The best female MMA fighters of the decade

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The evolution of women’s mixed martial arts started right at the end of the previous decade, with Cris Cyborg vs. Gina Carano headlining a Strikeforce show on Showtime in front of almost 14,000 fans in San Jose, California. And it exploded in 2013 when Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche faced off in the very first UFC women’s fight.

Over the past 10 years, women’s MMA has grown exponentially, from smaller promotions and mere novelty acts to being a key piece of every UFC card.

It took three larger-than-life figures to help it thrive. Each of these three women left people no choice but to notice them for their technique, athleticism, killer instinct and dominance — and that’s why Cyborg, Amanda Nunes and Rousey are the best female fighters of the decade.

Amanda Nunes


  • 15-3 record from 2010 to 2019

  • 10-fight win streak 2015-19, longest among female fighters in UFC history (9 of 15 wins by KO/TKO)

  • 10 first-round finishes

  • 7 UFC title fight wins (tied for most among female fighters)

  • Defeated every former women’s bantamweight champion

  • 12 UFC wins (tied for most among female fighters)

  • 7 UFC knockouts (most among female fighters)

Key fights:

  • Def. Miesha Tate to win UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 200, July 9, 2016)

  • Def. Ronda Rousey to retain UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 207, Dec. 30, 2016)

  • Def. Valentina Shevchenko to retain UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 215, Sept. 9, 2017)

  • Def. Cris Cyborg to win UFC women’s featherweight title (UFC 232, Dec. 29, 2018)

Nunes’ first fight in America came on Jan. 7, 2011; it was her Strikeforce debut.

She entered that fight against Julia Budd (another future featherweight champion — in Bellator) with a 5-1 record. Nunes’ lone loss at the time came in 2008 in her pro MMA debut. The Budd fight couldn’t have gone better. She won in 14 seconds via TKO and, afterward, the announcing team on the broadcast wondered out loud whether Nunes would be the one to someday beat the great Cris Cyborg.

“Cyborg’s probably sitting at home watching this, going, ‘Uh-oh,'” Showtime broadcaster Pat Miletich said seconds after the victory.

Well, it took 13 more fights and almost eight years, but she ended up beating Cyborg at UFC 232 … in just 51 seconds. It was that win over Cyborg that cemented Nunes’ spot as the female fighter of the decade.

If anyone says they saw this coming from the young woman from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, however, they are lying. She followed up her win over Budd with a second-round TKO loss to Alexis Davis. The Cyborg killer hype abruptly stopped after that fight. Nunes’ record in the six fights following her spectacular Strikeforce debut was a mediocre 3-3.

And forget fighter-of-the-decade talk following her UFC 178 loss to Cat Zingano in 2014 — Nunes wasn’t even in the title picture.

But a funny thing happened after that loss to Zingano. Nunes hasn’t lost since.

Since then, Nunes is a perfect 10-0. Seven of those wins were finishes, with her three decision victories coming against Valentina Shevchenko — a fellow fighter of the decade contender — and inaugural UFC women’s featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie.

More impressive than the streak itself is whom the wins came against:

First was the win over women’s MMA pioneer Shayna Baszler, then a submission of Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann, followed by Shevchenko, and then the bantamweight title victory over Miesha Tate at UFC 200.

That’s when people really started noticing Nunes.

Next, she retired Rousey with a 48-second drubbing. At this point, the world was watching.

She followed the Rousey win with another Shevchenko victory. Then, it was the one-sided Raquel Pennington title defense, and then the Cyborg showdown at 145 pounds. Nunes wrapped up the decade by dispatching de Randamie.

Cyborg entered the Cyborg fight last December with a 20-1 (1 NC) record. Like Nunes, Cyborg lost her pro debut in 2005 but had not lost since. She had also never been knocked out. It took Nunes just 51 seconds to change all that. In doing so, Nunes also made history by becoming the first female fighter to hold belts in two different weight classes and just the third fighter ever to be a simultaneous double champion in the UFC.

She followed that performance by becoming the first person to ever knock out former champion Holly Holm in an MMA fight in July.

This one was easy. Nunes is the female fighter of the decade, and in the eyes of most people, the greatest female fighter of all time.

Those Strikeforce announcers were apparently onto something nine years ago.

