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Carla Esparza reacts after her victory over Rose Namajunas during the UFC 274 event at Footprint Center on May 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
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UFC 30th Anniversary

Top 30 Women Athletes In UFC History 20-11 | UFC 30th Anniversary

We Highlight The Sports Top 30 Women In Celebration Of UFC's 30th Anniversary. 

In honor of breaking barriers, UFC Fight Pass has compiled a list of the 30 best women athletes that have made their mark in this sport and continue to pave the way. Here we look at athletes #20-11.

#20 - Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern actively fights in the strawweight division and is ranked #7. She is the daughter of renowned BJJ black belt Wellington “Megaton” Dias and quickly took after her father, starting in his academy at three years old. Holding the same credentials, the Arizona native has a pile of accolades to compliment her arrival into the UFC such as BJJ 2x World Champ at black belt, IBJJF #1 ranked female, and No Gi World Champ. Dern’s promotional debut was at UFC 222, where she won via split decision against Ashley Yoder. Entering the UFC allowed her to add to the resume, earning Performance of the Night (three), Fight of the Night (one), most submission wins in the UFC Strawweight division (four), and second-most submission wins in the UFC among women (four).  Dern has only been professional for seven years and hopes to keep adding to her already impressive resume.

Mackenzie Dern of the United States celebrates victory over Amanda Cooper of the United States in their women's strawweigth bout during the UFC 224 event at Jeunesse Arena on May 12, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa)

Mackenzie Dern of the United States celebrates victory over Amanda Cooper of the United States in their women's strawweigth bout during the UFC 224 event at Jeunesse Arena on May 12, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa)


(Watch Mackenzie Dern On UFC Fight Pass)

#19 - Erin Blanchfield

Erin “Cold Blooded” Blanchfield is a young mixed martial artist from New Jersey. She has her brown belt in BJJ and is the youngest Eddie Bravo Invitational flyweight champ, winning it at the age of 18. The 24-year-old entered the UFC less than two years ago and has already earned Performance of the Night (one) and tied for second most submissions in UFC women’s flyweight division history (three). She is undefeated in the UFC, earning her way in the ranks after an impressive submission over Jéssica Andrade. She stands at #4 in the flyweight rankings and #9 in pound-for-pound. Blanchfield has an overall record of 11-1 and is on an eight-fight win streak.

Erin Blanchfield reacts after her submission victory over Jessica Andrade of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa Getty Images)

Erin Blanchfield reacts after her submission victory over Jessica Andrade of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa Getty Images)


(Watch Erin Blanchfield On UFC Fight Pass)

#18 – Alexa Grasso

Alexa Grasso began MMA in 2012 and was undefeated in her first five fights. Quickly making a name for herself in the sport, she made her UFC debut on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3 Finale: dos Anjos vs. Ferguson. The mixed martial artist started her journey in strawweight but eventually made her way up to the competitive flyweight division, defeating Ji Yeon Kim in her first appearance. Grasso currently holds the belt in the flyweight division. She defeated eight-time defending champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 285: Jones vs Gane to become the first Mexican woman to win a UFC title. The fighter sits at #2 in the pound-for-pound rankings and is on a five fight win streak. 

Alexa Grasso Lands Punches Before Securing a TKO on Alida Gray
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Alexa Grasso Lands Punches Before Securing a TKO on Alida Gray
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(Watch Alexa Grasso On UFC Fight Pass)

#17 - Cat Zingano

Cat “Alpha” Zingano competed in the UFC bantamweight and featherweight division. Before her departure she was ranked #7 in the bantamweight rankings. She made her UFC debut at The Ultimate Fighter: Team Jones vs Team Sonnen Finale, defeating Miesha Tate by TKO in the first women’s bout to earn Fight of the Night. Next, the Minnesota native defeated Amanda Nunes via TKO at UFC 178, which then set her up to compete against Ronda Rousey for the UFC bantamweight championship. Zingano doesn’t currently compete with the UFC but while she was here, she paved the way for the future generation of women in mixed martial arts.

Cat Zingano elbows Amanda Nunes in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC 178 event inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 27, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa Getty Images)

Cat Zingano elbows Amanda Nunes in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC 178 event inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 27, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa Getty Images)


(Watch Cat Zingano On UFC Fight Pass)

#16 – Sara McMann 

Sara McMann made history in 2004 when she became the first American woman to earn a silver medal in Olympic wrestling. She made the transition to MMA in 2010 and signed with the UFC in 2013. Fighting in the bantamweight division, McMann has been placed in the Octagon with some of the most notable women in the sport like Amanda Nunes, Julianna Peña, and Miesha Tate. Despite the adversity that the Maryland native has faced, she has four first-round finishes, four wins by submission and a current record of 13-6.

