It’s difficult to be great.
A lot of different factors are required to make up a complete mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. Longevity, win streaks, title wins, skill set, level of competition, and dominance are all massive components that lead one to be great. The more of those factors a fighter has, the greater their overall impact is on the sport.
UFC 285 provided a big addition to the history books in March 2023, seeing Alexa Grasso dethrone the ever-dominant Valentina Shevchenko to become just the third Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Flyweight champion. Additionally, Grasso became Mexico’s first woman to hold a UFC title. This weekend (Sat., June 10, 2023) at UFC 289, Grasso’s longtime teammate, Irene Aldana, has the opportunity to try and do the same against Amanda Nunes. Therefore, providing a perfect opportunity to do some reflecting on history and where the all-time greats rank as of June 2023.
The visual of Miesha Tate brutally knocked out by a Kaitlin Young head kick in her second professional bout at an early Hook N’ Shoot show in 2007 probably gave many little faith in “Takedown” going on to carve out a lasting legacy.
A wrestling-based fighter throughout the majority of her career, Tate stuck it out and eventually joined Strikeforce, becoming the Bantamweight champion and eventually a UFC champion. Although Tate never defended either of her two career titles, she’s proven to be one of the most consistently entertaining fighters ever. Tate was particularly known for her ability to come from behind as highlighted in her Holly Holm and Julie Kedzie submission wins.
Tate’s rivalry with Ronda Rousey still stands as one of the most heated in MMA history and helped propel women to compete in UFC. Sometimes too tough for her own good, Tate’s striking began catching up with her wrestling over time to make her an overall threat in any fight.
The 4-foot-10 Satoko Shinashi sits amongst a small group of fighters largely considered “the best you’ve never heard of,” and she may have very well been the best of the bunch.
Nicknamed “Princess,” Shinashi is easily the smallest fighter on the list and has primarily fought south of 105 pounds in her 45-fight career. Only recently, Shinashi was tied with Megumi Yabushita for holding the record for most MMA fights fought by a woman — Roxanne Modafferi being the one to surpass them. Shinashi re-tied Modafferi in March 2023 with a win over Reina Kobayashi in her first fight after a four-year hiatus.
Shinashi was forced to get by on her talent because of her size and did so with flying colors. Currently boasting a 39-4-2 record, the former SmackGirl champion was known for her submission abilities, winning 27 times by that method accompanied by six knockouts and just as many decisions.
Shinashi was a staple of the Japanese MMA scene during her rise. Alongside the likes of Atomweight slugger, Hisae Watanabe, the rivalry between the two captivated many of the fighters and hopeful prospects around the time who also wanted to make their names.
At 46 years old in 2023, Shinashi can continue to extend her number of fights. If she’s worried about keeping her number of fights at a high tally, she probably doesn’t have to worry about the record being eclipsed any time soon.
Seo Hee Ham is, unfortunately, most remembered in the West for her less-than-spectacular run at Strawweight in UFC. In reality, “Hamderlei” has solidified herself as Korea’s greatest fighter of all time and is arguably the best Atomweight ever.
A nine-time world champion with titles at both 115 and 105 pounds, Ham most recently held a belt in RIZIN Fighting Federation and now seeks royalty in ONE Championship back at 115 pounds after what has been the best stretch of her 34-fight career. Since that aforementioned UFC stint where she fought three out of her four fights against fighters who shortly after went up and stayed at 125 pounds, Ham won nine in a row against some of the best names she could face and in the most impressive fashions.
Still unbeaten south of 115 pounds in her career, Ham kicked things off in her pro debut as part of one of the bigger, but more forgotten upsets in MMA history, defeating the aforementioned Watanabe, who was 16-4 at the time. It was a great teaser for a long and fruitful run that can add even more to the legacy by the time she’s all said and done.
From one country’s all-time best to another, there’s Joanna Jedrzjejczyk.
As one of the greatest strikers the sport has ever seen, it was no surprise that Jedrzjejczyk found success in MMA fresh off the heels of a great Muay Thai career. The Poland native burst onto the scene in 2012 and didn’t look back, going 14-0 before finally suffering her first loss.
Jedrzjejczyk’s striking acumen accompanied by her otherworldly takedown defense and cardio were more than enough to carry her to six UFC title wins and her record of five consecutive title defenses at Strawweight looks to be one that will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Even though the end of her career saw more shortcomings than victories, Jedrzjejczyk still managed to perform at the highest level and put on competitive performances that won’t soon be forgotten.
Remember the mention of the best fighters that you’ve never heard of? Well, Megumi Fujii is the name that sits firmly atop that list.
