Always A Tough Fight:

Yoko Takahashi (14-10-4): There are extremely few female fighters who have been involved in mixed martial arts for as long as Takahashi has. Making her professional debut in August of 1996, Takahashi is still relevant today, nearly 13 years later. Prior to 2007, Takahashi’s toughest tests came in three bouts with Marloes Coenen, but she came up short in each and was stopped by Coenen in the first round all three times.

In her last three fights, Takahashi submitted Keiko “Tama ☆ Chan” Tamai with an impressive calf slicer and lost a Unanimous Decision to SmackGIRL Open-Weight Champion Yuko “Hiroko” Yamanaka, then competed in her highest-profile fight to date.

At EliteXC: “Heat,” the final EliteXC show, Takahashi put up a very game performance against feared striker Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. Though Takahashi came up short, she earned thousands of North American fans and will hopefully return to fight in North America once again.

 

Megumi Yabushita (17-15-0): Yabushita is the undisputed gatekeeper of women’s MMA. If a fighter can beat Yabushita, they probably have a decent future in the sport. If they can’t, it’s unlikely that you will ever hear anything more about them.

Yabushita has competed against essentially everyone between 125 and 145 pounds, and holds notable victories over Hitomi Akano and Roxanne Modafferi, but both of those wins have since been avenged. Yabushita’s biggest problem in her career has been lengthy streaks of losses, as she has lost four straight fights on three separate occasions.

Her most recent bout was a victory, however, but it has been just over a year since Yabushita last competed. Win, lose or draw, Yabushita will give anyone and everyone a tough test.

 

Masako Yoshida (16-14-5): Yoshida’s record would be among the best in the sport had she not competed at all in 2007. Unfortunately for her, she did so on eight occasions and lost all eight of those fights. That dropped her record from an impressive one to a barely-worth-mentioning total, but she has won three of her last four fights and still has the skills to put up a solid fight against all challengers.

Much like Megumi Yabushita, Yoshida has already battled nearly every name worth mentioning in a variety of weight classes. Now alternating between Jewels and Shooto, Yoshida will look to ensure that 2009 is nothing like her 2007 campaign.

 

Misaki Takimoto (10-10-4): Takimoto’s record is hardly the most impressive, but a pair of first-round armbar submissions of current DEEP Lightweight Champion Miku Matsumoto cannot be ignored. Though Matsumoto avenged both of those losses, Takimoto has remained relevant by staying active.

Most of Takimoto’s losses have come against elite-level competition, and she comes out on top in most other fights. Now a member of the Jewels roster, Takimoto has won two of her three fights in the promotion and may have another shot at a quality opponent in the near future.

 

Keiko “Tama ☆ Chan” Tamai (16-15-0): Easily one of the most flamboyant female fighters in the sport, Tamai has battled most of the contenders in her division, but has struggled against top competition. Her last victory, a February 2007 submission of Jan Finney, was arguably her most impressive to date, but Tamai has lost six fights in a row and desperately needs a win to stay relevant.

Tamai’s most recent fight was in her one and only EliteXC appearance against Shayna Baszler in April of 2008. However, Tamai would likely prefer to forget the experience after being on the receiving end of a fight-ending Twister submission hold that became an instant hit on highlight reels. Should Tamai continue her career, a return to Japan is likely.

 

“Windy” Tomomi Sunaba (12-10-0): Much like compatriot Hisae Watanabe, Sunaba is a rare exception among Japanese female fighters, as she prefers to end fights by knockout rather than a submission. With seven of her wins coming by a form of knockout, Sunaba has the power to end anyone’s night early. Sunaba has twice battled reigning Valkyrie Featherweight Champion Yuka Tsuji, but lost by submission on both occasions.

A freak injury suffered in a bout with Rosi Sexton in February of 2007 could have ended Sunaba’s career, but she returned to competition less than a year later and won three straight fights. However, Sunaba has now dropped back-to-back bouts by first-round stoppage and needs a win to get back into contention.

 

Ginele Marquez (7-7-1): After beginning her career with just one win in her first six fights, Marquez has worked diligently with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett and has become a true contender at 135 pounds. With six wins in her last nine bouts, and having already competed against the likes of Tara LaRosa, Amanda Buckner, Kelly Kobold and Sarah Kaufman, Marquez is the dark horse who could come out of nowhere and shock anyone with an upset.

Marquez holds wins over Molly Helsel and Megumi Yabushita, and would have competed in the 2008 SmackGIRL World ReMix Grand Prix Finals had the promotion not closed its doors. She has not fought since defeating Atsuko Emoto in the second round of the tournament in April of 2008, but will hopefully make a return in the near future.

