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.
March was all about the flyweights... with one big exception.
In a month where Kai Kara-France, Manon Fiorot, Matheus Nicolau, and Alexa Grasso all put on impressive performances to shake up the 125-pound landscape, it’s Tom Aspinall who arguably made the most significant leap going from blue-chip prospect to having folks wonder if he might just be the man to bring the heavyweight title to the United Kingdom.
The next major step for March’s victors will likely be decided before the year is through. For now, we must look ahead to a busy April schedule that once again sees all 11 major divisions represented. Notably, UFC champions Alexander Volkanovski and Aljamain Sterling (as well as interim champion Petr Yan) will be in action next weekend at UFC 273, Bellator champion Vadim Nemkov faces off with Corey Anderson in the finals of the World Light Heavyweight Grand Prix, and A.J. McKee and Patricio Freire get ready for their rematch.
Oh, we’re also just 10 days away from welterweight wunderkind Khamzat Chimaev facing the biggest test of his career when he takes on Gilbert Burns.
Don’t forget to listen to the new episode of the MMA Fighting Rankings Show below, where the panel discussed which of Aspinall, Fiorot, or Kara-France could win a UFC title, looked ahead to six upcoming championship bouts and how many times we might hear “and new,” and reflected on a legend exiting the pound-for-pound rankings.
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.
And with that, let’s dive in.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.
Tom Aspinall went from slow and steady to hitting NOS in his race to the front of the heavyweight contenders’ line.
The affable Brit had said on multiple occasions that he was in no rush to challenge for a title, preferring instead to develop at his own pace and hopefully get the chance to show off his full arsenal; instead, Aspinall continued his run of highlight-reel finishes, needing less than four minutes to submit Alexander Volkov (something no one had done in almost 12 years) to improve to 5-0 in the octagon and did so in front of a rabid UFC London crowd.
Aspinall jumped up five spots to No. 7 and now finds himself in the mix among the very elite of the division and with Francis Ngannou’s absence likely precipitating the creation of an interim title, Aspinall’s path to a belt becomes even clearer. There were fighters who made bigger jumps up the rankings this month, but Aspinall arguably boosted his profile the most.
One of the names that Aspinall still has to catch up to is No. 5 Curtis Blaydes. In this past Saturday’s UFC Columbus main event, Blaydes scored an impressive first-round knockout of Chris Daukaus to pick up his sixth win in his past five fights. “Razor” has been circling the top of the heavyweight division for years and the timing could finally be right for him to fight for a title.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Curtis Blaydes def. No. 13 Chris Daukaus, No. 12 Tom Aspinall def. No. 7 Alexander Volkov
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. No. 11 Marcin Tybura (UFC 273, April 9)
Fighters also receiving votes: Arjan Bhullar, Phil De Fries, Fedor Emelianenko, Alexander Romanov
April’s light heavyweight results were mostly about holding serve, though that meant a couple of veterans took some hits in the rankings.
Magomed Ankalaev handily defeated Thiago Santos and Paul Craig punished another opponent for daring to go to the ground with him, resulting in Santos falling out of the top 10 to the No. 11 spot and Nikita Krylov remaining on the outside looking in. The wins also kept Ankalaev in spitting distance of a title shot (he’s a favorite to face the winner of June’s UFC 275 main event between champion Glover Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka), while Craig is creeping into the conversation himself as he extends his six-fight unbeaten streak.
Over in Bellator, Phil Davis continues to chug along. “Mr. Wonderful” made it two straight with a workmanlike decision win over Julius Anglickas and he’s rewarded with a bump up into the top 10 for his efforts.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Magomed Ankalaev def. No. 9 Thiago Santos, No. 11 Phil Davis def. Julius Anglickas, No. 13 Paul Craig def. Nikita Krylov
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Vadim Nemkov vs. No. 5 Corey Anderson (Bellator 277, April 15)
Fighters also receiving votes: Israel Adesanya, Ryan Bader, Antonio Carlos Junior, Nikita Krylov, Tomasz Narkun, Johnny Walker
There isn’t much to report at middleweight this month, with Kevin Holland being the only ranked fighter to compete and it wasn’t even at 185 pounds.
