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Women's MMA Division, Part II

Women's MMA Division, Part II

by Robert Sargent

Picking up where we left off last year, once again looks at the top fighters in the women's division of mixed martial arts. From the dominant females to the wildcards, the competitors are finally getting their due respect.

Women's MMA has come a long way in the past two years and we are mere weeks away from the historic bout between Gina "Conviction" Carano and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos.

Here, we look at 60 of the best female fighters in mixed martial arts today.

Click here for Part One of this article from 2008.

Best Of The Best:

Megumi "Mega Megu" Fujii (18-0-0): Once rivalled by Tara LaRosa for the title of the #1 female fighter in mixed martial arts, Fujii has seemingly taken sole possession of that distinction. Long regarded as the best female fighter in Japan, Fujii has continued her dominance throughout the past year. With wins over tough South Korean challenger Seo Hee Ham and surging Japanese contender Saori Ishioka, Fujii has kept her perfect record intact.

Now sporting an amazing 15 victories by way of submission, Fujii's only problem comes in finding suitable opponents. Or, for that matter, opponents at all. Having cleaned out most of the 115-pound division, there are few challengers left for the Judo and Jiu-Jitsu ace. Following the demise of the long-time all-female SmackGIRL promotion, Fujii has moved on to the newly-formed Jewels promotion in Japan. Should Jewels establish championship titles in the future, Fujii will undoubtedly be the first to compete for gold. After her victory over Ishioka at Jewels: "Fourth Ring," the question remains as to whether anyone can ever defeat Fujii before her career comes to an end.

Tara LaRosa (17-1-0): The first and only BodogFIGHT Women's Bantamweight Champion was left without a promotion to compete for when BodogFIGHT dissolved soon after her title win. However, all signs pointed to big things for LaRosa when it was announced that she had signed a whopping $500,000 deal to compete in the American Fight League. Things did not pan out with the AFL, though, and LaRosa sat out for all of 2008.

LaRosa's résumé reads as a who's who of top female fighters, and she holds victories over nearly every top contender at the 135-pound level. Having recently made the move to the Extreme Challenge promotion, LaRosa picked up back-to-back third-round stoppage wins in 2009, including a victory over solid prospect Alexis Davis. The biggest question surrounding LaRosa right now is where she will end up next. With the women's division in Strikeforce flourishing, there are a number of challengers for LaRosa, not the least of whom is Gina "Conviction" Carano. Both fighters have made mention of competing against one another someday. In the meantime, LaRosa has continued her quiet dominance as the top female fighter in North America, though newer fans to the sport likely still haven't had the chance to see her compete.

Yuka "Vale Tudo Queen" Tsuji (22-1-0): Easily one of the most decorated female fighters in history, the 1997 Asian Championship Bronze Medallist in Freestyle Wrestling (51 kg.) has held three major titles in her mixed martial arts career. First becoming the 2002 SmackGIRL Japan Cup Middleweight Grand Prix Champion, Tsuji later captured the coveted SmackGIRL Lightweight Championship with a 2005 victory over future DEEP Lightweight Champion Hisae Watanabe. Tsuji defended her crown an incredible five times before the promotion folded in 2008.

Ironically, it wasn't until after the demise of SmackGIRL that Tsuji really began to make an impact. Returning to competition at the inaugural Valkyrie event in November of 2008, Tsuji picked up a dominant decision victory. Five months later, Tsuji claimed gold once again, as she submitted Kate Martinez in the first round of their fight at Valkyrie 2 to become the first Valkyrie Featherweight Champion. Having already avenged her lone career loss by knocking out Ana Michelle Tavares in 2007, Tsuji, much like her compatriot Megumi Fujii, has few tough challengers left. With no shortage of rising stars and prospects in Japan at the moment, fans can be certain that Valkyrie will continue to showcase Tsuji in exciting bouts.

"Princess" Satoko Shinashi (29-2-2): The reigning DEEP Women's Flyweight Champion has had an interesting 15 months. Rebounding from her brutal 2006 knockout loss to Hisae Watanabe, Shinashi made a wise decision to drop down in weight, then racked up seven straight wins and captured her title in the process. However, the unthinkable happened when Shinashi lost a Majority Decision to complete unknown Mai Ichii at DEEP: 35th Impact in a non-title bout in May of 2008. She managed to pick up a win over Yukiko Seki (who was 5-14-0 coming into the fight) at DEEP: 38th Impact last October, but then announced that she would be taking time away from competition to have her first child.

Shinashi gave birth to a son on July 5th, 2009, and it is not currently known when she will return to active duty. However, as a reigning titleholder, it is all but assured that Shinashi will be back as quickly as possible. When she is, the submission wizard will look to immediately erase the memory of the loss to Ichii, while establishing once again exactly why she has long been regarded as one of the best female fighters in mixed martial arts history.

