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  • Stephen Rivers

Ranking the Division - UFC Women's Flyweight

In 2017 the UFC added a women’s flyweight division, with questionable timing and implementation.

Given that the UFC already had some of the best flyweights in the world under contract, plying their trade as undersized bantamweights or oversized strawweights, it was a tough division to get wrong. Still, the promotional juggernaut gave that tough task their best shot.

Rival promotion Bellator had already stolen a march, signing and developing some of the best available talent at 125 pounds. By the time The Ultimate Fighter 26 finale took place, Bellator had already crowned their own flyweight champion, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.

The Hawaiian starlet had fought six times inside the Bellator cage at flyweight. The promotion had done things the easy way, signing fighters, promoting their fights, and eventually booking a title fight between two of their best.

The UFC chose their tired reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, to introduce their division. With the media-driven restrictions imposed by the show, it has never been an ideal format for creating a champion. This was as bad as it got.

The list of competitors was dire. Roxanne Modafferi was a legitimately ranked flyweight, and Barb Honchak had once ruled the roost at flyweight. Beyond that though, the lineup was embarrassingly weak.

Rachael Ostovich was a 3-3 pro who had no business being in anyone’s title tournament. It was not her fighting ability that got her to this dance. Ostovich had recently lost to Christine Ferea, who tried out for the show but was not selected.

Ariel Beck was worse -- she had been beaten by Ostovich the year before. Karine Gevorgyan was 3-2 against atrocious competition before she was selected. Christina Marks was 8-8 as a pro.

The barrel scraping was sad and desperate, even for a regular season of The Ultimate Fighter, let alone one that was supposed to determine the best flyweight in the world.

Sijara Eubanks fought her way to the final, only for her kidneys to give out during her weight cut. Eubanks was replaced by Roxanne Modafferi in the title bout. Modafferi had been beaten by Eubanks in the semi-final.

The eventual winner Nicco Montano, was never able to make weight after the show and was eventually stripped of her title before moving -- thus far unsuccessfully -- to bantamweight.

Better fighters began to move up from strawweight and down from bantamweight. Fighters like Katlyn Chookagian, Joanne Calderwood, Liz Carmouche, and most significantly Valentina Shevchenko.

The Peruvian-Kyrgyzstani appeared to be the UFC’s preferred choice for champion once she opted to drop to flyweight. Shevchenko was booked against Brazilian jobber Priscila Cachoeira in one of the promotion’s more egregious pieces of matchmaking in recent years.

When Shevchenko eventually won the title, she did so by defeating a strawweight who was no longer the number one in her own weight class, let alone a fighter with the potential to be the best 10 pounds up, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Now, two years on, here we are. The champion is unquestionably brilliant no matter how she got here. The rest have been booked poorly.

The UFC’s official rankings for flyweight are dreadful. Paige VanZant makes an appearance at 13 with a 1-1 UFC flyweight record. The win was achieved against the aforementioned bottom-end fighter Rachael Ostovich.

Maycee Barber is there too, presumably because she shouts a lot about wanting to be great, and the youngest UFC champion in history. It must be, because her lone flyweight win against JJ Aldrich doesn’t warrant her inclusion.

Not when a fighter like Gillian Robertson has four UFC flyweight wins to her name and isn’t even in the top 15.

As for Poliana Botelho, who knows? One decision win over Lauren Mueller gets her into the rankings, but a win over Alexis Davis -- who remains at number seven -- does nothing for Viviane Araujo.

The only thing to do is to fix this dreadful mess. Romain Cadot, Ken Pisha, Andreas Hale and the rest who contribute to these rankings should be ashamed.

So here we go. Fighters are ranked based on their win/loss records, with a heavy focus on the level of competition faced. Who they have beaten rather than who they could beat. Wins achieved at flyweight, and against fighters in this UFC division, count for more than those achieved prior.

Reigning UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko

1 - Valentina Shevchenko - UFC Flyweight Champion (17-3 Career / 3-0 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Priscilla Cachoeira, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Eye

UFC flyweight losses - None

The UFC title won by Shevchenko in 2018 lacked any lineage or legitimacy. It had been won by a middle of the road fighter on a reality show, and stripped before a single title defence had been made.

Shevchenko defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant title, a former strawweight champion who had no claim to contendership at flyweight. It isn’t Shevchenko’s fault that the UFC chose these paths, but they did, and the title she wears was born of paper.

The 31-year-old is a brilliant fighter, far and away the best in the world at 125 pounds. Defending the title consistently and impressively against legitimate flyweight contenders will give the title more meaning, and Shevchenko has all the tools required to do that.

Jessica Eye assumed the role of crash-test-dummy last time out, and had her brain switched off briefly by a Shevchenko head kick. It was the sort of dominant performance and thrilling finish the champion needed.

