Somewhat lost in the debate of the controversial scoring — including a 10-8 fifth round — that led to a split draw in last weekend’s UFC women’s flyweight title rematch is just how perfect Alexa Grasso and former champion Valentina Shevchenko appear to be for each other.
The main event of the inaugural Noche UFC card in Las Vegas produced a five-round tactical thriller, which was fresh off the heels of their first meeting at UFC 285 in March, when Grasso rallied for a fourth-round submission win despite being down on the scorecards.
If we have learned anything through nearly nine complete rounds of action, it’s that Grasso and Shevchenko are the two greatest fighters in the short history of the 125-pound division. But what we don’t know quite yet is which fighter of the two truly has the edge against one another.
Shevchenko, at 35, seemed to fight even better in the rematch after going back to the lab to reinvent herself following such a shocking upset loss six months ago. The former flyweight queen faired much better against Grasso’s boxing skills, save for a second-round knockdown she suffered on a beautiful three-punch combination.
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Yet even though Shevchenko appeared to robbed by the unexplainable nature of judge Mike Bell’s 10-8 score for Round 5 of their rematch, which cost her a split-decision win, most experts appeared to be split as to who truly deserved the win in a fight that could’ve been scored 48-47 either way depending upon how the seemingly even Round 4 was perceived.
Not only do both fighters feel like they have a claim on the flyweight title — with Grasso declaring herself the winner during her post-fight interview despite the draw result — both certainly join strawweight champion Weili Zhang in the overall debate regarding who is the top pound-for-pound female fighter in the world.
Shevchenko has relied more on technique and grappling ability to control Grasso and eke out close rounds strategically throughout their two-fight rivalry. The 30-year-old Grasso, meanwhile, has offset her lack of elite takedown defense by relying on her toughness, endlessly deep cardio and moxy to keep Shevchenko guessing on the feet.
Whether or not Shevchenko has earned enough goodwill with the promotion to demand an immediate trilogy fight, things aren’t expected to get any easier for the defending champion Grasso moving forward as rising stars Manon Fiorot and Erin Blanchfield wait for their shot, while a core of top contenders (Taila Santos, Rose Namajunas) and promising newcomers (Maycee Barber, Tracy Cortez, Natalia Silva, Karine Silva) toil within the top 15 in hopes of getting closer to breaking through.
The UFC’s strawweight division has long been gold standard for elite women’s MMA, especially following the bantamweight division’s decline in the aftermath of Amanda Nunes’ dominant run. But flyweight has taken the reigns over the last year to become the red-hot division of the moment, featuring everything from depth and big names to the feeling that elite parity could become the norm atop the division.
It’s not so much that Shevchenko has slowed down and faltered to due age, as evidenced by her performance last weekend. Instead, the rest of the division has evolved and caught up with her at such a rapid pace that it remains difficult to pinpoint exactly who will be the last woman standing at this time next year.
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
Record: 25-2 | Previous ranking: No. 1
The striking wizard continued to round out his game and expand upon his legacy by finishing interim champion Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 in July. There’s simply nothing Volkanovski can’t do at the highest level. If the champion has his way, a title defense against Ilia Topuria will be up next before a move back up to lightweight.
2. Islam Makhachev — Lightweight champion
Record: 24-1 | Previous ranking: 2
Lost in his victory over defending featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and the subsequent fallout of dispute over the fight’s scoring, was just how incredibly Makhachev has grown as a striker. His pinpoint accuracy and poise was able to prevent Volkanovski from edging him, even as his preferred wrestling game was stifled. A rematch with Charles Oliveira is next on Oct. 21 in Abu Dhabi.
3. Jon Jones — Heavyweight champion
Record: 27-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 3
With nearly 50 pounds of added weight following a long-awaited move up to heavyweight, Jones removed any fears of cage rust after three years away by quickly finishing Cyril Gane to become a two-division champion. At 35, Jones’ return coincided perfectly for the promotion with the exit of Francis Ngannou. Former champ Stipe Miocic is up next at UFC 295 in November.
4. Leon Edwards — Welterweight champion
Record: 20-3, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 6
Doubt him no more. Seven months removed from his real-life “Rocky” moment against Kamaru Usman via fifth-round knockout to commandeer the 170-pound title, Edwards doubled down in their UFC 286 rematch by taking home a majority decision. For his second title defense, Edwards is expected to face former two-time title challenger Colby Covington.
