Saturday, May 25, 2024

UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Alex Pereira continues his rise while Max Holloway returns emphatically

If the true goal of pound-for-pound rankings is to quantify the minute difference between seemingly equal elite fighters, the actual ability to carry one’s greatness across multiple divisions must be a characteristic weighted in value. 

From that standpoint alone, the journey currently embarked upon through just eight trips to the Octagon from Alex Pereira is unique enough on its own as the light heavyweight king, and former middleweight titleholder, has now unleashed plans for a possible assault on a third division at heavyweight. 

That’s, at least, the direction Pereira was hoping to shift things following his dominant UFC 300 main event performance on Saturday, when he ran through former champion Jamahal Hill in the first defense of his 205-pound title and publicly lobbied to UFC brass to allow him a quick turnaround — at heavyweight, no less — onto UFC 301 on May 4 in his native Brazil. 

UFC CEO Dana White didn’t appear so keen, however, during the post-fight press conference when he made reference to Pereira already having his hands full enough at light heavyweight. 

Whether or not he gets the chance to explore options in a third division or not, the 36-year-old slugger deserves every opportunity to find out how great he can be. 

In less than three years in the UFC, after a decorated run as a two-division champion with Glory kickboxing, Pereira has already etched his name in the history books seemingly overnight. While he certainly benefited from a prior rivalry outside of MMA with Israel Adesanya to quickly move into title contention, Pereira’s ability to deliver when the pressure is on remains a sight to behold. 

Even a disastrous knockout loss in his immediate MMA rematch with Adesanya didn’t deter his ambition or resolve as Pereira returned just three months later to begin an incredible three-fight assault upon the top of the 205-pound division by surviving and advancing against former champions Jan Blachowicz and Jiri Prochazka before the showcase finish of Hill. 

For a fighter who everyone expected to be one-dimensional upon his transition into MMA and his eventual partnership with mentor Glover Teixeira, Pereira has quickly shorn up his areas of highest vulnerability to his skill set, including takedown defense and responsible head movement for a striker who so regularly operates within punching range. 

Pereira’s success can’t be chalked up to merely his power, however. His ability to gameplan and adapt under pressure is uncanny as he has been able to translate his years of elite combat experience into an MMA competency in almost record time. He’s also incredibly fit and carries his power into the championship rounds despite having such a large frame. 

Best of all, Pereira just seems to exude a level of extreme mental focus and an eagerness to endure whatever the pursuit demands that is just different. He embodies all of the elements that make up a mythical warrior (and has an incredibly cool flair with which he honors his indigenous Brazilian history to the point of making it the fabric of his personal brand). 

Pereira isn’t a perfect fighter, by any means. And what feels like an inevitable meeting with a truly elite grappler like Magomed Ankalaev could very much prove to be his light heavyweight Kryptonite. 

But if anyone is capable of climbing the mountain to UFC gold an elusive third time, it just might be Pereira because, above all else, he just knows how to win. And when you pair that with an equal desire to constantly improve upon his tools between fights while deftly navigating the politics of contendership, you have the making of an organic, breakout star.

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 head-kick knockout in their UFC 294 rematch, helped Makhachev capture fighter of the year honors in 2023. The 32-year-old will make his return on June 1 at UFC 302 when he welcomes former interim titleholder Dustin Poirier. 

2. Jon Jones — Heavyweight champion

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

Jones’ first title defense at heavyweight, scheduled for last 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 turns 37 this summer, as UFC remains steadfast that Miocic, and not interim champion Tom Aspinall, remains next. 

3. Alex Pereira — Light heavyweight champion

Record: 10-2 | Previous ranking: 4

The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger not only headlined the promotion’s biggest event in history at UFC 300 in April, he finished former 205-pound champion Jamahal Hill with the first significant punch he landed. In just eight UFC bouts following a Hall-of-Fame run in Glory kickboxing, “Poatan” has already etched a unique place in history.

4. 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.

5. Ilia Topuria — Featherweight champion

Record: 15-0 | Previous ranking: 5

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. Max Holloway — Featherweight

Record: 26-7 | Previous ranking: NR

Don’t call it a comeback, Holloway has been among the P4P elite for years. But it has been this particular three-fight win streak at age 32 that has been so rejuvenating. Two years ago, following his third defeat to Alexander Volkanovski, Holloway’s future was in doubt. Now, he’s the reigning BMF champion after his walk-off knockout of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 and a title contender in two divisions.

7. Sean O’Malley — Bantamweight champion

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

The “Suga Show” turned in quite possibly the best striking performance of his career over five rounds in dominating Marlon Vera at UFC 299 to make his first title defense. O’Malley avenged the only defeat of his pro career and challenged featherweight champion Ilia Topuria during his post-fight interview. 

8. 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. On May 4, he returns to headline UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro against Steve Erceg.

9. Dricus du Plessis — Middleweight champion

Record: 21-2 | Previous ranking: 9

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: 10

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: Charles Oliveira
Just missed: Alexander Volkanovski, Israel Adesanya, Sean Strickland, Aljamain Sterling, Dustin Poirier

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Zhang Weili — Strawweight champion

Record: 25-3 | Previous ranking: No. 1

Zhang improved to 9-0 in the UFC against everyone not named Rose Namajunas when she outlasted Chinese countrywoman Yan Xiaonan at UFC 300 and did so by relying on her cardio, IQ and improved grappling after nearly scoring a pair of early finishes. Her toughest test may still be to come, however, in the form of Tatiana Suarez. 

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. The two fighters will coach opposite one another on “The Ultimate Fighter” this spring ahead of a fall trilogy fight.

3. Valentina Shevchenko — Flyweight

Record: 23-4-1 | Previous ranking: No. 3

The future all-time great 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. Now, at 36, Shevchenko will coach opposite Grasso on TUF before a likely third meeting at Noche UFC this fall. 

4. Manon Fiorot — Flyweight

Record: 12-1 | Previous ranking: 5

A shutout five-round decision over red-hot Erin Blanchfield looks to be the final hurdle that the 34-year-old native of France will have to clear en route to a title shot. Fiorot’s takedown defense and ability to avoid danger on the ground set the perfect stage for her pinpoint striking to shine. For now, Fiorot will need to wait for the Grasso-Shevchenko rivalry to play out. 

5. Tatiana Suarez — Strawweight

Record: 10-0 | Previous ranking: NR

Despite losing nearly four years of her prime due to chronic injuries, Suarez is back on the scene in a big way. Her dominant submission of former champion Jessica Andrade in August might be all Suarez needs to immediately return to 115-pound title contention. Few can match her grappling prowess alone and even less can equal the relentless competitive streak which fuels her resolve. 

Dropped out: Erin Blanchfield
Just missed: Kayla Harrison, Blanchfield, Rose Namajunas, Raquel Pennington, Julianna Pena

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