Up next is Liz Carmouche, a tougher challenge than many give her credit for, but ultimately another fighter Shevchenko should be able to get past and solidify her status as the best in the world.

2 - Jessica Eye (14-7 Career / 3-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Kalindra Faria, Jessy Jess, Katlyn Chookagian

UFC flyweight losses - Valentina Shevchenko

Despite her own claims, and that of her promoter, Jessica Eye was never really considered the number one flyweight in the world before signing with the UFC. A win against Bellator’s former strawweight champion Zoila Frausto did not make her that.

Her return to the division after a stint at bantamweight, and a step down in level of competition, has produced better results for Eye. Wins against Kalindra Faria and Jessy Jess were achieved, before Eye defeated top contender Katlyn Chookagian in December last year.

That earned the 33-year-old a title shot. One in which Eye came up woefully short. Yet losing to a fighter of Shevchenko’s quality comes with no shame attached and Eye remains a tough challenge for the rest at 125 pounds.

3 - Liz Carmouche (13-6 Career / 2-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Jennifer Maia, Lucie Pudilova

Other relevant wins - Katlyn Chookagian, Lauren Murphy, Valentina Shevchenko

UFC flyweight losses - Alexis Davis

One of MMA’s unsung warriors, Liz Carmouche has never given anyone an easy night’s work opposing her. The former bantamweight title challenger boasts wins over four of the fighters included in this top 15, and three of those are against fighters right at the top end of the division.

A defeat to Alexis Davis in Carmouche’s first fight since dropping to flyweight was disappointing, but she rebounded well with a big win over former Invicta champion -- and world number one -- Jennifer Maia.

Next up for Carmouche is the daunting task of fighting Shevchenko for the title in Uruguay. As physically imposing as the Girl-Rilla can be, it is a brave person that picks her for a win in that one.

4 - Jennifer Maia (17-5-1 Career / 2-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Alexis Davis, Roxanne Modafferi (2019)

Other relevant wins - Roxanne Modafferi (2016)

UFC flyweight losses - Liz Carmouche

When the UFC introduced the flyweight division Jennifer Maia was the reigning Invicta FC champion and world number one.

The Brazilian froze in her UFC debut against Liz Carmouche. Plenty of credit was due to Carmouche for shutting Maia’s offence down, but it remained one of the most disappointing UFC debuts in recent memory.

Maia has rebounded brilliantly. Back to back wins against ranked opponents, Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi, have improved an already excellent resume.

Add to that the wins against Vanessa Porto and Agnieszka Niedzwiedz in Invicta, as well as a previous title defence there against Modafferi, and Maia’s run since 2014 against top opposition remains one of the best in the division.

5 - Katlyn Chookagian (12-2 Career / 3-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Mara Romero Borella, Alexis Davis, Joanne Calderwood

Other relevant wins - Lauren Murphy

UFC flyweight losses - Jessica Eye

To date Katlyn Chookagian’s UFC career has seen her assume the role of nearly-woman. Every couple of impressive steps towards a title shot have been met by a disappointing defeat to stop the progression.

Liz Carmouche handed Chookagian a major setback at bantamweight in 2016. Then after rebounding with three straight wins, two of them at flyweight, Chookagian faced Jessica Eye at UFC 231.

Again Chookagian came up short, as Eye went on to challenge for the title. The 31-year-old’s record remains impressive, and her style makes her an awkward opponent for all, but more wins like the one achieved last time out against Joanne Calderwood are needed to get Chookagian back to the top of the chasing pack.

6 - Andrea Lee (11-2 Career / 3-0 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Veronica Macedo, Ashlee Evans-Smith, Montana de la Rosa

UFC flyweight losses - None

Andrea “KGB” Lee’s arrival on the UFC scene has been an exciting one. The fighter had always impressed at flyweight and had been promoted by Legacy and Invicta as one of their top fighters.

The results achieved inside the UFC’s octagon have been impressive to this point. Three straight wins achieved, more recently, against solid opposition. Ashlee Evans-Smith and Montana de la Rosa in particular were solid wins for an emerging flyweight contender.

7 - Joanne Calderwood (13-4 Career / 3-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Valerie Letourneau, Kalindra Faria, Ariane Lipski

UFC flyweight losses - Katlyn Chookagian

Much like Chookagian higher up on this list, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood has so far always been one step away from title contention in her UFC career.

When opportunities might have presented themselves as the strawweight division fleshed out, Calderwood suffered her first career defeat in a major upset to Maryna Moroz.

The story at flyweight has been similar. Calderwood actually competed in the first UFC women’s flyweight bout against Valerie Letourneau back in 2016 before the division had been properly introduced.

Calderwood achieved wins against Kalindra Faria and Ariane Lipski after returning to the division in 2018, and was moving close to a title shot before Chookagian beat her by decision at UFC 238.

An upcoming bout between Calderwood and Andrea Lee should produce fireworks, and move the winner mightily close to a crack at flyweight gold somewhere down the line.

