Sunday, 29 January 2012

Women's Flyweight (115lb) Division - Who's who?

Over the next few weeks I am going to sort you all out with a veritable who's who of women's MMA.  I am going to take MMA Rising's rankings and give you a run down of who these women are.  This will lead up to a piece about the depth, potential and future of female MMA.

I am starting things off with the flyweights, which you will find featured in Bellator in the US and Pancrase and Jewels in Japan as well as smaller promotions everywhere.  Like all the female divisions, the ladies flyweights would really benefit from one promotion pushing a stable, competitive division with regular high quality fights for the top girls.  When I hear criticism of the depth of female MMA, I wonder if people have taken the trouble to look who's out there, especially with a lot of female fighters plying their trade in Japan and smaller regional shows in the US and Europe.  I'm sure that article will come later.

1 - Megumi Fujii (25-1)

Fujii is a veteran of 26 fights, in organisations such as Jewels, Bellator and Shooto.  She is primarily a submission fighter with a propensity for armbars.  The Japanese fighter has pretty good wrestling ability, despite being relatively small for her division.  She overpowers her opponents with general stickiness and technique rather than true power and is absolutely unafraid to pull guard and fight off of her back (see the video below).

Unfortunately for us, it is quite unlikely that at 37 years old, Fujii can be a part of the increasing popularity in female MMA outside of Japan.  Since losing in the Bellator women's 115lb tournament final to Zoila Gurgel (now fighting at 125lb) she has fought three times in Japan.  I would imagine she would see out her career tearing off arms over there, where it is possible for women to fight regularly at a reasonable level.  That's a shame because it would be great to test whether Fujii can hang with the more powerful weight cutting American fighters, like Jessica Aguilar and truly cement her number one status.  With that in mind, we could question her position as the divisions top dog by seeing what happened the last time she fought a truly elite fighter in her division:

2 - Jessica Aguilar (12-4-0)

Jessica Aguilar is a fun fighter to watch.  The Mexican American is a stocky and powerful boxer who also possesses some slick submission skills and powerful grappling.  Like most female fighters, she has moved around, fighting 4 times for Bellator and other smaller promotions.  She is developing noticably with every fight she takes and is a clear example of a fighter who would benefit greatly from the opportunity to fight professionally, full time where she could accelerate some of that growth.  Her next outing though, will come at Fight Time Promotions 8 against Patricia Vidonic, in a fight you really have to expect she will win.

Here she is in her last outing, patiently and skillfully outpointing the number 4 ranked flyweight Lisa Ellis-Ward:

3 - Ayaka Hamasaki (6-0-0)

Hamasaki is another undersized flyweight from Japan, but it hasn't done her any harm so far in her short career.  She is the current Jewels Lightweight (115lb) champion with 5 straight wins in that organisation, winning that title against number 5 ranked Seo Hee Ham.  She is a high level judo player and uses that background to dominate and smother opponents.  She has the ability to submit but also passable standup skills.  She was down to fight Jessica Aguilar a while ago but the fight fell through.  It would be great for this division if Bellator can get Hamasaki down for their next 115lb tournament.  For now though, look out for her at the next Jewels Event.  I don't have any videos for you but here she is with her belt.

4 - Lisa Ellis-Ward (14-7)

We met Lisa Ellis-Ward above due to her recent loss to Jessica Aguilar.  Her previous outing was a year before where she lost to number 1 ranked Megumi Fujii.  It might well be that Ellis-Ward suffers from the age old WMMA problem of not enough high level fights for her to regularly train, improve and be tested, so that when she does fight the best, she comes up short.  She has a submission wrestling attack as you will see in the video of her defeating Stephanie Frausto.  She co-owns a gym with her husband and one would hope that the stability that has come from owning a gym will give her a foundation for future improvement.  If Bellator cannot put more regular fights on for her, she should look to the regional circuit where alot of the top girls are forced to ply their trade.

5 - Seo Hee Ham (9-5)

We've met Seo Hee Ham before too as she lost out in her chance to take the 115lb Jewels crown from Ayaka Hamasaki.  The South Korean has had an up and down career which is understandable as she has fought on some of the biggest stages of female japanese MMA in Jewels, Smackgirl and Deep.  Her style is very much kickboxing and she even has a 6-0 record in that discipline.  In spite of three kickboxing KOs, she has not been able to transfer that knockout power to MMA as she has found her nine career wins by way of decision.  She is a game and dynamic striker but really is susceptible to being taken down, controlled and/or submitted.  She is young and as we potentially see female MMA take off, we might hope to see Seo Hee Ham round out her game with some submission and take down defense as well as the ability to throw heavier leather while moving to avoid takedowns.

