Welcome to the latest update to the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, where our esteemed panel of experts team up to sort out the movers and shakers of the ever-shifting MMA landscape.
After a breakneck run of events in September, the MMA calendar shows no sign of slowing as October brings a loaded schedule featuring four UFC cards, two Bellator shows, and even the PFL championships. Yes folks, the homestretch of 2021 is somehow nearly upon us, but before we turn our gaze to the coming weeks, let’s first look back at the month that was.
How did September’s packed slate affect the MMA Fighting Global Rankings?
First, a quick refresher on some ground rules:
- Our eight-person voting panel consists of MMA Fighting staffers Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Guilherme Cruz, Mike Heck, E. Casey Leydon, Steven Marrocco, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew.
- Fighters will be removed from the rankings if they do not compete within 18 months of their most recent bout.
- Updates to the rankings will be completed at the start of every month.
- Fighters will be ranked in the weight class that their promotion regularly lists them at. That means ONE Championship fighters, who compete at a weight class one division above their counterparts in most other organizations (i.e. flyweights fight at 135 pounds, lightweights compete at 170 pounds, etc.) will be placed alongside fighters in the same listed division. In other words, use your common sense: Demetrious Johnson is a flyweight, people.
- Should a fighter announce their retirement, our panel will decide whether that fighter should immediately be removed from the rankings or maintain their position until further notice (let’s put it this way: we’d have taken Khabib Nurmagomedov out of our rankings a lot quicker than the UFC did).
- Fighters who regularly compete or hold titles in multiple weight classes are eligible to be ranked in multiple lists.
- Holding a promotion’s title does not guarantee that fighter will be viewed as the best in their promotion.
- Regarding all the above rules, any possible exceptions will be discussed internally and noted in the article.
And with that, let’s dive in.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.
Three September fights featured ranked heavyweights — and on each occasion, the higher-ranked big man came out on top.
That means the rankings waters stayed relatively calm in the ocean of the big boys, though up-and-comers Chris Daukaus and Tom Aspinall are already making ripples that could become waves in short order.
Daukaus, 32, and Aspinall, 28, have walked similar paths thus far, finishing all four of their UFC opponents and positioning themselves for big jumps in competition. In Daukaus’ case, he’s already being fast-tracked into the top 5 as he’s scheduled to fight two-time UFC title challenger Derrick Lewis on Dec. 18. For Aspinall, his next major challenge still awaits — and if the Englishman is to be believed, he’s not looking to rush up the heavyweight ladder.
Rather than make any bold callouts, Aspinall has focused on knocking off ranked opposition one number at a time. Up next, he hopes to book a fight with former World Series of Fighting champion Blagoy Ivanov.
Where Daukaus’ and Aspinall’s respective philosophies will take them is one of the most fascinating narrative threads to follow at heavyweight, and over the next six months we’ll have a clearer picture of which man — both? neither? — is destined to fight for a UFC title.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Curtis Blaydes def. No. 7 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (UFC 266, Sept. 25), No. 11 Chris Daukaus def. Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC 266, Sept. 25), No. 13 Tom Aspinall def. Serghei Spivac (UFC Vegas 36, Sept. 4)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 6 Alexander Volkov vs. No. 8 Marcin Tybura (UFC 267, Oct. 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Phil De Fries, Walt Harris, Blagoi Ivanov, Timothy Johnson, Cheick Kongo, Alexandr Romanov, Fabricio Werdum
It’s a tough crowd when it comes to Thiago Santos.
Santos nabbed the unfortunate distinction this month of becoming the first fighter in the short history of these rankings to drop a spot after winning a fight. As it turns out, that drop had nothing to do with Santos’ lackluster win over Johnny Walker, but rather was a regrettable side effect of a few members of our eight-person panel giving Phil Davis a bump up their lists following Davis’ Bellator 266 victory over Yoel Romero. Davis got enough of the rub to snatch sole possession of the No. 11 spot after being tied last month with Magomed Ankalaev, but otherwise the light heavyweight ranks held firm, with Davis, Santos, and Anthony Smith all defending their numbers against lower-ranked competition.
