Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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UFC Pound-for-Pound Fighter Rankings: Islam Makhachev remains the best in the sport after another dominant win

Despite the consenting opinion of UFC CEO Dana White, the best MMA fighter on the planet remains the promotion’s lightweight champion of the world. 

Ever since he suffered a surprising first-round knockout in just his second UFC fight back in 2015, all Islam Makhachev has done is win, no matter what. And even though his UFC 302 title defense against Dustin Poirier last weekend in Newark, New Jersey, turned into a surprising thriller, all the result did is add to the impressive resume of everything Makhachev continues to accomplish. 

The 32-year-old Makhachev (26-1) made sure there was no debate regarding the outcome against Poirier when he put the beloved action star to sleep in Round 5 with a brabo choke. The victory was Makhachev’s 14th in a row, placing him two shy of Anderson Silva’s UFC record, as the native Dagestan, Russia, equaled the promotion’s record for lightweight title defenses at three.

White said at the UFC 302 postfight press conference that he preferred the overall dominance of two-division champion and current heavyweight king, Jon Jones. But activity matters in elite MMA and Jones, who is currently riding a 16-month streak of inactivity due to injury, has competed for just 128 seconds of Octagon time since 2020.

Fans and critics alike wouldn’t be wrong to call Jones the greatest fighter in MMA history but that doesn’t mean he’s currently the best in show among top active fighters. Makhachev has fought eight times over the four-year span in which Jones has fought just once. 

Jones also sat out for three years and waited until former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou left the promotion to return. And this year, Jones remains under fire by critics for how open he is to outright avoid interim titleholder Tom Aspinall while threatening retirement later this year. 

There was a time some three years ago when critics tried to downplay Makhachev’s win streak by mentioning the lack of elite talent he has defeated. Luckily for Makhachev, that narrative has been destroyed following consecutive wins over Dan Hooker, Bobby Green, Charles Oliveira, Alexander Volkanovksi (twice) and now Poirier, with stoppages over every single opponent. 

After his win in Newark, Makhachev stated his hope that White and UFC brass would honor his plan to move up in weight and challenge for the welterweight title. White seemed largely disinterested, noting that a rematch against red-hot Arman Tsarukyan, whom Makhachev defeated by competitive decision in 2019, would need to come first. 

But should Makhachev extend his win streak to 15, it would be hard to deny him the chance to double down on his greatness, especially after years of hard weight cuts down to 155 pounds. 

For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings, click here.

Men’s pound-for-pound rankings

1. Islam Makhachev — Lightweight champion

Record: 26-1 | Previous ranking: No. 1

A closer-than-expected victory over future Hall of Famer Dustin Poirier at UFC 302 in June did nothing to move Makhachev off of the top spot in the rankings. Despite suffering a cut over his left eye from an elbow, Makhachev held off a late rally and put Poirier to sleep in Round 5. Makhachev’s win, which extends his streak to 14 (two shy of Anderson Silva’s UFC record), also moves him into a tie for most title defenses (3) in lightweight history.

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. Jones, who turns 37 this summer, is expected to return against Miocic this November despite cries from critics that Jones, who has threatened retirement, is purposely avoiding interim titleholder Tom Aspinall. 

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. A rematch against former champion Jiri Prochazka is expected next.

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. Finally, longtime contender Belal Muhammed will get his chance at UFC gold when he challenges Edwards at late July’s UFC 304 card in Manchester, England.

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: Sean Strickland, Alexander Volkanovski, Israel Adesanya, 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 September trilogy fight, expected to be in Las Vegas at The Sphere.

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 in September.

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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