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MMA Rankings, January 2022 update: Conor McGregor drops out of top 15, Sean O’Malley makes his debut

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 new year is upon us, and with it comes a new rankings cycle. And boy, was this one a doozy. Chaos was the only word to properly describe December 2021, as last year closed out with a remarkable run of upsets, divisional reshuffling, and landscape-altering nights that set the stage for a fascinating 2022 to come.

It also saw the entry of enough new blood to force out several members of the old guard, chief among them two former rivals: Conor McGregor and Frankie Edgar.

So before the fight schedule resumes, let’s first wade through the wreckage left by one of the unpredictable months in recent MMA history.

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.


UFC 269: Augusto Sakai v Tai Tuivasa Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Heavyweight

All rise for our new shoey overlord.

Yes, shoey-vasa mania hit a fever pitch at UFC 269 when Australia’s resident heavy hitter continued his unexpected resurgence with a second-round knockout of No. 13 ranked heavyweight Augusto Sakai. It was Tuivasa’s fourth straight brutal finish, and once again it set off a party inside Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena as shoes and booze joined for another unholy union. Not long ago, “Bam Bam” was on the precipice of receiving his UFC pink slip after suffering three losses in a row. Now he’s the proud owner of Sakai’s No. 13 ranking — and he’s quickly become one of the heavyweight division’s most popular fan favorites.

The old warhorse Derrick Lewis was the only other mover and shaker for the big boys in December, as he sent Chris Daukaus tumbling back down to earth with a record-setting knockout that gave him sole possession of the most knockouts in UFC history.

Looking ahead, January is a month shimmering with gold for the heavyweights, as two — count ‘em, TWO — title unification bouts are set to unfold over the next few weeks. First, No. 1 and No. 3 collide as Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane finally meet at UFC 270. Then, Bellator’s heavyweight crown gets back into the fold when No. 14 Ryan Bader welcomes No. 9 Valentin Moldavsky to a hometown affair in the Arizona desert.

Four men will enter. Only two will leave with their reigns intact.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 Derrick Lewis def. No. 8 Chris Daukaus, Tai Tuivasa def. No. 13 Augusto Sakai

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Francis Ngannou vs. No. 3 Ciryl Gane (UFC 270, Jan. 22), No. 9 Valentin Moldavsky vs. No. 14 Ryan Bader (Bellator 273, Jan. 29)

Fighters also receiving votes: Shamil Abdurakhimov, Alexander Romanov, Fedor Emelianenko, Phil De Fries, Arjan Bhullar, Augusto Sakai, Serghei Spivac, Marcos Rogerio de Lima


Light Heavyweight

It remains all quiet on the northeastern front as we wait to see if Glover Teixeira’s first title defense will indeed be against No. 1 contender Jiri Prochazka, as most expect it to be. However, a lack of any official word didn’t stop another panelist from bumping Prochazka up to the top spot in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, joining two others who had already anointed the former RIZIN star as the man to beat at 205 pounds.

Prochazka is riding an impressive 12-fight win streak and has lost just one fight since 2013, a knockout loss to Muhammad Lawal that he later avenged at RIZIN 15. He’s done more than enough to earn a title shot in any promotion in the world, so should he already be ranked over Teixeira?

Don’t expect much light heavyweight movement for at least another month as only No. 8-ranked Ryan Bader is scheduled to fight in January, and that is in a heavyweight unification bout against Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 273.

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

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 HW Valentin Moldavsky vs. No. 8 Ryan Bader (Bellator 273, Jan. 29, heavyweight bout)

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


Middleweight

Get in on that Andre Muniz stock now.

“Sergipano” was the only ranked middleweight to compete in December, and he made a major impression on anyone who saw his dominant submission victory over Eryk Anders at UFC 269. Utilizing the gentle art in a not-so-gentle way (see: Souza, Jacare), Muniz has won his first four UFC fights and cracked the top 10.