When looking at several of the names on this list that can be credited for their legacies and types of dominance, impact, and things alike, Fujii is the one that can be considered who did it all before everyone else.
In her 29-fight career from 2004 to 2013, Fujii finished 26-3 and still holds the record for the longest winning streak by a female fighter with an insane 22 straight (18 of which ended via submission).
Fujii’s blend of Catch Wrestling, Sambo, and jiu-jitsu created a grappler that was unlike anything seen at the time. Her drive to prove women could compete in the sport at a level equal to — or better than the men — inspired an entire generation that followed to get into MMA themselves.
The biggest knock on “Mega Megu’s” career is that she never officially wore the label of “champion” despite being the pound-for-pound best throughout the majority of her career. Even when looking at the three losses, many still argue that there are cases to be made for her having never truly lost.
Fujii is your greatest fighter of all time’s pick for greatest fighter of all time.
With Cris Cyborg, it’s best to be transparent and get the disclaimer out of the way immediately. Cheating isn’t cool, and in 2011, Cyborg tested positive for stanozolol which could be enough for someone to immediately disqualify her from this conversation. However, she has had no issues since and made it through UFC and USADA’s testing just fine while she was a member of the roster.
Cyborg has won titles in every single major MMA promotion that she’s been a part of. That alone is enough to have her in any all-time discussion. Attach all the gold by how long of a period she’s been utterly smashing her opponents for and there isn’t even much to argue against ... it just comes down to where she’s placed.
Known primarily for her impossible power on the feet, Cyborg’s technique with her strikes improved tremendously as her career progressed and her black belt in BJJ remained comfortably in her back pocket if ever needed (which it wasn’t). Her opposition’s talent level is undeniably one of the weaker ones compared to the rest of the sport’s greats though. What isn’t deniable is just how good Cyborg always has been.
Cyborg can say she’s been a champion everywhere that she’s fought, but Ayaka Hamasaki literally has been.
Hamasaki is an 11-time world champion across two divisions and became the very first fighter from Japan to hold a world title in North America, capturing the Invicta Fighting Championships Atomweight strap in July 2015. A student of Fujii’s, Hamasaki relied heavily on her Judo background at the start of her career, picking up two wins over Ham along with taking out notable names and pioneers like Yuka Tsuji and Emi Fujino.
Currently 41 years old and still one of the absolute best fighters on Earth, Hamasaki has rounded out her game and shows off a bouncy in-and-out striking style that often confuses her opponents as they try to figure her out, eating punches and inside low kicks in the process.
Hamasaki has been one of the rarer cases thus far where she’s only gotten more lethal over time, showing off improved finishing abilities with submissions and her willingness to engage on the feet.
Love her or hate her, Ronda Rousey is one of the most influential fighters of all time, if not the most influential.
Perhaps the most dominant force the sport had ever seen during her 12-fight unbeaten streak, Rousey’s judo was nearly unstoppable and the speed with which she cut through opponents was unprecedented. She was so impressive that the world took notice and that ultimately included UFC and its President, Dana White, leading to women joining the promotion.
Like Jedrzejczyk, Rousey’s reign of terror was long and full of records and accomplishments that will be tough to match or beat.
So, about matching or beating Rousey’s records … Valentina Shevchenko just did that this past year (June 2022).
Shevchenko holds the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses with seven, beating Rousey’s previous six. For nearly every single one of those, Shevchenko has been a picture of perfection, whether it’s utilizing her pinpoint accurate Muay Thai skills or her always underappreciated takedown abilities.
“The Bullet” has reached that level of excellence where seeing her make any little mistake is shocking. Hence the reason Grasso’s aforementioned triumph was such a big deal. At 125 pounds, Shevchenko’s been a near-perfect Flyweight champion and that’s mostly after starting her UFC career off at Bantamweight where she wasn’t too bad either, having only lost to No. 1 on the list.
Amanda Nunes holds wins over every UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight champion that there’s ever been. Then throw in two over the now-former Flyweight champ, Shevchenko.
A finishing machine no matter where the fight goes, “The Lioness” can do it all and is the lone simultaneous dual-division women’s champion in UFC history. While Shevchenko does hold the consecutive defenses record for a woman, Nunes also has seven defenses overall across her two divisions and her 10 total title wins join an extremely elite group in the promotion, and is just one behind Hamasaki in MMA as a whole.
From all the factors addressed off the top, longevity, win streaks, title wins, skill set, level of competition, and dominance, Nunes has them all and to such great degrees, it’s hard not to have her as No. 1.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 289 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 289: “Nunes vs. Aldana” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.2023-06-06T21:39:31Z dg43tfdfdgfd