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Women’s MMA 2017 Top 50: #30 – #11

The countdown continues, as we look back at the best female fighters of 2017. With places 50 to 31 already in the bag — be sure to check those out if you haven’t already — we move on towards the top 10 with rankings 30 through to 11.

Also a reminder that there were over 100 fighters who barely missed out on making the top 50, and hundreds more who were considered, making this by far the most competitive list since I started working on this in 2015.

Of note in this part of the list is the ranking of Carla Esparza. The former UFC champion is the only fighter in this year’s top 50 who ranks higher than someone who beat them in 2017. Ranking Esparza ahead of Randa Markos was a painstaking decision but one that was taken to maintain the integrity of the rankings. Esparza’s year overall was simply more impressive than Markos’, despite the questionable decision rendered by the judges in their fight in Canada.

The criteria for ranking is simple. Only the fighters’ 2017 records, level of opposition, and performances are taken into consideration. Fighters must have won at least one professional fight in 2017 and have a .500 record or better to make the list. So without further ado, here are places 30 through 11. Be sure to keep an eye on MMA Today over the next few days as we close things out with the top 10.

30) Aspen Ladd (6-0)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: #47 in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Lina Lansberg (UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Till)

The MMA Gold fighter began the year as one of Invicta’s top prospects. She ended it a ranked UFC bantamweight. In January Ladd defeated Sijara Eubanks by decision at Invicta FC 21. The timing was right for a step up to the UFC. Initially penned to face Jessica Eye in July, Ladd eventually made her debut against Lina Lansberg in October. The fight never made it out of the second round as Ladd picked up the fifth finish of her pro career. The 22-year-old has the potential to go all the way at 135 pounds.

Photo Credit: FloCombat

29) Nicco Montano (4-2)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Roxanne Modafferi (The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale)

From a loss against Julia Avila at HD MMA 7 in the Remington Park Raceway and Casino to UFC gold in Las Vegas. That is the unexpected route travelled by Nicco Montano in 2017. There were exhibition upsets along the way on The Ultimate Fighter that led Montano to meet Roxanne Modafferi for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title in December. It was another test passed with flying colours as Montano won by decision to win the belt.

28) Claudia Gadelha (15-3)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: #10 in 2015, #26 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UFC 212)

Since their first fight in 2014, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha had defined a clear pecking order at 115 pounds. Jedrzejczyk-Gadelha were to women’s strawweight what Georges-St Pierre and Jon Fitch were to welterweight at the end of the 2000s. Two fighters can only sit head and shoulders above their peers for so long, and just as Johny Hendricks had at 170 pounds, a combination of Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas bludgeoned the strawweight hierarchy to pieces in 2017. It was Andrade who stole Gadelha’s best-of-the-rest crown in September, coming from behind to win by decision and hand Gadelha the first non-Jedrzejczyk defeat of her career. So impressive was Andrade’s win that Gadelha’s earlier 2017 performance is often overlooked. In June former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz, herself a fighter who had only ever been defeated by Jedrzejczyk, lasted little more than three minutes before being submitted by Gadelha.

27) Liliya Shakirova (4-0)
2017 Record: 4-0
Previous Rankings: n/a
Most notable 2017 win: Bo Meng (Fight Nights Global 74)

Uzbekistani flyweight Liliya Shakirova’s rookie year in MMA was pretty damn good. After a pair of wins against Tao Li and Jie Miao in March and April, Shakirova took a major step up in competition to face Na Liang. Shakirova handed Liang the first defeat of her seven-fight career. That win earmarked Shakirova as a prospect worth keeping an eye on, before another win over a top Chinese fighter cemented her status. Shakirova showed Bo Meng’s 10-1 professional record little respect, defeating her via unanimous decision in September.

26) Angela Lee (8-0)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: #31 in 2015, #31 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Istela Nunes (ONE Championship: Dynasty of Heroes)

The ONE Championship starlet continues to divide opinion. Some say Angela Lee is one of the brightest emerging prospects in the sport. Others believe there is less substance backing up the hype behind a fighter who, they say, would struggle to compete outside of ONE Championship. The latter overlook the quality of Lee’s in-cage performances. Jenny Huang and Istela Nunes both challenged Lee as undefeated contenders in 2017. Both were submitted by the 21-year-old. Sadly a November rematch with Mei Yamaguchi did not come to fruition after Lee fell asleep at the wheel of her car and rolled it on the way back from her gym.

