2013 Women's MMA Year-End Awards
2013 was a monumental time for women’s mixed martial arts. After years of being told that they “just weren’t good enough” and that there “wasn’t enough girls to form a legitimate division”, women finally graced the UFC’s famed Octagon and blew everyone away in the process.
At the forefront, we had women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Rousey’s dramatic blend of an Olympic level judo background, an “easy on the eyes” physique and an appetite for snapping arms enthralled UFC president Dana White.
But it didn’t stop with Rousey.
White witnessed a surge of elite female talent such as Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis and Liz Carmouche break the UFC’s walls down and captivate his audience in ways that completely exceeded his own expectations.
The UFC shouldn’t get all the praise, however, as the hard-hitting ladies of Shannon Knapp’s Invicta Fighting Championship once again proved in 2013 that women come to fight, sometimes more so than their male counterparts.
Knapp and co. opened the year in January crowning Carla Esparza as the inaugural strawweight champion and finished in December with an all-out war between Barb Honchak and Leslie Smith that had fans on the edge of their seats the entire time.
I’d like to recognize those who truly stood out and made this such a great year. Here are the 2013 Women’s MMA awards.
Fighter of the Year: Ronda Rousey
She might not be the most beloved fighter in the UFC right now but, at 8-0 with eight consecutive armbar finishes, there should be absolutely no question that Ronda Rousey is the most dominant female on the roster. In fact, an argument can be made that Rousey is the UFC’s most unstoppable champion, pound-for-pound, in the organization today.
There were several WMMA fighters who had a successful 2013 but none more so than the Olympic bronze medalist. In February, Rousey armbarred Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in the first women’s fight in UFC history. Shortly after that bout, Rousey filmed The Ultimate Fighter 18 alongside rival Miesha Tate as the first female coaches in the series’ eight year history.
Her behavior on the show—which included flipping Tate the bird and dropping F-Bombs on the regular, was viewed by many as disrespectful and appalling but she’s still without question one of the biggest superstars the sport has to offer.
Last weekend, Rousey cemented her status as the fighter of the year with a thrilling third round victory over Tate. I wasn’t keen on the way she snubbed Tate’s handshake offer at the end but unfortunately this isn’t the “most respectful fighter” of the year category so I’m letting that slide.
Others considered for this category: Cris Cyborg Justino, Alexis Davis, Jessica Eye and Barb Honchak
Fight of the Year: Tecia Torres vs. Rose Namajunas- Invicta FC 6
After last weekend’s war between Rousey and Tate, it would have been easy to award those two bantamweights with the fight of the year. But that would have been the wrong selection because the best fight of 2013 was the epic battle between strawweights Tecia Torres and “Thug” Rose Namajunas at Invicta FC 6 this past July.
At the time, both fighters were 2-0 in their professional careers and considered as the top two prospects in the 115 lbs. division. From the minute the bell sounded at the start of the bout all the way to the end, Torres and Namajunas went to war in every single aspect of MMA. They put on an absolute clinic on the feet and a cerebral thriller on the ground.
Namajunas threatened Torres with multiple flying armbar attempts but “The Tiny Tornado” defended them all and persevered with pure heart and lightning fast striking to pick up the unanimous decision victory.
During the fight, Bellator light heavyweight and Invicta commentator, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal noted that we could potentially see a rematch between the two in the future for a world championship. There may be some truth to that because if they make it to the finals of TUF 20, Torres and Namajunas will fight for the inaugural UFC strawweight championship in 2014.
Others considered for this category: Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate, Barb Honchak vs. Leslie Smith, Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate II and Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne
Breakthrough Fighter of the Year: Julianna Pena
When the cast of TUF 18 was announced, the opinion of most hardcore WMMA supporters was that veteran Shayna Baszler would dominate the competition. Baszler, a submission wizard, was the only fighter on the show that was already ranked in the top 10 of her division.
The consensus was that Baszler would submit anyone they matched her up against but unfortunately for “The Queen of Spades” that theory was debunked quickly by an unsung hero named Julianna Pena.
Pena blitzkrieged Baszler in the first quarterfinal fight of the series and, in a huge upset, finished the veteran with a rear naked choke in the second round. Pena, who was Team Tate’s number one pick, went on to defeat Sarah Moras in the semi-finals and Jessica Rakoczy in the live finale to become the first female Ultimate Fighter winner in history.
Mark my words, at 24 years old the sky is the limit for Pena. This is an athlete that can break the glass ceiling in 2014 and really establish herself as a legitimate contender to the bantamweight title. I’m awarding her as breakthrough fighter of the year because I don’t believe there was a fighter this year that transitioned from relative unknown to rising star better than the “Venezuelan Vixen”.
Others considered for this category: Joanne Calderwood, Tecia Torres, Mizuki Inoue and Holly Holm
Knockout of the Year: Holly Holm KO's Alanna Jones Via Head Kick
Anyone that tells you that girls don’t have knockout power, are completely oblivious and not paying enough attention to WMMA. Women finish fights with skull crushing knockouts just like their male counterparts do and right now nobody does it better than Holly Holm.
