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Ranking the Top 40 MMA Fighters: Who are the pound-for-pound best?

Who is the best mixed martial arts fighter alive?

That’s always been the endgame of pound-for-pound lists. For however messy they tend to be, there’s a certain innate allure in trying to determine who exactly is the best of the best.

But unlike our inaugural divisional rankings, which can be sussed out to a reasonable enough degree by inter-divisional matchups, the question of pound-for-pound supremacy is always going to be inherently subjective. If you’re making distinctions between a power-punching heavyweight and a technical demon of a featherweight, is there really a right answer? Should Stipe Miocic be ranked below Max Holloway? They’re both former titleholders who’ve beaten everybody aside from recent efforts against their division’s current UFC champions, so can any of us truly say for sure?

Instead, think of the following lists as the fun, goofy uncles compared to Tuesday’s way-too-serious stepdad. While our first exercise this week served a purpose, today’s is mostly here for a good time.

Is Bellator’s two-division champion Patricio Freire a top-10 fighter in the world? What about the PFL’s unbeaten queen Kayla Harrison? Has a long layoff caused Jon Jones to slip from the No. 1 perch he held onto for so long? Your answers will surely differ from ours, but these are the questions MMA Fighting’s eight-person voting panel ultimately set out to determine.

Let’s refresh 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.
  • 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).
  • 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, the debut of our divisional Global MMA Rankings can be seen here.

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


UFC 260: Miocic v Ngannou 2 Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

MEN’S POUND-FOR-POUND

We don’t know if Kamaru Usman’s legacy will ever match that of Georges St-Pierre, but he can now say he’s hit the same rarefied air as the welterweight legend: Pound-for-pound, he’s the best fighter in the world.

Like St-Pierre, Usman faces stiff competition for the title of overall MMA king. While St-Pierre was neck-and-neck with the likes of Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko in his day, Usman is jockeying for position with two of the UFC’s most indomitable champions, Israel Adesanya and Francis Ngannou, and the man who still has yet to actually be defeated in competition, Jon Jones.

Two members of our panel are still sticking with “Bones,” but Usman received the other six first-place votes, placing him firmly at the top with Adesanya and Ngannou close behind. That means our three top pound-for-pound male fighters are all African-born. Could a UFC Africa event be looming on the horizon?

Jones’ fall from the top was undoubtedly affected by his inactivity. He has fought just three times since the start of 2019 and doesn’t appear to have a bout on the horizon as he remains locked in a stalemate at the negotiation table with the UFC.

Nonetheless, Usman is the man to beat right now and that might be the case even if Jones was around to dispute it. The reigning welterweight champion is 14-0 in the UFC and he’s just about cleared out what is historically one of MMA’s deepest divisions. Whether he sticks around to continue his incredible run of title defenses or eventually tries his hand at becoming a two-division champion, Usman has plenty of opportunities to cement his position as MMA’s pound-for-pound best. - Lee

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor (UFC 264, July 10), No. 9 Patricio Freire vs. A.J. McKee (Bellator 263, July 31)


Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

WOMEN’S POUND-FOR-POUND

When you’re an unstoppable force at two weight classes, there isn’t going to be much argument as to where you stand in the pound-for-pound rankings.

If you just credited Nunes for her dominance at 135 pounds, she would have a strong case for being the most accomplished woman in MMA. When you add in her emphatic victory over fellow pound-for-pound great Cris Cyborg and the way she’s casually dismissed the opposition at 145 pounds, that makes for a fine cherry on an already substantial sundae. “The Lioness” hasn’t lost a fight in over six years and outside of a couple of stiff tests from Valentina Shevchenko, she hasn’t really been challenged.

Speaking of Shevchenko, she slides comfortably into the No. 2 spot, having arguably made her opposition at 125 pounds look worse than that of any other defending champion. Hindsight is 20/20 and fans can question whether anyone at flyweight has a shred of a chance to dethrone Shevchenko, but all of her challengers have earned their shots the right way and were worthy of their shot — it just turned out they had no actual chance to beat Shevchenko. She’s just that damn good.

Outside the top 2, we have Rose Namajunas, fresh off of the spectacular head kick KO that won her back the strawweight title, and Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg. Namajunas has no shortage of contenders at 115 pounds and could put together an all-time great résumé over the next couple of years, while Cyborg is suffering from the same problem that has plagued her for the past 15 years: There just aren’t a lot of featherweights that could conceivably beat her. Well, except for Amanda Nunes. - Lee

July bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 12 Juliana Velasquez vs. Denise Kielholtz (Bellator 262, July 16)

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