Fortunately, October looks to be a major month for the light heavyweight top 15, with seven ranked fighters — nearly half of our list — competing over the next several weeks, including unanimous No. 1-ranked light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Anthony Smith def. Ryan Spann (UFC Vegas 37, Sept. 18), No. 11 Phil Davis def. Yoel Romero (Bellator 266, Sept. 18), No. 8 Thiago Santos def. Johnny Walker (UFC Vegas 38, Oct. 2)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Jan Blachowicz vs. No. 2 Glover Teixeira (UFC 267, Oct. 30), No. 4 Vadim Nemkov vs. Julius Anglickas (Bellator 268, Oct. 16), No. 6 Ryan Bader vs. No. 8 Corey Anderson (Bellator 268, Oct. 16), No. 12 Magomed Ankalaev vs. No. 13 Volkan Oezdemir (UFC 267, Oct. 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Israel Adesanya, Nikita Krylov, Yoel Romero, Johnny Walker
It might not happen at middleweight for Darren Till.
The popular Scouser is being given every opportunity to put together a contender’s resume since moving to 185 pounds, but the fact remains that he’s earned just one win in his past three fights, and while a split nod over Kelvin Gastelum and a competitive decision loss to Robert Whittaker are reasons to be optimistic about his chances of setting up a title match with his frenemy Israel Adesanya, it feels like that opportunity is slipping away.
Meanwhile, Derek Brunson continues to chug along in his quest to rematch Adesanya. Apparently five straight wins isn’t enough as Brunson is set to face Jared Cannonier in January, in a bout that should produce a No. 1 contender if Adesanya and Whittaker ever make it to the octagon for their expected championship tilt.
In other middleweight news, Kevin Holland technically didn’t lose his No. 11 spot to Kyle Daukaus, despite being knocked out by a clash of heads and choked out shortly afterward this past Saturday. Video replay led to that finish being overturned to a no-contest, and in a welcome show of common sense and efficient decision making, Holland and Daukaus are already set to run it back in November.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Derek Brunson def. No. 10 Darren Till (UFC Vegas 36, Sept. 4), No. 11 Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus ruled a no-contest (UFC Vegas 38, Oct. 2)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Paulo Costa vs. No. 6 Marvin Vettori (UFC Vegas 41, Oct. 23)
Fighters also receiving votes: Brendan Allen, Nassourdine Imavov, John Salter, Brad Tavares, Chris Weidman
Michael Page just couldn’t make things easy for any of us, could he?
“MVP” has long been a lightning rod for controversy with his flashy finishes that have typically come against questionable competition, and even his most staunch supporters have been dying for him to face a marquee name. A rematch with Douglas Lima at Bellator 267 was just what the doctor ordered — but after three uneventful rounds, Page had his hand raised to a tepid response from the MMA community.
Whether you agree with that judges’ decision or not, Page definitely failed to make a compelling argument that he’s a top-10 fighter, and last Friday’s main event only served to ding the reputations of both men. Just a worst-case scenario all around for Bellator, even with the option of a trilogy bout available.
Regardless, Page makes a considerable leap in the stacked welterweight rankings, going from a tie for the No. 15 spot to No. 11 this month. There are those who will argue that Page shouldn’t have moved up at all given the controversial score — six out of seven media members on MMA Decisions scored the fight for Lima — but officially he’s now 1-1 with Lima, which could be enough to earn him a shot at undefeated welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov.
Just imagine what people will have to say about that booking. That is, unless Page really does push for a trilogy fight with Lima.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 15 Michael Page def. No. 10 Douglas Lima (Bellator 267, Oct. 1)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 Ray Cooper III vs. Magomed Magomedkerimov (PFL 2021 Championships, Oct. 27)
Fighters also receiving votes: Sean Brady, Neiman Gracie, Li Jingliang, Daniel Rodriguez
Please, take a glance down to the past month’s ranked results and upcoming ranked bouts.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. You are seeing that Dan Hooker not only won the only lightweight bout in September featuring a ranked lightweight, he is also set to compete in the only lightweight bout in October featuring a ranked lightweight.
Islam Makhachev has become the boogieman at 155 pounds, taking the mantle from teammate Khabib Nurmagomedov, and while most fighters are doing anything in their power to get out of his way, Hooker is jumping in front of that train on short notice.
With travel between his native New Zealand and the United States causing all kinds of complications for his training, Hooker is essentially throwing caution to the wind by sticking around in America and rolling the dice with the higher-ranked Makhachev. If you think about it, it’s really a low-risk, high-reward move.
Win, and Hooker is a hero with a shiny new number next to his name; lose, and he probably keeps his ranking while earning himself another paycheck that likely wouldn’t have come until next year.