An 18 time world champion boxer, Holm left the “sweet science” behind in 2013 to fully focus on her MMA career. She went 4-0 this year with three knockouts but it was her head kick finish over Allanna Jones at Legacy FC 21 that was especially vicious and bone chilling.
A product of the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Holm is taking the MMA world by storm. She is currently scheduled to fight Julianna Werner at Legacy FC 30 in April but with another win, I have to imagine her next bout will be in the UFC. Holm could be a massive star in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division and a potential blockbuster fight with Ronda Rousey.
Others considered for this category: Veronica Rothenhausler def. Katalina Malungahu by KO (Punch), Nina Ansaroff def. Aylla Lima da Silva by KO (Flying Knee To The Body), Alida Gray def. Soannia Tiem by KO (Punch), Vanessa Guimarães def. Bruna Paiffer by KO (Knee)
Submission of the Year: Rose Namajunas Submits Kathina Catron Via Flying Armbar
We saw quite a few submissions from the ladies in 2013 but I’ve always been a sucker for flashy techniques. The flying armbar is one of the most difficult submissions to pull off but it took Rose Namajunas a mere 12 seconds to catch and finish Kathina Catron with one. Not only was it an incredibly jaw-dropping finish but it cemented Namajunas as one of WMMA’s brightest young prospects.
At 21 years of age, Namajunas could potentially become the youngest UFC champion of all time in 2014. That is if she can get past the rest of the competition on TUF 20, including the only woman to defeat her, Tecia Torres.
Others considered for this category: Michelle Waterson def. Jessica Penne (armbar), Duda Yankovich def. Daniela Cristina (Keylock), Ronda Rousey def. Miesha Tate (armbar), Emi Fujino def. Amber Brown (Neck Crank)
Headline of the Year: UFC Launches Female Strawweight Division on TUF 20
Originally I had penned down “Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche become first women to compete in/headline a UFC event” as my selection for story of the year. However, after careful consideration I believe that Dana White’s decision to add a second female division is a testament to how wonderful WMMA was in 2013.
Let’s not forget that it wasn’t long ago when White told everyone that he would never bring female fighters into the UFC. This was a guy that was convinced that Gina Carano was the only talented female in the sport. Now, in 2013, White has a very successful women’s bantamweight division and is about to add a second one with the addition of the strawweights.
Listen, I’ve been saying this for a long time but the 115 lbs. division is the most exciting in all of MMA. You can call me every ugly name in the book and that’s fine but wait until you see what these girls can do and the type of excitement they are capable of producing. Just wait.
Currently the cast for TUF 20 consists of Invicta strawweight champion Carla Esparza, Claudia Gadelha, Felice Herrig, Tecia Torres, Bec Hyatt, Rose Namajunas, Alex Chambers, Paige Van Zant, Emily Kagan, Joanne Calderwood, and Julianna Lima. Tryouts will be held to determine the remaining five competitors. The winner of the tournament will be crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion.
Others considered for this category: Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche become first women to compete in and headline a UFC event, Women enter the Ultimate Fighter house on TUF 18, Megumi Fujii and Julie Kedzie retire from MMA, Invicta FC crowns champions in all 5 weight classes, Julianna Pena becomes first female Ultimate Fighter winner
Role Model of the Year: Cat Zingano
This category was the toughest to choose from simply because there are too many great role models out there but Cat Zingano really shined through as an athlete to look up to.
At the TUF 17 finale back in April, Zingano sent Miesha Tate crashing to the canvas with a knee and followed up with elbows to pick up the TKO victory. In the post-fight press conference, Tate complained to the media that the bout was stopped too early and that it was an unfair call by referee Kim Winslow. Zingano could have told Tate to shove it like a certain UFC women’s champion would have, but she didn’t. Instead, she said that she has a lot of respect for Tate but feels the stoppage was fine.
The win was supposed to earn Zingano both a title shot and coaching slot opposite Ronda Rousey on TUF 18 but a severe knee injury foiled those plans. Zingano was forced out of TUF 18 and replaced by Tate, the woman she defeated to earn the opportunity in the first place.
She could have moaned and complained about the situation but that’s not in Zingano’s character. She sucked it up, wished them both the best of luck and focused on rehabbing her knee. Simply put, Zingano is a true professional and if I’m ever blessed with a daughter in the future I would hope she grows up with similar character traits.
Others considered for this category: Julie Kedzie, Carla Esparza, Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate, Lauren Murphy, Michelle Waterson, Shannon Knapp
Performance of the Year: Barb Honchak Defends Flyweight Title
Barb Honchak might not be the biggest name in WMMA but after her performance against Leslie Smith at Invicta FC 7, she damn well should be. A product of Pat Miletich’s Miletich Fighting Systems in Iowa, Honchak is one of the most complete fighters in the sport today.