Now, the biggest challenge Muniz faces is finding a higher ranked opponent who is willing to fight him and risk having their arm taken home as a souvenir.

The month ahead provides us with little too look forward to at 185 pounds, but soon there could be a major shakeup as February features the UFC middleweight championship rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, Gegard Mousasi defending his Bellator title against the undefeated Austin Vanderford, plus top-10 ranked Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier competing for the next shot at the UFC title.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 12 (tied) Andre Muniz def. Eryk Anders

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Chris Curtis, John Salter, Nassourdine Imavov, Brad Tavares


Welterweight

Belal Muhammad refuses to be ignored.

The veteran welterweight scored the biggest non-Pena upset of December when he closed out 2021 by routing the division’s No. 5 ranked contender in an absolute stunner. Like it or it not, Muhammad dominated Stephen Thompson with a thoroughness no opponent has accomplished before, hitting seven takedowns against the karate master, controlling nearly 12 minutes of a 15-minute bout on the mat, and even out-landing “Wonderboy” to the tune of a whopping 171-51 advantage in total strikes.

For his efforts, Muhammad leapt from No. 13 into the division’s No. 6 spot — and he already appears to be eyeing his next target: An all-eyes showdown against No. 10 Khamzat Chimaev that could propel the 33-year-old into instant title contention.

Thompson, meanwhile, will be forced to settle in at his new home at No. 8 after losing two straight. At 38 years old, could his latest slump spell the beginning of the end for the two-time UFC title challenger?

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 13 Belal Muhammad def. No. 5 Stephen Thompson

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

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


UFC 269: Oliveira v Poirier
Charles Oliveira
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Lightweight

At last, Charles Oliveira is the undisputed king of the lightweight division ... almost.

“Do Bronx” now owns the No. 1 spot in MMA Fighting’s 155-pound rankings following his submission win over previous No. 1 Dustin Poirier at UFC 269. With the win, Oliveira has now won 10 straight, with nine of those victories coming by way of knockout or submission, and he has toppled the likes of Poirier, Michael Chandler, and Tony Ferguson. By any reasonable measure, he is the best of the best.

However, one panelist has cast their first-place vote for the seemingly indomitable Islam Makhachev. A longtime training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev has won nine straight fights in lopsided fashion and appears poised to claim the championship once held by “The Eagle.” Maybe it’s premature to elevate Makhachev to such a lofty position before he’s even made it past his next opponent Beneil Dariush, or maybe that vote of confidence is ahead of its time.

One other result to note: After a long and winding road, Conor McGregor has finally fallen from his perch in the lightweight top 15, forced out by the dual entries of Mateusz Gamrot and Raush Manfio. Will the former two-division UFC champion ever be ranked again?

That question will have to wait until after he returns sometime in 2022.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Charles Oliveira def. No. 1 Dustin Poirier, Mateusz Gamrot def. No. 11 Diego Ferreira, No. 13 Rafael Fiziev def. No. 12 Brad Riddell

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Arman Tsarukyan, Conor McGregor, Mark O. Madsen, Drew Dober, Ok Rae Yoon, Thiago Moises, Damir Ismagulov


Featherweight

There was only one featherweight bout featuring ranked fighters in December, but it was an important one, especially for its winner Josh Emmett.

Though he’s missed time due to injury, Emmett has quietly put together a strong resume in the loaded featherweight class, and against quality competition too. Emmett is in the midst of a 6-1 stretch with wins over Dan Ige, Shane Burgos, Mirsad Bektic, and Ricardo Lamas, and he brings a fan-friendly style with him to the cage that is catnip for Dana White and the UFC matchmakers. He rises one spot in our rankings to No. 9 — and is likely one more quality win away from barging his way into the title conversation.

