15 Women Who Dominated the Martial Arts World
When we think of Martial Arts, we imagine the stereotypical big, muscle men who get bloodied in real martial arts fights. We rarely think of women, possibly because most people think of women as delicate damsels in distress who needs men’s help. But there are women who have joined the martial arts world and dominate in their respective divisions. These female fighters fight passionately to show the world that they can also rule in the martial arts world that is mostly dominated by men.
The fifteen women listed in here broke that stereotype barrier and certainly beat the ass off any man they will meet. No one tells them “You punch like a girl!”
15. Laila Ali
Everybody knows Muhammad Ali as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in the boxing world. So, it is not surprising that one of his offspring followed in his footsteps. And that is just what his daughter did. At the age of 21, Laila announced that she was going to enter the boxing world. Ironically, her father expressed his dissatisfaction, saying that it is a very dangerous sport especially for women. Despite this, Laila went on to win her first bout by knockout within 30 seconds of the first round.
Laila also got to fight Joe Frazier’s (also a boxing legend and Ali’s arch nemesis) daughter, Jackie Frazier-Lyde in 2001. The fight was known as Ali/Frazier IV as an indirect reference to their fathers’ trilogy fight. This fight is also the first ever pay-per-view fight headlined by women. Laila won the eight round fight by decision.
She went to unify several boxing belts: IBA Super Middleweight title (2002), WIBA, IWBF & IBA title Super Middleweight titles (2002), IWBF Light Heavyweight title (2004), and WIBA & WBC Super Middleweight titles (2005).
Laila Ali retired with an undefeated record in 24 fights, with 21 knockouts.
14. Ronda Rousey
Born in California, Ronda Rousey, or RR as nicknamed by her fans, is unarguably one of the most famous names in the MMA world. She was a highly decorated judoka athlete before transitioning to a pro-MMA fighter.
Ronda’s mother, AnnMaria de Mars (also a Judo champion), was the one who introduced to her to sports as a way of coping with her childhood frustrations.
At the age of 16, Ronda became the youngest in the women’s half-middleweight division to earn the number one national ranking. In 2004, she claimed back to back gold medal wins at the World Junior Championships and Pan American Judo Championships.
In 2006, she defended her title in the Pan American Judo Championship. At the World Judo Championship in 2007, she placed second becoming the first American woman to win a medal in 12 years. Despite her knee injury, she won one more gold medal in the same year at the Pan American games. Ronda finally retired after being the first American woman to win a bronze medal in 2008 Olympics. She won a total of 46 medals in her entire judo career.
She finally entered the MMA world in 2010 and won her first amateur fight with a first round armbar submission. After a three consecutive first round wins, she finally announced that she was going to fight pro. She made her Strikeforce debut in 2011 and again won with a first round armbar submission. She finally earned her first title fight in 2012 vs her rival Tate by another first round submission, dislocating her opponent’s elbow in the process. She went on to fight in the UFC and became the first female UFC Bantamweight Champion. She finished most of her fights in the first few seconds of the first rounds. Her fastest fight lasted 14 seconds and was again won with an armbar submission against Zingano. This was the shortest fight in the entire UFC history.
She did not only win the octagon but also the hearts of her fans with her good looks and charming smile. She has also modeled for several famous magazines such as ESPN and starred in several Hollywood movies.
13. Joanna Jędrzejczyk
A Polish-born fighter, Joanna Jędrzejczyk earned the nickname Joanna Champion not only due because it is difficult to pronounce her name but because she is the current reigning champion in the UFC Featherweight Division. Joanna is also the first UFC Champion from Poland.
In 2006, she became the No. 1 pound-for-pound female fighter in the world.
She fought as a Muay Thai fighter for ten years and won 70 matches. She also has a pro-kickboxing record of 27 wins.
Joanna is known for her strategic and aggressive stand-up fight style; the press praises her MMA boxing skills as remarkable and second to none. She holds the record for the highest significant strike deferential in UFC Championship History. It is no surprise that most of her opponents ended up bleeding in the fights. Fightbooth.com gave her the Lady Violence Award in 2015.
She is currently undefeated (13-0) in her entire MMA career.
12. Gina Carano
Gina “Conviction” Carano is considered as a pioneer and one of the best in the women’s MMA. Carano was a basketball superstar in her high school, leading her team to a state title. She only took interest in Muay Thai when her then-boyfriend Kevin Ross, a professional Muay Thai fighter, encouraged her to train under Master Toddy. She then became the first American woman to win a Muay Thai title in Thailand. She has a record of 14-1-1.