Miku "Supernova" Matsumoto (21-4-0): Perhaps no other female in Japan has made as much of an impact in female mixed martial arts over the past two years as Matsumoto. Though she may not yet have achieved the notoriety of Megumi Fujii, Matsumoto continues to improve in leaps and bounds with each passing fight. She first claimed the DEEP Women's Lightweight Championship from now-retired knockout artist Hisae Watanabe at DEEP: 31st Impact in August of 2007 and has held the title ever since. In fact, Matsumoto has won 11 fights in a row, which is a feat that very few female fighters have matched.

Most recently, Matsumoto scored a third-round submission victory over the extremely talented Lisa Ward, who was the last woman to defeat Matsumoto. With that victory, Matsumoto has now avenged all four of her career losses and truly seems to be bordering on unstoppable. In three of her last four fights, Matsumoto has adopted a strategy of targeting her opponents' midsections with knees and kicks, which netted her a pair of stoppage victories and set up her submission of Ward. There is arguably no female fighter in Japan on a bigger rise than Matsumoto and fans know that her fast-paced fights will always be among the best of the night.

Sarah Kaufman (10-0-0): Canada's top female fighter finally found a fight after a one-year layoff following the demise of Hardcore Championship Fighting. After winning championship gold in HCF, Kaufman was left without a fight for a full 13 months until she returned at a Palace Fighting Championship event on April 23rd, 2009. Dispatching of Sara Schneider in the first half of round two, Kaufman picked up her eighth straight victory by a form of knockout.

Wasting absolutely no time, Kaufman stepped right back inside the cage as a late replacement for Kim "Sugar Free" Couture when she battled wrestling standout Miesha "Takedown" Tate at Strikeforce Challengers 1 on May 15th. It marked the first time that Kaufman went the distance, albeit with three-minute rounds, but she pulled out a dominant win over Tate. Just five weeks later, Kaufman competed in her third bout in less than two months against "The Queen of Spades" Shayna Baszler, who was easily Kaufman's toughest test to date. The fight once again went to a decision, but Kaufman survived an early submission from Baszler and overwhelmed her with strikes. Now a perfect 10-0-0, Kaufman is no longer just the best female fighter in Canada. She is now one of the best female fighters in the sport, period. A title fight for a future Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Championship is all but guaranteed at this point.

In The Spotlight:

Gina "Conviction" Carano (7-0-0): "The Face of Women's MMA" is just that, as Carano is easily the most recognised female fighter in the world. Not just a pretty face, Carano has remained undefeated by continuing to evolve her game. As arguably the biggest star of the former EliteXC, Carano picked up four wins in the promotion, with two coming by stoppage. Her most recent fights, against Kaitlin Young and Kelly Kobold, respectively, showed that Carano has worked diligently on improving her skills and is out to prove critics wrong.

Young was expected to be Carano's toughest test, but Carano dominated the striking exchanges and prevented Young from landing any of her devastating knockout shots. The same was true against Kobold, as Carano once again prevented her opponent from executing her game plan and overwhelmed Kobold with strikes to earn a dominant Unanimous Decision. Carano is currently set to compete in the biggest fight of her career on August 15th when she battles feared striker Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos for the newly-created Strikeforce Women's Featherweight Championship. The women's title bout, for the first time ever, will headline the card. Carano's lone problems to date have come before her fights, in making contracted weight limits, but fans are hopeful that those problems are now firmly in the past. A win over Santos would vault Carano into a spot among the elite.

Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (7-1-0): Much like Carano, Santos has leapt into the public eye after dominant performances in EliteXC and her recent transition to Strikeforce. Santos is arguably the most feared striker in all of women's MMA, and her ruthless aggression has been too much for all but one of her opponents to date. Following her destruction of "The Queen of Spades" Shayna Baszler and clear-cut victory over Yoko Takahashi, Santos was expected to challenge Carano in an upcoming event. However, EliteXC folded and the fight with Carano was seemingly off.

Santos debuted in Strikeforce on April 11th against former SmackGIRL 128-Pound Champion Hitomi "Girlfight Monster" Akano, who was coming up significantly in weight to meet Santos at 145 pounds. However, Santos horribly missed weight and the fight was briefly cancelled as a result. In a questionable move, the fight was eventually allowed to take place and Santos outweighed her opponent by over 20 pounds at fight time. The result was academic, as the vastly larger Santos manhandled a game but overmatched Akano en route to a third-round TKO victory. Santos now has a lot to prove, as her failure to make weight earned her even more detractors than Carano, and she will look to redeem herself when she and Carano finally meet on August 15th. Should Santos get past Carano, it remains to be seen whether anyone can ever dethrone her at 145 pounds.

