2019 was the year of the atomweight. And standing tall among them all at the very end was the best female fighter of the year, Korea’s Seo Hee Ham.
In a year full of great action, MMA’s fighting females arguably made the most waves. There was China’s Weili Zhang becoming the first-ever UFC champion from her country to Valentina Shevchenko delivering a devastating head kick that won’t soon be forgotten.
But like Zhang, another Asian country also found its first major world champion.
The Scrap’s 2019 female MMA fighter of the year is South Korea’s Seo Hee Ham, who beat out the two aforementioned UFC champions to get the award. Also in the running was UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion, Amanda Nunes. And technically, Ham also was up against her fellow atomweight staple in Ayaka Hamasaki who she defeated to essentially secure her this award.
Ham has truly taken things to another level since her 2016 departure from the UFC and return to atomweight. She’s won six in a row but her most recent three wins all came in 2019 and were unparalleled compared to her competition.
Making her RIZIN debut in July, Ham would square off with another staple of the division’s top 15 in the DEEP JEWELS champion Tomo Maesawa. Unfortunately for Maesawa, Ham’s knees found a very unpleasant home connecting with her head in the first round to force the TKO stoppage.
It was the second-fastest loss via strikes in Maesawa’s 23-fight career (three total losses via KO/TKO).
The Team MAD product would follow up her stellar performance when she took on the resurgent top 5 ranked Miyuu Yamamoto at RIZIN 19. The winner would become the next title challenger against the previously mentioned Hamasaki.
Despite Yamamoto having the best wrestling in the division, Ham would still find a way to stifle it and inflict damage as she utilized ground and pound punches off a sprawl to get another TKO win. Now, Ham was set to close out the year with a shot at redemption.
Hamasaki vs. Ham III took place at RIZIN 20 on New Year’s Eve and decided the very best atomweight in the world today. Hamasaki, considered by many as the division’s greatest of all-time, had already defeated Ham twice prior and was unbeaten in fights below 115-pounds. Ham also happened to be unbeaten in that case as both were 10-0 heading in.
Outside of Ham’s UFC stint, the RIZIN champion was the lone person to beat Ham in the last 10 years with the most recent win coming in 2011.
The consensus two best in their division did battle and unsurprisingly put on a back and forth late fight of the year contender among women’s fights in 2019. In the end, Ham would end up getting her redemption as her hand was raised and she had won by split decision. She was now the RIZIN champion, the first to defeat Hamasaki south of 115-pounds, and South Korea’s first world champion in a major promotion.
Unlike her counterparts, Ham won a total of three high profile bouts in 2019, two of which came by stoppage, and all that came over ranked opponents. Not only is she the female fighter of 2019, but she may very well be the greatest Korean fighter in MMA history.