Maybe “The Hangman” has a plan after all.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 Dan Hooker def. Nasrat Haqparast (UFC 266, Sept. 25)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 6 Islam Makhachev vs. No. 9 Dan Hooker (UFC 267, Oct. 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Drew Dober, Damir Ismagulov, Mark O. Madsen, Raush Manfio, Thiago Moises, Arman Tsarukyan
While the upper ranks of the featherweight division remain fairly stagnant due to a number of top-10 fighters awaiting bookings and Max Holloway still a month away from (fingers crossed) welcoming Yair Rodriguez back to the cage, Alexander Volkanovski made sure that there definitely wouldn’t be any movement at the very top.
Volkanovski and Brian Ortega had a championship fight for the ages at UFC 266, with Volkanovski retaining despite a third-round scare. Nine times out of 10, Ortega’s vaunted jiu-jitsu might have been enough to put Volkanovski to sleep, but “The Great” found a way to escape and nearly pummeled Ortega into oblivion. Yet Ortega gutted out another two rounds and Volkanovski had to settle for a fourth straight decision win — and an astonishing 20th straight victory overall.
Astute readers may notice that the number of first-place votes for Volkanovski haven’t changed from last month, with two panelists still carrying the torch for Holloway. With apologies to Rodriguez, a third meeting between Volkanovski and Holloway seems inevitable — and perhaps once the dust has settled on their trilogy, there will at last be no debate who the true king of the featherweights is.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Alexander Volkanovski def. No. 4 Brian Ortega (UFC 266, Sept. 25)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 (tied) Movlid Khaybulaev vs. Chris Wade (PFL 2021 Championships, Oct. 27)
Fighters also receiving votes: Adam Borics, Shane Burgos, Mads Burnell, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Emmanuel Sanchez, Chris Wade
If there was any question that Merab Dvalishvili belonged among the bantamweight elite, it was answered by his spectacular performance against top-10 mainstay Marlon Moraes.
Touted as a blue chip prospect when he joined the UFC in 2017, Dvalishvili had a shaky start before rattling off six straight decision wins and being matched up with Moraes at UFC 266. Dvalishvili had proven he was a step up above the middle tier of the 135-pound division, but he’d yet to defeat a top name or score the kind of emphatic finish that perks up the ears of the matchmakers (though the affable Georgian had already proven to be a hit at several post-fight press conferences).
With a second-round TKO of Moraes, Dvalishvili announced himself as legitimate contender, not only ending a fight inside the distance for the first time in his UFC career, but proving that he could battle back from adversity against one of the division’s best finishers.
Dvalishvili is knocking the door of on a title opportunity in 2021, with the only problem being that his close friend and Serra-Longo teammate Aljamain Sterling currently sits atop the division. However, with Sterling facing an indeterminate return to action after undergoing neck surgery — his early estimate is that he’ll be out of action for three-to-five months — and Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen fighting for an interim belt later this month, Dvalishvili could find that the path to a gold is clearer than it looks.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 Merab Dvalishvili def. No. 7 Marlon Moraes (UFC 266, Sept. 25)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 (tied) Petr Yan vs. No. 4 Cory Sandhagen (UFC 267, Oct. 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Kai Asakura, Raphael Assuncao, Raoni Barcelos, Patchy Mix, Jimmie Rivera, Raufeon Stots, Marlon Vera
September was a lackluster month for the world’s flyweights with zero of MMA Fighting’s top-15 fighters in competition. Still, many readers may happen to notice plenty of green and even a little red in the rankings graphic above.
There’s two reasons for that.
First was the retirement of longtime UFC and WEC contender Joseph Benavidez. After a 15-year career spent as a top-ranked fighter in either the bantamweight or flyweight division, the four-time UFC title challenger finally hung up his gloves last month at the age of 37. The vacating of Benavidez’s No. 7 ranking meant upward movement for nearly everyone below him.
But what about the Moraes-Johnson-Askarov trio above Benavidez? Well, that movement can be pinned strictly on one panelist who, until this month, served as the lone holdout refusing to rank Adriano Moraes and Demetrious Johnson at 125 pounds because of ONE Championship’s unusual rules regarding weight classes. Perhaps seeing how their holdout had negatively affected Moraes and Johnson, that panelist finally broke and fell in line with the rest of the rankings team by including the two ONE Championship flyweights on his list.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None.
