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MMA Rankings, December 2021 update: Is Yair Rodriguez back in the top 5? Plus a new contender for Valentina Shevchenko emerges

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.

If October was catnip for fight fans who enjoy seeing a lot of moving and shaking in the rankings, then November was a real scraping of the litter box as far as significant changes go.

With respect to Yair Rodriguez, Sean Brady, and Taila Santos — three fighters who kept their careers on an upward trajectory — there simply wasn’t much disruption on the charts this past month. UFC champions Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas held serve while their respective rivals Colby Covington and Zhang Weili did more than enough to confirm that they are still the No. 1 contenders in their divisions, even if they won’t get a third crack at the title any time soon as long as Usman and Namajunas are at the top.

So let’s scrutinize the meaningful results that we did get while also looking back on the year that was for several divisions that were either notable for the upheaval that took place – or the complete lack thereof.

Don’t forget to listen to the new episode of the MMA Fighting Rankings show below.

Before we begin, 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.



The very top of the heavyweight division is on hold until Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane settle their beef next month, but the end of 2021 could see a couple of young bigs put themselves into position to make a move next year.

Chris Daukaus has broken out in a major way since making his UFC debut in 2020, knocking off all four of his octagon opponents, with only veteran Shamil Abdurakhimov making it to the second round before being finished. He’s earned himself a crack at a top 5 spot against Derrick Lewis on Dec. 18, and a big win there could propel him to a title shot sometime in 2022.

At UFC 269, Tai Tuivasa also looks to continue his turnaround after winning his first three UFC fights, losing three straight, and then putting together another three-fight winning streak. Consistency has been the issue for the charismatic Australian, who could play a vital role in the rankings as one of the only heavyweight contenders under 30 years old.

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

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Derrick Lewis vs. No. 8 Chris Daukaus (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18), No. 13 Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa (UFC 269, Dec. 11)

Fighters also receiving votes: Shamil Abdurakhimov, Fedor Emelianenko, Alexander Romanov, Blagoi Ivanov, Phil De Fries, Arjan Bhullar, Timothy Johnson, Marcos Rogerio de Lima

Light Heavyweight

There was little movement in the land of the light heavyweights, and that will remain the case until Glover Teixeira decides he’s ready for his first title defense. He’s not the only one putting the division on pause for now, though.

Of the 15 fighters ranked above, only Magomed Ankalaev and Thiago Santos have plans for 2022, and they don’t compete until March. Jiri Prochazka has to wait for Teixeira, while contenders Jan Blachowicz, Dominick Reyes, Aleksandar Rakic, and Anthony Smith are all biding their time. Even Bellator standouts Vadim Nemkov, Corey Anderson, Ryan Bader, and Phil Davis have yet to be scheduled.

That said, it was an eventful year for the 205-pound division with Teixeira shocking the world, Nemkov establishing himself as one of the elite, and He-Who-Need-Not-Be-Named officially exiting the rankings. So maybe a month or two of quiet isn’t the worst thing.

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

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Paul Craig, Israel Adesanya, Johnny Walker, Antonio Carlos Junior, Tomasz Narkun, Reinier de Ridder, Yoel Romero


It was a slow year for the middleweight division, with Israel Adesanya starting his 2021 campaign with a failed bid to capture light heavyweight gold and his lone title defense being a low wattage rematch with Marvin Vettori. The real rematch everyone has been waiting for is Adesanya’s second dance with former UFC champion Robert Whittaker, which is targeted to take place at UFC 271 in February and hopefully will become official soon.

Outside of the top two names, Derek Brunson continued his own case for another crack at Adesanya in 2021, Paulo Costa may have weirded his way out of the division, and Kevin Holland went from breakout star to an afterthought after going winless this year.

Nonetheless, it looks like Adesanya has plenty of logical title challengers on the horizon, including a possible clash with kickboxing rival Alex Pereira if the cards fall just right.

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

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 12 (tied) Andre Muniz vs. Eryk Anders (UFC 269, Dec. 11)

Fighters also receiving votes: Brendan Allen, Chris Weidman, Mamed Khalidov, John Salter, Nassourdine Imavov

UFC Fight Night: Chiesa v Brady Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC


Here comes Sean Brady.

The undefeated welterweight passed the biggest test of his career by winning a unanimous decision over Michael Chiesa at UFC Vegas 43. While the Philadelphia native had his struggles in the bout, he survived a late surge from Chiesa and did just enough to beat a fighter that has been ranked in the top 10 of two divisions. With that, Brady enters the Global Rankings at No. 8.