Top Contenders:

Takayo Hashi (12-1-0): Having already avenged her lone career defeat to Hitomi Akano, Hashi has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in Japan. She opened many eyes with a victory over formerly #2-ranked female Amanda Buckner in April of 2008, and recently returned to competition with a submission win over Chisa Yonezawa at Valkyrie 2. Hashi is also a veteran of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, but has surprisingly only picked up four career wins by submission thus far. She has already proven that she can compete with the best, and the coming year should feature her in more solid fights. Valkyrie will likely showcase Hashi in a title bout in the near future.

Roxanne Modafferi (13-4-0): 2008 was good to Modafferi, as the Japanese-trained American picked up two victories in two tries. Originally scheduled to rematch Tara LaRosa in the American Fight League, Modafferi instead busied herself with fights against Vanessa Porto and Chisa Yonezawa after the AFL's plans stalled. The fight with Yonezawa took place at the debut Valkyrie event, but it is currently unclear whether Modafferi will continue to compete in Japan or look to return to action in the States. Modafferi has publicly stated her wishes to rematch Shayna Baszler in the future, and a possible fight with current Strikeforce standout Sarah Kaufman has also been brought up. Wherever she ends up, rest assured that Modafferi will be a tough test for anyone in her way.

Amanda Buckner (11-5-1): Once the #2-ranked female fighter in the world, behind only Tara LaRosa, Buckner has struggled since her demoralising loss to LaRosa in 2006 and has not competed since her defeat at the hands of Takayo Hashi on April 3rd, 2008. Buckner was arguably winning the fight with LaRosa, but was trapped in a choke late in the third round and was forced to submit. She came back strong with victories over Julie Kedzie and Hitomi Akano, but the loss to Hashi might have been the beginning of the end for Buckner as a top fighter. Buckner is a former Ring of Fire Women's Lightweight Champion and SmackGIRL Open-Weight Champion, but only time will tell if she can return to past glory.

Marloes Coenen (19-3-0): Coenen has experienced a rather turbulent period in her career over the past 15 months. The Golden Glory standout rebounded after her close decision loss to Roxanne Modafferi by picking up three wins in 2008, but two of those were against a 16-year-old opponent, France's Asci Kubra, who has yet to attain a victory. Coenen was set to debut in EliteXC late in the year, but the company's collapse left her without a fight. Thus far, Coenen's 2009 campaign has not been a good one, as she was defeated by the debuting Cindy "Battlecat" Dandois on January 24th and has not competed since. Coenen is a talented fighter who has won all but two of her fights by stoppage, but she needs a win against a quality opponent in order to regain her standing among the best.

The Future:

Elena "Babydoll" Reid (3-0-0): She may only have three professional MMA bouts to date, but Reid is regarded as the top prospect in women's MMA for a reason. The former WIBA and IFBA Flyweight Champion has compiled a 19-5-6 record in boxing and still competes as a boxer in addition to her new focus on mixed martial arts. Exploding onto the scene with three TKO victories, the most recent of which being a complete dismantling of fellow prospect Michelle "The Karate Hottie" Waterson (in a fight depicted in the image at the top of this article), Reid poses endless problems for anyone at 115 pounds. Working first with Xtreme Couture and now with the acclaimed Arizona Combat Sports team, Reid has been diligent in developing an all-around game for MMA, but her boxing skills are all but unmatched.

While she may experience trouble against talented wrestlers and submission artists who can weather her punches and score a takedown, Reid could easily compete for a major title in mixed martial arts within a year. She should have enough competition in North America to keep her busy for some time to come, but a trip overseas to Japan would provide her with a near-endless supply of challengers in her natural weight class. Anyone stepping into a ring or cage against Reid is sure to be in for the fight of their life, and all potential foes would be well-advised to start figuring out a game plan to defeat the future star right away.

Aisling "Ash The Bash" Daly (8-0-0): Though almost entirely unknown to North American fans, Daly has quietly established herself as the newest female star in European MMA. With all eight victories coming by way of TKO or submission, and none lasting more than two rounds, Daly is an imposing force for opponents. At just 21 years of age, the sky is the limit for Daly, but the demise of Cage Rage - where she was a mainstay until it closed - has left Daly without a promotion to compete for. New shows have emerged in and around England to fill the void, however, and Daly could easily compete abroad if needed.

While Daly does not have the pedigree of Elena Reid, who is a champion boxer in addition to competing in mixed martial arts, she has destroyed everyone who has been put in front of her to date and seems poised to make a big impact on the sport in the near future. Should fights not become readily available in the United Kingdom, Daly should make the trip overseas to North America to test herself against the competition. With a few more wins, it may not be long before Daly can be seen in front of a large television audience.