 

Molly “The Maulinator” Helsel (7-7-1): Sporting an identical record to Ginele Marquez, Helsel has faced a similar calibre of opponents in her career. Her biggest victory to date, by far, came against Lisa Ward in the semi-finals of the 2005 HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix and she narrowly missed capturing the tournament championship with a Split Decision loss to Julie Kedzie in the final.

Helsel also holds a submission win over Keiko “Tama ☆ Chan” Tamai and challenged Sarah Kaufman for the Hardcore Championship Fighting Women’s Bantamweight Championship on March 29th, 2008. However, Helsel was defeated by TKO for the first time in her career and once again came up short in a title fight. She battled back with a submission victory last October, but has not competed since then. A trip to Japan might result in new competition for the veteran.

 

Debi “Whiplash” Purcell (4-2-0): Purcell has yet to achieve a career-defining win, but she has already managed to take both Hitomi Akano and Rosi Sexton the distance, and nearly won the fight against Sexton in EliteXC.

Purcell’s striking is very good and has netted her a pair of TKO victories, but she is also skilled on the ground. With competition fierce for limited spots on Strikeforce and Bellator cards, Purcell needs to pick up a solid win before the bigger promotions will give her another shot.

 

Nicdali “The Night Queen” Calanoc (6-3-0): Calanoc was a part of the now-famous 2007 HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix, but (fortunately for her) not as one of Kaitlin Young’s knockout victims. Calanoc defeated Jen Babcock in just 30 seconds, but succumbed to a heel hook in her semi-final bout with Patti Lee. Calanoc then became a regular in Freestyle Cage Fighting and has since gone 3-1 in the promotion.

Her biggest fight to date came on April 16th at DEEP: 41st Impact against DEEP Lightweight Champion Miku Matsumoto. Calanoc rushed forward and forced Matsumoto to backpedal, but was then drilled by a series of vicious knee strikes to the body and dropped to the mat in considerable pain. The loss to Matsumoto affirmed that Calanoc is not yet ready to tackle such a high level of opponent, but her career is still young and she has many years to develop her skills.

 

Sara Schneider (4-3-0): Schneider began her career with three straight victories, becoming the first woman to defeat devastating knockout artist Kaitlin Young along the way. However, she dropped back-to-back fights against Tonya Evinger and Jennifer Tate, and suddenly found herself having to climb the ranks once again.

Schneider rebounded nicely with a submission victory over Julie Kedzie, but was dominated by Sarah Kaufman in her most recent fight on April 23rd. Schneider is a very skilled fighter, but must work on some of the finer points of her game in order to truly become one of the best.

 

Jan “Cuddles” Finney (4-7-0): Finney’s record leaves a bit to be desired, but she has faced many tough tests in her career. After losing a pair of decisions to Julie Kedzie, Finney picked up a big win over Ginele Marquez and seemed to be back on-track, but suffered four straight losses to Keiko “Tama ☆ Chan” Tamai, Shayna Baszler, Kedzie (a third time) and Miesha Tate.

Finney scored a second-round knockout over Suzi Smith in her next fight, but lost her most recent bout to Erin Toughill and has not competed since last November.

 

Patti Lee (2-2-0): Lee made her professional debut at the 2007 HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix and defeated newcomer Jodi Sprague in the opening round. She moved on to face Nicdali Calanoc in the semi-finals and submitted Calanoc with a heel hook.

However, Lee probably would have preferred to have called it a night after the fight with Calanoc, as she was manhandled by Kaitlin Young in the tournament final bout and finally stopped with a brutal knee to the body just 53 seconds into the fight. Lee has only fought once since then, in a 2008 submission loss to Lisa Ward, but could still be a factor if she continues to compete.

 

Valerie Letourneau (2-2-0): Letourneau is still largely an unknown to anyone outside of Canada, but her short career has been a memorable one. After picking up a win at a small show in Nova Scotia, Letourneau was invited to face Sarah Kaufman in the first women’s bout in TKO history at TKO 29: “Repercussion” on June 1st, 2007.

The official record simply lists Kaufman as the victor by second-round TKO, but what it doesn’t list is the fact that Letourneau dropped Kaufman with a head kick and probably could have finished the fight had she been more aggressive. Instead, Kaufman got right back to her feet and proceeded to use Letourneau as a punching bag until the fight was stopped.

Since then, Letourneau has gone 1-1, but she has shown in just four fights that she is capable of competing against the best. Training at the Tristar Gym alongside UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre didn’t hurt, either.