Wednesday, August 10, 2022

UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Alexander Volkanovski vaults to No. 1, Israel Adesanya back in top three

If one ever needed a commercial for how advanced things appear to be at the famed City Kickboxing gym in New Zealand, teammates Alexander Volkanovski and Israel Adesanya put on one heck of a show last Saturday at UFC 276 in Las Vegas.  

Volkanovski left the T-Mobile Arena in shock as he battered Max Holloway over five one-sided rounds in their trilogy bout. The victory was enough to bump the native of Australia to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings, largely due to how scary his offensive output has become throughout a steady evolution. 

Previously known as more of a point fighter, Volkanovski took the fight directly to Holloway throughout and remains unbeaten inside the Octagon over 12 appearances.  

Adesanya, meanwhile, defended his 185-pound title for the fifth time overall after a relatively easy decision win over Jared Cannonier. The crowd may not have appreciated the lack of violence due to how well Adesanya disciplined the hard-punching Cannonier and turned it into more of a technical affair.

But until someone is willing to stand in the pocket and absorb Adesanya’s counterstriking at middleweight, it’s difficult to see anyone taking his title.  

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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. Alexander Volkanovski — Featherweight champion (24-1)

Previous ranking: No. 2

With respect to Jose Aldo’s 145-pound division record of seven title defenses, Volkanovski just took one step closer to featherweight G.O.A.T. status with his fourth. This wasn’t just any title defense, however, as Volkanovski continued his evolution at 33 by leaving Max Holloway a bloody mess in their trilogy bout. The champ has teased a move up to lightweight to challenge Charles Oliveira for the title.

2. 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. The 35-year-old will face Leon Edwards in an August rematch. 

3. Israel Adesanya — Middleweight champion (23-1)

Previous ranking: No. 4

Although he was unnecessarily booed during and after his UFC 276 title defense against Jared Cannonier, “The Last Stylebender” left the Octagon without a scratch in another technical and dominant victory. Comparisons to Anderson Silva remain unfair. Adesanya is his own fighter, and a great one at that, who remains in the conversation for best in the world. 

4. Charles Oliveira — Lightweight (33-8)

Previous ranking: No. 3

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. 

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

Previous ranking: No. 5

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. Aljamain Sterling — Bantamweight champion (21-3)

Previous ranking: No. 7

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. 

7. Jiri Prochazka — Light heavyweight champion (29-3-1)

Previous ranking: No. 8

It’s time to give the unpredictable Prochazka his full due after extending his win streak to 13 in a dramatic and savage fifth-round submission of Glover Teixeira at UFC 275. Prochazka is 23-1-1 since 2013, avenging his lone defeat by knockout. He has also shown an elite chin and gas tank to package with his fight-ending power.

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

Previous ranking: 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. Max Holloway — Featherweight (23-7) 

Previous ranking: No. 6

Holloway’s elite stock took a serious hit due to the one-sided nature of his trilogy loss to Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 276. At just 30, there’s still plenty of time for “Blessed” to bounce back in a big way as he contemplates a possible move back up to 155 pounds.  

Dropped out: None

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

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Valentina Shevchenko — Flyweight champion (23-3)

Previous ranking: No. 1

Shevchenko’s dominant run at 125 pounds was severely challenged in a split-decision win over Taila Santos at UFC 275. Although Shevchenko recorded her seventh straight title defense, she looked human amid Santos’ grappling success and was forced to rally to keep her title.

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, Nunes must first repair what was lost in a July rematch against Pena.

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. Zhang Weili — Strawweight (22-3) 

Previous ranking: NR 

The former champion looked completely reborn following consecutive defeats to Namajunas when she sent Joanna Jedrzejczyk to retirement via vicious knockout in their UFC 275 rematch. The native of China has evolved her striking and added offensive wrestling to increase her overall danger.

5. 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. 

Dropped out: None

Just missed: Julianna Pena, Jessica Andrade, Marina Rodriguez, Holly Holm, Talia Santos

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