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Debuting the Ringer MMA Pound-for-Pound Rankings

It’s time to settle some debates. And maybe start some new ones. Here are the 10 best men and women in all of MMA.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

With so many flawed, biased, or exclusive ranking systems out there, we thought we’d introduce our own with The Ringer MMA Pound-for-Pound Rankings. The panel of Chuck Mindenhall, Ariel Helwani, Petesy Carroll, and producer Troy Farkas—known as 3PAC on The Ringer MMA Show—will vote monthly on both their top 10 men and women, spanning all of mixed martial arts. (In other words, though most of the best fighters are in the UFC, these rankings are not UFC-exclusive. We take into consideration all of the major promotions, from Bellator to ONE Championship to the PFL.)

We’ll discuss the rankings on the podcast and maybe even just a bit on social media. Our only criterion for these monthly lists is that a fighter has competed within at least a calendar year of the publication date or at least has had a fight booked within that window. That is why you will not see Jon Jones or Henry Cejudo listed in our rankings. Until they make their returns, they are excluded.

Without further ado, here are the inaugural Ringer MMA P4P Rankings.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion

Alexander the Great doesn’t just presently own the UFC’s featherweight division, he’s now put the rest of the division’s all-time greats in the rearview mirror. Namely, the original 145-pound king Jose Aldo, whom Volkanovski beat in Aldo’s home city of Rio back in 2019, and Max Holloway, whom he’s beaten on three separate occasions during his title reign. The Australian has transformed from a 200-pound rugby player to the most dominant champion going, and now he’s ready for the ultimate test: Moving up a weight class to take on the new champ there, Islam Makhachev. Speaking of …

2. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion

Sometimes in MMA, you see a guy coming up and you say, “uh-oh.” That was Makhachev, the Dagestan juggernaut whose only loss came seven years ago in his second UFC fight. He is intimidation personified, and the protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He dictates where the fight takes place in the cage, and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Wrestling? He plants trained killers into the earth whenever he wants and tries to take home their limbs as souvenirs (poor Dan Hooker). When he submitted the UFC’s all-time submission leader, Charles Oliveira, to win the lightweight title, it was like the January winds coming off the Caspian Sea. It was cold, cold, cold.

3. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion

Comparisons to Rocky Balboa in the fight game are so rampant that they tend to lose all meaning, but for Edwards it’s apt (which is aided by the fact that his own nickname is actually Rocky). As a soft-spoken contender, it took forever for Edwards to get a chance to fight for a title. Even though he put together a 10-fight unbeaten streak, the Colby Covingtons and Jorge Masvidals of the world kept stealing his chance. When he finally got his shot at Kamaru Usman, it was a foregone conclusion that Edwards was the steak being slid under the door for the lion to consume. By almost all measures, he was losing the fight going into the fifth round at UFC 278. Then, with less than a minute to go, he landed a head kick with his left leg that became not only the biggest moment of 2022, but stands as one of the greatest moments in UFC history.

4. Francis Ngannou

UFC Heavyweight Champion

He raised some eyebrows while defending his heavyweight title against Ciryl Gane back in January at UFC 270. With five straight quick knockouts heading into the bout (four of which came in the first round), it was downright jarring watching him don the singlet and out-wrestle Gane. That was a wrinkle that few saw coming. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Ngannou again this year as he recovers from an injured knee, but a scrap with Jon Jones looms huge in the first portion of 2023. That is, if the UFC can work out a new deal with him (which we think they will).

5. Kamaru Usman

Former UFC Welterweight Champion

Usman would’ve been no. 1 on this list had it come out in early August. He was on the verge of tying Anderson Silva’s all-time mark for consecutive wins (16) and entering GOAT status before he was shocked by Edwards in Salt Lake City. Now, a thousand questions can be asked until the rematch. How does Usman bounce back after his first loss in nine years? Will the knockout have lingering effects on him? Is Leon in his head? Or was Usman—who has ventured into acting, and was talking about boxing Canelo Álvarez—simply overlooking Edwards, kind of like Apollo Creed did with Rocky way back in the day? We’ll find out in the spring.

