With an exciting women’s championship showdown at UFC 237 between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade, it is a great time to take a look back at some of the best fights in the history of the women’s UFC. Although lacking the extensive history that the men’s side has, the female divisions of the UFC have quickly garnered attention on the backs of some galvanizing fighters and have shown the ability to draw just as well as their male divisions. (Order the UFC 237 PPV here through ESPN+.)
Initially boosted by the rise in notoriety due to Ronda Rousey, female divisions in the UFC have blossomed and have a number of talented and marketable stars who have taken the mantle from Rousey and ran. Amanda Nunes, the last fighter to defeat Rousey in the ring, is a two-division champ and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet while strawweight titleholder Namajunas is coming off back to back wins over the most dominant female champion in the history of the sport.
With so much talent and so many storylines gripping the female divisions of the UFC in 2019, let’s take a look back at the five best women’s fights in UFC history.
1. Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm, November 2015
While not as big of an upset as it has been made out to be after the fact, Holly Holm’s knockout win over Rousey was certainly a surprise. Though there may have been better fights from a technical standpoint, arguably no fight had a greater impact on the women’s side of the UFC as a whole. Once Rousey went down, the floodgates opened on the female side and the talented wave of fighters we have today filled the marketing void her loss and subsequent hiatus from the sport left.
Up until that point, Rousey was 12-0 and the established champion in the women’s bantamweight division. Thought of as unbeatable and one of the UFC’s most marketable stars, Rousey had ripped off four consecutive first-round finishes with only one of her 12 career fights going past the first round. In fact, Rousey’s last four previous wins had only taken a combined total of two minutes and ten seconds.
While the hype surrounding Rousey was well-warranted, Holm flew in a bit under the radar despite having nearly as strong of an MMA resume. 9-0 at the time, Holm also had a background as one of the best strikers in the UFC and had been a former world champion boxer. Given Rousey’s near unbeatable status, most analysts and fans alike overlooked Holm and her stellar track record heading in.
What we got was a thorough beating from Holm, who made Rousey look ill-equipped to even be standing in the same arena as her. Holm spent the first round picking Rousey apart on the feet with stiff straight punches and a decent mix of kicks to keep Rousey guessing. Rosey struggled to get anything going from an offensive standpoint and heading into the second round, looked to already be on her last legs. Early in the second, Holm pushed Rousey around, who slipped. Upon trying to get back to her feet, Holm landed a perfectly placed neck kick that sent the champion falling to the canvas.
2. Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk II, April 2018
After Rose Namajunas’ shocking second-round TKO over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their first go-round, the immediate rematch between the two fighters more than lived up to the hype. For the first time in nearly two and a half years, Jedrzejczyk was challenging for the belt and fighting with a huge chip on her shoulders. Many felt that Namajunas’ first win had been a fluke and that in the second showing, Jedrzejczyk would re-establish herself as the premier women’s strawweight.
Namajunas, ever the competitor, embraced the challenge. Known primarily for her slick work on the ground, Namajunas came out in the second fight and spent five rounds trading punches with the best pound-for-pound women’s technical striker. On a mission to prove that her work in the stand-up game wasn’t a fluke the first time around, Namajunas made it her mission to beat Jedrzejczyk at her own game.
What we got was an incredibly exciting five-round war between the two fighters that was quite a bit closer than the scorecards indicated. While all judges scored the fight 49-46 in favor of Namajunas, you could make a very rational argument that Joanna won the fight 48-47. With Joanna set to return to strawweight, another matchup could potentially be looming in the near future.
UFC 237 airs May 11 on ESPN+. You can order it here.
3. Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm, March 2016
Miesha Tate and Holly Holm put on one of the best shows in female UFC history in Holm’s first fight after knocking out Ronda Rousey. Tate had long been one of the biggest names in women’s MMA and was the Strikeforce champion that Rousey took the belt from back in 2012. Following in the footsteps of arguably the biggest fight in women’s MMA, Tate and Holm would take the action-packed fight all the way into the fifth round before Tate was able to pick up the finish.
Tate had previously gotten a shot at UFC gold when she took on Ronda Rousey at UFC 168. However, Tate fell prey to a patented Rousey first-round armbar and it took a few fights to regain her confidence and status as one of the best female fighters in the world. With a second shot at the belt on the line, Tate wouldn’t let the opportunity past her.
Despite Holm coming out with a strong first round on the back of her striking, Tate was able to get Holm to the ground and nearly submit her in the second round, marking a turning point for Tate. While Holm had been outclassing Tate until that point, Tate would routinely find ways inside Holm’s stiff shots to get Holm down and inflict significant damage. With the scorecards likely tied up and both fighters heading into the fifth and final round bloodied and battered, Tate was able to take Holm’s back and choked her out to cap off one of the most exciting fights in UFC history.
4. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha II, July 2016
Joanna’s toughest title defense and the fight that really defines who she is as a fighter came in her rematch against Claudia Gadelha at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale. Around the time of the fight, Joanna’s name had finally started popping up in talks of some of the best pound-for-pound female fighters and the UFC’s smallest champion was finally starting to get a bit of attention. The first fight with Gadelha was an extremely close split-decision affair and Jedrzejczyk needed the win to cement herself among the best fighters on the planet.
The fight wound up turning into an all-out war, with Gadelha putting Jedrzejczyk down in the first round. The first round was all Gadelha as she repeatedly tossed Jedrzejczyk to the ground and did serious damage from the top. Gadelha would dominate the second round in similar fashion, though, Jedrzejczyk was able to land a few strikes and start inflicting some damage.
However, in the third round, Jedrzejczyk started finding some rhythm to her strikes and began landing deadly combinations, getting in and out of the pocket with her trademarked lightning speed. While Gadelha was still able to land takedowns and counter, the momentum of the fight swung heavily back into Joanna’s favor. The two fighters would continue to trade massive shots in the fourth round and while Gadelha was racking up points, Jedrzejczyk was simply getting the better of most exchanges. With things all tied up heading into the fifth and final round, both fighters continued to stand and trade shots in the middle of the Octagon.
Eventually, when all was said and done, all three judges scored the fight in favor of Jedrzejczyk. The come from behind victory showed a tremendous amount of heart from Jedrzejczyk and the gritty fight captured the attention of fight fans around the world, making her one of the biggest names in the sport.
5. Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg, December 2018
Similar to the Rousey vs. Holm fight, Nunes vs. Cyborg doesn’t necessarily make the list for the technical brilliance of the fight but more the historical significance of it. In a long-awaited and highly-anticipated matchup, Amanda Nunes became the first female “champ-champ” in UFC history. To do so, she had to overcome one of female MMA’s most daunting icons, Cris Cyborg.
Dana White and the UFC basically created their featherweight division for Cyborg and her highly anticipated debut to the UFC lived up to the hype. Rattling off five consecutive wins after moving over to the UFC, only Holly Holm was able to go the distance with the brutalizing champion. However, Nunes, the bantamweight champion, was no slouch in her own right. Having dominated any and all competition en route to the bantamweight belt, Nunes seemed like the only choice the UFC had to put someone in front of Cyborg who could actually test her.
Nunes did a bit more than just test Cyborg as she utterly embarrassed the MMA legend in under a minute. The two women came out throwing absolute bombs and Nunes caught Cyborg first, sending her down but not out. Cyborg would get back to the feet and try to defend against the swarming Nunes but to no avail. After another brief exchange, Nunes rocked Cyborg with an incredibly vicious overhand right to etch her name into the history books.
UFC 237 airs May 11 on ESPN+. You can order it here.