That said, even though Holland was victorious in his UFC welterweight debut against Alex Oliveria, his dual-division status actually ended up hurting him for now as some of our panelists removed him from the middleweight rankings entirely and yet he also doesn’t have enough of a resume at 170 pounds to earn him any votes there. He falls one spot to No. 14 in one of the rare instances where a fighter falls despite coming off of a win.
In other news, the division keeps chugging along with No. 2 Robert Whittaker already looking to bounce back from a disappointing second loss to Israel Adesanya as he faces No. 5 Marvin Vettori at UFC 275 on June 11, and No. 3 Gegard Mousasi — arguably the best non-UFC fighter on the planet — getting set to once again defend his Bellator championship, this time against the undefeated Johnny Eblen at Bellator 282 on June 24.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 13 Kevin Holland def. Alex Oliveira (welterweight bout)
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 13 Kelvin Gastelum vs. Dricus Du Plessis (UFC 273, April 9), No. 10 Andre Muniz vs. No. 12 Uriah Hall (UFC Vegas 51, April 16)
Fighters also receiving votes: Chris Curtis, Johnny Eblen, Nassourdine Imavov, John Salter, Brad Tavares, Chris Weidman
Jorge Masvidal is back with the UFC on a lucrative contract, but it’s unclear where his career is headed after a lopsided loss to his most hated rival.
While the result of their pre-fight trash talk could be considered a stalemate filled with regrettable and occasionally nonsensical lines from both sides, Colby Covington’s clash with Masvidal at UFC 272 was anything but competitive as Covington dominated their main event matchup outside of a brief scare in the fourth round after Masvidal landed a huge right hand. Covington recovered and won. Masvidal lost his third straight.
It’s easy to forget that Masvidal even breaking into the top 10 seemed unlikely two years ago before his fateful knockout of Darren Till in London. A record-breaking flying knee KO of Ben Askren and then a “BMF” title win over Nate Diaz followed and suddenly Masvidal was the hottest name at 170 pounds.
He falls to the No. 14 spot with the loss to Covington. At 37, the only thing more unlikely than Masvidal’s late rise to mainstream stardom would be seeing him somehow become a contender again.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Colby Covington def. No. 11 Jorge Masvidal, No. 13 MW Kevin Holland def. Alex Oliveira
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Gilbert Burns vs. No. 10 Khamzat Chimaev (UFC 273, April 9), No. 5 Vicente Luque vs. No. 6 Belal Muhammad (UFC Vegas 51, April 16)
Fighters also receiving votes: Jason Jackson, Douglas Lima, Geoff Neal, Shavkat Rakhmonov, Roberto Soldic
Rafael dos Anjos held steady, while Dan Hooker took a chance that blew up in his face.
Making the most of another missed opportunity (“RDA” has now seen multiple bookings with Rafael Fiziev and Islam Makhachev fall through), Dos Anjos put an ugly beatdown on replacement opponent Renato Moicano at UFC 272 that kept his hopes of scoring a marquee lightweight opponent alive. Winning a fight you’re supposed to win doesn’t make for the most exciting headline, but it worked out better for dos Anjos than what Hooker tried.
Hooker entered UFC London in the midst of a 1-3 slump and he’d made the decision to return to the featherweight division to get himself back on track. Unfortunately, he was matched up with a determined Arnold Allen. Two and a half minutes into their fight, Hooker added another knockout loss to his record.
With 145 and 155 being two of the deepest divisions in MMA, Hooker now finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place and in the UFC no one is in a hurry to lend you a hand to help you out of that predicament.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 8 Rafael dos Anjos def. Renato Moicano, No. 11 FW Arnold Allen def. No. 13 Dan Hooker (featherweight bout)
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 15 Raush Manfio vs. Don Madge (PFL 2022 #1, April 20)
Fighters also receiving votes: Diego Ferreira, Bobby Green, Conor McGregor, Renato Moicano, Thiago Moises
Arnold Allen found his signature win.
With a powerful first-round TKO of longtime lightweight contender Dan Hooker, Allen added a much-needed highlight to his reel and boosted his UFC record to 9-0. He’s still just outside of the top 10, but that says more about the strength of the division than any shortcomings on Allen’s part (it’s worth nothing that inactivity has limited him to nine fights in seven years).
