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.
Heading into May, it looked like the rankings could potentially be turned upside down with the return of Henry Cejudo. A win for Cejudo at UFC 288 would rocket him to the top of the bantamweight charts despite being retired for the past three years, an outcome that did not come to fruition as he dropped a split decision to champion Aljamain Sterling.
However, UFC 288 did appear to hand the promotion three title fights on a platter with Sterling later facing off with No. 1 contender Sean O’Malley, Belal Muhammad staking his claim to a crack at either welterweight champion Leon Edwards or pending challenger Colby Covington, and Yan Xiaonan defeating Jessica Andrade to set up a massive fight with fellow Chinese star and strawweight champion Zhang Weili.
Let’s take a look at the biggest rankings storylines from this past cycle (March 20 - May 7) and make sure to listen to the panel explain their process (and investigate one particularly questionable ballot):
Yan Xiaonan, the world title shot is yours
When Zhang Weili shredded Carla Esparza to regain the strawweight title this past November, her 2023 plans seemed pretty clear: A third fight with nemesis Rose Namajunas, who has twice beaten Zhang, a rematch with two-division threat Jessica Andrade possibly, and then maybe take on the returning Tatiana Suarez once she’s back at 115 in earnest.
Yan Xiaonan wasn’t really part of the equation, but after a stunning first-round knockout of Jessica Andrade, you better believe she’s part of the equation. In fact, she might be the answer as to who Zhang will fight next.
Namajunas is nowhere to be seen. Andrade just suffered the aforementioned loss to Yan. And Suarez likely needs a tune-up fight at strawweight before getting her shot at Zhang. Add in the fact that Zhang vs. Yan could draw enormous interest in their home country and it sounds ridiculous not to do it at this point, doesn’t it?
Since she made her UFC debut in 2017, Yan — who jumps from No. 7 to No. 4 this month — has just been putting in steady work and she’s racked up notable wins over Andrade, Mackenzie Dern, Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Angela Hill, among others. A couple of losses definitely tripped up her contender hopes, but she’s quietly been chugging along for the past few years and now there’s no denying that she’s worthy of a title shot.
Belal Muhammad, the world title shot is yours... probably?
First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, Leon Edwards’ next welterweight title defense will be against Colby Covington.
But after that? It’s got to be Belal Muhammad’s turn, right?
One could have made a case for Muhammad before he fought Gilbert Burns at UFC 288, given that he’s on a 10-fight unbeaten run that stretches back to January 2019. Along the way, he handed blue-chipper Sean Brady his first loss, avenged a loss to Vicente Luque, and dominated veterans Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Demian Maia. What he’s been missing is that signature win on his resume and even though his win over Burns was low in entertainment value, that should still count.
Our panel agrees as Muhammad attains his highest ranking yet, bullying his way past Burns and Shavkat Rakhmonov to take the No. 4 spot. That’s one spot behind Khamzat Chimaev, who might not even compete at welterweight anymore, so it’s possible that Muhammad is the most accomplished fighter in the world at 170 pounds right now not named Edwards or Kamaru Usman.
Whether that’s enough to guarantee him a championship opportunity is anybody’s guess because if there’s one thing we can say for sure about Muhammad’s career so far it’s that he’s willing to fight anyone the UFC tells him to even though the matchmakers can’t seem to “Remember the Name” when it comes to title talk.
Is Henry Cejudo top 5?
It’s a simple question: Where do you rank one of combat sports’ greatest champions coming off of a three-year retirement and a narrow split decision loss to the No. 1 ranked fighter in the division?
Henry Cejudo looked great going five rounds with Aljamain Sterling, and while there shouldn’t be too much controversy around the scoring — other than what was going on with Derek Cleary’s Round 5 card that, uh, cost Cejudo the title — Cejudo performed like a fighter who has a good chance to beat anyone at 135 pounds right now. That said, a loss is a loss, which makes ranking him difficult.
At least that was the case for one panelist, who declined to return Cejudo to the rankings altogether. The other seven placed him anywhere from No. 3 to No. 7, which gave him enough points to land in the No. 6 spot in our consensus rankings, just outside the top 5.
The argument for Cejudo is that just based on the eye test, he’s clearly still one of the best in the world, and when he retired he was unquestionably No. 1 with back-to-back wins over Dominick Cruz and Marlon Moares. Even in defeat, he still resembled the man who won two UFC titles in his prime.
One argument against Cejudo is that his body of work in the UFC at 135 is shallow. It’s Cruz, Moraes, and... Dustin Kimura. That’s it. Does that merit an immediate return to the top of the charts after not competing since 2020?
Fans seem to think so, with 80 percent of voters on MMA Fighting’s YouTube channel placing Cejudo in the top 5 and only five percent voting that he shouldn’t be ranked. Regardless, the ball is in Cejudo’s court. If his callout of Merab Dvalishvili comes to fruition and goes his way, no one will be able to deny his greatness.
Check out the complete May rankings below.
