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.
There is only one word to properly describe July: Chaos.
With six major events happening over a four-week span, last month proved to be a month of mayhem for some of the biggest names in mixed martial arts. Top-ranked contenders in six different divisions returned to action, controversial decisions ran roughshod over the sport’s landscape, and the man who may very well be the best non-UFC fighter in the world set fire to his division’s rankings with a coming out party for the ages.
And to top it all off, the clock officially expired on one of MMA’s all-time greats: Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, whose inactivity continues to be the picogram-sized elephant in the room whenever the heavyweight division arises in conversation.
So how did July’s madness 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.
But Saturday is a different story. With No. 3-ranked Derrick Lewis and No. 4-ranked Ciryl Gane slated to duel for the world’s silliest interim title at UFC 265, there will soon be a new top contender for Francis Ngannou’s throne. Will Lewis continue his violent assault up the UFC heavyweight ladder? Or will Gane stamp his ticket to a big-money matchup against his former teammate and training partner? We shall see soon enough.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 11 Chris Daukaus vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov postponed (from UFC Fight Night, July 24, to UFC 266, Sept. 25)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Derrick Lewis vs. No. 4 Ciryl Gane (UFC 265, Aug. 7)
Notice someone missing?
That’s right: Jon Jones, the longtime de facto answer for No. 1 light heavyweight in the world, no longer qualifies for the MMA Fighting Global Rankings. It was inactivity, rather than any opponent, that took Jones out — the former two-time UFC champion hasn’t fought since February 2020. There are many people in the MMA community, including some of our panelists, who would argue that “Bones” is still the man to beat at 205 pounds regardless of his competitive status, but until he fights again he is ineligible to be ranked.
When will that be? It’s anyone’s best guess. And if Jones does return, the assumption is that it’ll be in another division entirely — we expect talks of a Jones vs. Francis Ngannou superfight to rage well into 2021 should nothing come to fruition over the next few months.
Either way, the top spot moving forward at 205 pounds now goes to a fighter more than deserving of the honor: Current UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None.
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: None.
Do we have ourselves a new contender at middleweight?
Sean Strickland continued his unlikely rise from a welterweight also-ran to a legitimate threat at 185 pounds with a dominating five-round performance in his main event matchup against Uriah Hall this past Saturday. Strickland might not exactly be an ESPN posterboy given some of his more outlandish comments, but with four straight wins now since moving up from 170 (including a catchweight victory over Brendan Allen), it should surprise no one if Strickland was in the mix for a title fight in 2022.
Up ahead, there’s a pair of meaningful bouts this month for the middleweight division, as Bellator champion Gegard Mousasi takes on ex-UFC fighter John Salter on August 13, followed by an octagon matchup between Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum one week later.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 12 Sean Strickland def. No. 10 Uriah Hall (UFC Vegas 33, July 31).
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Gegard Mousasi vs. John Salter (Bellator 264, Aug. 13), No. 7 Jared Cannonier vs. No. 12 Kelvin Gastelum (UFC Vegas 34, Aug. 21).
Gilbert Burns took care of business with a workmanlike win over Stephen Thompson, stifling any hopes that “Wonderboy” would present a fresh challenger to nigh-unbeatable welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. The victory won’t earn Burns a rematch with Usman just yet, but by holding his position Burns finds himself in line for another big fight — and he’s already called out the likes of Jorge Masvidal, Leon Edwards, and Nate Diaz.
Looking ahead, the next few weeks have the potential to reshape the bottom half of our 170-pound rankings. Top-10 contenders Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque square off this Saturday at UFC 265, then next week it’s Rory MacDonald vs. Ray Cooper III in the PFL playoffs. Drama!
(One thing to note: Masvidal got caught in the crossfire of the Burns vs. Thompson related movement for a few of our panelists, hence why he dropped without fighting. These sort of shockwave-style shifts happen sometimes with such a big voting panel, so anytime you see fighter movement on these rankings that seems inexplicable, that’s probably the reason.)
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 3 Gilbert Burns def. No. 5 Stephen Thompson (UFC 264, July 10)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 7 Michael Chiesa vs. No. 9 Vicente Luque (UFC 265, Aug. 7), No. 13 Rory MacDonald vs. Ray Cooper III (PFL 2021 #7, Aug. 13).
Conor McGregor is hanging on by a thread.
Outside of just one voter who kept McGregor in their bottom half of the top 10, McGregor’s stock has plummeted to a cliff’s edge after suffering a second consecutive loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. Though the stoppage was due to McGregor breaking his leg, Poirier’s dominance in their lone round of competition in the trilogy fight, plus the indefinite absence that McGregor now faces as he recovers from the injury, along with the depth of the global lightweight division, all but guarantee that the Irishman won’t be long for this list.
Of MMA Fighting’s eight panelists, two have already removed McGregor from their lightweight rankings entirely.
Of course, just one week after Poirier and McGregor tangled, Islam Makhachev continued to plow his way through the 155-pound division with a lopsided trouncing of Thiago Moises. Rising to No. 6 in our rankings, Makhachev is looking like a fighter who will compete for the UFC title sooner rather than later, and he already has his next assignment: A showdown against No. 8-ranked Rafael dos Anjos on Oct. 30 at UFC 267.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Dustin Poirier def. No. 11 Conor McGregor (UFC 264, July 10), No. 7 Islam Makhachev def. Thiago Moises (UFC Vegas 31, July 17)
Bellator has a new featherweight king — and could soon make the case that it promotes the best 145-pound fighter in the world, period.