Entering at No. 12 is Bryce Mitchell, who also sports a flawless UFC record at 6-0. Like Allen, Mitchell has dealt with injuries, but in his first fight since October 2020, the proud Arkansan dominated Edson Barboza and bumped him out of the rankings.
You get the sense that Allen and Mitchell will both get their chance to earn a higher spot with a name opponent in the near future. Assuming they don’t end up fighting each other.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 11 Arnold Allen def. No. 13 LW Dan Hooker, Bryce Mitchell def. No. 13 Edson Barboza
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Alexander Volkanovski vs. No. 7 Chan Sung Jung (UFC 273, April 9), No. 3 A.J. McKee vs. No. 6 Patricio Freire (Bellator 277, April 15)
Fighters also receiving votes: Edson Barboza, Adam Borics, Shane Burgos, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Ilia Topuria
Everyone’s favorite stone-fisted Brazilian brawler is back.
In case you missed it, John Lineker capped off his impressive run through ONE Championship’s bantamweight division with a win over the man who has been a face of the promotion for the better part of the last decade, Bibiano Fernandes. Not only did Lineker take the title, he did so in classic Lineker fashion, putting Fernandes away with strikes in the second round, which made him just the second fighter ever to do that (Fernandes’ only other knockout loss? Urijah Faber in 2006!).
That was Lineker’s fourth win since joining the Singapore-based promotion and his style remains as crowd-pleasing as ever. It looks like he’s finally found a home, one where he can do some damage in the rankings even far from the UFC spotlight.
And don’t look now, but here comes Song Yadong. Just a few months removed from his 24th birthday, the Team Alpha Male prodigy scored the biggest win of his career with a stunning first-round knockout of perennial contender Marlon Moraes. Song claims the No. 12 spot while the formerly No. 11-ranked Moraes falls out of the rankings (and possibly the UFC) with his fourth straight loss via strikes.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Song Yadong def. No. 11 Marlon Moraes
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Petr Yan vs. No. 2 Aljamain Sterling (UFC 273, April 9), No. 6 Rob Font vs. No. 11 Marlon Vera (UFC Vegas 53, April 30), No. 9 Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Patchy Mix (Bellator 279, April 23), No. 15 Juan Archuleta vs. Raufeon Stots (Bellator 279, April 23)
Fighters also receiving votes: Frankie Edgar, Cody Garbrandt, Marlon Moraes, Patchy Mix, Sean O’Malley, Ricky Simon, Raufeon Stots
The top 4 of the flyweight division has pretty much been on lock for the past few years with the champion and No. 1 contender from the UFC and ONE Championship holding down those spots.
You can make it a top 5 now.
Kai Kara-France won a thrilling unanimous decision over Askar Askarov at UFC Columbus to make it three straight following back-to-back knockouts of former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and Rogerio Bontorin. He’s now in a tie for No. 4 with the once-indomitable Demetrious Johnson, an achievement would have been unthinkable not too long ago.
It was undeniably a treat to see Johnson return to action at ONE Championship: X in a special rules match against Rodtang Jitmuangnon that Johnson won by submission, but the fact remains that his only MMA result since October 2019 is a knockout loss to Adriano Moraes. He’s shown no urgency in chasing that rematch, seemingly content to make great money while getting to dabble in other disciplines as he’s always wanted to do, so it’s likely that Johnson will continue to factor out of the rankings. And you know what? He probably couldn’t care less.
As for Kara-France, he’s drawn the attention of champion Deiveson Figueiredo, to the point that there’s an outside chance that Figueiredo’s rumored fourth fight with Brandon Moreno gets pushed to the side so that “Deus Da Guerra” can have a fresh challenge.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 Kai Kara-France def. No. 5 Askar Askarov, No. 10 Matheus Nicolau def. No. 13 David Dvorak, No. 15 Tim Elliott def. Tagir Ulanbekov
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Manel Kape vs. Sumudaerji (UFC Vegas 51, April 23)
Fighters also receiving votes: Amir Albazi, Danny Kingad, Muhammad Mokaev, Jeff Molina, Matt Schnell
You thought Sara McMann is here to be a stepping stone?
