Monday, April 15, 2024

UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Ilia Topuria soars into top five with dismantling of former top fighter

In just seven fights over his 3.5-year UFC run, Ilia Topuria can now call himself the best featherweight in the world. 

In fact, Topuria’s breakthrough title victory was so impressive, in the main event of last Saturday’s UFC 298 pay-per-view in Anaheim, California, that the 27-year-old Georgian can now call himself one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. 

Topuria outright dismantled former P4P king Alexander Volkanovski in a second-round knockout that instantly made “El Matador” the shiny new star of the moment for UFC. And the fact that he now fights out of his adopted home of Spain, which the promotion has openly wanted to make inroads in for years, only helps his breakout potential. 

But it was the ease and scientifically technical ways in which he went about setting up the finish that leads one to believe the fight’s outcome was anything but a fluke or the result of Volkanovski growing old overnight at age 35. 

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.

From the start of the fight, Topuria had Volkanovski circling away from him and unable to take control of the terms long enough to discipline his opponent with sustained striking. Volkanovski typically feasts on awkward footwork patterns and stance switches to bring out unforced errors in his opponent’s offense, but none were present against the patient and stoic challenger.

Once Topuria was able to close distance and set up his strikes, a beautiful combination opened up a perfect right hand that put Volkanovski to sleep and completed the shifting of the guard from one featherweight era to the potential start of another. 

Even though Topuria was criticized at times during fight week for being too overconfident — by updating his social media bios to champion and posing with the title before the fight — he was the one who was able to laugh last by his performance. 

Topuria also showed his strong understanding of the business side of the game, too, when he grabbed the microphone after the win and attempted to hype up his hopes of luring Conor McGregor into the kind of PPV attraction with the potential to make Topuria a household name around the globe. 

If Topuria wasn’t able to prove he’s the goods, this would be just another young fighter looking for clout by skipping the line and trying to lure in the biggest possible name. But Topuria’s brief UFC run has proven him to be a destructive force each step of the way and his trio of victories over the last 15 months — which included Bryce Mitchell, Josh Emmett and, now, Volkanovski — hold up well against anyone else in the P4P top 10.

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

A pair of title defenses against former featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski, including a knockout via head kick in their short-notice rematch at UFC 294, helped Makhachev capture fighter of the year honors in 2023. The 32-year-old native of Russia expected to return this spring after observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 

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. 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).

5. Ilia Topuria — Featherweight champion

Record: 15-0 | Previous ranking: NR

A changing of the guard atop the 145-pound division at UFC 298 in February might have produced the next breakout star of the sport. Topuria did everything he said he would against Alexander Volkanovski, including finishing him in the first two rounds. His precision was only trumped by his one-punch power as Topuria patiently dismantled one of the best fighters in history.

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” will return at UFC 300 in April against fellow top contender Arman Tsarukyan.

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. Dricus du Plessis — Middleweight champion

Record: 21-2 | Previous ranking: 10

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. 

10. Merab Dvalishvili — Bantamweight

Record: 17-4 | Previous ranking: NR

By improving his win streak to 10 fights, Dvalishvili finally secured a title shot thanks to his breakthrough win over Henry Cejudo at UFC 298. The victory now gives Dvalishvili three straight over former UFC champions. Dvalishvili, 33, has a gas tank like no other and remains a problem for any style of opponent he will face.

Dropped out: Alexander Volkanovski
Just missed: Israel Adesanya, Justin Gaethje, Sean Strickland, Aljamain Sterling

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 returns in a pivotal No. 1 contender’s match against Manon Fiorot on March 30 in Atlantic City. 

5. Manon Fiorot — Flyweight

Record: 11-1 | Previous ranking: 5

Add Fiorot’s name to the list of those knocking on the door of 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. She meets Erin Blanchfield in the main event of UFC Atlantic City in March. 

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

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles


Subscribe to stay updated.