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Esther Lin

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Introducing the MMA Fighting Global Rankings: Who are the top fighters in each division?

Welcome to the inaugural MMA Fighting Global Rankings, where our esteemed panel of experts team up to sort out the best of the best in an ever-shifting MMA landscape.

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.

Let’s make one thing clear: The greatest ranking system of all will always be pitting two fighters together with a referee, a group of judges on the outside, and a pair of gloves covering their knuckles. Whoever has their hand raised, that’s the better fighter. Simple.

Only it’s not always that simple, is it? When we’re dealing with the best of the best across multiple organizations across the world, many of whom will never get the chance to test themselves against one another, then we have to use our imaginations and allow for nuance. Add in the fact that several organizations, including the UFC and Bellator, employ their own media-generated rankings — at least one of which is often wielded as a means to leverage control over its fighters — and the picture becomes even murkier.

So why us? Why now?

First and foremost, if we’re going to question how others view the sport, then it’s only fair that we provide some answers of our own. No member of the MMA Fighting panel is currently involved in media voting for any combat sports organization, of which we are often so critical, so the goal here is to provide an objective snapshot of the true global MMA landscape.

Secondly, who doesn’t enjoy a good, spirited, (mostly) civilized “who’s better” debate?

And now, some ground rules:

  • 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.

Having fun yet? We’re just getting started.

As far as actual ranking criteria, we allowed our panel to have freedom to express their opinions while also not going completely off the reservation with their selections. So while there is a heavy emphasis on UFC talent, don’t be surprised to see big names from other organizations slotting in there and even overtaking some of their better-known peers. If you don’t know, you’re about to know.

And with that, let’s dive in.

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


UFC 260: Miocic v Ngannou 2
Francis Ngannou cemented himself as the best heavyweight in the world at UFC 260.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Heavyweight

Francis Ngannou laid claim to the heavyweight throne in emphatic fashion at UFC 260, vanquishing Stipe Miocic in their second meeting and putting himself in position for a big money fight with longtime light heavyweight king Jon Jones. That bout is currently in limbo as Ngannou and Jones have yet to land on the same page as the UFC’s bean counters, which leaves the door open for Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane to gain some gold of their own as they meet for a wholly unnecessary interim title in August.

Bringing up the rear of the rankings are up-and-comers Chris Daukaus and Tom Aspinall, as well as recent UFC departees Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos, newly crowned interim Bellator champion Valentin Moldavsky, and Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, who is currently competing in Bellator’s light heavyweight grand prix.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Chris Daukaus vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC Fight Night, July 24)


Light Heavyweight

Your eyes do not deceive you: Jon Jones is still the man to beat at 205 pounds. That might not last long as “Bones” is rapidly approaching our 18-month window of inactivity (his most recent fight was a successful title defense against Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 in February 2020) which will lead to his automatic removal from our rankings. He will not be competing at light heavyweight in the next two months, so look for him to soon exit this list and make his way to the heavyweight field — if he can ever work things out with his old pal Dana White.

That means the winner of UFC 266’s title fight between champion Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira in September will determine our No. 1 light heavyweight heading into the end of 2021. As indomitable as Jones has been, it’s about time for the 205-pound division to officially move on without him (note that two of our panelists already have).

Also of note, Bellator champ Vadim Nemkov cracks our top 5, and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson makes the cut after ending a four-year retirement with a recent win over Jose Augusto.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: None


Middleweight

Israel Adesanya’s failed bid to become a two-division champion did nothing to affect his spot in the middleweight rankings, and he got right back on track with a decisive win over rival Marvin Vettori at UFC 263 last month. Next for “The Last Stylebender”: A rematch with fellow middleweight great Robert Whittaker looms on the horizon.

There is little non-UFC representation at 185 pounds in our rankings, though Bellator champion Gegard Mousasi maintains the top-5 spot that he has held for the better part of the past five years, and Yoel Romero continues to hang onto a top-10 ranking as his 18-month cutoff date fast approaches (Romero last fought in March 2020).