A.J. McKee fulfilled his destiny at Bellator 263, needing less than a round to rock and choke out two-division champion Patricio Freire. Even McKee’s most ardent supporters had to be amazed that he ran through “Pitbull” like he did. Now that we’ve all seen it, how high can McKee go? His win ignited a fierce debate in the MMA Fighting war room, with half of our panelists awarding McKee the No. 2 spot in the world, and the other half awarding him the No. 3 spot Freire once called home. One has to wonder if McKee sticks around at 145 pounds and logs a couple of dominant title defenses, will there be calls for him to be No. 1?
Also of note: The internal debate between our top-2 featherweights, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway, continues to rage on. After sneaking in one first-place vote from our eight-person panel in July’s inaugural rankings, it seems as if Team Holloway has siphoned away a second first-place vote in this month’s update. More than a year after UFC 251, the controversy over the scoring of Volkanovski vs. Holloway 2 clearly remains a divisive subject.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 A.J. McKee def. No. 3 Patricio Freire (Bellator 263, July 31)
One way or another, T.J. Dillashaw’s return to competition was going to shake up the bantamweight rankings. Of course, this being MMA, it had to happen in the most controversial way possible.
Dillashaw won a highly disputed split nod over Sandhagen at UFC Vegas 32, and while the fight was unquestionably spectacular, there was a vocal segment of the fanbase that was displeased with the judges’ call, as it appeared that Sandhagen finished the fight strong enough to make an argument for the decision. That debate carried over to our panel as well. Three of our eight panelists ignored the judges and ranked Sandhagen over Dillashaw, leaving the two fighters to ultimately be separated by the slimmest of margins.
Regardless, to the victor goes the spoils: Dillashaw debuts with a top-3 spot in our rankings. The former UFC champion is unbeaten in his past five fights at 135 pounds and appears poised to challenge the winner of the upcoming Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan rematch.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): T.J. Dillashaw def. No. 3 Cory Sandhagen (UFC Vegas 32, July 24)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 6 Jose Aldo vs. No. 7 Pedro Munhoz (UFC 265, Aug. 7)
There wasn’t much to report this month in the flyweight division. The bout with the most significance for our rankings, a highly-anticipated fight between No. 3 Askar Askarov and No. 8 Alex Perez scheduled for UFC Vegas 33, was unfortunately cancelled.
Keep an eye on the UFC Vegas 34 matchup between Alexandre Pantoja and Brandon Royval as a dominant win could make Pantoja the next challenger to flyweight champion Brandon Moreno. Pantoja owns two win over Moreno — one of the unofficial variety from The Ultimate Fighter 24, and the other from their rematch at UFC Santiago — so you have to think “The Assassin Baby” is eager to get that one back still.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 3 Askar Askarov vs. No. 8 Alex Perez cancelled (UFC Vegas 33, July 31)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 7 Alexandre Pantoja vs. No. 9 Brandon Royval (UFC Vegas 34, Aug. 21), No. 13 Manel Kape vs. Ode Osbourne (UFC 265, Aug. 7)
There was plenty of action at 135 pounds in July, with Irene Aldana making short work of Yana Kunitskaya (unfortunately Aldana also came in heavy for this contest), Miesha Tate making her successful MMA return, and previously No. 12-ranked Sijara Eubanks making a successful drop back down to 125 pounds. We were also supposed to see the return of Aspen Ladd after a long layoff due to a knee injury, but that bout has now been pushed back to October.
Really, though the top of the rankings were unaffected in the end, you may notice that Amanda Nunes is no longer our panel’s unanimous No. 1-ranked bantamweight. Former UFC featherweight champion and one-time bantamweight title contender Germaine de Randamie took the top spot in one of our panelist’s rankings, with their reason being that Nunes has not competed at 135 pounds within the 18-month window and that her inactivity falls within the parameters of being automatically removed from consideration.
As you can imagine, that ignited quite an outrage among the rest of the panel. While the rest of the voters agreed that Nunes still retaining both of her UFC belts and her outstanding body of work at bantamweight should obviously keep her at No. 1, that apparently was not convincing enough for one rogue panelist. This issue isn’t over, folks.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 Irene Aldana def. No. 6 Yana Kunitskaya (UFC 264, July 10), No. 9 Macy Chiasson vs. Aspen Ladd postponed (from UFC Vegas 32, July 24, to UFC Fight Night, Oct. 2), No. 12 Sijara Eubanks moved to flyweight and def. Elise Reed (UFC Vegas 32, July 24)
No one is unseating Valentina Shevchenko anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a few movers and shakers at 125 pounds last month.
Bellator champion Juliana Velasquez held onto her spot in the top five with a gutsy and close decision win over kickboxing star Denise Kielholtz, Jennifer Maia handed Jessica Eye a third straight loss, and a highly controversial decision in favor of Maycee Barber cost Miranda Maverick the No. 15 spot.
No ranked flyweights are scheduled to compete in August and so we turn our eyes to Shevchenko’s sixth title defense in September, when she takes on worthy contender No. 4-ranked Lauren Murphy.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Juliana Velasquez def. Denise Kielholtz (Bellator 262, July 16), No. 6 Jennifer Maia def. No. 12 Jessica Eye (UFC 264, July 10), Maycee Barber def. No. 15 Miranda Maverick (UFC Fight Night, July 24)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: None.
The top of the strawweight division remains static for now as we await word of whether champion Rose Namajunas will be thrust into a rematch with Zhang Weili or end up in a different rematch altogether with Carla Esparza, the woman who beat her for the inaugural 115-pound championship way back when.
As for the lower half of our rankings, No. 14-ranked Amanda Lemos may not have officially moved up following her destructive win over the unranked Montserrat Ruiz, however she came as close as possible to unseating No. 13-ranked Amanda Ribas, falling just one point short in our internal scoring system after her violent performance.
July results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Amanda Lemos def. Montserrat Ruiz (UFC Fight Night, July 17)
August bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 10 Tecia Torres vs. No. 11 Angela Hill (UFC 265, Aug. 7)