From crisp boxing to powerful wresting to endless cardio to a developed submission game, Honchak has it all and this was evident in her title defense against Smith in December.
Smith had previously dropped down from 135 lbs. where she almost finished Sarah Kaufman with a head kick so she was definitely viewed as a tall order for the champion. Honchak picked her apart throughout five exciting rounds to cement her status as the best flyweight fighter in WMMA today.
Honchak deserves a lot more recognition in the fight game than what she gets. She’s undeniably one of the best female champions in the game today and hopefully more will be talking about her in 2014.
Others considered for this category: Cat Zingano def. Miesha Tate, Michelle Waterson def. Jessica Penne, Sara McMann def. Sheila Gaff, Tecia Torres def. Felice Herrig, Mizuki Inoue def. Bec Hyatt
Ring Girl of the Year: Shannon Ihrke
2013 was chockfull of exciting action in the cage but we also saw some gorgeous hunnies taking our breath away in between rounds.
I’m not going to lie, every single time Shannon Ihrke was shown on an Invicta FC broadcast, I not only lost my breath but I forgot my own birthday! Do you have any idea how hot someone has to be to make you forget your date of birth? I had to pour a gallon of water on my head and do 20 burpee pullups just so I can remember my name for crying out loud!
In all seriousness though, Ihrke is an absolute sweetheart of a human being and one of the most fan friendly girls in the MMA community. She’s also a former United States Marine so before you try to get at her with some cheesy pickup line, just remember that in all likelihood she can probably beat you up.
Others considered for this category: Natasha Wicks, Brittney Palmer, Stephanie Ann Cook, Mireika Edwards, Jennifer Swift, Brook Lynette
Who to Watch in 2014: Taylor Stratford
They say that when you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind; unfortunately in MMA, that is exactly how things work. Taylor Stratford was one of the best amateur fighters in all of WMMA but she hasn’t competed in over two years. Her only loss on the amateur circuit was to Ronda Rousey, she beat everyone else including names like Raquel Pennington and Ashlee Evans-Smith.
In 2012, she was penciled in to make her pro debut at Invicta FC 3 against Katalina Malungahu but an injury forced her out of the bout and has kept her on the sidelines since. She’s been out of sight but she hasn’t been out of my mind. I think I also speak for a lot of die-hard WMMA fans when I say that Stratford is going to make a huge splash in 2014.
Whether it’s in the Invicta FC or the UFC, this 22-year-old is going to dominate when she inevitably makes her pro debut.
Others considered for this category: Jessica Penne, Joanne Calderwood, Norma Center, Rachael Cummins, Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas
Broadcaster of the Year: Julie Kedzie
Now the official matchmaker for the Invicta FC, veteran WMMA fighter Julie Kedzie dominated the broadcast booth for the all-women’s organization yet again in 2013. Her commentary was so spot on and professional that I honestly wish she could call every single sporting event on television but of course that would be too much to ask.
Kedzie officially retired from fighting last month after going 0-2 in the UFC. She was one of the pioneers of female fighting and paved the way for today’s stars like Rousey and Tate. She remains one of the classiest and kindest athletes to ever compete in this sport and I’m looking forward to seeing her work for Invicta in 2014.
Others considered for this category: Mauro Ranallo, Michael Schiavello, Joe Rogan
Newcomer of the Year: Alida Gray
I almost picked Alida Gray’s brutal knockout over Soannia Tiem in the video above as the knockout of the year—and in hindsight perhaps I should have because that punch was vicious—but I figured it would be more appropriate to deem her at the newcomer of the year.
The 36-year-old Gray was an Olympic judo alternate in 1996 but it’s her knockout power that’s making waves in the MMA world. Gray made her professional debut in June with an armbar submission victory over Patricia Vidonic but finished her next three bouts by TKO or knockout.
On January 18th, Gray will be put to the ultimate test as she faces #1 ranked strawweight Jessica Aguilar for the inaugural World Series of Fighting strawweight championship. A victory will not only earn her a title but it will also propel her at the top of the division.
Others considered for this category: Rachael Cummins, Norma Center, Ashlee Evans-Smith, Veronica Rothenhausler
Amateur Fighter of the Year: Aspen Ladd
As an amateur MMA fighter it can be quite difficult to get recognized. It’s even harder for the females that are cutting their teeth on the amateur circuit so that’s why I want to take this time to recognize 18 year old Aspen Ladd. Ladd fought six times in 2013 and was victorious in each and every single one of those bouts.
That alone is pretty impressive and if she keeps that streak up, it won’t be long before we see this dynamic flyweight fighter tearing it up in the Invicta FC. Julie Kedzie, keep your eye on this one because I have a feeling you’re going to want to call her up very soon.
Others considered for this category: Kyra Batara, Brittany Dugas, Mary Kate Hayes, Alyse Anderson