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MMA Rankings, December 2022: Is Sergei Pavlovich destined to become UFC heavyweight champion?

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa v Pavlovich
Sergei Pavlovich
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In the ever-shifting MMA landscape, ranking the world’s greatest fighters might seem like a fool’s errand, but that’s exactly we’ve set out to do with the MMA Fighting Global Rankings. Here, our esteemed panel sorts out the movers and shakers from every division to provide you with the most definitive list of the best fighters on the planet.

With that, let’s take a look at the three biggest rankings storylines from this past cycle (Nov. 13-Dec. 10).


Sergei Pavlovich caps off monster 2022 run by cracking heavyweight top 5

Twelve months ago, Sergei Pavlovich wasn’t a factor in the UFC heavyweight division.

How could he be? The hulking Russian was one of many fighters whose plans were thrown into disarray by the outbreak of COVID-19 — he missed out on three years of his competitive prime due to travel issues as well as an injury. He scored two fast knockout wins in 2019 and just when it looked like he was gaining some traction, he was shelved.

Now, Pavlovich is on a run that is the definition of making up for lost time. He continued his first-round knockout streak this past March, dusting Shamil Abdurakhimov, then followed that up with sub-minute finishes of Derrick Lewis (a controversial stoppage, admittedly) and Tai Tuivasa. By punching out two of the heavyweight division’s preeminent sluggers and putting away his past five opponents inside of a round, Pavlovich has soared all the way to the No. 4 spot in the rankings.

It’s crazy to think that at the beginning of the year, Tuivasa, Tom Aspinall, and Chris Daukaus were all well ahead of Pavlovich in the future contenders’ discussion. Now he might challenge for a title before all of them.

Ilia Topuria has all the makings of a future champion

Ilia Topuria owes the MMA Fighting ranking panel an apology for making us all look silly.

Heading into UFC 282, we collectively had Topuria as the No. 14-ranked featherweight, one spot behind opponent Bryce Mitchell at 13. Not only did this suggest that the two were close in talent, but that Mitchell was actually a notch ahead of Topuria.

Insert Michael Jordan’s “And I took that personally” meme.

Whatever it is that motivates Topuria, he looked for all the world like a fighter who could some day rule over the 145-pound division as he ran through Mitchell for eight lopsided minutes before finishing him with an arm-triangle choke. Topuria is a perfect 13-0 now, has finished all but one of his fights, and will only be 26 years old come January.

In fairness to us, this was Topuria’s only featherweight fight of 2022, with his other appearance being a short-notice lightweight bout against Jai Herbert (that Topuria just happened to win via a spectacular knockout). But you didn’t have to be an expert to estimate that Topuria is a top-10 talent regardless of the weight class he’s competing in.

This cycle, Topuria comes in at No. 9, ahead of veterans like Calvin Kattar and Chan Sung Jung. He’s already calling for a fight with perennial contender Brian Ortega, setting the seeds for a possible featherweight title challenge in 2023.

Dricus Du Plessis and Usman Nurmagomedov on cusp of top-10 spot

Sticking with the topic of fast-rising stars, we have a pair of fighters who clearly have the talent to break into the top 10, but haven’t quite made it over the hump.

Former KSW welterweight champion Du Plessis continued his romp through the UFC middleweight division with a thrilling third-round finish of Darren Till at UFC 282. Till isn’t the best opponent Du Plessis has fought, but his name still has plenty of cachet, enough that a win over him bumps Du Plessis up four spots into a tie for No. 11.

Usman Nurmagomedov officially went from contender to champion, winning a convincing decision over Patricky Pitbull at Bellator 288 to claim a lightweight title and improve to a flawless 16-0. Admittedly, Bellator’s lightweight belt has lost some of its luster since Michael Chandler dropped it to Pitbull’s brother Patricio back in 2019, but it’s still a fine trophy for Nurmagomedov to boast at just 24 years old.

The question now is how impressive will Nurmagomedov’s reign have to be for him to climb past his UFC contemporaries?

Check out the complete December rankings below.


Heavyweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Sergei Pavlovich def. No. 4 Tai Tuivasa, No. 11 Jairzinho Rozenstruik def. No. 15 Chris Daukaus

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 13 Jailton Almeida vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC 283, Jan. 21)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Serghei Spivac (5), Ante Delija (1), Linton Vassell (1)


Light Heavyweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 Jan Blachowicz vs. No. 6 Magomed Ankalaev ends in a draw, No. 5 Vadim Nemkov def. No. 3 Corey Anderson, Anatoly Malykhin def. No. 12 MW Reinier de Ridder (light heavyweight title bout)

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Glover Teixeira vs. No. 10 Jamahal Hill (UFC 283, Jan. 21), No. 14 Paul Craig vs. Johnny Walker (UFC 283, Jan. 21)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Yoel Romero (3), Thiago Santos (2), Johnny Walker (1), Antonio Carlos Junior (1), Khalil Rountree (1)


Middleweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 12 Dricus du Plessis def. Darren Till, Roman Dolidze def. No. 13 Jack Hermansson

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Jared Cannonier vs. No. 11 (tied) Sean Strickland (UFC Vegas 66, Dec. 17), No. 14 Nassourdine Imavov vs. Kelvin Gastelum (UFC Vegas 67, Jan. 14)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Jack Hermansson (2), Kelvin Gastelum (1), Anatoly Tokov (1)


Welterweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Stephen Thompson def. Kevin Holland

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Gilbert Burns vs. Neil Magny (UFC 283, Jan. 21), No. 8 Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. No. 10 Geoff Neal (UFC Vegas 67, Jan. 14)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Neil Magny (3), Kevin Holland (2), Rafael dos Anjos (1), Jason Jackson (1), Jake Matthews (1), Michael Page (1)


Lightweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Rafael dos Anjos def. Bryan Barberena (welterweight bout)

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Arman Tsarukyan vs. No. 15 Damir Ismagulov (UFC Vegas 66, Dec. 17)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Olivier Aubin-Mercier (5), Tofiq Musayev (3), Roberto Satoshi (2), Dan Hooker (1), A.J. McKee (1), Renato Moicano (1)


Featherweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Ilia Topuria def. No. 13 Bryce Mitchell

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Patricio Pitbull vs. Kleber Koike (Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN FF, Dec. 31), No. 4 (tied) A.J. McKee vs. Roberto Satoshi (lightweight bout)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Aaron Pico (2), Adam Borics (1), Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (1), Movlid Khaybulaev (1), Jonathan Pearce (1)


Bantamweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Raufeon Stots def. Danny Sabatello, No. 11 Patchy Mix def. Magomed Magomedov

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 13 Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos (UFC Vegas 67, Jan. 14)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Adrian Yanez (3), Chris Gutierrez (3), Kyoji Horiguchi (2), Danny Sabatello (2), Pedro Munhoz (1)


Flyweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Matheus Nicolau def. Matt Schnell

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Deiveson Figueiredo vs. No. 3 Brandon Moreno (UFC 283, Jan. 21), No. 11 Manel Kape vs. No. 14 (tied) David Dvork (UFC Vegas 66, Dec. 17)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Amir Albazi (3), Ali Bagautinov (3), Rogerio Bontorin (3), Matt Schnell (3), Jeff Molina (2), Danny Kingad (1)


Women’s Bantamweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): N/A

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Ketlen Vieira vs. No. 6 Raquel Pennington (UFC Vegas 67, Jan. 14)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Lina Lansberg (2), Talita Bernardo (1), Chelsea Chandler (1), Julija Stoliarenko (1)


Women’s Flyweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Liz Carmouche def. No. 9 Juliana Velasquez, No. 11 Jennifer Maia def. Maryna Moroz

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Jessica Andrade vs. No. 6 Lauren Murphy (UFC 283, Jan. 21)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Joanne Wood (3), Tracy Cortez (2), Molly McCann (2), Miranda Maverick (1), Amanda Ribas (1), Karina Rodriguez (1)


Strawweight

MMA Fighting

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 13 Angela Hill def. No. 14 Emily Ducote

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: N/A

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Tabatha Ricci (2), Lupita Godinez (1), Luana Pinheiro (1)


A refresher on the 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 (this month: farewell, Gregor Gillespie!). Updates to the rankings are typically completed following each month’s UFC pay-per-view.
  • 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. Additionally, fighters who regularly compete or hold titles in multiple weight classes are eligible to be ranked in multiple lists.

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

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