Speaking of which, a pair of January bookings feature four fighters that could be talking about a championship opportunity soon. Giga Chikadze, 7-0 in the UFC, looks for a fourth straight knockout victory when he takes on the gritty Calvin Kattar, and Movsar Evloev fights Ilia Topuria in a battle of undefeated, blue-chip prospects.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Josh Emmett def. No. 11 Dan Ige

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 8 Giga Chikadze vs. No. 10 Calvin Kattar (UFC Vegas 46, Jan. 15), No. 14 Movsar Evloev vs. Ilia Topuria (UFC 270, Jan. 22)

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


Bantamweight

Sergio Pettis was less than 10 minutes away from seeing his championship reign end before it even truly began. Then it happened.

Pulling off the most miraculous — if not best — knockout of 2021, Pettis blasted Kyoji Horiguchi with a spinning backfist that one-shotted Horiguchi into oblivion in the fourth round of bout that the RIZIN champion had been handily winning up to that point. It was a heck of a way for the younger Pettis brother to record his first successful defense of his Bellator bantamweight title, not to mention set the stage for the upcoming 135-pound grand prix that is sure to have major rankings implications throughout 2022.

Also, do not adjust your sets: Jose Aldo is a top contender for a UFC title once again.

The weight class might be different, but much of the former featherweight king’s act remains the same. He’s still an absolute killer on the feet with a missile guidance navigation system for a brain — and as he’s done in the past, Aldo has separated himself from the pack by beating three top 15-ranked fighters. It’s 2022 and an Aldo championship appearance could be coming to an arena near you.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Jose Aldo def. No. 5 Rob Font, No. 10 Sergio Pettis def. No. 9 Kyoji Horiguchi, No. 14 Dominick Cruz def. No. 11 Pedro Munhoz, No. 10 FLW Kai Kara-France def. No. 13 Cody Garbrandt (flyweight bout)

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Frankie Edgar, Ricky Simon, Song Yadong, Cody Garbrandt, Raufeon Stots, Patchy Mix, Hiromasa Ougikubo


Flyweight

If Cody Garbrandt was supposed to bring the thunder in his highly-anticipated drop down from bantamweight, Kai Kara-France was more than happy to steal it.

Kara-France proved to be a disastrous matchup for Garbrandt in the former UFC champion’s first flyweight foray, as he starched Garbrandt in under four minutes to notch his second straight first-round finish. The City Kickboxing standout debuted in the UFC with plenty of hype behind him a couple of years ago, and after some early stumbles, he’s made it clear that the buzz was warranted.

He’s not sitting on his laurels either, as next up for Kara-France is a meeting with No. 5 ranked Askar Askarov that could determine who takes on the winner of the Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo trilogy that will be decided in two weeks at UFC 270.

As for Garbrandt, not only does he not make his entry into the flyweight top 15, he has also fallen into the “also receiving votes” section of the bantamweight ranks. A sharp fall from grace for the man who briefly ruled the 135-pound division just five Decembers ago.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Kai Kara-France def. No. 13 BW Cody Garbrandt, No. 12 Manel Kape def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Brandon Moreno vs. No. 2 Deiveson Figueiredo (UFC 270, Jan. 22), No. 8 (tied) Brandon Royval vs. No. 14 Rogerio Bontorin (UFC Vegas 46, Jan. 15)

Fighters also receiving votes: Ali Bagautinov, Danny Kingad, Jeff Molina, Matt Schnell, Amir Albazi


UFC 269: Nunes v Pena
Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Women’s Bantamweight

The women’s 135-pound rankings have easily been the least interesting to discuss since we formed our panel this past July, but that certainly wasn’t the case after UFC 269.

With arguably the greatest upset in MMA history, Julianna Pena turned the bantamweight division on its head, toppling the immovable object that was Amanda Nunes and giving new hope to a lineup of contenders that likely view “The Venezuelan Vixen” as a far less daunting challenge to overcome.