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 10 Uriah Hall vs. No. 12 Sean Strickland (UFC Fight Night, July 31)


Welterweight

Looking up and down the rankings, we see that welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is short of fresh challengers, so after an expected rematch with Colby Covington is put together, it’ll be unclear what comes next for him. One name Usman hasn’t fought yet is two-time UFC title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who could get his shot if he defeats Gilbert Burns this Saturday.

Bellator champion Yaroslav Amosov’s 26-0 record and recent win over fellow top-10 welterweight Douglas Lima places him just outside our top 5, while veteran Rory MacDonald adds some PFL representation as he comes in at No. 13 despite some inexcusably poor judging in his recent fight against Gleison Tibau.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Gilbert Burns vs. No. 5 Stephen Thompson (UFC 264, July 10)


UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor
Can Conor McGregor flip the lightweight division on its head at UFC 264?
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Lightweight

Undisputed UFC title be damned, Dustin Poirier sits atop the rankings of the deepest division in MMA. Since 2017, “The Diamond” has put together an untouchable resume with wins over Conor McGregor, Max Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, and Anthony Pettis, among other luminaries. Outside of a couple stumbles, Poirier has been a certified superstar since moving up to 155 pounds.

Sitting outside the top 10 is Poirier’s upcoming opponent and trilogy bout rival Conor McGregor. Despite having not actually won a UFC lightweight bout since November 2016, McGregor can turn the entire rankings upside down if he can win his series against Poirier at UFC 264.

Speaking of fighters who have rarely competed at lightweight, two-division champion Patricio Freire earns a top-10 spot as the current holder of Bellator’s 155-pound title and off of the strength of his May 2019 win over Michael Chandler, a 61-second knockout that is still fresh in our voter’s minds. It should be noted that “Pitbull” was not ranked at all on two ballots, which prevented him from being slotted higher in the final tally.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Dustin Poirier vs. No. 11 Conor McGregor (UFC 264, July 10), No. 7 Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises (UFC Fight Night, July 17)


Featherweight

Alexander Volkanovski might be unbeaten in nine UFC appearances, but one of our voters felt that his close call against Max Holloway this past July was enough to keep him from being our unanimous No. 1 featherweight. The reigning UFC champion has the chance to cement his resume when he fights rival Ultimate Fighter 29 coach Brian Ortega in September — and if the cards are dealt just right, he could also face Holloway a third time before it’s all said and done.

The aforementioned “Pitbull” sits comfortably in the top 3, with several members of our panel believing he’s the best featherweight in the world not named Volkanovski or Holloway. Fellow Bellator standout A.J. McKee is not far behind, and not coincidentally, the two are set to meet in a titanic clash in Bellator’s featherweight grand prix finals on July 31, with the winner taking all the marbles.

And what’s this at No. 15? Why it’s former Bellator standout Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev, the current ACA featherweight champion who’s been doing damage over in Russia with 12 wins in his past 15 outings.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Patricio Freire vs. No. 6 A.J. McKee (Bellator 263, July 31)


Bantamweight

You want controversy in the rankings? We got controversy for you.

Our panel was split down the middle when it came to deciding who rules the thrilling bantamweight division, with half of us deciding that Aljamain Sterling’s six-fight winning streak capped off by a championship win over Petr Yan via disqualification was enough to make him No. 1, and the other half sticking with Yan, who suffered his first loss in eight UFC appearances but was seemingly winning the fight until his foul. For the sake of us all, let’s hope this rematch gets booked and we get a definitive answer.

The rest of the top-15 was also greatly up for debate with respected veterans like Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, and Dominick Cruz jockeying for position with newer contenders like Rob Font and Merab Dvalishvili. Making his way into the top 10 with his recent Bellator title win is former UFC fighter Sergio Pettis, with two-time RIZIN champion Kyoji Horiguchi hot on his heels.

