Top 5 Pioneers Of Women’s MMA

With Miesha Tate returning to the cage this weekend to take on Ketlen Viera at UFC Fight Night 98, we thought we’d take a look at some of the ladies that have shaped the Women’s MMA landscape forever.

5 – Amanda Nunes

We debated long and hard over who should take the 5th and final spot in the countdown – and believe me – there were a lot of worthy contenders (including Holly Holm, Megumi Fujii, and Cat Zingano).

Ultimately, however, we settled on the women’s champ-champ; Amanda Nunes.

Whilst Nunes wasn’t responsible for growing the sport from the grassroots (unlike some of the other names on this list), nobody can question that her reign of dominance in the UFC was responsible for setting a new benchmark for female fighters.

When Nunes defeated Miesha Tate at UFC 200 to touch gold for the very first time, it signalled an end to the mono-skilled women’s fighters of days gone by. No longer could any on the roster rely on a single discipline or foundation.

A new era dawned on the sport, and not only did “The Lioness” arrive in stunning fashion, but she made sure to leave no stone unturned, taking out every legitimate contender along the way (including Rousey, Tate, Shevchenko, Holm and Cyborg) – all but cementing herself as the GOAT of Women’s MMA.

4 – Gina Carano

Better known nowadays for her Hollywood exploits (Haywire, Deadpool, The Mandalorian, Fast & Furious 6 etc), there is no doubting that Gina Carano was one of the most influential pioneers in Women’s MMA.

Despite only having 8 fights in her professional carrer, there’s no doubting the impact that she had on the sport at that time.

Blessed with good looks, charisma, grit and determination, the Muay Thai product took the MMA world by storm when she quickly amassed a perfect 7-0 record in the span of 2 years (2006-08) – earning her the right to challenge Chris Cyborg for the inaugural Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship.

Whilst the fight was rather lopsided (Carano was TKO’d at 4.59 in the 1st round), the fight made enough noise to formally put women’s MMA on the mainstream radar.

She then retired from the sport for several years after the Cyborg loss, however rumours of a comeback never ceased (with many fans suspecting that she would return in 2011).

Ultimately however, the comeback never eventuated, and Carano finished her fighting career with a record of 7-1.

On behalf of all fight fans, we can only thank Gina for the foundations that she laid during her 3-year fighting career from 2006-2009.

3 – Chris Cyborg

If we’re going to talk about dominance, we cannot forget the 13-year winning streak that Cyborg held from 2005 – 2018.

One could reasonably argue that the only reason Chris Cyborg isn’t higher on this list, is because she couldn’t find a suitable dance partner to help carry the torch.

When Cyborg beat her opponents, there was no question left in anybody’s mind if they needed to see that fight take place a second time.

It was a case of “one and done”, with 17 of her 20 wins during this time came courtesy of a brutal TKO, nine of those in the first round.

As fate would have, two worlds would collide when Amanda Nunes stepped up to challenge Cyborg for the UFC Featherweight championship at UFC 232.

The fight would last a mere 51 seconds, as both women laid it all on the line. However it was the Lioness who delivered the fatal blow – and Cyborg recorded just the 2nd loss in her professional career.

Following a public fallout with UFC president Dana White, Cyborg signed with Bellator in 2019.

She wasted little time, claiming the Featherweight championship in her promotional debut, before successfully defending the belt three times since 2020.

Currently sitting on 25-2, you would be hard-pressed to find any fighter who has had a career as dominant as Cyborg, and still not be considered the GOAT.

However at 36 years old, there’s still enough time left on the clock for Cyborg to surpass 30 professional wins – a remarkable accomplishment for any fighter.

In terms of pioneers of Women’s MMA, there is no way that we could leave Cyborg out of the top 3!

2 – Miesha Tate

As the old saying goes; “behind every great champion, is a great rival”. And for many years, that appeared to be the role that Miesha Tate was destined to play in Women’s MMA.

After winning the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight title in stunning fashion against Marloes Coenen in 2011 – many fight fans predicted a long run at the top for Miesha.