Here is a video of her outpointing veteran Saori Ishioka at Deep 52:

6 - Mei Yamaguchi (9-3-1)

I will bang on about it, but the Japanese fighters really do benefit from the opportunity to fight high level competition multiple times a year on a decent stage.  She has a mixed (hehe) martial arts background having tried her hand at Karate and Brazilian Ju Jutsu  and now fighting with a well rounded style.  Her most recent loss was to number 5 ranked See Heo Ham but she bounced back at the turn of the year with a decision over gnarly veteran Mika Nagano.  Yamaguchi has fought the best with mixed results, beating Sunaba and Takabayashi, while losing out to Yuka Tsuji.  Here she is showing off her general martial arts prowess as she shoot boxes the hell out of Odoka Makada.

7 - Kyoko Takabayashi (12-4-1)

Takabayashi has had an eventful career over 17 fights.  She has a submission centered attack and has had mixed success with it against top opposition.  She has submitted Sunaba and ground out a decision win of Ishioka.  However at 30 years old and having not fought for nearly eight months and once in the year proceeding that, her careers appears to be tapering down.  Here she is defeating number 10 ranked Tomomi Sunaba:

8 - Yuka Tsuji (23-2-0)

Clearly Tsuji has a hell of a record and a look at that record will show you wins against a veritable who's who of the division.  She has defeated Ishioka, Yamaguchi and Anna Michelle Tavares as well as mnay others from all over the world.  She has fought at Valkyrie, Smackgirl and most recently Saora Ishioka at Jewels 15.  Unfortunately Tsuji is a 37 year old with 3 fights in the last 4 years, has never fought outside of Japan and realistically she will miss out on any future developments in women's MMA.

Tsuji armbarring Erica Montoya

9 - Carla Esparza (6-2)

The American wrestler Carla Esparza has been very active since she made her debut in February of 2010, fighting 8 times.  In her short career she has only lost to two of the top girls in the division, who she undoubtedly fought a bit early in her development, Fujii and Aguilar.  She is stocky and has a great base and hips which she can use to dominate her opponents and fish for power submissions (she has three victories via rear naked choke).  She has a fight coming up in March against Angela Magana who is tough and experienced herself, having defeated Aguilar back in 2009.  This fight goes down at MEZ Sports- Pandemonium 6.

Again I am repeating myself, but Esparza will benefit should the opportunity ever arise to train full time for a stable division of top female flyweights.  Here she is  at XFC 15, facing Felice Herrig.  Lucky you, this includes the best commentator in the business, Micheal Schiavello, calling the shots.

10 - Tomomi Sunaba (17-13-1)

With 20 kickboxing bouts and over 30 in MMA, Sunaba is the true meanng of a fighter. Since 2006 she has dedicated herself to a busy mixed martial arts career against some top opposition.  Unlike most of the fighters on this list, Sunaba has the ability and power to produce some highlight reel knockouts.  Her dynamism, pace and aggression make her one of the most watchable fighters in the division and it is a real shame that at the ripe old age of 35, she could be knocking on the door of retirement pretty soon.  That being said, a win in her next outing against the very respectable Saori Ishioka might propel her back up the rankings towards one more fight with one of the bigger names at 115lb.

Here's a video of her highlights, she is the one battering all the other women.  Watch especially for the 1:45 mark as she just bullies a girl out of the ring (N.B. That's why cage fighting is safer than fighting in a boxing ring).

There you have it then, a who's who of the 115lb division in female MMA.  As you can see, these fighters are scattered around 3 main promotions; Pancrase, Jewels and Bellator and having to pick up fights at smaller shows to fill in the gaps.  This latter point is truest for American fighters for whom Bellator does not provide regular enough fights for them to really stay sharp.  I would love for one US organisation with some money to get behind this division and put together either a really strong tournament or a whole division, there are plenty of girls hanging around the rankings just below this lot who would really benefit from the guarantee of 2 or 3 fights a year.

If you think any of these girls are not worth a spot in the top ten or if I haven't done them justice in describing them, please comment and I can try and address it.  On top of that, any names you think will be big news in the division in the near future, let me know.

For a who's who of the women's 125lb division, click here.
And a who's who of the bantamweight division here 


  1. Yep. Look out for her at Pancrase Progress Tour 3, Tokyo. Might have to check you tube or look for write ups unless you live in Japan.