Women’s mixed martial arts continued to make its mark on MMA’s biggest stage in 2014. A year after announcing that they had signed undefeated Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey and would be debuting the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC, the Las Vegas-based fight promotion revealed in December 2013 that it was bringing in the women’s 115-pound weight class.
The year saw an entire female cast being showcased on the twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter for the first time in the reality series’ nine-year history. The season held a 16-woman tournament to crown the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight champion.
Most of the world’s top 115-pound women were among the field of competitors. Carla Esparza entered the tournament as the top seed. The former Invicta FC strawweight titleholder submitted No. 16 seed Angela Hill in the opening round. She outlasted highly regarded No. 3 seed Tecia Torres in the quarterfinal round before defeating former Invicta FC atomweight champion Jessica Penne to secure her place in the finals against Rose Namajunas, who emerged from the other side of the backet.
On Dec. 12, Esparza and Namajunas met at The Ultiamte Fighter 20 Finale with history and the title on the line. Namajunas started fast, but couldn’t overcome Esparza’s ability to get the fight to the ground. Esparza finished Namajunas with a rear-naked choke in the third round to become the first UFC women’s strawweight champion. Her run through the tournament to capture the title and whom she beat along the way also earned the 27-year-old MMAWeekly.com’s 2014 Female Fighter of the Year award.
One strawweight outside of the UFC can argue that she is the top 115-pound female fighter in the world, Jessica Aguilar. Aguilar holds a split decision win over Esparza from a Bellator fight in June 2011. The 32-year-old won the World Series of Fighting women’s strawweight championship in January and defended her title twice throughout the year, giving “JAG” the first of two MMAWeekly.com honorable mentions. She’s currently riding a ten-fight winning streak and hasn’t lost since September 2010.
While women’s MMA is steadily growing, all eyes are still focused on UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. She remained undefeated in 2014, defending her title twice.
“Rowdy” didn’t just defend her title twice; she demolished two top contenders. She finished fellow Olympic medalist Sara McMann at UFC 170 with a knee to the body at the 1:06 mark of the opening round. At UFC 175 in July, Rousey knocked out Alexis Davis in just sixteen seconds. She earned Performance of the Night bonuses in both outings and picked up a 2014 MMAWeekly.com honorable mention.