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MMA Rankings, November 2021 update: Did Khamzat Chimaev just become a top 10 fighter overnight?

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 an ever-shifting MMA landscape.

A remarkably busy month of October is finally in the books — and what a month it was. In total, 23 ranked fighters returned to the cage since the last time we were in this space, including nearly half of our light heavyweight top 15.

That breakneck pace isn’t slowing down any time soon — the second of back-to-back UFC pay-per-views is already on tap for Saturday night — so before we turn our focus to November’s MMA slate, let’s first look back at the wildest month of action in the brief history of the MMA Fighting Global Rankings.

How did October’s topsy-turvy results affect our lists?

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.

In case you missed it, last month’s divisional rankings can be seen here.

And with that, let’s dive in.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.


Heavyweight

Fedor Emelianenko was this close to making it back to the rankings.

That’s right, we’re a couple months shy of 2022 and “The Last Emperor” is once again a factor in the big boy division, having scored a spectacular first-round knockout of Timothy Johnson at Bellator 269 in front of a Moscow crowd still in awe of arguably the greatest heavyweight who’s ever lived. Dating back to April 2018, Emelianenko has quietly won four of his past five fights, all by first-round KO/TKO.

In fact, the venerated Russian appeared on the ballot of seven of the eight panelists this month, though his low ranking (No. 15 on six ballots) kept him on the outside looking in. With one fight remaining on his Bellator contract, it’s unclear whether Emelianenko will pursue a rematch with current heavyweight titleholder Ryan Bader, or perhaps wait and see if his matchmakers can bring in a veteran name like Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, or Junior dos Santos to be his final adversary.

Whoever Emelianenko fights next — and let’s not assume that the end of his current Bellator contract will necessarily signal the end of his career — his win over Johnson was another reminder of why his name will always hold a special place in the hearts of fans, rankings be damned.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Alexander Volkov def. No. 8 Marcin Tybura, Corey Anderson def. No. 14 Ryan Bader (light heavyweight bout)

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 13 Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa (UFC Vegas 43, Nov. 20)

Fighters also receiving votes: Phil De Fries, Fedor Emelianenko, Blagoi Ivanov, Timothy Johnson, Alexander Romanov, Fabricio Werdum


UFC 267: Blachowicz v Teixeira Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Light Heavyweight

Scott Coker might be right.

Sure, the Bellator boss is a tad biased when it comes to the discussion of which promotion has the best roster of 205ers, but there’s some basis for his recent proclamation that the upcoming Bellator grand prix final between reigning champion Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson could determine who is the best light heayvweight in all of MMA.

Coker’s statement actually gained more traction following the events of UFC 267 as the esteemed Glover Teixeira took out Jan Blachowicz to become the new UFC light heavyweight champion at age 42. As incredible as his story is, Teixeira lost handily to Anderson back in 2018, while Blachowicz also has a loss to Anderson in 2015 that he later avenged by first-round knockout in their rematch. So Anderson has shown he can compete with the best the UFC has to offer, and should he defeat Nemkov, it may just convince people that he is the man to beat at 205 pounds.

Our panel’s opinion varied wildly on Anderson, with his ranking ranging from as high as No. 2 to all the way down at No. 10. In fact, no single fighter in these rankings across all divisions was as polarizing as Anderson.

Nemkov’s dominance in Bellator has made his position more stable as he is firmly planted in the No. 3-to-No. 5 range, and should he have his hand raised in the final, then he can lay his own claim to the throne once definitively ruled by Jon Jones. And none of this even mentions Jiri Prochazka, who moved ahead of Blachowicz on several of our panelists’ ballots and even snatched two first-place votes from the lingering non-believers of Teixeira.

