10 women to watch in MMA in 2021

Angela Lee, Kayla Harrison, Weili Zhang, Cris Cyborg, MMA, ONE Championship, UFC, PFL, Bellator

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 a very tough year for MMA, but 2021 looks like it could much better—particularly for the women’s side of the sport.

As the 2021 calendar starts to fill up, a number of female fighters look poised for huge things, from the UFC’s Octagon, to the ONE Championship Circle, to the PFL and Bellator MMA cages.

Here are 10 women we’re excited to watch in the coming year of MMA.

Seo Hee Ham: ONE Championship atomweight

Seo Hee Ham

After achieving fantastic things in South Korea’s Road FC and Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation, Seo Hee Ham recently signed with ONE Championship. While the details of the Korean’s ONE debut are still a mystery, she stands out as one of the most experienced women on the promotion’s roster, and with the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix just around the corner, she has a very clear path to the top of her new division.

Valerie Loureda: Bellator flyweight

Valerie Loureda
Image via @valerieloureda on Instagram (photographer not listed)

Bellator’s Valerie Loureda is much more than a pretty face. She’s proven that in her first three MMA bouts in the Bellator cage, authoring decisive wins at the expense Colby Fletcher, Larkyn Dasch and Tara Graff.

While she doesn’t have a fight booked at the moment, it’s safe to assume she’ll get a big step up in competition next time out and potentially set herself up for a huge year.

Denice Zamboanga: ONE Championship atomweight

Denice Zamboanga, MMA

Denice Zamboanga has looked unstoppable in the ONE Championship Circle. The Filipina atomweight, who is 8-0 as a pro, is now 3-0 under the ONE banner, including decisive victories over promotional mainstays Jihin Radzuan and Mei Yamaguchi.

She doesn’t currently have a fight on the horizon, but seems like a shoo-in to compete in the upcoming ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix—and perhaps even win the whole thing to earn herself a shot at the undisputed title.

Amanda Nunes: UFC featherweight and bantamweight champion

Amanda Nunes, Dana White, UFC
Image via @ufc on Instagram

Amanda Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time, and all signs point to her cementing that status in 2021.

While her December featherweight title defense against Megan Anderson was regrettably canceled, the bout will most likely be rescheduled for early 2021. Provided she gets through that defense unscathed, we can probably expect to rattle off some more defenses of her bantamweight title thereafter. Unless, of course, she elects to hang up the gloves and enjoy life as a new mother.

Stamp Fairtex: ONE Championship atomweight

Stamp Fairtex, ONE Championship, MMA

Stamp Fairtex hasn’t had the best year, as she lost her ONE atomweight kickboxing title to Janet Todd, and her ONE atomweight Muay Thai title to Allycia Hellen Rodrigues—both via hotly debated decisions.

The one silver lining of those title losses, however, is that Stamp now has significantly more bandwidth to focus on her burgeoning MMA career. The Thai striking whiz is already 4-0 in the sport, and is likely to improve that tally in 2021—most likely in the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix.

Cris Cyborg: Bellator featherweight champion

Cris Cyborg

It feels like every year is a big year for Cris Cyborg. Yet having found a new home in Bellator MMA, where she is now the reigning featherweight champion, it’s possible that 2021 will be the best year of her career to date.

She doesn’t have a fight scheduled at the moment, but as one of the biggest names on the Bellator roster, and the closest thing to surefire entertainment that you’ll find in this sport, we can probably expect her to get something lined up soon.

Kayla Harrison: PFL lightweight champion 

Kayla Harrison, PFL
Image via The PFL

Former Olympic judoka Kayla Harrison, widely regarded as one of the most lethal women in MMA at present, didn’t get to compete as much as she wanted in 2020 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Expect her to make up for lost time in 2021.

After a destructive featherweight win over Courtney King in the Invicta cage earlier this month, she’s got momentum on her side as the PFL ramps back up for a huge 2021 season. That’s a frightening thought for any woman that steps into the cage with her.

Weili Zhang: UFC strawweight champion

Weili Zhang, UFC
Image via @zhangweilimma on Instagram

UFC strawweight champ Weili Zhang has already established herself as one of the best female fighters in MMA with unforgettable wins over former champs Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

As we close in on 2021, all signs point to the Chinese champ imminently defending her title against another former titleholder in Rose Namajunas. If she wins that fight, it will affirm her status as one of the sport’s pound-for-pound queens—and with millions of fans in China watching closely, one of its biggest stars.

Claressa Shields 

Claressa Shields, MMA

Claressa Shields has yet to compete in MMA, but as we now know, that’s going to change in 2021, as the the three-division boxing champion recently inked a deal with the PFL. She certainly has a lot to learn if she intends to thrive in an entirely new sport, but at just 25 years old, she’s in the prime of her athletic life, and seems well-positioned to do so.

Expect her to punch some heads into the bleachers—maybe even kick them—in the very near future.

Angela Lee: ONE Championship atomweight champion

Angela Lee, ONE Championship

We’re unlikely to see much much of ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee in 2021, as she and her husband, ONE lightweight competitor Bruno Pucci, are expecting their first child. That being said, Lee has expressed optimism that she’ll be ready to fight again before the year as out, and if anyone is capable of mounting that kind of comeback, it’s the woman nicknamed “Unstoppable.”

Look for the champ to make a huge statement—much to the surprise of her doubters—before the new year is out.

This article appeared first on BJPENN.COM