6. Aljamain Sterling

UFC Bantamweight Champion

At this point, doubt Sterling at your own peril. He was supposed to lose to Petr Yan back at UFC 259, and instead ended up winning the belt due to a disqualification after getting clocked with an illegal knee. It was an unceremonious way to win a title, but he backed it up and got the last laugh when he beat Yan in the rematch. Sterling blew the doors off T.J. Dillashaw his last time out, which was impressive even if Dillashaw was fighting through a debilitating shoulder injury. What’s next? A showdown with former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, who is coming out of retirement to challenge Aljo.

7. Alex Pereira

UFC Middleweight Champion

There was a lot of discussion about Pereira beating Israel Adesanya in kickboxing matches before either guy had set foot in the UFC. Plenty of people saw that as a dramatic—yet irrelevant—back story heading into their clash at Madison Square Garden last month. For four rounds, it felt as though Adesanya was exorcising some demons against Pereira. He was piecing the Brazilian up, and in total control. But Pereira has the conscience of a piranha. He caught Izzy with some shots late, and once he smelled the blood in the water, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (yet again; he did the same thing to Izzy in their second kickboxing fight). Pereira’s the unlikeliest name you’ll find on this P4P list, but—as Ric Flair might say—you’ve got to beat the man to become the man. Pereira did that, and here he is.

8. Charles Oliveira

Former UFC Lightweight Champion

Oliveira’s legendary run from 2018 until this past May was unparalleled. He won 11 straight fights in what is arguably the UFC’s toughest division, and either knocked out or submitted 10 of those opponents. When you look at the list of names on that list it gets all the more impressive, especially the last four: Justin Gaethje. Dustin Poirier. Michael Chandler. Tony Ferguson. These berserkers were buzz-sawing through everyone until they encountered “Do Bronx,” which means he was where hype went to die. Looking at that run—one of the most impressive in UFC history—gives you big-time respect for Islam Makhachev, who put an end to it.

9. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion

He’s still the coolest guy in the UFC. He’s still the guy with the choreographed dance moves, the guy who hiked his leg to mark his territory when he debuted in the UFC, the realest of the real. One loss doesn’t knock Izzy from the P4P rankings, especially when you look at how well he fought through the first four rounds against Pereira. What’s most impressive about Adesanya is the way he lost. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t point any fingers. He didn’t even go after referee Marc Goddard for what some perceived to be an early stoppage. He said he’d see Pereira again, and that rematch—or quadrilogy if you count their kickboxing encounters—is big business for everyone.

10. Jiri Prochazka

Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

It’s a bummer that we didn’t get to see Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira, Part 2 this weekend in Las Vegas; the first clash, which happened back in June in Singapore, was an instant candidate for Fight of the Year. The Czech Republic’s Prochazka is a monster at 205 pounds. He is 3-0 in the weight class since coming to the UFC from Rizin, but all told has 11 straight finishes. With him it’s feast or famine, and he did a little of both against Teixeira. With a shoulder injury sidelining him for a year, he generously vacated his title so that the LHW division could keep trucking along.

Others receiving votes: Khamzat Chimaev, Deiveson Figueiredo

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Alexander Volkanovski 1. Alexander Volkanovski 1. Alexander Volkanovski 1. Alexander Volkanovski
2. Islam Makhachev 2. Leon Edwards 2. Islam Makhachev 2. Leon Edwards
3. Kamaru Usman 3. Kamaru Usman 3. Francis Ngannou 3. Islam Makhachev
4. Francis Ngannou 4. Islam Makhachev 4. Leon Edwards 4. Kamaru Usman
5. Alex Pereira 5. Francis Ngannou 5. Aljamain Sterling 5. Francis Ngannou
6. Aljamain Sterling 6. Aljamain Sterling 6. Alex Pereira 6. Charles Oliveira
7. Israel Adesanya 7. Charles Oliveira 7. Kamaru Usman 7. Aljamain Sterling
8. Leon Edwards 8. Alex Pereira 8. Israel Adesanya 8. Alex Pereira
9. Charles Oliveira 9. Israel Adesanya 9. Jiri Prochazka 9. Israel Adesanya
10. Khamzat Chimaev 10. Jiri Prochazka 10. Deiveson Figueiredo 10. Khamzat Chimaev

