Tuesday, May 24, 2022

UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Charles Oliveira vaults into top three with win over Justin Gaethje

A UFC 274 card last weekend from Phoenix produced a pair of interesting changes to the top of both the male and female pound-for-pound lists.  

A surprisingly passive Rose Namajunas yielded her women’s strawweight title to Carla Esparza in their rematch from the division’s inaugural title bout in 2014. Meanwhile, in the main event, red-hot lightweight Charles Oliveira continued his incredible run of finishes by submitting Justin Gaethje in Round 1 despite having lost his title the previous day on the scales.  

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Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let’s take a closer look at the top fighters inside the Octagon.

For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings, click here.

Men’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Kamaru Usman — Welterweight champion (20-1)

Previous ranking: No. 1

Fresh off a Fighter of the Year campaign in 2021, Usman is closing in on becoming an all-time great. He’s unbeaten in 15 UFC bouts and has won 19 straight fights overall. Usman turns 35 in May and is expected to face Leon Edwards in a summer rematch. 

2. Alexander Volkanovski — Featherweight champion (24-1)

Previous ranking: No. 2

The wizard of 145 pounds continues to make his claim for P4P best following a dismantling of late replacement Chan Sung Jung at UFC 273. Unbeaten in 11 trips to the Octagon, Volkanovski is on his way toward creating a historically relevant career resume. Up next is a trilogy fight against Max Holloway on July 2. 

3. Charles Oliveira — Lightweight champion (33-8, 1 NC)

Previous ranking: No. 5

Although his 155-pound title is currently vacant after missing weight ahead of UFC 274, no one is disputing who the best active lightweight in the world is. Oliveira extended his win streak to 11 with a first-round submission of Justin Gaethje. His fighting style welcomes plenty of danger, but Oliveira is so dialed in that no one has been able to make him pay.

4. Israel Adesanya — Middleweight champion (22-1)

Previous ranking: No. 3

Although the outcome has been debated by some observers, Adesanya convinced the three judges cageside that he did enough to edge Robert Whittaker in their UFC 271 rematch. The victory sets up an interesting title defense against hard-hitting Jared Cannonier at UFC 276 in July.

5. Francis Ngannou — Heavyweight champion (16-3)

Previous ranking: No. 4

Despite suffering a serious knee injury during training camp amid a very public contract battle with UFC brass, Ngannou gutted out a unification win against former teammate, and unbeaten interim champion, Ciryl Gane. A long recovery is expected as Ngannou’s UFC future remains in question.

6. Max Holloway — Featherweight (23-6)

Previous ranking: No. 6

The former champion showcased everything that makes him great in a thrilling five-round win over Yair Rodriguez in November. After pulling out with injury earlier this year, Holloway will finally get his third shot at Volkanovski in their July 2 trilogy bout. 

7. Aljamain Sterling — Bantamweight champion (21-3)

Previous ranking: No. 8

For all of the criticism aimed at Sterling in how he handled his disqualification victory over Petr Yan in their first meeting, “Aljo” was a completely different fighter in the rematch 13 months later. Sterling’s split-decision victory at UFC 273 extended his win streak to seven overall and should create a number of financially attractive title defenses. 

8. Deiveson Figueiredo — Flyweight champion (21-2-1)

Previous ranking: No. 9

Just how impressive was Figueiredo’s win over Brandon Moreno in their trilogy fight? At 34, Figueiredo not only rebounded from a stoppage loss to regain his 125-pound title, he showed the kind of poise and patience under new coaches Henry Cejudo and Eric Albarracin he had been lacking. Nagging injury will sideline him this summer.  

9. Petr Yan — Bantamweight (16-3)

Previous ranking: No. 10

It’s hard to fault Yan’s effort in coming up just short against Sterling in their long-awaited rematch. Yan has called for an instant trilogy bout following his disputed decision loss, but he will likely need to work his way back to the top of the sport’s deepest division.

10. Glover Teixeira — Light heavyweight champion (33-7)

Previous ranking: NR

Teixeira’s six-fight win streak is no fluke and certainly not after he submitted Jan Blachowicz last fall to become the second-oldest champion in UFC history at 42. Texieira should have his hands full in June against the dangerous and unpredictable Jiri Prochazka.

Dropped out: Justin Gaethje

Just missed: Robert Whittaker, Dustin Poirier, TJ Dillashaw, Colby Covington, Stipe Miocic 

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Valentina Shevchenko — Flyweight champion (22-3)

Previous ranking: No. 1

A move down to her natural weight of 125 pounds has allowed Shevchenko to go on a run of dominance rarely seen at this level atop the sport. Her TKO of Lauren Murphy at UFC 266 made it six defenses of her flyweight title. Next up is another fresh face at 125 pounds in Talia Santos this June.

2. Amanda Nunes — Featherweight champion (20-4)

Previous ranking: No. 3

The G.O.A.T.’s implosion against Julianna Pena at UFC 269 was the most stunning moment of 2021 and possibly the biggest upset in MMA history. Although she’s still armed with the 145-pound title, news of Nunes’ leaving American Top Team to start her own camp leaves many questions. 

3. Rose Namajunas — Strawweight (11-5)

Previous ranking: No. 2

A baffling strategy of defensive circling led to Namajunas surrendering her 115-pound title to inaugural champion Carla Esparza in their May rematch. Namajunas was barely touched in her unanimous decision loss. Still, the miscalculation was a huge one.

4. Carla Esparza — Strawweight champion (19-6)

Previous ranking: No. 4

Esparza simply took what was dealt to her and made the most of it by edging out Namajunas in their disappointing strawweight title rematch at UFC 274. Although the win won’t do a ton for her critically, it will go a long way in adding to her resume as the now two-time champion extended her win streak to six while adding a second victory over Namajunas.

5. Julianna Pena — Bantamweight champion (11-4)

Previous ranking: No. 5

This is what the power of the human spirit looks like. Pena turned in the performance of a lifetime by disarming Amanda Nunes and submitting her to capture the 135-pound crown. Pena has never looked this good before and will need to defeat the G.O.A.T. a second time after filming “The Ultimate Fighter” before she can truly begin her title reign.

Dropped out: None

Just missed: Jessica Andrade, Weili Zhang, Marina Rodriguez, Germaine de Randamie, Holly Holm

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