Before Gina came along, it was not common for a female fighter to have a pretty face. As a result, Gina was initially taunted and laughed at and definitely not taken seriously because of her good looks.
Her fighting success attracted the attention of Jamie Levine. He offered her a fight versus Leticia Pestova (then 11-2) in World Extreme Fighting. This was the first-ever sanctioned female MMA fight. Her amazing fight against Julie Kedzie in 2006 was also the first ever televised female MMA fight. Due to her popularity and good looks, she was called by many as the “Face of Women’s MMA”.
The shy and laid back Carano did not accept the title as she felt it disrespected the sport and the other female fighters. She also appeared in the ESPN cover magazine in 2009.
She again makes history with her fight against Cris Cyborg. Their fight was the first ever female MMA fight on a main card. The fight was Carano’s first and last defeat in her MMA career.
Carano has a MMA record of 7-1.
11. Cecilia Braekhus
Cecilia Braekhus is a professional boxer from Norway. She is the first and only woman (and third person overall) to simultaneously hold the four major titles, WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO in any weight class.
Braekhus first started as a kickboxer at the age of 14 and won several world championships. She later joined in amateur boxing where she had an astounding amateur record of 75-5-0.
She started fighting as a professional boxer in 2007 and from then on, she built her legacy, collecting and unifying the four major world titles. Her total professional record is 30-0, with 8 fights won via knockouts.
10. Ann Wolfe
Ann “Brown Sugar” Wolfe is considered to be the best and hardest female puncher. She also gained the moniker as the female Mike Tyson due to the similarities in fighting style and her explosiveness. Wolfe also simultaneously held world titles in four different weight classes
After having an amateur record of 3-1 and fighting for the U.S National Championship (she lost by a disqualification at the semi-final), she transitioned to professional fighting.
In her most iconic fight, she knocked out the then-undefeated champion Vonda Ward in the first round of the fight. Even though Ward towered over Wolfe at 6’6”, she never landed a punch on Wolfe. That knockout was considered to be the best knockout punch in female boxing history.
Wolfe’s professional record is 26-1-1 with 16 wins by KOs. Her only loss was to Valerie Mahfood who at that time (2000) was more experienced than her in. Wolfe later got her retribution when she fought and defeated Mahfood in 2003 and 2005.
Wolfe retired in 2006 and is now working as a trainer to both amateur and professional boxers including her eldest daughter, Jennifer Wolfe-Fenn, who has an undefeated boxing record.
9. Holly Holm
Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm is a highly decorated boxer and the first fighter to win both boxing and MMA championships. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, her father is a preacher in Churches of Christ thus her nickname.
She was first discovered by her cardio-kickboxing instructor in her aerobics class. Seeing her fighting potential, he started training her. Holm started her career at 18 as an amateur kickboxer. She won a national kickboxing championship, and ended her amateur career with a record of 6-0-2.
She became full-time professional boxer in 2002 and went on to won several world boxing titles. She was named the Female Fighter of the Year in 2005 and 2006 by the Ring Magazine. She is considered the best female welterweight fighter in the world and also considered the best of all time. She ended her boxing career in 2013 with a record of 33-2-3.
She debuted her MMA career in 2011 with a TKO win over Domke. Her most astounding win in her entire MMA career was against then Bantamweight queen, Ronda Rousey, who she knocked out the in the 2nd round. The fight was considered the biggest upset in UFC history. She later lost the Bantamweight belt to Meisha Tate via submission and then went on to lose three consecutive fights. Her current MMA record is 10-3-0.
8. Amanda Nunes
Amanda “Lioness” Nunes is the current UFC Bantamweight Champion. Born in Brazil, she first trained in karate from the age of four and went on to boxing at sixteen but she doesn’t have a boxing competition record. She then trained under BJJ Black belt Ryan Franco where she learned to grapple. She earned her nickname “Leoa” for her aggressive style. She has a black belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo.
She started her pro-MMA career in 2008 and won her debut fight in the first round armbar by submission.
She had her most astounding fight when she took the Bantamweight belt from Tate choking her out in the first round. She thereafter defended her belt from Rousey winning by knockout 48 seconds into the first round.
She currently holds a professional MMA record of 14-4-0.
7. Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern is an American-born Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) black belt fighter. She is the number one BJJ female fighter as ranked by the IBJJF. Dern has been training with her father, who is also a black belt BJJ expert, since she is still 3 years old and still works with him today.
She won several world titles from 2007 to 2012. She became a six-time gold medalist and also won one absolute gold when she was nineteen. She also holds the female record for the most consecutive world championship wins.
Her best-upset win was against 200 pound Gabi Garcia (Dern is only 120 lbs), the world’s largest female BJJ fighter, and also a world champion, in the absolute open weight game. Dern won by points.
