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Ronda Rousey and the 7 Most Important Women in MMA History

Matt JuulContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2017

Ronda Rousey and the 7 Most Important Women in MMA History

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    Women's mixed martial arts has seen a boom over the past year thanks to the rise of its newest star.

    Ronda Rousey unofficially became the new queen of MMA when she once again armbarred her way to victory over Meisha Tate to capture the Strikeforce women's bantamweight crown this past March.

    Rousey may be the biggest female star today, but MMA has a long history of talented women who have helped to change the landscape of the sport.

    Here are the seven most important women in MMA history.

7. Svetlana Goundarenko

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    Women's MMA genesis, much like it's male counterpart, has deep roots in the Japanese pro-wrestling scene.

    Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling brought women's MMA to the masses when it held it's first Ultimate L-1 Challenge tournament in 1995.  In this "shoot-fighting" tourney, the first woman to rule the ring was Russian Olympic judoka Svetlana Goundarenko.

    Weighing in at over 300 pounds, Goundarenko dominated the competition with her sheer size and submission skills.

    After the Ultimate L-1 Challenge folded, Goundarenko's would go on to compete at the ReMix World Cup 2000.  After back-to-back submission wins in the opening rounds, Goudarenko would ultimately lose a lopsided decision in a David and Goliath type battle against 132 lb. Megumi Yabushita.

    Goudarenko's size, which had aided her in her first few bouts, ended up costing her the match against Yabushita as Goudarenko gassed badly in the second round.

    With a career record of 6-2, Goudarenko was one of the first women to rule the sport and also helped to pioneer the heavier women's divisions.

6. Yuka Tsuji

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    In Yuka Tsuji's first professional fight, the then unknown shocked the MMA world when she defeated the then queen of Japanese MMA Ikuma Hoshino.

    Tsuji gave Hoshino her first career loss by catching her in an armbar during their bout for AX.

    Between 2001 to 2009, Tsuji would post a 22-1 record, her lone loss in that span coming at the hands of Ana Michelle Tavares in 2003.  Tsuji would get her revenge, however, defeating Tavares via TKO in 2009.  She would also become the inaugural Smackgirl lightweight champ in 2005 and the inaugural Valkyrie featherweight champ in 2009, both being all-female promotions.

    While just 1-2 in her last three fights, Tsuji remains a legend of women's MMA.

5. Megumi Fujii

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    Megumi Fujii took women's MMA to another level when she entered the scene as a 30 year old jiu-jitsu and sambo player in 2004.

    According to Skill MMA, Fujii wanted to change the perception of women in the sport in the eyes of males, having once told her students, "we need to be well-trained in order to not be looked down at by males.”

    No one would accuse Fujii of being not well trained as she would go 22-0 to kick off her career, showcasing her amazing grappling and submission skills for Japan's various female promotions.

    Now fighting for Bellator, Fujii's only career losses have come via decision to Bellator's 115 lb. champ Zoila Gurgel and No. 1 ranked female strawweight Jessica Aguilar.

4. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos

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    As women's MMA has made it's way stateside, the first woman to really dominate with both her amazing athleticism and power was Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos.

    After an early loss in her first pro fight, Cyborg would go 10-0 between 2005 and 2010, capturing and defending the Strikeforce Women's Featherweight title.

    Her biggest fight to date would be her 2009 championship winning bout against the then face of women's MMA, Gina Carano.  Cyborg easily defeated her foe, finishing her in the first round via TKO.

    While Cyborg has used her strength and power to run over the competition, her status as an elite women's MMA fighter has been marred due to her recent steroid scandal that cost her the Strikeforce belt.  She was stripped of her title following her 2011 bout against Hiroko Yamanaka, a fight she originally won via TKO 16-seconds into round one.

    Despite the the recent scandals, no one can deny Cyborg's dominance earlier in her career.

3. Shannon Knapp

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    She may not be a fighter, but no one has been working harder to take women's MMA to the forefront than Shannon Knapp.

    A former Strikeforce and IFL executive, Knapp is now the president of the newly formed, all-women promotion Invicta FC.

    With a goal of providing a home for the sport's elite women fighters, Knapp has done just that with Invicta.  Showcasing top level former champs and contenders such as Marlos Coenen and Sara McMann, this new promotion has shown it has a deep talent pool.

    Over 100,000 online viewers tuned in for the promotions first event back in April.  However, Invicta out did itself with its recent second event, crashing the server mid way through due to the large amount of online traffic.

    Knapp's latest endeavor has proven that not only are there great female fighters out there, but there's a huge audience for them out there as well.

2. Ronda Rousey

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    It's no secret that Ronda Rousey is the biggest star in women's MMA today.

    An Olympic bronze medalist in judo, Rousey's slick submission skills translated very well into MMA when she made her amateur debut in 2010.  Taking on Hayden Munoz, Rousey would begin her career of taking opponent's arms by submitting Munoz via armbar just 23 seconds into the first round.

    Since that win, Rousey has defeated all of her foes, both professional and amateur, by first round armbar.

    However, it would be her win over Meisha Tate that would catapult her to stardom.

    Rousey and Tate would make MMA history as being the first female bout to headline a Strikeforce card since the epic battle between Cyborg and Gina Carano in 2009.  Rousey would go on to completely break Tate's arm in the first round with her signature armbar to capture the bantamweight crown.

    Now set to take on Sarah Kaufman in August, another big win will only cause Rousey's star to rise even further as she cements herself as one of the top female fighters in the sport's history.

1. Gina Carano

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    Before there was Rousey, there was Gina Carano.

    A gorgeous kickboxing ace who made a successful transition to MMA, Carano was the early face of females in the sport and helped women fighters gain mainstream cred while fighting for Strikeforce and EliteXC.

    While she never won a championship, Carano's epic battle with Cyborg in 2009 put women fighters at the forefront of the sport.

    Now taking her martial arts talent to the big screen, Carano has found a ton of success in Hollywood, recently starring in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action hit Haywire while also being rumored to star in the upcoming Fast & Furious 6.

    Carano hasn't just helped women's MMA gain mainstream significance, but her move to the big screen has also helped gain the sport as a whole widespread exposure.

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