Both Teixeira and Blachowicz indicated after their fight that they are planning to take some time off to rest and recover, which leaves the door open for the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix winner to possibly step into the No. 1 spot should that bracket be resolved in the next few months.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Glover Teixeira def. No. 1 Jan Blachowicz, No. 4 Vadim Nemkov def. Julius Anglickas, No. 8 Corey Anderson def. No. 6 Ryan Bader, No. 12 Magomed Ankalaev def. No. 13 Volkan Oezdemir

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Israel Adesanya, Antonio Carlos Junior, Nikita Krylov, Tomasz Narkun, Yoel Romero, Johnny Walker


Middleweight

On paper, Paulo Costa’s matchup with Marvin Vettori had clear implications for the state of the middleweight rankings.

On the scale, it was another story entirely.

Vettori claimed Costa’s spot in the top 5 by winning a thrilling five-round scrap at UFC Vegas 41 that was nearly overshadowed by pre-fight shenanigans that saw Costa negotiate a light heavyweight bout after he arrived at fight week unable to make 185 pounds. While few would begrudge Costa for avoiding a difficult and potentially dangerous weight cut, the manner in which he seemed to dismiss criticism of the move and his perceived gamesmanship rubbed many people the wrong way.

The MMA Fighting panel decided to treat the bout as a middleweight affair for the purposes of these rankings, but with Costa possibly making a permanent move up to 205 pounds in the future — Dana White says he will, Costa isn’t making any guarantees — we could see his name removed from this section soon.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Marvin Vettori def. No. 4 Paulo Costa (light heavyweight bout)

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Brendan Allen, Dricus Du Plessis, Mamed Khalidov, Nassourdine Imavov, John Salter, Brad Tavares


Welterweight

Khamzat Chimaev is a top 10 welterweight.

You read that right. After a year on the sidelines — a significant part of which was spent dealing with severe COVID-19 symptoms — Chimaev returned at UFC 267 this past Saturday and made some serious noise with a first-round submission of Li Jingliang. That sentence undersells Chimaev’s performance, as it was less of a fight and more of a mauling, with Chimaev immediately getting hold of Li, picking him up and carrying him over to the fence so he could have a chat with Dana White, and then choking the hardy Li unconscious.

It was about as loud a statement as Chimaev could have made in his return to action — and he has been rewarded with plaudits not only from White but the MMA Fighting panel. After the latest round of voting, Chimaev is now ranked ahead of veteran names like Neil Magny, Belal Muhammad, Michael Page, and Douglas Lima, and even Ray Cooper III who just won his second PFL welterweight title.

Keep in mind, Chimaev technically only has two wins in the UFC’s welterweight division.

Is Chimaev too high? Not high enough? How many of the names ahead of him would you favor him to beat? Who is even willing to sign on to fight him now? And is it completely out of the question that he gets the winner of this Saturday’s UFC 268 welterweight championship headliner between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington?

One thing is guaranteed: Just like last year, when Chimaev fights, people pay attention. And he’s going to be one of the division’s most talked-about names for the foreseeable future.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Ray Cooper III def. Magomed Magomedkerimov

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Kamaru Usman vs. No. 2 Colby Covington (UFC 268, Nov. 6), No. 8 (tied) Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady (UFC Vegas 43, Nov. 20)

Fighters also receiving votes: Jason Jackson, Rory MacDonald, Geoff Neal, Daniel Rodriguez


UFC 267: Makhachev v Hooker Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Lightweight

Welcome to the top 5, Islam Makhachev.

It may have taken nine consecutive UFC wins for Makhachev to get his respect as a top-ranked lightweight in the world, but the 30-year-old’s ferocious win over Dan Hooker was the final test that pushed Makhachev into the territory of the elite. Makhachev now sits one win (or less) away from a title shot, so after a Khabib-less year of respite for the world’s lightweights, the 155-pound division once again finds itself under immediate threat of a takeover from an unbeatable export out of Dagestan. Time is indeed a flat circle.

