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UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Alexandre Pantoja maintains position in turning away Steve Erceg

By holding serve in terms of his placement among the pound-for-pound best in UFC, flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja achieved something more in his UFC 301 title defense against Steve Erceg last Saturday. 

The 34-year-old Pantoja brought some much-needed stability to the top of the 125-pound division. 

Conceived in 2012 and fueled by a four-man tournament to decide the first champion, the men’s flyweight division had long been a showcase for future Hall of Famer Demetrious Johnson to evolve his legendary game en route to a record 11 title defenses. Henry Cejudo’s short-lived reign was next, although it might have succeeded mostly in bringing enough star power to prevent UFC from folding the weight class, altogether. 

But the last few years at flyweight have seen the title bounce around like a hot potato throughout a memorable four-fight series between Brandon Moreno and Deveison Figuereido, where the title constantly shifted hands. 

Enter Pantoja, a longtime and respected submission threat, who has used the last 10 months to completely take over the proceedings by outdogging Moreno for the title last summer before a pair of successive defenses. 

Although Pantoja has always been skilled, it has been his aggressiveness and veteran moxy that has allowed him to stay on top. It has also been his grappling, particularly against Erceg, which allowed him to mute his opponent’s offense long enough to win close rounds due to control time and top-game offense. 

For a division so well known for its parity of late, Pantoja appears on his way to potentially carving out his own era within the division’s history. And the only surprise about him becoming champion was that it happened so late in his run, some 31 bouts into his pro career and 13 into his UFC run. 

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, is up next. 

3. Alex Pereira — Light heavyweight champion

Record: 10-2 | Previous ranking: 3

The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger not only headlined the promotion’s biggest event in history at UFC 300 in April, he finished former champion Jamahal Hill with the first significant punch he landed. In just eight UFC bouts, “Poatan” has already etched a unique place in history. And now he’s teasing a possible move up to heavyweight. 

4. Leon Edwards — Welterweight champion

Record: 21-3, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 4

Edwards packed his UFC 286 trilogy win over Kamaru Usman with a second title defense in December against long-time contender Colby Covington. The only thing in doubt regarding Edwards is when he will return and against whom as both Belal Muhammed and Shavkat Rakhmonov continue to jockey for position.

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: 6

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: 7

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 but has an uphill challenge next as he’s expected to defend his title against Merab Dvalishvili this fall. 

8. Alexandre Pantoja — Flyweight champion

Record: 28-5 | Previous ranking: 7

After relying much more on his iron will than his P4P skills to take the flyweight title from Brandon Moreno last summer, the Brazilian submission expert has stayed busy since with a pair of title defenses against Brandon Royval (in their rematch) and Steve Erceg. Pantoja’s passion and dogged determination has become his calling card of late as his title reign continues to grow. 

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 as he continues to campaign for the belt.

Dropped out: None
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: 4

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: None
Just missed: Kayla Harrison, Erin Blanchfield, Rose Namajunas, Raquel Pennington, Julianna Pena

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