25) Syuri Kondo (6-0)
2017 Record: 3-0
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Kinberly Novaes (Pancrase 287)

Three wins, a Pancrase title, and a successful UFC debut. That’s not a bad year for a fighter who only made her professional debut one year prior. Already boasting a 3-0 record inside the Pancrase cage, Kondo defeated Minna Grusander in February. Then came a five round win against Kinberly Novaes for the Pancrase strawweight title. The 28-year-old prospect completed her breakthrough year with a win over Chan Mi Jeon in the UFC’s Octagon in September.

24) Andrea Lee (8-2)
2017 Record: 4-0
Previous Rankings: #27 in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Liz Tracy (Invicta FC 23)

After a disappointing 2016 — a year that would come back to haunt Lee in October — “KGB” rebounded with four solid wins in 2017. Jenny Liou, Heather Bassett, Liz Tracy and Jamie Thorton were all beaten impressively. That run earned the LFA flyweight champion a spot on the UFC 216 card against Kalindra Faria. Sadly Lee was pulled from the event as a result of a previous positive test for diuretics in 2016. That meant that Lee had to be in the USADA testing pool for six months before she could compete in the UFC.

23) Cynthia Calvillo (6-1)
2017 Record: 4-1
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Joanne Calderwood (UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio

Despite failing to make it a clean sweep in her debut year with the UFC, Cynthia Calvillo made a big splash in the promotion’s strawweight division in 2017. Montana de la Rosa — who would go on to compete on The Ultimate Fighter later in the year — was defeated under the Legacy Fighting Alliance promotional banner in January. Calvillo then racked up back to back submission wins against Amanda Bobby Cooper and Pearl Gonzalez, before picking up by far the biggest win of her career against Joanne Calderwood in Glasgow in July. Another step up in competition saw Calvillo end the year with a loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 219. Long term that defeat may prove to be a blessing in disguise as the fighter now approaches an important 2018 with a little less hype surrounding her.

22) Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (7-0)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #13 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Emily Ducote (Bellator 186)

It was another progressive year for Bellator’s standout flyweight, in a division the promotion have done an excellent job of developing. Macfarlane wasted no time in submitting Jessica Middleton in April to retain her status as a certain contender for a Bellator title once introduced. That belt was created and put on the line in November as the Hawaiian faced old foe Emily Ducote. Macfarlane was even more impressive than in their first encounter, eventually submitting Ducote in the fifth round to win the first major title of her career.

21) Weili Zhang (16-1)
2017 Record: 7-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #21 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Aline Sattelmayer (Kunlun Fight MMA 12)

China has produced a number of quality female fighters in recent years, but four-year pro Weili Zhang is the best of the bunch. After racking up an impressive six wins in 2016, the 28-year-old went one better in 2017. The level of competition hasn’t always been great, but it has often been good. Weili took out a number of credible Brazilians over the past 12 months, including Aline and Bianca Sattelmayer, Simone Duarte and Marilia Santos. We can only hope that we see the violent strawweight competing against the best in the UFC before long.

20) Ariane Lipski (10-3)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #27 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Mariana Morais (KSW 40)

Destructive Brazilian flyweight Ariane Lipski has now won eight straight fights and become one of KSW’s breakout stars. Opponents rarely last long in the cage with the 23-year-old, whose vicious killer instinct has drawn a lot of attention. After all, as much as fans talk about their love of five round wars on social media, that often isn’t what creates stars. It certainly wasn’t for Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor. If Lipski continues to put opponents away as quickly as she did Diana Belbita and Mariana Morais in 2017, her following will only ever continue to grow.