Aside from Makhachev, the biggest impact within this month’s lightweight ranks came from a fighter who didn’t even fight at all: Patricio Freire. By vacating his Bellator lightweight title and essentially announcing his intentions to compete at 145 pounds moving forward, Freire also vacated his previous No. 11 spot within our 155-pound ladder. That meant green arrows galore for nearly everyone below him — and a reintroduction to the rankings for UFC lightweight Drew Dober.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Islam Makhachev def. No. 9 Dan Hooker

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Justin Gaethje vs. No. 6 Michael Chandler (UFC 268, Nov. 6)

Fighters also receiving votes: Mateusz Gamrot, Damir Ismagulov, Mark O. Madsen, Raush Manfio, Thiago Moises, Arman Tsarukyan


Featherweight

The featherweight ranks were a ghost town in October — or at least they were aside from one name on our list, who just so happened to become an overnight millionaire.

New PFL champion Movlid Khaybulaev cashed a seven-figure payday and vaulted up into a tie for the No. 13 spot following his tournament finale win over Chris Wade. The unbeaten Dagestan product was a force to be reckoned with throughout 2021’s PFL featherweight season, rolling to a 4-0 record that included wins over four-time PFL champion Lance Palmer, tourney dark horse Brendan Loughnane, and UFC veteran Chris Wade.

The division now looks ahead to Nov. 13, when the man two of our eight panelists still rate as the best featherweight in the world — former UFC champion Max Holloway — collides in a matchup against Yair Rodriguez that teases to be as close to guaranteed fireworks as is possible in a sport where absolutely nothing is guaranteed at all.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 (tied) Movlid Khaybulaev def. Chris Wade

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez (UFC Vegas 42, Nov. 13)

Fighters also receiving votes: Adam Borics, Shane Burgos, Mads Burnell, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Emmanuel Sanchez, Chris Wade


Bantamweight

There are still a couple of holdouts, but Petr Yan is officially MMA Fighting’s No. 1-ranked bantamweight.

No, Yan did not get the chance to make up for his championship bout disqualification loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 267 as originally planned; however, he did put on a virtuoso performance against replacement Cory Sandhagen, winning a surefire Fight of the Year contender and earning himself the title of “two-time bantamweight champion” according to announcer Joe Martinez.

Officially, Yan only has the interim title, but his success against Sterling at UFC 259 before he cost himself the belt with an illegal knee — Yan was up on two of the three judges’ scorecards heading into the fateful fourth round — had a large contingent of MMA fans and media already seeing “No Mercy” as the rightful champion. When you consider that it will be months before Yan and Sterling actually fight again — and that’s assuming there are no further complications — it only felt fair to us to move Yan back into the No. 1 spot.

MMA’s deepest division won’t get any easier, and regardless of who eventually emerges from that rivalry as champion, they’ll have a whole roster of assassins coming to take them out.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 (tied) Petr Yan def. No. 4 Cory Sandhagen

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 10 (tied) Frankie Edgar vs. Marlon Vera (UFC 268, Nov. 6)

Fighters also receiving votes: Kai Asakura, Raphael Assuncao, Raoni Barcelos, Patchy Mix, Jimmie Rivera, Raufeon Stots, Marlon Vera


Flyweight

The 125-pound ranks remained stagnant this month and it’s likely to stay that way with none of the top six fighters in the division booked to compete before year’s end.

Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo have a January date for their trilogy, ONE Championship flyweight king Adriano Moraes has yet to book a fight since his incredible win over Demetrious Johnson, and “Mighty Mouse” himself has unfortunately been forced to withdraw from a fun mixed-rules booking against Rodtang Jitmuangnon after ONE postponed the event due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in Singapore.

Top contenders Askar Askarov and Alexandre Pantoja are nursing injuries, which temporarily removed them from the equation and necessitated another Moreno-Figueiredo fight, and no ranked flyweights are competing in November.

If you’re wondering when the next major change could happen at flyweight, look ahead to UFC 269 in December, where Kai Kara-France welcomes former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt to a new division, and Alex Perez looks to hold his No. 7 spot against Matt Schnell.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 (tied) Matheus Nicolau def. No. 15 Tim Elliott

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Amir Albazi, Ali Bagautinov, Rogerio Bontorin, Danny Kingad, Matt Schnell, Murad Zeinulabidov


UFC Fight Night: Ladd v Dumont Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Women’s Bantamweight

What a roller-coaster of a month for Aspen Ladd.

