish fights, as just one of her victories has come inside the distance. Still, she has dominated all challengers thus far in Jewels and it is likely that she will be set to compete for a title in the promotion soon enough.

 

Rin Nakai (5-0-0): While she has only competed five times since making her professional debut in October of 2006, Nakai has made every fight count and has remained undefeated to date. Possessing very well-rounded skills, Nakai has shown that she can succeed wherever a fight goes.

In her most recent bout, Nakai picked up her biggest win to date with a 93-second TKO of “Windy” Tomomi Sunaba at Pancrase: “Shining 10” on December 7th, 2008. She has not competed since then, but a debut in Jewels or Valkyrie would be the next logical step in the undefeated prospect’s career.

 

Shizuka Sugiyama (4-0-0): Sugiyama made her professional debut at the inaugural Jewels event and has competed on each of the promotion’s cards since. Victorious in each outing thus far, Sugiyama has emerged as a potential contender down the line.

So far, the level of competition has been relatively low for Sugiyama, but it is refreshing to see a Japanese fighter who is not thrown to the wolves in their first few fights. Sugiyama has demonstrated a well-rounded game and looks to have a very bright future in Jewels. She will likely compete again at the promotion’s next event.

 

Mika Nagano (3-2-0): Though she has just five fights to date, Nagano was one of the victims of the “throw them to the wolves” policy in Japan, as her professional debut in December of 2007 was against #1-ranked Megumi Fujii. Hardly the opponent that you want for your first fight.

However, Nagano has won all but one of her fights since then, with the other loss coming to top contender Saori Ishioka. Nagano’s last two bouts have ended in submission victories and she is definitely one of the top prospects to watch as Jewels continues to develop.

 

Mai Ichii (3-1-0): After dropping her professional debut against Emi Fujino, Ichii has won three straight fights. However, it’s not the number of fights that Ichii has won that is important, but rather whom she has defeated in the process. In her third career bout, Ichii squared off against DEEP Flyweight Champion Satoko Shinashi in a non-title bout at DEEP: 35th Impact on May 19th, 2008.

In what was easily one of the biggest upsets of the year, Ichii walked away with a Majority Decision victory that left Shinashi, as well as the fans in attendance, in a state of shock. Ichii has not competed since last November, but is sure to be a presence in future DEEP events.

 

Seo Hee Ham (3-3-0): Do not let the 3-3-0 record fool you because there likely isn’t another woman in mixed martial arts who has had a more difficult list of opponents in her first six fights than Ham. Her foes to date have been former DEEP Lightweight Champion Hisae Watanabe, current DEEP Lightweight Champion Miku Matsumoto, former SmackGIRL contender Ayumi “Edge” Saito, current Valkyrie Featherweight Champion Yuka Tsuji, current Jewels star Saori Ishioka and #1-ranked female fighter Megumi Fujii.

Most amazingly, Ham came out on top in three of those six fights, as she bested Watanabe, Saito and Ishioka. The South Korean hasn’t competed since the bout with Fujii in April of 2008, but she has already shined in the face of near-criminal adversity and is definitely a fighter to watch in the coming years.