If you grew up during the ‘80s and ‘90s, then you’re probably aware female fighters were pretty much confined to the choreographed world of professional wrestling and the occasional mud wrestling scene in an R-rated movie. (And they usually ended up topless.) Those days were a far cry from where we are now. That’s why we’d like to turn our attention to the five women who changed the game into something respectable.
No. 5: Christy Martin
Christy Martin is a professional boxer, who was fighting long before UFC was a gleam in Dana White’s eye. After starting her career with a draw against Angela Buchanan, she kept her nose to the grindstone and won 36 of her next 38 fights with one loss (which she avenged) and one draw thrown in for good measure. Her most devastating loss was against another entry on our list (Laila Ali) in a fourth round knockout. However, she was fighting Ali above her prime weight of 147. It was the only KO she ever suffered. She retired in 2012 after a unanimous decision loss to Mia St. John.
No. 4: Laila Ali
Some might consider The Greatest’s daughter to be The Greatest female fighter to ever take the stage. She’s certainly got the record to make a case (24-0, 21KOs). While we don’t think there’s much to those ‘ducking the top contenders’ rumors — sour grapes if you ask us — she has never answered the call against contender Ann Wolfe, though she may have some legitimate reasons.
No. 3: Gina Carano
Steroid monster Cris Cyborg may have ended Gina Carano’s career, but not before Carano put a new face to the skills that would eventually take women’s MMA mainstream. Prior to Carano, female fighters got a bad rap because they didn’t have the model looks and, quite frankly, few of them were decent fighters. But Carano came along and showed that you could exude femininity while also being strong enough and capable enough to handle yourself in a cage. NOTE: Cyborg tested positive for PEDs after this victory, confirming what the entire world already knew — she’s a cheater.
No. 2: Lucia Rijker
Rijker is easily the most dominant female to ever lace up the boxing gloves, especially when you compare her output to that of her direct competition. Rijker had two fighting careers. Her first began in 1982 as a kickboxer. She had 37 wins, 0 losses, and 25 KOs. Then, she moved to boxing, where she would also retire unbeaten. As a traditional pugilist, she logged 17 wins, 14 by way of knockout. She fought her last match in 2004, winning a unanimous decision against Deborah Fettkether. She also lent her talents as an actor and consultant on the Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby, and helped train Ronda Rousey for the Miesha Tate rematch.
No. 1: Ronda Rousey
How could you not put Rousey at the top of this list? She talks a mean game, but she also backs it up. (Ask poor Miesha Tate.) She’s also taken the sport of women’s MMA into the mainstream, and has main-evented UFC’s PPVs more than once in her short career. It never happened before Rousey, and it could be a long time before anyone knocks her off the top.
Which of these female fighters do you think deserves the most credit? Share your comments below.