Welcome to the latest update to the MMA Fighting pound-for-pound rankings, where every month our esteemed panel of experts sort through the noise to answer one question: Who are the best overall male and female MMA fighters in the world?
For years, Demetrious Johnson was the epitome of pound-for-pound excellence.
The smallest champion on the UFC roster, Johnson’s domination of the flyweight division was once so absolute that it became undeniable that “Mighty Mouse” belonged at the front of any discussion of the most skilled fighters in combat sports. From June 2012 to October 2017, he won 13 straight fights, defended his UFC title a record 11 straight times, and did so with such technical perfection that his name is still spoken in hushed tones despite being three-and-a-half years removed from the UFC.
However, Johnson has not won an MMA contest since October 2019 (his recent win over Rodtang Jitmuangnon at ONE Championship: X came in an MMA-muay Thai hybrid bout) and the competition he’s faced in Asia is not as well-known stateside as his past opponents. That’s left the door open for Johnson to slide down MMA Fighting’s Pound-for-Pound rankings, and this month, he’s finally exited, replaced by the infamous Colby Covington.
Some would call Covington the polar opposite of Johnson in terms of demeanor, but he’s the clear-cut No. 2 guy in the deep welterweight division, and that was enough for our panel to bump Johnson out in favor of “Chaos.”
Long overdue? Or does it just feel wrong to not have Johnson ranked here? Take a look at the rest of the list and judge for yourself.
Don’t forget to listen to the newest episode of the MMA Fighting Rankings Show, where the panel chose an eventual UFC title winner among Tom Aspinall, Manon Fiorot and Kai Kara-France, looked ahead to six upcoming championship bouts, how many times we might hear “and new,” and reflected on the legendary Demetrious Johnson exiting the pound-for-pound rankings.
Quickly, a refresher on some ground rules before we dive in:
- The 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.
As a reminder, the notion of pound-for-pound supremacy is always going to inherently be subjective. When you’re debating whether someone like Stipe Miocic should be ranked below someone like Max Holloway, there is no true right answer. So while our MMA Fighting Global Rankings serve some sort of actual, functional purpose — pound-for-pound lists? They’re just here for a good time. In other words: It’s not serious business, folks.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.
Again, take a look at that list: It’s just weird without Demetrious Johnson on it, isn’t it?
Still, it’s hard to argue against Colby Covington’s inclusion on the list given the run he’s been on over the past few years. Even before he adopted the brash persona that made him cheap headline fodder, Covington had established himself as one of the toughest outs in the welterweight division, and he certainly merited pound-for-pound inclusion when he rattled off consecutive wins over top-10 contenders Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, and Robbie Lawler.
Even his defeats to Kamaru Usman have only confirmed what everyone already knows: He’s a phenomenal fighter who’s good enough to beat anyone at 170 pounds – except the absolute best of the best. He deserves credit for coming much closer than most to toppling Usman. How high Covington can climb in the charts without ever getting over that hump remains to be seen.
One major note worth mentioning that you astute readers may have noticed is that Usman is no longer our unanimous No. 1, as one first-place vote has gone to UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
We asked this anonymous voter to explain their reasoning:
The reality is this swap should have come sooner and honestly, I probably should’ve moved Usman below Ngannou as well. The way I do my pound-for-pound ranking is basically via scoring system, taking into account their wins over ranked opposition.
Both Usman and Adesanya have four wins over top-5 opponents in their respective weight classes, but Usman’s other ranked wins are two over Masvidal, our No. 14 welterweight and one over Rafael dos Anjos, currently a top-10 lightweight. In contrast, Adesanya’s other ranked wins are two over Derek Brunson, currently a top-10 middleweight, and one over Kelvin Gastelum, a top-15 middleweight. I don’t dock Adesanya for losing up a weight class, especially since Usman hasn’t ever made the jump, and so everything stands pretty clearly in favor of Adesanya’s current strength of schedule.
Francis Ngannou is where I may have screwed up. He also has four top-5 wins (Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic, Curtis Blaydes x 2) and two top-10 wins (Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alistair Overeem), plus a top 15 win (Junior dos Santos), but he also has two divisional losses, which I ultimately felt slotted him behind Usman. As I continue to refine my methodology, though, that may change in the future.
With Usman having cleared out his division and Ngannou on the shelf for the near future as he recovers from knee surgery, it’s Adesanya who next has the chance to strengthen his case when he presumably fights Jared Cannonier soon.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 20 Demetrious Johnson def. Rodtang Jitmuangnon (ONE Championship: One X, March 26, custom rules bout)
April bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Jung (UFC 273, April 9), No. 10 Petr Yan vs. No. 15 Aljamain Sterling (UFC 273, April 9), No. 12 A.J. McKee vs. No. 18 (tied) Patricio Freire (Bellator 277, April 15)
Another month with no movement to report on the women’s side of the Pound-for-Pound rankings, but don’t blame Marina Rodriguez for that.
The No. 14-ranked Rodriguez stayed busy in March, taking a fight against a tough opponent Yan Xiaonan, who had a lot more to gain with a win than Rodriguez. In the end, Rodriguez took a split nod, keeping herself in line to face the winner of the recently booked Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza rematch that goes down at UFC 274 on May 7.
No. 20-ranked Seo Hee Ham also maintained her pound-for-pound status with a unanimous decision win over Denice Zamboanga at ONE Championship: X to put their controversial first fight behind her. At that same event, Angela Lee defended her ONE atomweight title for a fifth time with a submission of the popular Stamp Fairtex.
Lee is still on the outside looking in, but for the first time she has registered votes with four members of the MMA Fighting panel including her on their ballot.
This month features two key Pound-for-Pound matchups with two-division standout No. 7 Jessica Andrade dropping back down to 115 pounds to fight Amanda Lemos and No. 12 Juliana Velasquez looking to stay undefeated as she defends the Bellator flyweight title against No. 17 Liz Carmouche.
March results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Marina Rodriguez def. Yan Xiaonan (UFC 272, March 5), No. 20 Seo Hee Ham def. Denice Zamboanga (ONE Championship: One X, March 26)
Fighters also receiving votes: Julia Budd, Sarah Kaufman, Angela Lee, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Raquel Pennington, Larissa Pacheco, Taila Santos, Leslie Smith, Ketlen Vieira, Michelle Waterson, Xiong Jing Nan, Yan Xiaonan