Women’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Valentina Shevchenko

UFC Flyweight Champion

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most impressive about Valentina. Is it that she is MMA’s great nomad, who drifts from camp to camp all over the world? Is it the twirling Kyrgyzstani dance she performs after obliterating an opponent? Is it the seven straight flyweight title defenses? The Jessica Eye knockout? The time she out-struck Priscila Cachoeira 230-3? Or that she nearly beat Amanda Nunes at 135 pounds before going on to rule at 125 pounds? The answer is yes. All of the above. A trilogy fight with Nunes would be a hundred times bigger now than it was the last time they met in 2017. She had a close call against Taila Santos her last time out, but part of that was complacency from being a 6-to-1 favorite.

2. Amanda Nunes

UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight Champion

For the longest time Nunes was the undisputed GOAT of women’s MMA, but the landscape has shifted just a bit. When Nunes lost to Julianna Peña to close out 2021, it had the same eeriness as when Buster Douglas toppled Mike Tyson in 1990. Nunes didn’t just beat opponents, she demolished them. She took out the who’s who of women’s MMA royalty, including Ronda Rousey, the bigger Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate, and Holly Holm. She also has two victories over Shevchenko, though those fights were a long time ago. When Nunes took out Peña in their rematch this summer, it made for a very hard discussion when talking about who is the best going in women’s MMA. It also made the need to see Shevchenko-Nunes, Part 3 that much stronger.

3. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion

Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk put on the greatest fight in women’s MMA history in 2020, which left an absurd hematoma on Joanna’s head and a lot of jaws on the floor. Then came Rose Namajunas, who shocked the combat world by knocking Weili out with a head kick in 2021, and scoring a split-decision victory in the rematch. Suddenly you had to wonder if China’s greatest ambassador for MMA had lost something in that war with Joanna. Turns out she didn’t. Since knocking Jedrzejczyk out in the rematch with a spinning backfist, Weili is once again carrying around UFC gold after blasting right through Carla Esparza at UFC 281. She changed her look. She changed her camp. She learned to speak English. She was intriguing when she won the title in 2019, but she’s a bona fide star holding the title in 2022.

4. Carla Esparza

Former UFC Strawweight Champion

Esparza has held the strawweight title on two different occasions, but hasn’t been able to successfully defend it. If it were up to her, the UFC would book her against Rose Namajunas every time out. Esparza has Thug’s number, having defeated her twice to become a champion both times. If there’s a knock on Esparza is that she’s not a fan-friendly watch; most of her victories have come from grinding and toiling to the scorecards. Marketing that kind of style is problematic, even though it has proved effective against just about everyone not named Zhang Weili.

5. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion; Former UFC Featherweight Champion

Cyborg’s first pro MMA fight came in 2005, a full eight years before the UFC introduced women into its ranks. She is a pioneer, and remains one of the most recognizable names in the sport. These days she fights under the Bellator banner, where she’s been reunited with Scott Coker from their Strikeforce days. In every fight she is a decided favorite. We take her dominance for granted, truth be told. She’s still rag-dolling challengers like Sinead Kavanagh and Leslie Smith when she’s not moonlighting in the boxing ring, but you get the feeling that the loss against Amanda Nunes back in 2018 will haunt her forever.

