UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Israel Adesanya continues his ascent toward all-time greatness


When it comes to combat sports and the idea of winning fights simply through the lens of intimidation, the relatively short primes of Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey are perfect examples that quickly come to mind. Just the threat of Tyson’s power in the boxing ring or the remarkable ease with which Rousey took opponents down to force an instant tap via armbar during her UFC title reign was often enough to take foes out of their game plan and away from their given strengths in favor of a more submissive posture. 

Israel Adesanya (20-0) certainly has the power to finish opponents off with one strike, similar to how he commandeered the UFC middleweight title from Robert Whittaker nearly one year ago thanks to one perfect right hand. Yet it was largely his timing and precise counterpunching which helped him disarm unbeaten Paulo Costa at UFC 253 last weekend with such surprising ease. 

Either way, Adesanya benefitted from the intimidation of his sizzle reel, similar to Tyson and Rousey, which made a fighter against the hulking Brazilian slugger anything but the toughest test of his career that it was billed. And while dominating elite opponents with your sublime skill-set is typically enough to gain consideration on a pound-for-pound list, doing so on reputation alone without breaking a sweat is enough for you to contend for the top spot. 

That’s exactly where Adesanya finds himself, closing in on the likes of P4P mainstays Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jon Jones even though his resume is largely still being built after just two title defenses. Debate all you want whether it’s too soon, but the eye test in this case is simply too flashy to overlook. 

Adesanya reduced a wrecking ball like Costa (13-1) to standing in place without once rushing forward to uncork his big right hand. Whether Costa was hiding an injury, saving his stamina or simply carrying out a poor game plan, the end result remains the same: Costa withheld his best chance at winning out of fear that Adesanya’s response might be too much. 

With unwavering confidence, championship stamina and a proven backbone able to withstand a violent storm, Adesanya has all the makings to be someone who holds serve atop this list for years to come while simultaneously expanding his brand enough to become a global star. 

Yes, his critics will likely still be waiting for an elite threat with next-level wrestling or submission skills to try and challenge him where he isn’t as strong. But until we see someone does just that and bypass Adesanya’s next-level instincts and creativity as a striker, all of the praise he currently receives remains justified.  

For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings, click here.

Men’s pound-for-pound rankings

Dropped out: None

Just missed: Petr Yan, Tony Ferguson, Robert Whittaker, Jan Blachowicz, Gilbert Burns, Aljamain Sterling

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

Dropped out: None

Just missed: Germaine de Randamie, Jessica Andrade, Tatiana Suarez, Holly Holm, Aspen Ladd, Cynthia Calvillo





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