19) Carla Esparza (13-4)
2017 Record: 2-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #33 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 219)

The rebuilding process for former world champion Carla Esparza, following her crushing defeat to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2015, continued throughout 2017. The year began with a setback in Canada as she dropped a contentious decision to Randa Markos. The rebound was impressive though, handing Maryna Moroz her second defeat before slamming the brakes on the Cynthia Calvillo hype train at UFC 219. With those wins Esparza proved that she remains a top end talent at strawweight.

Invicta

18) Jennifer Maia (15-4-1)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #9 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (Invicta FC 26)

Only one win for Invicta FC flyweight champion Jennifer Maia in 2017, but it was a good one. The 29-year-old Brazilian made the second successful defence of her crown in December, defeating Agnieszka Niedzwiedz by unanimous decision. Maia has now won six straight, with three of those wins coming inside the Invicta cage. Until she is beaten, Maia has a strong claim to be the number one flyweight in the world. It seems only a matter of time before the UFC bring her into the fold to help legitimise their newest championship belt.

17) Nina Ansaroff (8-5)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Angela Hill (UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis)

Signs have always been there that 32-year-old strawweight Nina Ansaroff had the abillity, but it had never quite come together for her inside the Octagon. That changed in 2017. Former RFA champion Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger was submitted impressively in January, before Ansaroff returned to the cage to face Angela Hill in November. Hill approached the bout in fine form. An excellent rebuilding run in Invicta led to Hill giving Brazilian wrecking ball Jessica Andrade one of her most competitive fights at 115 pounds, before the TUF 20 alumni defeated Ashley Yoder in July. Ansaroff stepped into the cage as a marginal underdog, but won two of the three rounds to secure her most impressive win to date.

16) Jessica Andrade (17-6)
2017 Record: 2-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #4 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Claudia Gadelha (UFC Fight Night: St. Preux vs. Okami)

Since making the move from bantamweight to strawweight in 2016, Andrade has become a much needed contender in a division that was beginning to run out of them during Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s championship reign. Andrade went to war with former Invicta FC champion Angela Hill in February, winning by decision to earn herself a shot at Jedrzejczyk in May. The Brazilian was unable to impose her will against the champion, opposing what was one of Jedrzejczyk’s career best performances. Four months later Andrade returned to the cage against the perennial number two in the division Claudia Gadelha. After dropping the first round, Andrade set about her work in terrifying fashion. Nobody had manhandled Gadelha the way Andrade did that night in Japan. If Andrade can defeat Tecia Torres in February it will be hard to deny her another crack at UFC gold.

15) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: #2 in 2015, #2 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Jessica Andrade (UFC 211)

In every possible way 2017 gave us the absolute best, and worst, of Joanna Jedrzejczyk. In-cage, it kicked off with a successful fifth defence of Jedrzejczyk’s UFC title in June. For five rounds at UFC 211, Jessica Andrade was outmanoeuvred and outworked. It was Jedrzejczyk’s best career performance. In a previous defence against Claudia Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk was dropped and lost the first two rounds. Even against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who was dominated and outclassed for 24 and a half minutes, Jedrzejczyk was rocked late in the fight. Against Andrade there was none of that. The Polish champion had every aspect of her game on point, turning the division’s most threatening fighter into a non-threat.

The win over Andrade was a high point that had many suggesting Jedrzejczyk would be UFC strawweight champion until she decided to move up in weight or retire. Then the MMA world, fairly and provoked, turned against her, and the walls she had worked so hard to build around her title reign came crashing down. In the build up to Jedrzejczyk’s next defence against Rose Namajunas, the champion bullied the challenger at every turn. The focus was often directed, by Jedrzejczyk, to Namajunas’ past and the state of her mental health.

For many fans that was a step too far. Namajunas was the victim of sexual abuse earlier in her life, and her late Father suffered with schizophrenia. This has all been well documented, and Jedrzejczyk’s assault was calculated. In stark contrast Namajunas was at her inspirational best both in and out of the cage. As each taunt became more vicious, Namajunas remained stoic and positive, before responding in the best possible way on November 4 in Madison Square Garden. A perfectly timed left hook dropped Jedrzejczyk, before a barrage of accurate punches left the champion with nowhere to go, her last act as strawweight champion being to curl up and tap the mat.