Who Pena’s first challenger will be is anybody’s guess. A Nunes rematch seems inevitable, but Germaine de Randamie already holds a recent win over Pena, and veteran Holly Holm is never far from a title shot. Or it could be fresh faces Irene Aldana or Ketlen Vieira who step into the title picture soon. And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko jumping up in weight for her chance to become a two-division champion. Like de Randamie, Shevchenko has also previously submitted Pena.

How long Pena’s reign will last is unclear, but her place in history is set in stone, so don’t be surprised if she adds to her suddenly sparkling legacy with a few successful title defenses. She’s already shown everyone the folly of betting against her.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Julianna Pena def. No. 1 Amanda Nunes, No. 6 Raquel Pennington def. No. 10 Macy Chiasson

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: None

Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark


Women’s Flyweight

There’s new blood at 125 pounds.

Don’t look now, but Casey O’Neill and Erin Blanchfield have broken through into our rankings, with fellow 2021 UFC debutante Manon Fiorot close behind. All three impressed this past year and they’re generating plenty of buzz heading into 2022, with all three expected to factor into the future of the division.

O’Neill, MMA Fighting’s 2021 Rookie of the Year, finished her first three UFC opponents, capping off her campaign with a second-round TKO of Antonina Shevchenko. Fighting out of Xtreme Couture, the Scottish-Australian fighter could be the next Eric Nicksick pupil to challenge for UFC gold.

At 22, Blanchfield is two years younger than O’Neill, but some see her as the brightest of all the flyweight prospects. “Cold Blooded” is a grappling prodigy with a maturity beyond her years, and if her absolute handling of Miranda Maverick and Sarah Alpar are any indication, she’s going to be a contender for years to come.

Last but not least is Fiorot, who finished just two points shy of a tie with Blanchfield and O’Neill. Fiorot was doing damage on the international scene prior to her octagon debut in January, and the fearsome Frenchwoman could vault over O’Neill and Blanchfield in the prospect standings with a convincing win over one-time title challenger Jessica Eye when they meet in March.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Melissa Gatto def. No. 14 Sijara Eubanks

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Katlyn Chookagian vs. No. 6 Jennifer Maia (UFC Vegas 46, Jan. 15), No. 11 Viviane Araujo vs. No. 13 Alexa Grasso (UFC 270, Jan. 22)

Fighters also receiving votes: Manon Fiorot, Cynthia Calvillo, Jessica Eye, Melissa Gatto, Vanessa Porto, Roxanne Modafferi, Miranda Maverick


Strawweight

We had some controversy this month in the strawweight division as Amanda Lemos narrowly edged out Angela Hill to take a split call at UFC Vegas 45. In a sense, the result was disappointing for both fighters. The always-game Hill (stepping in on short notice, naturally) took another tough loss to fall to 0-4 in her career when reaching a split verdict, while Lemos saw a lot of pundits pumping their brakes on their championship predictions for her after seeing her struggle to put away a hardy veteran.

For all we know, this could have been a valuable teaching moment for Lemos, who won her fifth straight fight and still packs a big punch. Going the distance with Hill is nothing to be ashamed of; in 24 pro bouts, “Overkill” has never been finished by strikes.

The bottom half of the top 15 saw a minor shift due to some major news: The exit of strawweight stalwart Claudia Gadelha. Citing concerns about her brain health, the one-time UFC title contender announced her retirement last month after most recently stepping into the octagon in November 2020.

Before the rise of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, “Claudinha” was considered to be one of the favorites to win The Ultimate Fighter 20 tournament that crowned the UFC’s inaugural 115-pound champion, but concerns over making weight multiple times over a short span led to her bypassing the show to sign directly with the promotion instead. Gadelha fell short in one shot at the title and remained ranked in the top 10 throughout her six-year UFC run.

December results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 12 Amanda Lemos def. No. 13 Angela Hill

January bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 Xiong Jingnan vs. Ayaka Miura (ONE Championship: Heavy Hitters, Jan. 14)

Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Kanako Murata, Stamp Fairtex, Luana Pinheiro

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