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 (tied) Matheus Nicolau vs. No. 15 Tim Elliott (UFC Vegas 39, Oct. 9)
Fighters also receiving votes: Amir Albazi, Ali Bagautinov, Rogerio Bontorin, Danny Kingad, Jeff Molina, Matt Schnell, Murad Zeinulabidov
Raquel Pennington isn’t letting anyone take her number so easily.
With Pennington coming off of a 15-month layoff and Pannie Kianzad riding a four-fight win streak, the timing seemed perfect for the former Invicta FC standout to notch a win over Pennington and make a long-awaited jump into the top-10. It wasn’t to be though, as Pennington dragged Kianzad into one of her trademark clinch-fests and defused Kianzad in the dullest way possible en route to winning a comfortable decision.
That fight served as a visual representation of the state of the bantamweight division, which remains stuck in the mud with Nunes racking up title defenses at featherweight — she is scheduled to defend the bantamweight title in December against Julianna Pena — Holly Holm having to take a fight at 145 pounds for no discernible reason, and Miesha Tate taking it slow in her return to competition.
Add in the disappointment of injuries forcing Germaine de Randamie out of a scheduled fight with Irene Aldana at UFC 268 and Aspen Ladd continuing to struggle at the scale, and there’s a case to be made that bantamweight is currently the least exciting division in MMA.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Raquel Pennington def. No. 13 Pannie Kianzad (UFC Vegas 37, Sept. 18), No. 12 Karol Rosa def. Bethe Correira (UFC Vegas 38, Oct. 2)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Holly Holm vs. Norma Dumont (UFC Vegas 40, Oct. 16, featherweight bout)
Fighters also receiving votes: None
Valentina Shevchenko rules.
That’s not a subjective statement, that’s a fact — and she proved it once again at UFC 266 with a surgical dissection of Lauren Murphy, a worthy and yet still over-matched challenger. Shevchenko has now defended her flyweight title six consecutive times, the best current streak of any UFC champion in a single division (Amanda Nunes has defended her titles eight straight times across two divisions).
Hot take: No one is going to snap Shevchenko’s streak anytime soon.
Two potential future challengers saw vastly different results in their respective contests, with Cynthia Calvillo becoming the latest knockout victim of two-division threat Jessica Andrade, and Taila Santos passing her toughest test yet against 44-fight veteran Roxanne Modafferi.
Santos currently leads the pack of young 125ers with championship potential, which includes Casey O’Neill, Manon Fiorot, and Erin Blanchfield among others. But all of them feel like they’re at least two years and several strong performances away from presenting even a hint of a threat to Shevchenko.
Could a Nunes trilogy fight finally be next? We hope so.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Valentina Shevchenko def. No. 4 Lauren Murphy (UFC 266, Sept. 25), No. 2 Jessica Andrade def. No. 9 Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 266, Sept. 25), Taila Santos def. No. 15 Roxanne Modafferi (UFC 266, Sept. 25)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 Sijara Eubanks vs. Luana Carolina (UFC Vegsa 40, Oct. 16)
Fighters also receiving votes: Maycee Barber, Andrea Lee, Miranda Maverick, Roxanne Modafferi, Vanessa Porto
There’s been little to report on the strawweight ranks for the past couple of months now, with champion Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili not scheduled to rematch until November, Joanna Jedrzejczyk still M.I.A., and a number of veterans — many of whom have already fought one another — waiting for their next call from the matchmakers.
However, there’s plenty of room for one contender to make noise in October as Mackenzie Dern takes on Marina Rodriguez this Saturday in a battle of top-5 strawweights. Dern has long been touted as a future champion after a sterling competitive jiu-jitsu career, while Rodriguez has yet to suffer a convincing defeat in 17 pro bouts (her lone setback is a narrow split decision loss to Carla Esparza).
One gets the sense that Dern is a notch closer than Rodriguez to a title shot, and if she puts on a spectacular performance in this weekend’s main event, officials will be thrilled to place her into a No. 1 contender’s fight next.
Let’s just not forget about Esparza in all this, please. The inaugural strawweight champion is sitting on a five-fight win streak and in a fair and just world, she’ll be sent that contract for a title shot as soon as Namajunas and Zhang conclude their business.
September cycle results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 15 Xiong Jingnan def. Michelle Nicolini (ONE Championship: Empower, Sept. 3)
October bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Mackenzie Dern vs. No. 5 Marina Rodriguez (UFC Vegas 39, Oct. 9), No. 11 (tied) Amanda Ribas vs. No. 14 Virna Jandiroba (UFC 267, Oct. 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Kanako Murata, Jessica Penne