Oh, by the way, T.J. Dillashaw is set to return this month from a two-year USADA suspension to throw a wrench into the whole damn thing.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw (UFC Fight Night, July 24)


Flyweight

For years, flyweight division ran through Demetrious Johnson, and it wasn’t until Henry Cejudo defeated him in their second fight that there was any doubt that “Mighty Mouse” was the best at 125 pounds. However, with Cejudo retired and Johnson competing for ONE (and having recently lost to Adriano Moraes), the panel mostly agreed that UFC champion Brandon Moreno was deserving of the top spot in our rankings.

Does Moraes have a case for No. 1? It’s a tough call, not just because he competes outside of the UFC, but because of ONE’s unorthodox weight class system — his bout with Johnson was contested at 135 pounds, which is classified as flyweight in ONE. “Mikinho” only has three losses in 22 pro bouts, and if he can string together a lengthy run of title defenses, he could move up the rankings quickly. (And indeed, one panelist went rogue and decided that ONE’s awkward divisional setups were enough to leave Johnson and Moraes off their list entirely.)

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Askar Askarov vs. No. 8 Alex Perez (UFC Fight Night, July 31)


UFC 259: Nunes v Anderson
Can anyone beat Amanda Nunes?
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Women’s Bantamweight

Unsurprisingly, two-division champion Amanda Nunes owns the No. 1 spot at 135 pounds and would at 145 pounds too were we keeping a ranking of that division (Bellator champion Cris Cyborg would be a close second). “The Lioness” has beaten them all since 2015, with only Valentina Shevchenko coming close to putting a dent in Nunes’ impenetrable armor.

Outside of Nunes, there’s not much movement at 135 pounds as what was once a glamour division in the UFC has seen much of its talent migrate down to flyweight, while major North American promotions like Bellator and the PFL don’t even have women’s bantamweight divisions. Nunes’ dominance isn’t making things any easier for her supposed peers, so they may have to wait until she hangs up the gloves before they get to make a run at the top.

Two matchups to watch out for this month: Former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate fights for the first time since retiring in 2016 when she meets Marion Reneau on July 17, and then the return of Aspen Ladd on July 24 against No. 9 Macy Chiasson. Ladd surely would’ve made this list had she not missed the 18-month cutoff window for inactivity.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Irene Aldana vs. No. 6 Yana Kunitskaya (UFC 264, July 10), No. 9 Macy Chiasson vs. Aspen Ladd (UFC Fight Night, July 24), No. 12 Sijara Eubanks vs. Elise Reed (UFC Fight Night, July 24)


Women’s Flyweight

Valentina Shevchenko has cleaned out the flyweight division, with expected title challenger Lauren Murphy remaining as one of the only contenders left that Shevchenko has yet to beat. Should Shevchenko continue her dominance at 125 pounds, the most intriguing future matchup for her is likely a trilogy bout with Nunes, but Dana White hasn’t indicated that he’s in any hurry to pair the two stars up again anytime soon.

Outside of the UFC, Juliana Velasquez sits in a top-5 spot after dethroning previously unbeaten Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in March. The undefeated Velasquez has the chance to carve out her own legacy with her first title defense this month against kickboxing champion Denise Kielholtz and No. 7-ranked Liz Carmouche waiting in the wings.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Juliana Velasquez vs. Denise Kielholtz (Bellator 262, July 16), No. 6 Jennifer Maia vs. No. 12 Jessica Eye (UFC 264, July 10), No. 15 Miranda Maverick vs. Maycee Barber (UFC Fight Night, July 24)


Strawweight

Rose Namajunas is the first woman to regain a UFC title, and she did so in memorable fashion, wiping out Zhang Weili with a head kick that also snapped Zhang’s absurd 21-fight winning streak. While a rematch with Carla Esparza is the fight to make, the star power of Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk could have either of them back in the octagon with Namajunas sooner rather than later.

At the moment, our 115-pound rankings are a clean sweep for the UFC, though there’s plenty of talent in Invicta FC as well as overseas in countries such as China, Japan, and Poland, that could be making a significant mark at strawweight soon.

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 Amanda Lemos vs. Montserrat Conejo (UFC Fight Night, July 17)

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