Women’s MMA 2017 Top 50: #50 – #31

When I compiled the first edition of this list two years ago women’s MMA had reached an all-time high. Bellator had entered the featherweight market; The UFC now had two female champions; Invicta FC were about to have their best year to date; and Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm at UFC 193 had sold an estimated 1.1m pay-per-view buys.

Fast forward two years, with the Rousey-boom now a slowly fading memory, the opportunities for women to compete at the highest level of the sport have only continued to grow. The UFC now has four female champions. Bellator has crowned two of their own. Women fighting above 145 pounds have found a home with RIZIN Fighting Federation in Japan, a promotion who also ran a strong female grand prix in 2017. Invicta FC continue to run quality shows, while a whole host of regional promotions provide more developmental opportunities for women entering the sport than ever.

This has all been reflected in the creative process behind this year’s top 50. A total of 164 fighters made the final shortlist, forcing agonising consideration before the list was complete. The records of hundreds more were scrutinised and discarded along the way. One thing became abundantly clear, next year it must be a top 100.

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 to make the list. So without further ado, here are places 50 through 31. Be sure to keep an eye on MMA Today over the next few days as the countdown continues.

50) Kana Watanabe (2-0)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: n/a
Most notable 2017 win: Shizuka Sugiyama (RIZIN World Grand Prix 2017)

The talented Japanese judoka made a successful transition to MMA in 2017, picking up two year-end wins in one month. Watanabe debuted at DEEP Jewels 18, submitting All Japan Amateur Shooto Championship winner Hikari Sato. Watanabe cemented her status as one to watch over the next 12 months with a decision win against 20-fight veteran Shizuka Sugiyama at RIZIN’s World Grand Prix event.

49) Randa Markos (7-5)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Carla Esparza (UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne)

The scorecards rendered by two of the judges in Markos’ career best win against former Invicta FC and UFC champion Carla Esparza were questionable, especially given that the fight took place in Markos’ adopted home nation of Canada. In August fortunes were reversed when Alexa Grasso got the home town nod in Mexico City in a fight Markos’ fans believed she had won. That marked the third year in a row that Markos had gone 1-1 in the UFC. In truth, she was lucky it wasn’t 0-2 for 2017.

48) Danielle Taylor (9-2)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Jessica Penne (UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov)

Since making her promotional debut in 2016, diminutive strawweight Danielle Taylor has made a habit of fighting to razor thin decisions. In 2017 Taylor improved her UFC record to 2-1 with a win over former Invicta FC atomweight champion Jessica Penne. Once again it was a tough fight to call for the judges. A win over JJ Aldrich on January 14 would make it three-in-a-row for the unlikely Californian prospect.

47) Alexa Grasso (10-1)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: #44 in 2015, #17 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Randa Markos (UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno)

Despite amassing a 2-1 promotional record, there is a feeling that UFC fans have not yet seen the best of Alexa Grasso. With a lot of hype behind her, the Mexican starlet lost by unanimous decision to Felice Herrig in February. Grasso rebounded in Mexico City in August, defeating Randa Markos by split decision. At only 24-years-old Grasso has time to prove that she can become one of the best 115 pounders on the planet.

46) Reina Miura (7-1)
2017 Record: 6-1
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Shayna Baszler (DEEP Jewels 15)

“King” Reina grabbed the attention of hardcore MMA fans around the world in 2017, not least because they got to see her in action seven times in 10 months. Reina’s unique character has become a big hit in Japan and beyond, and while her level of competition thus far has been questionable, finding top opponents north of 145 pounds is a struggle. Still, six wins in any calendar year is impressive and Reina showed in her narrow defeat to Cindy Dandois in December that she can hang with more accomplished opposition.

Invicta FC

45) Yana Kunitskaya (10-3)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Raquel Pa’aluhi (Invicta FC 25)

After bursting back onto the scene in 2016, “winning” the Invicta FC bantamweight title with a combination ‘armbar-Mike-England-is-the-worst-referee-in-MMA’ manoeuvre, Kunitskaya was given another shot at longstanding Invicta champion Tonya Evinger in March. The Russian posed a threat in the rematch before being submitted in the second round. In August Kunitskaya was then given a shot at the title Evinger had vacated. This time there was no doubt as Kunitskaya dominated Raquel Pa’aluhi through five full rounds to win by unanimous decision and earn an upcoming UFC debut against Sara McMann in March.