She recently transitioned to MMA and has a record of 3-0.
6. Cristiane Justino Venâncio
The Brazilian-born mixed martial artist is known as Cris Cyborg. Cyborg is a multi-talented fighter who combines striking and ground and pound techniques. She took her moniker from her former husband, also an MMA fighter, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos.
Cyborg was a national handball athlete in her home country when she was first discovered by Rudimar Fedrigo, a trainer of the Chute Box Academy.
In her pro debut fight she suffered a loss which would be her last. Her most famous fight was against Gina Carano, who was by then an undefeated fighter, for the Strikeforce’s Women’s Featherweight Championship. This was the first major promotion fight that featured women as the main card. She was later caught using an illegal substance in her fight against Yamanaka. It was a no contest fight ending in a 16-second TKO win. She apologized to her fans and now regularly takes drug tests to prove that she is clean.
Cyborg is also the first (and still currently holds) Invicta FC Featherweight Champion. She signed with the UFC in March of 2015 and is fighting in a catch weight. She is currently ranked as the number one 145-pound female fighter in the Unified Women’s MMA.
5. Tae Yun Kim
Tea Yun Kim is from Korea and she is the first ever female to be granted the status of a Grandmaster in Taekwondo.
She was born in a shack and abandoned at the very young age of five during the Korean War. She first took an interest in Taekwondo at age 11 when she saw her uncles training. She asked them to train her, but because Korea is a male dominated country and girls were as weak, they laughed at her. They finally agreed to train after she begged, thinking that she would give up once she saw the bruises that she got from the intense training. But she did not stop until she mastered Taekwondo and later earned the title as the first female black belt, then a Master and finally, the first female Grandmaster.
In her 20s she moved to America where she later founded a new discipline called Jung Suwon.
4. Angela Lee
Angela “Unstoppable” Lee is half Singaporean and half South Korean fighter born in Canada. At the age of 19, she became the youngest woman to win a world title in mixed martial arts when she defeated the veteran Mei Yamaguchi for the ONE Women’s Atomweight Title last May 2016.
Lee started training and competing at the very young age of 6. She was trained by both her parents, who are also martial artists. Her father holds three black belts in three different disciplines while her mother holds a 5th Degree Master Black Belt in Hapdosool.
She won several Pankration world championships but her most notable record is in her MMA career where she is undefeated 7-0 as of 2017. She is just 20 years old.
3. Ryoko Tani
Japanese born Ryoko Tani was the world’s most famous judoka athlete of her time. She is the first woman to win five Olympic medals for Japan and seven other world titles. The International Judo Federation named her best female judoka ever after her retirement.
Because of her accomplishments and bright personality, she became a celebrity in Japan. She became a symbol to the changing roles of women in Japanese society when she continued to pursue her Judo career even after she married and gave birth. She also became an inspiration for several anime characters. She was also nicknamed by her fans as Yawara-chan after a popular anime character.
Tani when into politics in 2010 as member of the House of Councilors. Now, she is also a member of the People’s Life First.
2. Rika Usami
Rika Usami, also Japanese, is famously called, the Karate Kata Queen. Her most famous performance was during the 2012 World Karate Championship in Paris when she performed the Kata Chatanyara Kushanku. Her kata was so impressive and hair-raising that she received a standing ovation from the 12,000 spectators.
Following her older brother to the local dojo, Usami started training in Goju-ryu style karate at the age of 10. Since then, she started participating in several competitions and eventually won world champion several times in a row.
Some people might question her fighting skills because she only performs kata and not real fighting. It is noteworthy to mention that Usami trained under the famous Yoshimi Inoue (the Trainer of Champions), who was given a chance to give the then First Lady Nancy Reagan a self-defense lesson.
1. Keiko Fukuda
Japanese born Reiko Fukuda came from an upper-class Samurai family. Although martial arts were practiced in her family, women in her time were not allowed to. Japanese women were expected learn the art of brush writing, flower arranging, and performing a formal Tea Ceremony. But as soon as Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, invited her to learn Judo, she didn’t hesitate. She braved the bomb-shelled Tokyo streets during WWII just to attend the classes.
USA Judo finally bestowed her with the highest rank of 10th Dan Black Belt; the only female judoka awarded in history. She taught Judo in San Francisco until she was well into her 90s and became an inspiration and ambassador for Judoka women worldwide. She never married. Instead, she devoted her whole life to Judo, and was thus nicknamed as Mrs. Judo. She died at 99 years old in 2013 as a legend and a trailblazer.
Her motto was “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”.
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