The 26-year-old was poised to return to the rankings after a knee injury led to her being removed due to inactivity, but with two chances last month to remind fans that she’s a contender, she instead ran headfirst into misfortune.

First, Ladd was set to fight top 10-ranked fighter Macy Chiasson on Oct. 2, only for that fight to be cancelled when a visibly stressed Ladd failed to make weight. Then, Ladd decided to accept a fight two weeks later as a replacement for Holly Holm, who was to face Norma Dumont in the featherweight main event of UFC Vegas 40.

Had Ladd made it past Dumont, even in a 145-pound bout, that might have been enough to get her back in the 135-pound rankings, but even that opportunity went sour for her as she lost an uninspiring decision that was discussed more for what happened in the corner than what happened in the cage.

With that, this section remains relatively inert, with only the upcoming Ketlen Vieira vs. Miesha Tate matchup possibly shaking things up until Amanda Nunes finally gets back to defending her bantamweight title against Julianna Pena in December.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 8 Ketlen Vieira vs. No. 10 Miesha Tate (UFC Vegas 43, Nov. 20)

Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark


Women’s Flyweight

Like bantamweight, there isn’t much to report at flyweight, with Valentina Shevchenko maintaining an iron grip on the top of the charts and Jessica Andrade and Katlyn Chookagian indirectly serving as her bodyguards. Lauren Murphy sneaked through without having to beat either of those two, but who knows how long it will be before a new challenger emerges?

Fortunately, there are still a couple of compelling flyweight matchups coming up in November, as would-be title contender Joanne Calderwood fights to stay in the mix against the streaking Taila Santos, and Cynthia Calvillo looks to make the most of a short-notice opportunity as she steps in for Jessica Eye to fight Andrea Lee. Calderwood is probably the closest to a title shot of those four — Calderwood was previously booked to fight Shevchenko before their bout fell through — however don’t count out Santos, a talented fighter with a glossy record who has been racking up quality wins.

As for Shevchenko, the most sensible option for her still seems to be a third fight with Amanda Nunes, assuming Nunes gets past Julianna Pena and decides to silence any doubts about who is the best women’s pound for-pound fighter in the world once and for all.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Joanne Calderwood vs. No. 12 (tied) Taila Santos (UFC Vegas 43, Nov. 20), No. 10 Cynthia Calvillo vs. Andrea Lee (UFC Vegas 42, Nov. 13)

Fighters also receiving votes: Maycee Barber, Andrea Lee, Miranda Maverick, Roxanne Modafferi, Vanessa Porto


Strawweight

Once Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili settle their differences this Saturday, former champion Carla Esparza should be next to challenge the winner for the UFC strawweight title — and right behind her is the surging Marina Rodriguez.

By halting the Mackenzie Dern hype train with a lopsided decision win at UFC Vegas 39, Rodriguez improved her UFC record to 5-1-2, with wins over four ranked opponents — Dern, Michelle Waterson, Amanda Ribas, and Tecia Torres — and her lone loss being a close split decision against Esparza. Rodriguez is currently pursuing a fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk to cement herself as the No. 1 contender, and that looks like the match to make if Jedrzejczyk and the UFC can get back on the same page.

Also making a big move this month is Amanda Ribas, who showed improved standup against former Invicta FC champion Virna Jandiroba. Ribas vaults over some veteran names into the top 10, and if longtime contenders like Yan Xiaonan and Claudia Gadelha don’t stay busy, they could soon be next.

October results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Marina Rodriguez def. No. 4 Mackenzie Dern, No. 11 (tied) Amanda Ribas def. No. 14 Virna Jandiroba

November bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Rose Namajunas vs. No. 2 Zhang Weili (UFC 268, Nov. 6)

Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Kanako Murata, Jessica Penne

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