Sara McMann celebrates after defeating Gina Mazany in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Scotiabank Centre on February 19, 2017 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa Getty Images)

Sara McMann celebrates after defeating Gina Mazany in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Scotiabank Centre on February 19, 2017 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa Getty Images)


(Watch Sara McMann On UFC Fight Pass)

#15 - Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Karolina Kowalkiewicz began training at the age of 16. The mixed martial artist began her professional career in her native country of Poland, winning the Polish Cup in Muay Thai. Over three years she accumulated a clean record of 7-0. In 2015, she signed with UFC and won her debut via unanimous decision against Randa Markos. With such early success, she found herself in the strawweight championship against Joanna Jędrzejcsyk at UFC 205. Kowalkiewicz has three wins by submission, three first round finishes, and has an overall record of 14-7.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz of Poland punches Felice Herrig in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 04, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz of Poland punches Felice Herrig in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 04, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


(Watch On Karolina Kowalkiewicz UFC Fight Pass)

#14 - Michelle Waterson

Michelle Waterson started training in karate when she was 10 years old and immediately knew this was her future career. She earned her black belt in Karate and brown belt in BJJ and started her amateur career at 19 years old. The Colorado native is currently #10 in the UFC women’s strawweight rankings. Making her debut at The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs Blackzilians Finale she submitted Angela Magaña. Since her UFC debut, she has fought in 12 bouts and earned a Performance of the Night for her TKO against Paige VanZant and a Fight of the Night. Waterson is gearing up for her scheduled bout against Luana Pinheiro at UFC 287 on April 8.

Michelle Waterson-Gomez | Warrior Code
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Michelle Waterson-Gomez | Warrior Code
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(Watch Michelle Waterson On UFC Fight Pass)

#13 – Julianna Peña

Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Peña started kickboxing the summer of ‘08 and never looked back. Peña is currently one of the most recognizable women in the UFC because of her extensive resume over a decade that includes being the first ever woman to win The Ultimate Fighter and the 2021 Upset of the Year vs Amanda Nunes in 2021. That rear naked choke victory earned her the bantamweight championship and, to top it all off, a Performance of the Night bonus. Peña met Nunes again at UFC 277 and ultimately lost, but still sits at #1 in the bantamweight rankings and #6 on the pound-for-pound list. The Washington native has an overall record of 12-5.

Julianna Peña | Heart. Aggressiveness. Determination.
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Julianna Peña | Heart. Aggressiveness. Determination.
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(Watch Julianna Peña On UFC Fight Pass)

#12 - Claudia Gadelha

Claudia Gadelha fell in love with Jiu Jitsu when she was very young. The Brazilian has won the BJJ World Championship three times at brown belt and now has a black belt in BJJ. The mixed martial artist began her professional journey in 2008 and started with the UFC in 2013. Gadelha was a pioneer in the strawweight division as she was picked to be one of the fighters that would compete on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter which would name the first strawweight champion. Unfortunately, she couldn’t compete, but her first bout in the UFC ended in victory, with her beating Tina Lähdemäki. She had a very successful seven-year career as she earned Fight of the Night twice and a Performance of the Night for her rear-naked choke against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Gadelha is now retired but is still very involved with the UFC as her main role is to develop young athletes.

Claudia Gadelha of Brazil battles Angela Hill in their strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 16, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa Getty Images)

Claudia Gadelha of Brazil battles Angela Hill in their strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 16, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa Getty Images)


(Watch Claudia Gadelha On UFC Fight Pass)

#11 - Carla Esparza

Carla “The Cookie Monster” Esparza is one of the most decorated female fighters of all-time. Esparza was an All-American collegiate wrestler and began training in BJJ her junior year. She became pro in 2010 fighting under Bellator, XFC, and Invicta FC before entering the UFC in 2013. She won The Ultimate Fighter season 20, the inaugural strawweight season, and was competed in the first championship bout against Rose Namajunas. Her rear naked choke victory earned her the belt and a Performance of the Night bonus. This was the California native’s catalyst to a highly successful, and still active, career. Her resume includes two UFC strawweight championship titles, she is tied with the most wins in division history (10), most takedowns landed in division history (44), the longest time between title reigns in UFC history (2,612 days) and the list goes on. The wrestler stands at #1 in the strawweight division and #7 on the pound-for-pound list.

Carla Esparza | Career Retrospective
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Carla Esparza | Career Retrospective
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