And fans rejoiced, claiming Jedrzejczyk, like Ronda Rousey before her, had got what was coming to her. In truth, the side of Jedrzejczyk that was on show leading up to UFC 217 had taken centre stage throughout her UFC career. Never as outrageously amplified as it was opposing Namajunas, but it was there, and it was celebrated. Never let anyone say the MMA world takes its time to turn. Jedrzejczyk proved that was not the case in 2017.

14) Mara Romero Borella (12-4)
2017 Record: 3-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Kalindra Faria (UFC 216)

As a fighter plying her trade away from the big leagues, Italian flyweight Mara Romero Borella could not have plotted a more perfect 2017 when the year began. A win on her regional circuit, a win in an Invicta FC main event, and a successful debut in the UFC. Each performance better than the one that came before it. Each opponent another step up in competition. Iren Racz was defeated early in the year in Italy, before a card reshuffle saw Borella wind up in the Invicta FC 24 main event against UFC veteran Milana Dudieva. Borella passed that test with flying colours before replacing Andrea Lee at UFC 216. The Italian’s UFC debut was short and impressive, as Kalindra Faria was submitted in under three minutes. Next up is a January bout against Katlyn Chookagian that could propel the winner into title contention later in the year.

13) Alexis Davis (19-7)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: #18 in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Liz Carmouche (UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega)

Throughout the 2010s, former UFC title challenger Alexis Davis had been one of the top 135 pound fighters in the world. After returning to the cage after giving birth in 2016, a submission loss against Sara McMann — the first submission defeat of Davis’ career — suggested that the long-time contender might be on her way out. However the 33-year-old rebounded with a pair of solid wins in 2017 to retain her position. In April Davis defeated the awkward Cindy Dandois by decision. Then in December Davis dropped to flyweight and defeated Liz Carmouche. With the 125 pound division in its formative stages in the UFC, the win positioned Davis for a run at the belt in 2018.

UFC

12) Germaine de Randamie (7-3)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Holly Holm (UFC 208)

Before her fight with Holly Holm was booked, the idea that Germaine de Randamie could headline a UFC pay-per-view and win a UFC title seemed absurd. The Dutch kickboxer held a modest 6-3 record without a single marquee victory. Larissa Pacheco and Anna Elmose had been de Randamie’s most recent opponents. Not only did de Randamie headline UFC 208 opposite Holm, but she became the UFC’s first ever women’s featherweight champion. In what was essentially a kickboxing match in a cage, with a little clinching here and there, de Randamie took advantage of the favourable style match and won the gold. The fighter’s championship reign went uncelebrated by the masses, in part because de Randamie twice hit Holm after the bell during their contest, and more so because she chose hand surgery over a no-brainer title defence against long time featherweight Queen Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

11) Valentina Shevchenko (14-3)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: #12 in 2015, #10 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Julianna Pena (UFC on FOX: Shevchenko vs. Pena)

For the second year in a row Valentina Shevchenko put together about as good a 1-1 record as you will find. In January Shevchenko stepped into the cage against bantamweight contender Julianna Pena. On paper it was a simple grappler vs. striker bout. Pena would get tooled up on the feet if she couldn’t get hold of her opponent. Shevchenko would be overwhelmed if the bout ever hit the ground. That script was ignored inside the cage, as Shevchenko was able to submit Pena in the second round. The 29-year-old now stood alone as the clear contender at 135 pounds, and a rematch against Amanda Nunes was scheduled for first UFC 213, then UFC 215. Shevchenko matched the champion all the way through five rounds in a nip and tuck affair. Shevchenko’s fans believe she won. Nunes’ followers do not. Tired old debates resurfaced regarding the champion’s advantage and how a challenger needs to leave no doubt to win the belt. Shevchenko left plenty of it, no matter your stance on the scorecards submitted. In February the fighter will face Priscila Cachoeira in the newly formed UFC flyweight division. Shevchenko is already the fighter most fans believe will go on to win that title next.

With 40 of the top 50 now detailed, keep an eye out on MMA Today for the top 10 women fighters of 2017.

Follow @MMATodayNews on Twitter and check out the rest of the MMA Today website for the latest in the world of Mixed Martial Arts!

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