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Sergei Pavlovich def. No. 4 Curtis Blaydes
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Jailton Almeida vs. No. 13 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (UFC Charlotte, May 13)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Phil De Fries (6), Ante Delija (1), Alexandr Romanov (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Rob Wilkinson def. No. 15 Thiago Santos
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Vadim Nemkov vs. Yoel Romero (Bellator 297, June 16), No. 6 Corey Anderson vs. No. 9 Phil Davis (Bellator 297, June 16), No. 8 Anthony Smith vs. No. 11 Johnny Walker (UFC Charlotte, May 13), No. 15 Rob Wilkinson vs. Will Fleury (PFL 4, June 8)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Paul Craig (3), Yoel Romero (2), Thiago Santos (2), Antonio Carlos Junior (1), Khalil Rountree (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Israel Adesanya def. No. 1 Alex Pereira
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Marvin Vettori vs. No. 6 Jared Cannonier (UFC Vegas 75, June 17), No. 7 Gegard Mousasi vs. Fabian Edwards (Bellator 296, May 12), No. 13 Brendan Allen vs. Bruno Silva (UFC Jacksonville, June 24), No. 15 Nassourdine Imavov vs. Chris Curtis (UFC 289, June 10)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Andre Muniz (4), Jack Hermansson (2), Kelvin Gastelum (1), Anatoly Tokov (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 6 Belal Muhammad def. No. 5 Gilbert Burns
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: N/A
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Logan Storley (2), Neil Magny (2), Jason Jackson (1), Michael Page (1), Michel Pereira (1), Daniel Rodriguez (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 15 Olivier Aubin-Mercier def. Shane Burgos
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Charles Oliveira vs. No. 3 (tied) Beneil Dariush (UFC 289, June 10), No. 10 Arman Tsarukyan vs. Joaquim Silva (UFC Vegas 75, June 17)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Renato Moicano (4), Matt Frevola (2), Roberto Satoshi (2), Alexander Shabliy (2), Joel Alvarez (1), Drew Dober (1), Tony Ferguson (1), Dan Hooker (1), Christian Lee (1), Tofiq Musayev (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Max Holloway def. No. 5 (tied) Arnold Allen, No. 10 Movsar Evloev def. Diego Lopes, No. 14 Brendan Loughnane def. Marlon Moraes
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Patricio Freire vs. Sergio Pettis (bantamweight championship bout) (Bellator 297, June 16)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Aaron Pico (4), Dan Ige (2), Edson Barboza (1), Adam Borics (1), Jeremy Kennedy (1), Movlid Khaybulaev (1), Jonathan Pearce (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Aljamain Sterling def. Henry Cejudo, No. 5 Cory Sandhagen def. No. 6 Marlon Vera, No. 7 Rob Font def. No. 15 (tied) Adrian Yanez, No. 9 Patchy Mix def. No. 10 Raufeon Stots, No. 12 Song Yadong def. No. 14 Ricky Simon
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Sergio Pettis vs. Patricio Pitbull (Bellator 297, June 16)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Danny Sabatello (4), Ricky Simon (3), Juan Archuleta (2), Chris Gutierrez (1), Jonathan Martinez (1), Adrian Yanez (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 2 Demetrious Johnson def. No. 4 Adriano Moraes,
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 14 David Dvorak vs. Matt Schnell (UFC 289, June 10), No. 15 (tied) Tim Elliott vs. Victor Altamirano (UFC Vegas 74, June 3)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): John Dodson (4), Matt Schnell (2), Rogerio Bontorin (1), Danny Kingad (1), Jeff Molina (1), Tatsuro Taira (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 5 Holly Holm def. No. 7 Yana Santos, Norma Dumont def. No. 8 Karol Rosa (featherweight bout), No. 10 Sara McMann def. Arlene Blencowe (featherweight bout)
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Amanda Nunes vs. No. 6 Irene Aldana (UFC 289, June 10)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Talita Bernardo (3), Melissa Dixon (3), Joselyne Edwards (3), Chelsea Chandler (1), Julija Stoliarenko (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Yan Xiaonan def. No. 5 Jessica Andrade (strawweight bout), No. 8 Liz Carmouche def. DeAnna Bennett, No. 15 Maycee Barber def. Andrea Lee
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 12 Amanda Ribas vs. No. 15 Maycee Barber (UFC Jacksonville, June 24)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (1), Miranda Maverick (1), Kana Watanabe (1), Joanne Wood (1)
Recent results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Yan Xiaonan def. No. 4 Jessica Andrade, No. 12 Virna Jandiroba def. No. 6 Marina Rodriguez, Luana Pinheiro def. No. 13 Michelle Waterson-Gomez
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Mackenzie Dern vs. No. 13 Angela Hill (UFC Vegas 73, May 20)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Emily Ducote (4), Gillian Robertson (2), Michelle Waterson-Gomez (2), Lupita Godinez (1), Tabatha Ricci (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. 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.