When MMA newcomer Ronda Rousey was named as Tate’s first challenger, Tate did not believe that the former Olympic judo medalist had truly earned her shot at the belt and made that known, sparking a rivalry that would make their bout one of the most important fights in the progression of Women’s MMA.

What ensued thereafter was one of the most heated MMA rivalries we have ever seen in the women’s division.

Whilst Tate went on to lose against Rousey, the feud was only just heating up. And the rivalry was such that even Dana White had to admit he had got it wrong when he infamously claimed on TMZ that women would “NEVER!” appear on the UFC.

Indeed the women did force their way into the UFC, and in a rematch that was destined to happen, all roads led to the set of The Ultimate Fighter 18: Rousey v Tate.

The trash talk didn’t stop, with both ladies relentlessly attacking each other during the cut-scenes from the show.

The rematch eventually took place at UFC 168, and was largely one-sided in Rousey’s favour, though Tate did manage to take Rousey beyond the first round for the first time in her career.

Tate managed to come back from being taken down multiple times and even escaped several armbar attempts. But the ending was inevitable, and Miesha tapped to the patented submission in the 3rd round.

After the fight, Miesha extended her hand in a show of sportsmanship, to which Ronda turned her back on her defeated opponent. No love was lost, and many speculated that we would see a third fight down the track. Obviously, that never eventuated.

Despite the setback, Tate worked her way back into title contention, where she was awarded a shot at Holly Holm in November 2015.

Once again, Miesha was thoroughly outclassed for much of the fight, however, in true Tate fashion, she scrambled in the 5th round to catch her opponent a crafty rear-naked choke that rendered Holm unconscious.

“Cupcake” had officially re-climbed the mountain and was atop of the women’s division world once more.

History repeated itself when Miesha lost the belt on her very first defence, and subsequently retired one fight later – citing a “lack of motivation” to continue fighting at the highest level.

After a 5 year layoff, Tate eventually returned to the UFC in July this year, where she defeated Marion Reneau in stunning fashion, with a dominant TKO in the 3rd round. Tate has since revealed that she will chase UFC gold one last time, and all of that hinges on this weekend’s outcome against Ketlen Viera.

Regardless of what happens beyond this point, nobody can deny the impact that Miesha Tate has had on the progression of the sport, and that’s why Cupcake ranks #2 on our Top 5 Pioneers of Women’s MMA.

 1 – Ronda Rousey

Was it ever going to be anybody else? At one point, even Dana had dubbed women’s MMA as the “Ronda Rousey show”.

Not only did “Rowdy” single-handedly change Dana’s attitude towards women appearing in the UFC, but at one point, she was also the most marketable face and most dominant force in the UFC.

Unfortunately, people will remember the losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, and form a narrative that Ronda “wasn’t that good”. So let’s explore that for a second.

  • During her UFC career, she never fought anybody ranked outside the top 5 fighters in the division.
  • She NEVER went to the judges’ scorecard in her professional career
  • She had 12 wins – 11 of which were first round finishes
  • She beat Miesha Tate twice (who later became a UFC champion)
  • She defended the title 3 times across 2014/15 for a total Octagon time of 64 seconds. (LET THAT SINK IN!!!)
    • Alexis Davis – 16 seconds (Alexis holds a win over Amanda Nunes in 2011)
    • Cat Zingano – 14 seconds (Cat holds a win over Amanda Nunes in 2014)
    • Bethe Correia – 34 seconds

In addition to all that, she also beat Liz Carmouche – who holds a win over current Flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko.

To suggest that Rousey had an “easy ride” is somewhat overstated. There are some truly world class fighters in that mix, and Ronda made them look second-rate.

Post her UFC career, Rousey spent time with the WWE, where she also became the face of the women’s division – highlighting her fanfare and popularity as an international superstar.

We think her biggest rival, Miesha Tate, summed it up best recently when she was quoted as saying:

“Without her (Ronda), I don’t think that we’d be here, so I do value that”.

And we agree with you Miesha! That’s why Rowdy Ronda Rousey goes down as the #1 pioneer in the history of Women’s MMA.