— Helwani

Ronda Rousey


  • 12-2 record

  • 12-fight win streak from 2011 to 2015

  • Headlined UFC 157 with first-ever women’s fight on a UFC PPV

  • All 12 wins by stoppage (9 by submission)

  • 11 first-round finishes

  • Holds the two fastest UFC finishes among female fighters (0:14 and 0:16)

  • Held Strikeforce and UFC women’s bantamweight titles (7 successful defenses combined)

  • 6 UFC title fight wins (tied for most among female fighters)

  • First woman inducted into UFC Hall of Fame

Key fights:

  • Def. Miesha Tate via first-round submission to win Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title (Strikeforce Tate vs. Rousey, March 3, 2012)

  • Def. Liz Carmouche via first-round submission to retain UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 157, Feb 23, 2013)

  • Def. Miesha Tate via third-round submission to retain UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 168, Dec. 28, 2013)

  • Def. Bethe Correia via first-round KO to retain UFC women’s bantamweight title (UFC 190, Aug. 1, 2015)

The manner in which Rousey exited the sport of MMA was abrupt, shocking and overwhelmingly one-sided — but don’t let that take away from what made Rousey who she was. And what defined Rousey was dominance. Eleven finishes inside the first round. Eight of those inside the first minute. Fourteen seconds. Sixteen seconds. Thirty-four seconds. Those were all UFC title fights. Rousey was so good that her challengers literally started experimenting different strategies as their only recourse. Cat Zingano went (uncharacteristically) flying at Rousey from the opening bell simply because — why not? — nothing else worked.

Even in her two defeats, which came against outstanding competition in Holm and Nunes, Rousey proved she did have resolve. She was willing to meet adversity head on, and was trying to win through the very end. Some might say that’s a weak consolation, but it was a question Rousey answered on her way out. She did not fold at the first sign of a challenge.

For someone who had reached the level of celebrity that she had, who had become so accustomed to immediate success, that’s worth noting. Rousey didn’t quit. She forced others to pry the torch from her. She did not give it away willingly.

— Okamoto

Cris Cyborg


  • Former UFC women’s featherweight champion

  • Most wins in UFC women’s featherweight history (4)

  • Had 13-fight unbeaten streak this decade

  • Finished 11 of 13 victories by KO or TKO

  • Former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion

  • Former Invicta FC women’s featherweight champion

Key fights:

  • Def. Marloes Coenen to retain Strikeforce women’s featherweight title (Strikeforce: Miami; Jan. 30, 2010)

  • Def. Marloes Coenen to win inaugural Invicta FC women’s featherweight title (Invicta FC 6; July 13, 2013)

  • Def. Tonya Evinger to win UFC women’s featherweight title (UFC 214; July 29, 2017)

  • Def. Holly Holm to retain UFC women’s featherweight title (UFC 219; Dec. 30, 2017)

  • Def. by Amanda Nunes to lose UFC women’s featherweight title (UFC 232; Dec. 29, 2018)

For the bulk of the decade, Cristiane Justino, aka Cris Cyborg, was the most feared fighter in mixed martial arts. Not the most feared female fighter. The most feared fighter, period. Cyborg didn’t just go unbeaten in 13 straight fights to begin the decade — she absolutely smashed her competition. In 13 victories over the past 10 years, she finished 11 by knockout or TKO. Six of those stoppages came in the first round.

Cyborg, 34, is the only fighter to win titles in the UFC, Strikeforce and Invicta FC. She took home gold in every promotion she fought for during the decade, and she’ll go for a fourth promotional belt in January against Bellator MMA women’s featherweight champion Julia Budd. Cyborg clashed with the UFC and its president, Dana White, ultimately leading to her contract not being renewed in August. But Cyborg’s performances in the cage were unequivocal.

No one could even touch Cyborg until Nunes was able to beat her by first-round knockout at UFC 232. Nunes, also the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, has taken the mantle from Cyborg as best female fighter in the world. But for the bulk of the decade, that distinction belonged to Cyborg, outside Rousey’s initial period of dominance in the UFC.

Cyborg finished the previous decade with an extremely influential main event win over Gina Carano under the Strikeforce banner on Aug. 15, 2009. She closed this one out with a bounce-back win over Felicia Spencer at UFC 240 in July. All told, Cyborg’s record over the past 10 years was 13-1 with one no contest. That no contest stemmed from a failed drug test in 2011, but Cyborg calmed talks of performance-enhancing drug use by being in the UFC’s stringent program run by the USADA.

— Raimondi

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