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MMA Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Is Aljamain Sterling a top 5 fighter in the world?

UFC 288: Sterling v Cejudo
Aljamain Sterling
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Welcome to the latest update to the MMA Fighting pound-for-pound rankings, where every month our esteemed panel sort through the noise to answer one question: Who are the best overall male and female MMA fighters in the world?

Aljamain Sterling knocked off another legend at UFC 288, earning a competitive split decision win over Henry Cejudo to defend his bantamweight title and spoil the former two-division champion’s comeback. With a third straight title defense, is it time to give Sterling his respect in the pound-for-pound rankings? And where does Yan Xiaonan land after a fast finish of two-division contender Jessica Andrade?

Let’s take a look, and don’t forget to listen to the MMA Fighting rankings podcast for more info on our rankings process.


UFC 288: Sterling v Cejudo
Aljamain Sterling
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Let’s take a glance at Aljamain Sterling’s recent résumé, shall we?

  • Henry Cejudo: Olympic gold medalist, UFC champion at flyweight and bantamweight
  • T.J. Dillashaw: Two-time UFC bantamweight champion
  • Petr Yan: Widely considered to be Sterling’s foil, Sterling now officially has two wins over him

And those are just the tail end of his current nine-fight winning streak, which also includes a submission of Cory Sandhagen that took less than 90 seconds. You’d be hard-pressed to find many fighters in UFC history who have had a five-year stretch as successful as Sterling’s.

Yet, after a hard-fought decision win over Cejudo at UFC 288 this past Saturday, Sterling doesn’t budge from his No. 7 spot in the MMA Fighting Pound-for-Pound rankings. So what gives?

Some of it has to do with the bizarre circumstances of his title run, which has been defined by wins that one could unkindly describe as “less than satisfying.” His first win over Yan was by disqualification, his second by split decision, and then his one-sided drubbing of Dillashaw was tainted by Dillashaw revealing he essentially fought with one arm. The Cejudo win looks great on paper, but it is dulled ever so slightly when you consider that Sterling beat a 36-year-old coming off of a three-year layoff as opposed to one of the deep bantamweight division’s current contenders.

Then there’s the strength and star power of the names above him. Is it time to move him past Francis Ngannou, whose immediate MMA future is uncertain? What about Israel Adesanya, who recently reclaimed the UFC middleweight title? Or how about Jon Jones, arguably MMA’s greatest fighter, who did what Cejudo failed to do and instantly reclaimed a top-5 spot with a dominant heavyweight title win.

There’s no question that Sterling deserves more respect than he seems to get from the general public, and he’s well on his way to getting it. Should he knock off a few more top names at 135 pounds (Sean O’Malley and Umar Nurmagomedov, perhaps?) or make a successful move up to 145 pounds, it might not be long before “Funk Master” has a case for the No. 1 spot.

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Aljamain Sterling def. Henry Cejudo, No. 11 Demetrious Johnson def. Adriano Moraes, No. 14 (tied) Max Holloway def. Arnold Allen

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 10 (tied) Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush (UFC 289, June 10),

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Johnny Eblen (5), Vadim Nemkov (4), Deiveson Figueiredo (3), Jan Blachowicz (2), Magomed Ankalaev (1), Colby Covington (1), Beneil Dariush (1), Patchy Mix (1), Belal Muhammad (1), Usman Nurmagomedov (1), Alexandre Pantoja (1), Shavkat Rakhmonov (1)


UFC 288: Andrade v Yan
Yan Xiaonan
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Yan Xiaonan has hung on the edge of the pound-for-pound list for years, and she now finds herself in thick of it following her stunning win over Jessica Andrade.

Entering UFC 288, Andrade was No. 8 in our rankings and had a legitimate case to be higher, given that she excelled in two weight classes with impressive champions and contenders. So it should come as no surprise that her loss has vaulted Yan from unranked to No. 10.

Outside of a deflating TKO loss to Carla Esparza, Yan’s UFC run has been incredibly solid, with notable wins over Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Angela Hill prior to this past Saturday’s triumph. Beating Andrade is simply the exclamation point that the Chinese star needed to claim her highest spot yet in our rankings.

A showdown with her countrywoman Zhang Weili could be next, and if Yan pulls off another upset, she’ll complete of the most surprising rises up the charts in years.

Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Yan Xiaonan def. No. 8 Jessica Andrade, No. 12 Liz Carmouche def. DeAnna Bennett

Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana (UFC 289, June 10), No. 18 Seika Izawa vs. Suwanan Boonsorn (DEEP JEWELS 41, May 28)

Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Katlyn Chookagian (5), Lauren Murphy (3), Ketlen Vieira (3), Virna Jandiroba (2), Irene Aldana (1), Seo Hee Ham (1), Marina Rodriguez (1), Juliana Velasquez (1)

Lastly, a refresher on some ground rules:

  • 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.
  • Updates to the rankings will be completed following every UFC pay-per-view. Fighters will be removed from the rankings if they do not compete within 18 months of their most recent bout.
  • 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).

As a reminder, the notion of pound-for-pound supremacy is always going to inherently be subjective. When you’re debating whether someone like Robert Whittaker should be ranked above someone like Max Holloway, there is no true right answer. In other words: It’s not serious business, folks.

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


Where do you rank Aljamain Sterling in the pound-for-pound rankings?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    No. 1
    (2 votes)
  • 19%
    Top 5
    (31 votes)
  • 53%
    Top 10
    (85 votes)
  • 26%
    Top 20
    (42 votes)
160 votes total Vote Now

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