5. Charles Oliveira — Lightweight
Record: 34-9 | Previous ranking: 7
Was the Brazilian finish machine’s one-sided title loss to Islam Mahkachev the result of a bad stylistic matchup or did Oliveira’s reckless and dramatic ways finally catch up to him? The 33-year-old’s performance in finishing top contender Beneil Dariush in June suggests the former. A title rematch is set to be next at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi.
6. Sean O’Malley — Bantamweight champion
Record: 17-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 7
The “Sugar Show” is alive and well atop the deepest division in the sport following a second-round TKO of Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292. O’Malley silenced his critics by preventing Sterling from getting a takedown and appears ready to become the global superstar his talent and charisma have long teased. A December return is likely, with no shortage of big names rumored to be next.
7. Alexandre Pantoja — Flyweight champion
Record: 26-5 | Previous ranking: 8
The Brazilian submission threat relied much more on his chin and iron will to edge Brandon Moreno by split decision at UFC 290 in one of the most thrilling and savage fights in flyweight history. At 33, Pantoja now owns three wins over Moreno and is riding a four-fight win streak.
8. Max Holloway — Featherweight
Record: 24-7 | Previous ranking: 9
A master of reinvention, the 31-year-old Hawaiian star still hasn’t lost to anyone not named Volkanovski at 145 pounds since 2013. Holloway bounced back big in 2023 by edging Arnold Allen in April before knocking out Chan Sung Jung in August.
9. Aljamain Sterling — Bantamweight
Record: 23-4 | Previous ranking: No. 10
Frustrated by being unable to take down or bother Sean O’Malley at UFC 292, Sterling made a critical mistake that led directly to a TKO defeat. The loss snapped a nine-fight win streak as Sterling appeared on the verge of securing G.O.A.T. status at bantamweight. A move up to 145 pounds is possible for the 34-year-old former champion.
10. Israel Adesanya — Middleweight
Record: 24-3 | Previous ranking: No. 4
What a whirlwind 2023 it has been for the former middleweight champion. First, he avenged a title knockout loss to rival Alex Pereira by dramatically reclaiming his belt in April. But a title defense against heavy underdog Sean Strickland in September saw Adesanya surprisingly outclassed in a flat performance. A title rematch could be next, per UFC president Dana White.
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Sean Strickland, Justin Gaethje, Kamaru Usman, Alex Pereira, Dricus du Plessis
Women’s pound-for-pound rankings
1. Zhang Weili — Strawweight
Record: 24-3 | Previous ranking: No. 2
The first Chinese-born UFC champion regained her 115-pound crown by dominating Carla Esparza at UFC 281 via second-round submission. She followed it up with a statistically historic beatdown of Amanda Lemos in August and, at 34, is at the top of her game.
2. Alexa Grasso — Flyweight champion
Record: 16-3-1 | Previous ranking: 2
The native of Mexico teamed up with former champion Valentina Shevchenko to co-author an exciting and tactical 125-pound title rematch at Noche UFC. A split draw was the result as the defending champion Grasso benefitted from a controversial 10-8 final round to curtail defeat. Whether or not a trilogy fight is next remains uncertain in such a crowded division.
3. Valentina Shevchenko — Flyweight
Record: 23-4-1 | Previous ranking: No. 3
The future all-time great stepped up her game at age 35 and nearly regained her flyweight title from Alexa Grasso in their September rematch. A disputed draw was the result, with Shevchenko openly considering an appeal in the aftermath. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that Shevchenko’s days of fighting for UFC gold are behind her.
4. Erin Blanchfield — Flyweight
Record: 12-1 | Previous ranking: NR
The native of New Jersey is 6-0 in the UFC and seemingly on the verge of a title shot following consecutive victories over Jessica Andrade and Talia Santos. Although Blanchfield’s grappling skills remain her calling card, her striking has improved tremendously. She also possesses a killer gas tank, as evidenced by the pace she put on Santos.
5. Manon Fiorot — Flyweight
Record: 11-1 | Previous ranking: NR
Add Fiorot’s name to the list of those who could be next for a shot at the 125-pound crown. The native of France is a dynamic kickboxer who is fresh off a unanimous decision win over former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas in September.
Dropped out: Yan Xionan, Rose Namajunas
Just missed: Xionan, Tatiana Suarez, Talia Santos, Julianna Pena, Raquel Pennington