6. Rose Namajunas

Former UFC Strawweight Champion

It feels like Rose has lived a dozen lives in the UFC, and she’s only 30 years old. She was tabbed as the next Ronda Rousey coming off her stint on The Ultimate Fighter, yet she became the first Rose Namajunas when she shocked Joanna Jedrzejczyk at Madison Square Garden in 2017. Since then, the cult of Rose has only grown. The shaved head. The mantras. The hypnotic chants. The two title runs. Rose single-handedly changed Jedrzejczyk’s career, and nearly derailed Zhang Weili’s as well. Does she have a third title run in her? Probably, so long as the UFC keeps her the hell away from Carla Esparza.

7. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion

When Peña called out Amanda Nunes in early 2021, nobody took it too seriously. Nunes had destroyed everyone, and Peña, bless her heart, was just the fresh blood for the UFC to throw in there and keep the title defenses rolling. That’s why it was so shocking when the Venezuelan Vixen dismantled Nunes as a 7-to-1 underdog. It was one of the biggest upsets in a title fight on record, drawing comparisons to when Matt Serra knocked out GSP. Peña’s victory lap was epic, too. She was showing up at all the pay-per-views with her bantamweight title, and her Instagram blew up as well. The inevitable rematch didn’t go her way at all. She lost the title, but not her standing in the P4P rankings. Now a trilogy fight sits on the horizon.

8. Jessica Andrade

Former UFC Strawweight Champion

A perennial contender in two weight classes, Andrade never falls far from the belt she’s chasing. She won three fights in a row in a run-up to challenge Jedrzejczyk back in the day, then won three more en route to another title shot against Namajunas. That slam that rendered Namajunas unconscious to win Andrade the title is an explosive piece of B-roll. It was nasty. She has suffered some losses since (including another title fight, this time against Shevchenko at flyweight), and is once again knocking on the door back at strawweight. Given that she carries so much power in her hands and that she’s only 31, you get the sense she isn’t going anywhere.

9. Manon Fiorot

UFC flyweight contender

The French fighter Fiorot calls herself a “beast,” and that describes it well enough. Since breaking into the UFC in 2021 she has been on a warpath, winning five straight. Now she’s knocking on the door for a title fight with Shevchenko, or at the very least she’s set herself up for a title eliminator should Shevchenko be redirected into a fight with Nunes or a rematch with Taila Santos. In any case, 2023 is setting up to be the Year of the Beast.

10. Taila Santos

UFC flyweight contender

There are very few silver linings in MMA, but going the distance against the women’s P4P best is the rare exception. Brazil’s Santos fought Shevchenko tooth and nail for 25 minutes, and when the scorecards were ready, nobody was quite sure who won the fight. Had the judges seen it the other way and given the fight to Santos, we wouldn’t be talking about a fringe P4P fighter right now. We’d be talking about a top-five strawweight who unwittingly could’ve written the screenplay for Any Given Saturday. For now, a rematch with Shevchenko is the justice she seeks.

Others receiving votes: Amanda Lemos, Larissa Pacheco

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Valentina Shevchenko 1. Valentina Shevchenko 1. Valentina Shevchenko 1. Valentina Shevchenko
2. Amanda Nunes 2. Amanda Nunes 2. Amanda Nunes 2. Amanda Nunes
3. Zhang Weili 3. Zhang Weili 3. Zhang Weili 3. Cris Cyborg
4. Julianna Peña 4. Cris Cyborg 4. Cris Cyborg 4. Zhang Weili
5. Carla Esparza 5. Carla Esparza 5. Rose Namajunas 5. Carla Esparza
6. Rose Namajunas 6. Rose Namajunas 6. Carla Esparza 6. Rose Namajunas
7. Taila Santos 7. Jessica Andrade 7. Jessica Andrade 7. Jessica Andrade
8. Manon Fiorot 8. Julianna Peña 8. Julianna Peña 8. Julianna Peña
9. Jessica Andrade 9. Tailas Santos 9. Manon Fiorot 9. Manon Fiorot
10. Amanda Lemos 10. Manon Fiorot 10. Larissa Pacheco 10. Tailas Santos

Chuck Mindenhall writes about combat sports without bias, and sometimes about his Denver teams with extreme bias. He cohosts The Ringer MMA Show on Spotify.