Julianna Peña (11-5, 3 KOs) is 3-3 in her last six fights and doesn’t have a win over anyone currently on the UFC roster. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Amanda Nunes’ retirement following her dominant victory over Irene Aldana on June 10 in the main event of UFC 289 left a massive gap atop the Yahoo Sports women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
There has been no one like Nunes in the women’s game, who not only was successful, but maintained her success over a long period of time.
As a reminder, this is a woman who:
• Was 11-1 in UFC championship fights.
• Knocked out Julia Budd in 14 seconds; Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds and Cris “Cyborg” Justino in 51 seconds, all former world champions.
• Was 9-1 against former UFC champions and was 1-0 against a former Bellator champion.
• Went 14-1 in her final 15 bouts against by far the best opposition any female mixed martial artist has ever faced. She avenged the only loss.
• Was the only female to hold two major titles simultaneously.
Nobody can really replace her, as she’s in a category all her own among female fighters and is only matched by Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Khabib Nurmagomedov among all fighters, regardless of gender.
My three candidates to replace her at the top of the P4P list — someone has to do it — are No. 2 Julianna Peña, No. 3 Alexa Grasso and No. 4 Valentina Shevchenko.
Shevchenko lost a pair of agonizingly close decisions to Nunes, particularly a title fight at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta, on Sept. 9, 2017. Peña is the only woman to defeat Nunes in the last eight-plus years, and she did it by finish. And Grasso, the flyweight champion, did it against Shevchenko by finish.
I eliminated Grasso first because, while the win over Shevchenko was massive, she hasn’t been as successful for as long. Peña and Shevchenko are both coming off losses, Peña to Nunes and Shevchenko to Grasso, so there are negatives to naming each of them.
My biggest concern with putting Peña No. 1 is her relative inactivity and the fact she’s just 3-3 in her last six fights.
Shevchenko was much more dominant over a longer period of time than any other female fighter not named Nunes, but not only was she finished by Grasso, she wasn’t her same dominant self prior to the finish. She was winning the fight and made a mistake that Grasso took advantage of, but had she hung on to win, it would have been a ho-hum victory. And if we’re being honest, Shevchenko’s win over Taila Santos on June 12, 2022 wasn’t impressive.
I could make a case for all three, but felt that Peña having most recently beaten Nunes when Nunes was at the top of her game gave her the edge. It’s slight and can be debated for days, without question.
For now, though, Julianna Peña is the No. 1 women’s fighter in the world.
Men’s MMA pound-for-pound rankings as of June 20
1. Jon Jones (27-1), UFC heavyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 1.
2. Islam Makhachev (24-1), UFC lightweight champion. Previous Ranking: 2.
3. Alexander Volkanovski (25-2), UFC featherweight champion. Previous Ranking: 3.
4. Israel Adesanya (24-2), UFC middleweight champion. Previous Ranking: 4.
5. Leon Edwards (21-3), UFC welterweight champion. Previous Ranking: 5.
6. Khamzat Chimaev (12-0) UFC welterweight/middleweight contender. Previous Ranking: 6.
7. Aljamain Sterling (23-3) UFC bantamweight champion. Previous Ranking: 7.
8. Kamaru Usman (20-3), former UFC welterweight champion. Previous Ranking: 8.
9. Charles Oliveira (33-9), former UFC lightweight champion. Previous Ranking: 9.
10. Henry Cejudo (16-3), UFC bantamweight contender. Previous Ranking: 10.
Women’s MMA pound-for-pound rankings as of June 20
1. Julianna Peña (12-5), UFC bantamweight contender. Previous Ranking: 2
2. Alexa Grasso (16-3), UFC flyweight champion. Previous Ranking: 3.
3. Valentina Shevchenko (23-4), UFC flyweight contender. Previous Ranking: 4.
4. Zhang Weili (23-3), UFC strawweight champion. Previous Ranking: 5.
5. Erin Blanchfield (11-1), UFC flyweight contender. Previous Ranking: 6.
6. Manon Fiorot (10-1), UFC flyweight contender. Previous Ranking: 7.
7. Taila Santos (19-2), UFC flyweight contender. Previous Ranking: 8.
8. Amanda Lemos (13-2-1), UFC strawweight contender. Previous Ranking: 9.
9. Raquel Pennington (15-8), UFC bantamweight contender. Previous Ranking: 10.
10. Larissa Pacheco (21-4), 2022 PFL lightweight champion. Previous Ranking: NR.