Colby Covington was again unable to take Kamaru Usman’s title, however another five competitive rounds of action have cemented “Chaos” as the No. 2 man at 170 pounds — and among the best fighters alive to not to capture undisputed UFC gold. He’s not far from another opportunity, but potential grudge matches with Jorge Masvidal or Khamzat Chimaev could await in the near future.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Kamaru Usman def. No. 2 Colby Covington, Sean Brady def. No. 8 (tied) Michael Chiesa

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Stephen Thompson vs. No. 13 Belal Muhammad (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18)

Fighters also receiving votes: Douglas Lima, Jason Jackson, Geoff Neal, Shavkat Rakhmonov


Before we look ahead, can we give another round of applause for Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler for absolutely setting the octagon ablaze at UFC 268? It’s been some time since we’ve seen an all-out war of that caliber, and for the sake of both men, let’s hope it’s a long time before either of them does anything like that again.

Still, at the end of the day, Chandler had to add a loss to his record — his second straight — putting him on his first losing streak since 2014. How did it affect his standing in the rankings? Last month, Chandler was ranked ahead of one of his closest competitors, Islam Makhachev, on five panelists’ ballots. This month? Just two. The consensus ranking remained the same for both men, but Makhachev has an even stronger hold on the No. 5 position after UFC 268.

Chandler’s slight drop raises the question of how much value there is in a competitive loss — and does it matter that he’s fallen to the best-of-the-best at 155 pounds while Makhachev has shredded nine straight opponents who are just a tier below what Chandler has faced? There’s no correct answer, it just goes to show how subjective the ranking process can be.

But there won’t be any subjectivity needed to decide who is MMA’s true top lightweight after UFC 269 on Dec. 11, as our No. 1-ranked fighter Dustin Poirier takes on UFC titleholder Charles Oliveira.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 3 Justin Gaethje def. No. 6 Michael Chandler

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Dustin Poirier vs. No. 2 Charles Oliveira (UFC 269, Dec. 11), No. 11 Diego Ferreira vs. Mateusz Gamrot (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18), No. 12 Brad Riddell vs. No. 13 Rafael Fiziev (UFC Vegas 44, Dec. 4)

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

UFC Fight Night: Holloway v Rodriguez Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC


Welcome back to the top 5, Yair Rodriguez!

It had been over 750 days since we last saw “El Pantera” in action, and he came back in style, battling for five entertaining rounds against Max Holloway before ending up on the losing end of a unanimous decision. Rodriguez was universally highly ranked before he was pulled for inactivity, so it’s no surprise that he reclaimed a high position even in defeat.

Is it fair for Rodriguez to be placed in the rankings higher than the likes of Calvin Kattar, Giga Chikadze, and Josh Emmett, featherweights who have stayed busy in his absence? Given that his only UFC loss besides Holloway was to a prime Frankie Edgar, Rodriguez’s spot seems secure, but you can be sure that the buzzards are circling now that he’s back in the rotation.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Max Holloway def. Yair Rodriguez

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 10 Josh Emmett vs. No. 11 Dan Ige (UFC 269, Dec. 11)

Fighters also receiving votes: Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Bryce Mitchell, Shane Burgos, Adam Borics, Mads Burnell, Emmanuel Sanchez, Aaron Pico, Ilia Topuria


Marlon Vera has been knocking on the door of the elite for years, and he notched the biggest win of his career at UFC 268 with an impressive third-round finish of the venerable Frankie Edgar.

The victory vaulted Vera into the No. 12 spot in our rankings, no small feat given that he competes in the deepest division in MMA right now. That puts him hot on the heels of Bellator standouts Kyoji Horiguchi (No. 9) and Sergio Pettis (No. 10), though either of those names could see a quick jump up themselves as Horiguchi challenges Pettis for his bantamweight belt this Friday at Bellator 272.

December could also see some major shakeups at 135 pounds with Rob Font (No. 5) fighting Jose Aldo (No. 6) in Saturday’s UFC Vegas 44 main event, Cody Garbrandt (no. 13) making his long-awaited drop down to flyweight, and bantamweight legend Dominick Cruz (No. 14) possibly exiting the top 15 should he lose to Pedro Munhoz (No. 11).

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Marlon Vera def. No. 10 (tied) Frankie Edgar

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Rob Font vs. No. 6 Jose Aldo (UFC Vegas 44, Dec. 4), No. 9 Kyoji Horiguchi vs. No. 10 Sergio Pettis (Bellator 272, Dec. 3), No. 11 Pedro Munhoz vs. No. 14 Dominick Cruz (UFC 269, Dec. 11), No. 13 Cody Garbrandt vs. No. 10 FLW Kai Kara-France (UFC 269, Dec. 11, flyweight bout)

Fighters also receiving votes: Raufeon Stots, Juan Archuleta, Kai Asakura, Song Yadong, Kyler Phillips, Raphael Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera, Patchy Mix, Raulian Paiva


COVID-19 has robbed us of getting to see Demetrious Johnson return to action this weekend; he was supposed to fight kickboxing star Rodtang Jitmuangnon in a special rules bout in Singapore on Sunday before the event was postponed due to safety protocols. Instead, we have to look ahead to a busy December that could have major implications for the flyweight rankings.