44) Cindy Dandois (10-3)
2017 Record: 2-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #44 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: “King” Reina Miura (RIZIN World Grand Prix 2017)

Having long campaigned for a shot with a major promotion, Dandois got her wish in April against Alexis Davis in the UFC. It was a one and done deal, as Dandois’ defeat and performance led to the UFC dropping her after the bout. The game grappler rebounded well, first finishing Kerry Hughes in under two minutes at Cage Warriors 89, then dethroning “King” Reina at RIZIN’s year end event in the Saitama Super Arena. Dandois remains a threat to most women fighting above 135 pounds.

43) Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4)
2017 Record: 2-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Bec Rawlings (UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Tybura)

2017 was far and away the best year of Jessy Jess’ career. The Australian took former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman to a decision in Seoul early in 2017, and continued to show significant improvement in her game as the year went on. Experienced Brazilian Carina Damm was beaten in August before Clark won an all-Aussie co-main event in Sydney against Bec Rawlings. If Clark can pull the upset against Paige VanZant on January 14, people will already be talking about her as an unlikely contender in the UFC’s flyweight division.

42) Tatiana Suarez (5-0)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #34 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Viviane Pereira (UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Pettis)

The best prospect currently competing in the strawweight division, Tatiana Suarez made her return to the cage after more than a year out injured to dominate Viviane Pereira in November. It was the first time Suarez had fought since winning The Ultimate Fighter 23 the previous year. If Suarez can remain active in 2018 she could find her way in and around the title picture by the time the year is out.

41) Sarah Kaufman (18-4)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Jessy Jess (Battlefield Fighting Championships)

At the time it felt like a routine return to the sport, but as it turns out Sarah Kaufman’s win over Jessy Jess in March was a pretty solid result. Kaufman had not fought since losing a razor thin decision to Valentina Shevchenko in 2015. The former Strikeforce champion will now headline Invicta FC 27 against Pannie Kianzad on January 13. If she can do to Kianzad what Tonya Evinger and Raquel Pa’aluhi did before her, we could well see the Canadian back in the UFC cage before 2018 is through.

Rizin

40) Rena Kubota (6-1)
2017 Record: 3-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #50 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Andy Nguyen (RIZIN World Grand Prix 2017 Autumn)

The four time Shoot Boxing Girls S-Cup winner cut a swathe through another tournament in 2017, RIZIN’s Super Atomweight Grand Prix. After dismantling Dora Perjes and former KOTC atomweight champion Andy Nguyen earlier in the year, Kubota defeated Irene Cabello on December 31 to move into the grand prix final later the same night. Kubota was submitted in the first round by her outstanding opposing finalist Kanna Asakura, but the Shoot Boxing Queen had left a memorable mark across RIZIN’s 2017 events.

39) Mei Yamaguchi (17-10-1)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: #13 in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Jenny Huang (ONE Championship: Light of a Nation)

In 2017, DEEP Jewels Featherweight Grand Prix 2015 winner Mei Yamaguchi made a welcome return to form. In June Yamaguchi submitted Jenny Huang to position herself for a rematch with ONE Championship’s atomweight champion Angela Lee. Sadly there would be no repeat of their 2016 classic as Lee was involved in a car accident and was unable to compete. Instead Yamaguchi clawed a loss back from Gina Iniong, a fighter who had beaten her back in 2014.

38) Lauren Murphy (10-3)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Barb Honchak (The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale)

It was another rollercoaster year for former Invicta FC bantamweight champion Lauren Murphy inside the Octagon. Having edged close to the UFC exit door in 2016 with a third defeat in four UFC outings, Murphy opted to compete in season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter. She was eliminated in the first round by eventual winner Nicco Montano. At the season finale Murphy switched opponent from Priscila Cachoeira to Barb Honchak, and picked up the most notable scalp of her pro career.

