clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ringer MMA December Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Leon Edwards didn’t just leave his mark on Colby Covington at UFC 296—he flashed the kind of poise that makes you wonder how far he can go. How high does he climb in this month’s rankings?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Think about what Leon Edwards was going up against on Saturday night at UFC 296. Not only was he taking on the rakish Colby Covington, a peruke-wearing revolutionary who was threatening to wrestle him to death, but he was staring down an entire political party. Dana White rolled up to the T-Mobile Arena with his best good buddy Donald Trump, who was supposedly there to wrap the middleweight belt around Colby’s waist when it was all said and done.

Though it was an emotional affair, especially with Covington taking cheap shots at Leon’s late father in the lead-up to the fight, Edwards played the spoiler in Las Vegas. He sniped Covington with precision strikes and reduced Covington’s pressure game into a frustrating mess of second-guessing. It wasn’t an entertaining fight by any stretch, nor was it competitive. Edwards proved that he is the best thing going at welterweight, and whoever he faces next—whether it’s Belal Muhammad, Shavkat Rakhmonov, or somebody else—will have to overcome one of the UFC’s fiercest strikers.

With that masterful performance, Edwards moves up in our end-of-year pound-for-pound rankings. As always, the panel of Chuck Mindenhall, Ariel Helwani, Petesy Carroll, and producer Troy Farkas—known as 3PAC on the Ringer MMA Show—have ranked both the men’s and women’s P4P best, one through 10.

Our only criterion for these monthly rankings is that a fighter has competed within at least a calendar year of the publication date, or has at least had a fight booked within that window. If a fighter hasn’t competed in a year and books a fight after that time, he or she is once again eligible to be voted back in.

Fighters who retire are no longer eligible for the rankings.

Though most of the best fighters are currently in the UFC, these rankings are not UFC-exclusive. We take into consideration all the major promotions.

Without further ado, the Ringer MMA P4P Rankings for December.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

Sitting cageside for UFC 296 this past weekend were a couple of well-behaving lads who, in the not-so-distant future, will look to reduce each other to rubble and ash. Islam Makhachev, the UFC’s lightweight king, was within spitting distance of Justin Gaethje, the man who is likely to face him next for his title. It’s a tantalizing fight in that Gaethje—who holds the UFC’s inventive BMF title—is a fearless, free-swinging marauder with next to no sense of self-preservation, and Makhachev always shows up with mayhem on his mind. This fight can’t get here soon enough.

2. Jon Jones

UFC Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Jones has achieved living-legend status in the UFC. People talk about being at his early fights like dads from the 1970s talk about the Stones. As we approach UFC 300, it’s almost ridiculous to remember that Jonny Bones was all the rage 14 years ago at UFC 100, the milestone card on which he submitted Jake O’Brien at the Mandalay Bay. He had just come off suplexing the beloved Stephan Bonnar through the canvas earlier in 2009, and people had him circled as a future champion. Now, here we are in 2023 and Jones still holds a freaking title. At some point, Dana White assures us, he’ll get that final fight against the best heavyweight of all time, Stipe Miocic.

3. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

At 32 years old, Edwards is at the very peak of his powers. For the longest time he was an abstract threat in a division in which he couldn’t sniff a title shot. All he did was stockpile wins between 2015 and 2022, yet nobody took him overly seriously until he forced the UFC’s hand by refusing to lose. Toppling Kamaru Usman to win the title at UFC 278 has a rightful place in fight game lore. And now that he’s defended his title against Usman and beat the brakes off of Covington, the ever-distracted fight public is casting a drowsy eye at him with a bit of wonder. How far can he take this? The guess here is pretty damn far. He landed an astounding 75 percent of his strikes in the third Usman fight, and treated Covington like his own personal whipping post.

4. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

The year 2023 has played out like an epic miniseries for Alexander the Great. To kick it off, he moved up to lightweight to challenge Islam Makhachev for the chance to win a second title. Though it was extremely close and set the fight game’s imagination on fire, Volk ultimately lost the bout. In the middle act, he rebounded to beat Yair Rodríguez back at featherweight, reminding everyone that he is still the king until further notice. Then, in the ill-fated final act of the year, he took a short-notice fight to rematch Makhachev in Abu Dhabi and this time got knocked out. By the end, it was the story of a man overcoming his own mental health issues from the perspective of a proud champion. What does that mean for his next fight, which takes place at UFC 298 in February against the extremely dangerous Ilia Topuria? Suffice to say that the suspense is real.

5. Alex Pereira

UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

Speaking of wild years, how about the roller-coaster ride that Pereira has taken us on? He lost the middleweight title back to Israel Adesanya in April, which ultimately sent him packing to light heavyweight. In his first fight at 205 pounds, he took a narrow split decision against the behemoth Jan Blachowicz. Then, after Jamahal Hill vacated his title due to an injury, Pereira stepped in to face-off with Jiri Prochazka to seize it. It was a fight that featured one of the most batshit crazy staredowns of all time, and Pereira not only won the LHW title at Madison Square Garden (which he owns, by the way, with a perfect 3-0 record), he emerged as one of the UFC’s biggest stars. How’s that for a crazy trajectory?