Top 15 flyweights Alex Perez, Kai Kara-France, and Manel Kape are all in action in the next two weeks and all face different challenges. Perez looks to stop veteran Matt Schnell from taking his No. 7 spot, Kara-France welcomes former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt to 125, and former RIZIN champion Manel Kape looks to avoid a 1-3 start to his UFC career that could be deleterious to his job security.

Amid all that, don’t be surprised if an impressive performance by Garbrandt pushes him to the front of the title picture after he was previously booked to challenge then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 255 in November of last year.

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

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 7 Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell (UFC 269, Dec. 11), No. 10 Kai Kara-France vs. No. 13 BW Cody Garbrandt (UFC 269, Dec. 11), No. 12 Manel Kape vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (UFC Vegas 44, Dec. 4)

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

Women’s Bantamweight

In a division sorely in need of contenders, another one has hit a snag.

With Miesha Tate making a successful comeback in July, there was hopes that the former UFC bantamweight champion could work her way toward a rematch with current 135-pound queen Amanda Nunes. Tate wasn’t rushing herself to a title shot though, and instead agreed to take on No. 8 contender Ketlen Vieira in a November headliner.

Vieira defeated Tate by unanimous decision in a five-round fight that gave us a better idea of where Tate currently stands in the rankings, while keeping Vieira in the title discussion after experiencing uneven results in her past four bouts. While nobody can blame Tate for wanting to climb the ladder the right way after being out of action for nearly five years, it does put a damper on the UFC’s hopes that they could book a marketable rematch for Nunes.

The good news for Nunes is that the two-division champion is about to officially return to bantamweight for the first time since December 2019. Nunes’ previously scheduled bout against Julianna Pena in August was postponed when Nunes tested positive for COVID-19, but the two are now set to face off at UFC 269 this month.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 8 Ketlen Vieira def. No. 10 Miesha Tate

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Amanda Nunes vs. No. 5 Julianna Pena (UFC 269, Dec. 11), No. 6 Raquel Pennington vs. No. 13 Julia Avila (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18)

Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark

UFC Fight Night: Wood v Santos Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Women’s Flyweight

Even with Valentina Shevchenko’s chokehold on the top spot, the flyweight division continues to chug along with two contenders making a case to win the “Bullet” sweepstakes next.

Taila Santos continued her tear through the 125-pound division, winning her fourth straight bout with a dominant victory over Joanne Wood. “JoJo” had never been knocked down in a fight, yet Santos did it twice before finishing with a rear-naked choke at the end of the first round. It was a bold statement for the 28-year-old Brazilian, one that may have already put her in position to challenge Shevchenko next.

If not Santos, the more well-known Andrea Lee could be on the short list for that spot. She beat the brakes off of the previously No. 10-ranked Cynthia Calvillo, taking her spot in our rankings and making it back-to-back finishes in her past two outings now.

If an oft-discussed trilogy bout between Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes doesn’t materialize, the champ at least now has a few options for her next fight.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 12 (tied) Taila Santos def. No. 9 Joanne Wood, Andrea Lee def. No. 10 Cynthia Calvillo

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18)

Fighters also receiving votes: Cynthia Calvillo, Casey O’Neill, Manon Fiorot, Roxanne Modafferi, Miranda Maverick


It was close, but Rose Namajunas is still the woman to beat at 115 pounds.

In their second meeting since Namajunas stunned Zhang Weili with a first-round head kick knockout seven months ago, the two fought to a thrilling split decision, giving fans the competitive contest that they expected to see the first time around. It was another notch in Namajunas’ already decorated belt, though the verdict was not unanimous among the judges nor the media scoring the fight on MMA Decisions.

Namajunas presumably already has her next challenge waiting in the wings in Carla Esparza, the clear-cut No. 1 contender who already holds a championship win over “Thug Rose.” However, don’t be surprised if Esparza gets one more wrench thrown in her way in the form of either Marina Rodriguez or a returning Joanna Jedrzejczyk, because as we all know, in MMA, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

November results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Rose Namajunas def. No. 2 Zhang Weili

December bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 12 Amanda Lemos vs. No. 13 Angela Hill (UFC Vegas 45, Dec. 18)

Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Jessica Penne, Luana Pinheiro


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