The one-time UFC title challenger was matched up with Karol Rosa at UFC Columbus in a bout seemingly designed to give Rosa the chance to take McMann’s spot. Rosa won her first four UFC fights and just beat a past title challenger in Bethe Correia, so she was primed to breathe new life into the top 10.
But the Olympic silver medalist reminded us all why she’s still regarded as the best wrestler in the division and one of its most respected veterans by grinding out a win over the younger Rosa. That’s disappointing news for all you rankings junkies out there who thrive on chaos, but it’s another inspirational moment for McMann, a 41-year-old mother of two.
McMann is likely a gatekeeper at this stage of her career, but as Rosa found out, you might have more fun trying to sneak past the hound of Hades.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 Sara McMann def. No. 12 Karol Rosa
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 6 Raquel Pennington vs. Aspen Ladd (UFC 273, April 9), No. 13 Pannie Kianzad vs. Lina Lansberg (UFC Vegas 51, April 16)
Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark, Stephanie Egger
We’ve written a lot about the next generation of flyweights on the come up. We’re not sure anyone expected them to break through this quickly.
Blink and you might have missed Manon Fiorot making one of the biggest jumps ever in our rankings as she has rocketed up nine spots (just one shy of Tai Tuivasa’s 10-spot jump last month) to No. 6 after defeating Jennifer Maia at UFC Columbus. The French sensation was originally scheduled to fight veteran Jessica Eye, but Eye was forced to withdraw and she was replaced by Maia, an even higher ranked veteran. It seemed inevitable that Fiorot would break into the top 10 this year, but with nine months to go in 2022 she likely isn’t done climbing.
Then there’s Alexa Grasso, entering her prime at 28 years old and having finally found the right weight class after moving up from strawweight. Grasso scored the first submission victory of her career and her first finish in over seven years against a spiraling Joanne Wood and just like that, we have ourselves another intriguing contender at 125 pounds.
Add in Miranda Maverick also getting back in the win column at UFC Vegas 50 and the field of potential flyweight champions continues to grow. Of course, Valentina Shevchenko will probably have something to say about the matter when the time comes.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 15 (tied) Manon Fiorot def. No. 6 Jennifer Maia, No. 14 Alexa Grasso def. No. 10 Joanne Wood
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Jessica Andrade vs. No. 9 SW Amanda Lemos (UFC Vegas 52, April 23, strawweight bout), No. 4 Juliana Velasquez vs. No. 8 Liz Carmouche (Bellator 278, April 22), No. 9 Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Justine Kish (Bellator 279, April 23)
Fighters also receiving votes: Maycee Barber, Jessica Eye, Miranda Maverick, Vanessa Porto, Joanne Wood
Marina Rodriguez took a risk staying busy against a tough opponent in Yan Xiaonan, but after earning a hard-fought split decision over Yan there should be no doubt that she is the No. 1 contender at 125 pounds.
She’ll have to wait for her shot as the UFC finally had the good sense to book a rematch between champion Rose Namajunas and No. 3-ranked Carla Esparza for UFC 274 this May, though should misfortune befall either fighter Rodriguez is the first name the matchmakers will call to step in as a replacement. Outside of a couple of draws and a controversial split decision loss to Esparza, Rodriguez has been the class of the division. The only major disappointment she’s faced is not getting the Joanna Jedrzejczyk bout that she’s been calling for.
Can we say one more time how refreshing it is to see that Namajunas and Esparza are finally booked to fight again? Esparza submitted Namajunas a lifetime ago to become the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion and since then the two have gone on different, winding paths that led them back to each other. We still have to wait another month for it to happen, but it’s about time that Namajunas and Esparza got the chance to add another chapter to their story.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 Marina Rodriguez def. No. 6 Yan Xiaonan
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Mackenzie Dern vs. No. 7 Tecia Torres (UFC 273, April 9), No. 2 FLW Jessica Andrade vs. No. 9 Amanda Lemos (UFC Vegas 52, April 23), No. 15 Jessica Penne vs. Luana Pinheiro (UFC Vegas 53, April 30)
Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Kanako Murata