8 - Mayra Bueno Silva (6-0 Career / 1-0 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Gillian Robertson

UFC flyweight losses - None

A surprise package and one-hit wonder, Brazilian flyweight Mayra Bueno Silva has only one UFC bout to her name. It is a win good enough to warrant her inclusion at number eight in the rankings.

Gillian Robertson has fought five times in the UFC compiling a 4-1 promotional record. The one defeat came against Bueno Silva in September last year. The Brazilian submitted Robertson via armbar to make a major impact in the division.

Knee surgery has kept the 27-year-old on the sidelines since, but she remains one of the flyweight division’s brightest prospects.

9 - Gillian Robertson (7-3 Career / 4-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Emily Whitmire, Molly McCann, Veronica Macedo, Sarah Frota

UFC flyweight losses - Mayra Bueno Silva

Absurdly left out of the UFC’s top 15, despite having four wins in the UFC’s flyweight division, Gillian Robertson is well worth a place in the rankings.

The level of competition has been solid rather than spectacular, but the performances accompanying them have been marvellous. Emily Whitmire, Molly McCann, Veronica Macedo and Sarah Frota were all put away well inside the distance.

Like Silva who defeated her, Robertson remains one of the division’s most interesting prospects.

10 - Viviane Araujo (8-1 Career / 1-0 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Alexis Davis

UFC flyweight losses - None

The second one-bout fighter to make it onto the list, Brazilian Viviane Araujo made her UFC flyweight debut in July, defeating veteran Alexis Davis via decision.

A former Pancrase champion, Araujo has now won five straight in a run that includes wins against Emi Fujino and Ayaka Miura.

The task for the UFC over the next 12 months is finding the right fights to develop fighters like Araujo, Robertson and Bueno-Silva and have them challenging for top five spots.

11 - Alexis Davis (19-10 Career / 1-3 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Liz Carmouche (2017)

Other relevant wins - Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche (2013)

UFC flyweight losses - Katlyn Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, Viviane Araujo

Alexis Davis’ records reads like a who’s who of women’s MMA. The best have been faced, with wins and losses traded all over her resume.

Securing Davis’ inclusion on this list are two wins over Liz Carmouche and a win over Jessica Eye, both of whom are ranked highly.

The 34-year-old’s overall UFC flyweight record reads less impressively, with defeats to three of the fighters above her in these rankings. Time might be running out for the Canadian veteran.

12 - Roxanne Modafferi (23-16 Career / 2-3 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Barb Honchak, Antonina Shevchenko

Other relevant wins - Andrea Lee

UFC flyweight losses - Nicco Montano, Sijara Eubanks, Jennifer Maia

Most-likeable isn’t the sort of moniker most fighters look to achieve in their careers, but “the Happy Warrior” has always stayed true to herself and embraced it.

Perhaps that is why so many fans are always surprised when she defeats top opposition, something Roxanne Modafferi has done throughout her career.

Much like the rest of her career, Modafferi’s UFC run has seen her winning and losing with almost-equal regularity, but the wins over Barb Honchak and Antonina Shevchenko, as well her long term body of work, remain low-key impressive.

13 - Lauren Murphy (11-4 Career / 2-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Barb Honchak, Mara Romero Borella

UFC flyweight losses - Sijara Eubanks

After a rough run at bantamweight, that saw Murphy lose some very close decisions, the former Invicta champion entered The Ultimate Fighter 26 in 2017.

Despite being knocked out of the competition early, Murphy has rebounded well to become a tough out for anyone at 125 pounds. Barb Honchak and Mara Romero Borella serve as the pair of impressive wins on Murphy’s UFC flyweight record.

14 - Antonina Shevchenko (8-1 Career / 2-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Ji Yeon Kim, Lucie Pudilova

UFC flyweight losses - Roxanne Modafferi

Would Antonina Shevchenko have been given an opportunity with the UFC when she was, if not for her MMA-famous Sister Valentina? Possibly not, but what the 34-year-old has done with it so far has been pretty good.

Ji Yeon Kim and Lucie Pudilova were no match for Shevchenko, and a loss to a much more experienced opponent like Roxanne Modafferi was understandable.

It is hard to call the older-Shevchenko Sister a prospect, given her age, but it will be interesting to see how far she can climb up the division over the next 18 months.

15 - Montana de la Rosa (10-5 Career / 3-1 UFC Flyweight)

UFC flyweight wins - Christina Marks, Rachael Ostovich, Nadia Kassem

UFC flyweight losses - Andrea Lee

Rounding out the top 15 is Montana de la Rosa. The three wins she achieved from 2017 through 2019 might have come against weaker UFC opposition, but they are still more impressive than the runs of the fighters who missed out on these rankings.

The 24-year-old was competitive in defeat against Andrea Lee last time out, and is young enough to come back stronger and forge a strong UFC career over the coming years.