The queen is gone. It’s hard to dispute that Amanda Nunes’ retirement has created a vacuum for who is the greatest female fighter on Earth. Nunes was a UFC two-division champion who fought nearly all of the best fighters in MMA history. Thanks to the young nature of the sport, she was able to face off against some pioneers as well as other top contenders.
Nunes had memorable knockouts of Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, and Holly Holm. While boxing has had its share of stars, MMA promotions have done a better job of giving women a platform to shine like their male counterparts. As far as promotion goes, MMA organizations like the UFC have thrown a lot of weight toward giving female fighters opportunities.
One of the biggest changes has come from the number of weight divisions and finding female fighters who are more well-rounded. While Rousey dominated the world with her jiu-jitsu and trademark armbar, fighters today must have skills from all disciplines to stay on top.
5. Cris Cyborg, Bellator
Of all the original stars of female MMA — chiefly Ronda Rousey and Gina Carano — Cyborg has had the longest amount of staying power. While early reluctance for major MMA promotions to hold women’s fights didn’t allow Cyborg to get on the big stage until later in her career, Cyborg is still fighting well at age 38. Cyborg shattered Carano’s hype by knocking her out in their only fight against each other. While a fight between Rousey and Cyborg was teased for years, the UFC was never able to make that fight happen.
One legend that Cyborg did get to face off with was Nunes. In a surprising result, both fighters decided to trade wild shots early in the fight, and Nunes knocked out Cyborg in the first round. She was never able to convince the UFC to give her a rematch.
Cyborg, who is 26-2 in her career, is the current Bellator featherweight champion and has made four successful title defenses. Over the course of her career, Cyborg also captured championships in the UFC, Strikeforce, and Invicta. Cyborg is a vicious striker who has 20 career knockouts. Thanks to her stunning power and longevity, Cyborg is still one of the best female fighters around.
4. Erin Blanchfield, UFC
The 24-year-old American is one of the prospects who has lived up to the hype. Blanchfield, who is 11-1, made an emphatic statement in her last fight by knocking out former champion Jessica Andrade in the second round. That victory came after a fight where she dominated Molly McCann for three rounds before getting her to submit to a kimura.
Blanchfield’s career has been filled with her making sure to challenge herself. Her only career loss came on the regional scene to Tracy Cortez, who would also find her way to the UFC. Blanchfield is a female fighter who also has options between two different weight classes. With her all-around game, she will be a threat in the division for years to come.
3. Larissa Pacheco, PFL
Pacheco’s upset of Kayla Harrison in 2022 was one of the biggest MMA stories of the year. While Pacheco had an unremarkable stint in the UFC — she was 0-2 and was finished twice in fights back in 2014 and 2015 — she has really come into her own while competing in the PFL.
During Pacheco’s last seven fights, five of them have ended by knockout or technical knockout. Pacheco isn’t afraid to push for the finish and enjoys trying to make sure the fight doesn’t reach the scorecards. While the current PFL featherweight season isn’t over yet, Pacheco makes sure to punish opponents she has an edge over.
During Pacheco’s last fight, she overwhelmed Amber Leibrock and ended up finishing up with the technical knockout in 45 seconds. There is little to indicate that Pacheco will ever attempt to go back to the UFC. With the $1 million payday for winning a season in the PFL, there is a chance that she will be happy to take on all challengers in the promotion she currently competes in.
2. Valentina Shevchenko, UFC
Shevchenko may be slowing down at age 35 but still has options for top-level fights in the UFC. Shevchenko lost via upset at UFC 285 after being submitted by Alexa Grasso in the fourth round despite the fact Shevchenko was likely winning on the cards. That stopped a long, dominant run by Shevchenko.
Shevchenko had won nine straight fights and defended the UFC Flyweight championship seven times. Over the course of her career, she has only lost three times, including two decisions following five-round wars against Amanda Nunes. While Shevchenko will need to find a way to beat Grasso in the rematch, she still appears to be capable of fighting at a high level.
What makes Shevchenko such a tough female fighter is her striking ability. Over the course of her UFC career, Shevchenko has had a lot of her fights go the distance. The amount of experience she gained made her difficult for her opponents to try and match.
1. Zhang Weili, UFC
Weili, a Chinese female fighter, has fought through an impressive amount of adversity over the past few years. Weili took a surprising loss to Rose Namajunas in April 2021 when she lost by head-kick knockout in the first 90 seconds of the fight. The rematch against Namajunas was a razor-thin decision that Weili also lost. Weili was hyper-focused on coming back quickly.
The UFC then set up Weili to have a rematch with former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in June 2022, which was a rematch of their classic five-round fight from only two years before. However, Weili showed that she had made a lot of progress.
Weili beat Jedrzejeczyk by KO to earn another shot at the title against Carla Esparza. Weili dominated Esparza and ended up winning in the second round by a rear-naked choke. What makes Weili so exciting is that she is an action fighter. Weili likes to push the pace and push for finishes. If she can maintain that, Weili should be able to entertain fans for years to come.