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.

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.

Always A Tough Fight:

Yoko Takahashi (14-10-2, 1 NC): 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.

Stars Of Yesterday:

Hisae Watanabe (19-6-0): Watanabe was the very rare exception among top Japanese female fighters. Whereas most are tacticians and prefer chokes and armbar submissions, Watanabe's vicious punching power resulted in a series of "KO (Punch)" victories. After beginning her career with a 4-2-0 record, Watanabe faced future DEEP Lightweight and Flyweight Champion Satoko Shinashi, but was submitted with a heel hook in the second round. Watanabe then won 12 of her next 13 fights, with the lone defeat against current Valkyrie Featherweight Champion Yuka Tsuji, and got her rematch with Shinashi at DEEP: 25th Impact on August 4th, 2006. Dwarfing the much smaller Shinashi, Watanabe completely mauled her opponent and twice nearly finished the fight with deep armbars. Seconds later, it was all over as Watanabe handed Shinashi her first loss with a brutal one-punch knockout to claim the DEEP Lightweight Championship. Watanabe could not keep up the momentum and lost her next fight to Seo Hee Ham, then lost her title to Miku Matsumoto at DEEP: 31st Impact. She competed once more, submitting Genkaam Lookjuapoakum at DEEP: 33rd Impact on December 12th, 2007, but retired from competition soon after. Watanabe remains as the most devastating Japanese female striker to date.

Jennifer Howe (13-2-0): New fans of mixed martial arts will likely never have heard of Howe, but she was the #1 female fighter in the world for quite some time. From late 1998 to early 2003, Howe went 8-0-0, but struggled to find fights because nearly everyone refused to face her. Howe made history in her next two fights, as she became the first and only woman to ever knock out Amanda Buckner and the only woman to date to defeat Tara LaRosa. The brief bout with LaRosa, who is now considered to be the second-best female fighter in the world, was one of the most lopsided beatings in women's MMA history at the time. However, Howe's luck ran out in 2004 when she met Roxanne Modafferi and suffered her first career loss. A rematch with Modafferi netted similar results, and Howe was no longer the feared fighter that she once was. Howe competed one more time and scored a 20-second knockout of Jennifer Fields on April 21st, 2005, but gave up fighting in favour of family life with UFC star Jeremy Horn.

Laura D'Auguste (8-0-1): D'Auguste originally began training in martial arts to defend herself against an abusive husband, but soon found herself competing amongst the best in the sport of MMA. She never once tasted defeat, and the lone blemish on her record - a Majority Draw against Amanda Buckner in November of 2003 - was put to rest when D'Auguste submitted Buckner in their rematch 11 months later. D'Auguste also scored wins over Roxanne Modafferi and Megumi Yabushita (twice), then abruptly left the sport in order to spend more time with her new family. Though no longer an active fighter, D'Auguste remains as one of extremely few undefeated female fighters with more than five career fights.

Erica Montoya (6-2-0): In addition to competing as a fighter, Montoya also provided commentary for the UFC in the earlier days of the promotion. Between 1999 and 2003, Montoya won six fights in a row, with all but one coming by way of submission. However, she took a giant step up in competition against Yuka Tsuji at a SmackGIRL event in August of 2004 and lost by submission in the second round. She returned to competition three months later, but dropped a Unanimous Decision to Megumi Fujii and did not fight again. For the rare few who might have played the terrible UFC: "Sudden Impact" video game back in 2004, you might be aware that Montoya was part of it. Or, you may want to forget that you ever knew that the game existed.

Yuuki "Cool Fighter" Kondo (11-5-2): Not to be confused with legendary male fighter Yuki Kondo, the lady Kondo was one of the most famous female fighters in Japan for many years. Following a submission loss to Marloes Coenen in her professional debut in November of 2000, Kondo went 11-2-2 in her next 15 fights before announcing plans to retire in 2004. SmackGIRL put on a retirement show in Kondo's honour, which was intended to be her last fight, but after losing by second-round submission to Amanda Buckner, Kondo returned for one more fight on April 30th, 2005, at the aptly-titled SmackGIRL: "Cool Fighter's Last Stand." Facing old foe Coenen once again, Kondo was knocked out by a punch early in the second round. The punch effectively ended the career of one of the more memorable female fighters in Japanese history.


The women's division of mixed martial arts is finally beginning to receive the recognition that it deserves. is proud to support the female division of this great sport, and we look forward to many more of the great fights that the women have produced thus far. - The Warcraft III Community - The Warcraft III Community
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