37) Megan Anderson (7-2)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015, #12 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Charmaine Tweet (Invicta FC 21)

2017 did not go to plan for Australian featherweight Megan Anderson. It all started in spectacular fashion, with a stunning second round stoppage of Charmaine Tweet in January to win Invicta FC gold. Anderson was eventually picked up by the UFC and matched with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino for the promotion’s featherweight title that had been surrendered by Germaine de Randamie. Unfortunately personal problems away from the cage kept Anderson out of the proposed bout.

36) Roxanne Modafferi (21-14)
2017 Record: 2-1
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Sarah d’Alelio (Invicta FC 23)

The Happy Warrior began the year in impressive form. After defeating Priscila de Souza to claim the Fusion Fight League flyweight title, Modafferi stopped Sarah d’Alelio in the third round of their Invicta FC 23 bout. That earmarked her as one of the favourites for The Ultimate Fighter 26. Sadly there was no fairytale ending, as Modafferi was beaten by Sijara Eubanks in the tournament semi-finals. After Eubanks was pulled from the finale, Modafferi stepped in for a losing effort against Nicco Montano for the inaugural UFC flyweight title.

35) Katlyn Chookagian (9-1)
2017 Record: 1-0
Previous Rankings: #38 in 2015, #22 in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Irene Aldana (UFC 210)

Another one-and-done fighter in 2017, Katlyn Chookagian rebounded from a disappointing defeat to Liz Carmouche at UFC 205 in 2016 by defeating Irene Aldana at UFC 210. Chookagian outlanded the skilled striker in each of their three rounds en route to a decision victory. Chookagian will return to the flyweight division in 2018, facing surging Italian Mara Romero Borella at the end of January.

Instagram

34) Mackenzie Dern (5-0)
2017 Record: 3-0
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Kaline Medeiros (Invicta FC 26)

What a difference a little competition makes. Prior to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu superstar Mackenzie Dern’s Invicta FC debut in December, she had spent 2017 beating the sort of fighters we are used to seeing emerging prospects matched against. At Invicta FC 26 Dern took a huge step up in competition against former title challenger Kaline Medeiros. It was the perfect acid test to determine whether Dern was ready to compete at the bottom end of the UFC roster, one she passed with flying colours to earn a UFC debut against Ashley Yoder in March.

33) Priscila Cachoeira (8-0)
2017 Record: 4-0
Previous Rankings: n/a in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Rosy Duarte (Hipnose Fight Night 3)

Four fights, four wins, and it could have worked out even better. 2017 was the year that Priscila Cachoeira became more than a young prospect, improving her record to 8-0 and earning a call up to the UFC. The Brazilian was set to face Lauren Murphy at The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale, but was pulled from the event as a result of issues with her visa. Instead “Pedrita” has a February flyweight scrap with Valentina Shevchenko to look forward to.

32) Tonya Evinger (19-7)
2017 Record: 1-1
Previous Rankings: #7 in 2015, Unranked in 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Yana Kunitskaya (Invicta FC 22)

Long considered one of the top bantamweights in the world, Tonya Evinger finally made her UFC debut in 2017. She started the year settling an old Invicta score, defeating Yana Kunitskaya in a rematch of their 2016 bout that was ruled a no contest following the blatant incompetency of Missouri’s top referee Mike England. Then came the toughest test any woman in MMA can face, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Evinger came up short in their July bout, but she fared better on short notice than Cyborg’s previous UFC opponents.

31) Virna Jandiroba (12-0)
2017 Record: 2-0
Previous Rankings: Unranked in 2015 and 2016
Most notable 2017 win: Amy Montenegro (Invicta FC 26)

In 2017 outstanding Brazilian submission artist Virna Jandiroba fought outside of Brazil for the first time. The bout lasted less than three minutes. Jandiroba burst onto the Stateside scene by submitting Amy Montenegro at Invicta FC 26. That came after another impressive win earlier in the year against UFC veteran Ericka Almeida. Jandiroba is one to watch in 2018.

I’ve rundown from 50 through to 31, keep an eye out on MMA Today as I continue the rankings from 30 down to 11.

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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