Sunday, July 21, 2024

UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Dricus du Plessis enters the top 10 with stunning rise to prominence

In just over three years, Dricus du Plessis has gone from fresh-faced UFC newcomer to the middleweight champion of the world. And with that evolution comes with it the spoils, including critical respect among the pound-for-pound best in the world. 

Du Plessis improved to 7-0 since making his Octagon debut in 2020 when he edged Sean Strickland via split decision to capture the 185-pound title last weekend in their tense and technical duel over five rounds at UFC 297 in Toronto. 

One of the key parts of du Plessis’ meteoric rise has been the confidence he has shown from Day 1 as the native of South Africa was never lacking in promises that he would soon become world champion. But it took a swift improvement to his overall game as he continued to climb the ladder past established veterans like Darren Till and Derek Brunson. 

It wasn’t until DDP’s massive upset of former champion Robert Whittaker last July, however, that the fighter known as “Stillknocks” truly showed he had the combination of size and power to pair with calculated craft. But the growth didn’t stop there.

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Against Strickland, du Plessis showed over 25 minutes that he has a championship-level gas tank, too, as he persevered through heavy facial swelling caused by the his opponents’ stiff and accurate jab to mix timely takedowns with heavy counterpunching to sway two of the three judges to his favor in thrilling title bout that could’ve gone either way. 

Up next, du Plessis would prefer what amounts to the biggest fight available to him in the division in the form of Israel Adesanya, whom he called out after defeating Strickland. The two had previously faced off inside the cage after Adesanya, then still champion, was in attendance for du Plessis’ upset of Whittaker until a minor injury opened the door for Strickland to slide in for the title shot.  

At age 30, du Plessis is improving at an alarming rate and could be the first UFC athlete to fulfill the promotion’s long-awaited dream of bringing a fight card to the continent of Africa.

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. Islam Makhachev — Lightweight champion

Record: 25-1 | Previous ranking: No. 1

Charles Oliveira’s withdrawal from his UFC 294 title rematch allowed Makhachev a last-minute second chance against featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski, whom he finished via first-round knockout via head kick. The victory brought an end to any P4P debate as Makhachev controlled the action from start to finish and now owns two stoppage victories in his last three fights against highly ranked P4P foes. 

2. Jon Jones — Heavyweight champion

Record: 27-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 2

Jones’ first title defense at heavyweight, scheduled for UFC 295 in November against former champion Stipe Miocic, was canceled after Jones suffered a pectoral tear in training. An eight-month recovery is expected for Jones, who will turn 37 this summer. Despite the ill-timed injury creating more havoc in the heavyweight title picture, Jones has vowed he will be back.  

3. Leon Edwards — Welterweight champion

Record: 21-3, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 3

If anyone felt Edwards’ run to the 170-pound title was a fluke, his UFC 286 trilogy win over Kamaru Usman silenced those doubters. His second title defense, against Colby Covington in December, brought Edwards another dominant win yet plenty of boos for the lack of action thanks to Covington’s avoidance.

4. Alexander Volkanovski — Featherweight champion

Record: 25-3 | Previous ranking: 4

Volkanovski’s decision to risk it all on 12 days’ notice to rematch Makhachev in Abu Dhabi turned out to be a disastrous one as the reigning 145-pound king never got out of first gear and appeared tentative en route to a first-round knockout loss. Volkanovski will make a quick turnaround ahead of his February title defense against top featherweight contender Ilia Topuria.

5. Alex Pereira — Light heavyweight champion

Record: 9-2 | Previous ranking: 5

In just seven UFC bouts and 11 pro MMA fights overall, “Poatan” is now a two-division champion after knocking out Jiri Prochazka for the vacant 205-pound title at UFC 295 in November. The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger called out chief rival Israel Adesanya in hopes of an MMA trilogy (and fifth fight overall).

6. Charles Oliveira — Lightweight

Record: 34-9 | Previous ranking: 6

The former 155-pound champion redeemed himself after losing his title by finishing Beneil Dariush in the first round at UFC 289. But the Brazilian submission threat suffered a costly cut above his right eye in sparring that pulled him from a title rematch at UFC 294 against Makhachev. “Do Bronx” must now hope UFC doesn’t pass him over for the next shot in favor of BMF champion Justin Gaethje. 

7. Alexandre Pantoja — Flyweight champion

Record: 27-5 | Previous ranking: 7

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 he returned in December to record a hard-fought decision over Brandon Royval in his first title defense.

8. Sean O’Malley — Bantamweight champion

Record: 17-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 8

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 March return, set for Miami at UFC 299, brings a long-awaited rematch of O’Malley’s lone defeat against Marlon “Chito” Vera.

9. 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 “The Korean Zombie” in Chan Sung Jung’s August retirement fight.

10. Dricus du Plessis — Middleweight champion

Record: 21-2 | Previous ranking: NR

Unbeaten in his seven trips to the Octagon, the proud native of South Africa can now call himself champion after edging Sean Strickland via split decision at UFC 297 in January. Du Plessis, who called out former champion Israel Adesanya in the aftermath, has evolved at an alarming rate to mix technique and a deep gas tank to his big power and takedown threat. 

Dropped out: Aljamain Sterling
Just missed: Israel Adesanya, Sean Strickland, Justin Gaethje, Dricus du Plessis, Khamzat Chimaev

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Zhang Weili — Strawweight champion

Record: 24-3 | Previous ranking: No. 1

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: 4

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: 5

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: None
Just missed: Yan Xionan, Tatiana Suarez, Rose Namajunas, Raquel Pennington, Julianna Pena

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