6. Tom Aspinall

UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

There are rumors that the UFC could be headed to England in the spring. With Leon Edwards retaining the welterweight title and Tom Aspinall having broken through to win the interim heavyweight title, the UFC could put on the most celebrated card in U.K. history by featuring them together. While that possibility remains at large, the question as to whom Aspinall will face in his first interim title defense is also intriguing. The UFC made a fight between Curtis Blaydes and Jailton Almeida for UFC 299 in March, which could produce the next contender (though it wouldn’t line up schedule-wise for an Aspinall fight in England). Does the UFC look to Ciryl Gane? At some point will we get a unifying title fight between Aspinall and Jon Jones? There are so many questions heading into the new year at heavyweight.

7. Sean O’Malley

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

UFC 299 is shaping up to be a good one. It was announced over the past week that Geoff Neal will face Ian Machado Garry, Mateusz Gamrot will square off with Brazilian OG Rafael dos Anjos, and Kevin Holland will welcome the long-limbed British virtuoso Michael “Venom” Page to the UFC. Yet the fight at the top of the card might end up being the best of all. “Suga” Sean O’Malley is a string bean of a bantamweight with facial tattoos and snow-cone hair. Yet when he faces off with Ecuador’s Chito Vera in his first title defense, the cult of personalities may pop the lid off the Kaseya Center in Miami. The UFC would love the O’Malley era to rage well into 2024, but Chito derailed the Suga train once already; who’s to say he won’t do it again?

8. Max Holloway

Former UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

Max Holloway will be the most invested spectator when Volkankovski and Topuria square off at UFC 298. The Hawaiian icon currently finds himself in a state of matchmaking purgatory. Because Holloway has already lost three times to Volkanovski, his only real path back to a title would be for Topuria to overthrow the current featherweight champ, which would thus spring Holloway from his catbird seat. Should Volkanovski beat Topuria, Holloway may re-explore a move back up to lightweight in search of a proper marquee matchup, or perhaps settle for a fight against Josh Emmett, the man who flatlined Bryce Mitchell at UFC 296 in what will surely be nominated for Knockout of the Year.

9. Sean Strickland

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 9

One of the most memorable fights from UFC 296 on Saturday wasn’t a sanctioned bout, and it didn’t even count on anybody’s pro record. Sean Strickland got into a fracas with Dricus Du Plessis in the stands, the same Dricus Du Plessis he’ll be facing with regulatory oversight at UFC 297. Strickland and the South African exchanged words before Strickland calmly unleashed a barrage of strikes on Du Plessis, while the UFC feigned horror before escorting Strickland out. Assault? Hell no! This is the good shit! The UFC teased footage of the encounter and later showed it on the pay-per-view broadcast, just as proud as they come. Why not? The bad blood B-roll for the UFC 297 promos has now been secured.

10. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 10

Big fights will be there for Adesanya when he’s good and ready to return. Right now it’s about taking a step back and letting things play out. Izzy was one of the UFC’s most active champions during his reign at middleweight, and if we’re being honest, it probably caught up to him at UFC 293 when he lost his title to Strickland. The good news is that he still has the “it” factor, and his name will stay very hot on the lips of contenders and champions alike. In fact, when Pereira won the vacant light heavyweight title in November, the first thing he did was invite his old rival up to settle things in a trilogy fight.

Others receiving votes: Demetrious Johnson, Charles Oliveira

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev
2. Jon Jones 2. Leon Edwards 2. Jon Jones 2. Jon Jones
3. Leon Edwards 3. Alexander Volkanovski 3. Alexander Volkanovski 3. Leon Edwards
4. Alexander Volkanovski 4: Jon Jones 4. Leon Edwards 4. Alexander Volkanovski
5. Alex Pereira 5. Alex Pereira 5. Sean O’Malley 5. Alex Periera
6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall
7. Max Holloway 7. Max Holloway 7. Alex Pereira 7. Sean O’Malley
8. Sean O’Malley 8. Sean O’Malley 8. Sean Strickland 8. Demetrious Johnson
9. Charles Oliveira 9. Sean Strickland 9. Max Holloway 9: Sean Strickland
10. Israel Adesanya 10. Israel Adesanya 10. Israel Adesanya 10: Max Holloway

Women’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

The question for Zhang Weili as we close out 2023 is the same one we’ve been asking since she dominated Amanda Lemos on August 19: Will it be Yan Xiaonan, in a mega all-China showdown at strawweight? Or Tatiana Suarez, in a clash between the immovable object (Weili) and the unstoppable force (Suarez)? In either case, Weili will have her hands full. And until then, she retains the top spot in the women’s P4P rankings.

2. Valentina Shevchenko

Former UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Is it possible that the “Bullet” is being set up to return at the blowout UFC 300 card in April? It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. Shevchenko did her part to overthrow her nemesis Alexa Grasso in September, but the end result was a controversial split draw. With an asterisk hovering so heavily over that result, the trilogy magnifies things quite a bit. If there was any concern about Valentina’s odometer (she’s 35 years old), she put those fears to bed on Mexican Independence Day.

3. Alexa Grasso

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

Even if she prevailed by way of a blind judge’s scorecard, Grasso is the last great Mexican champion going. It’s unusual for a champ to become an afterthought in the division she rules, but there’s a little bit of that happening here given the nature of that last fight. It might work to Grasso’s advantage. In her first fight with Shevchenko, Grasso was presented as a kind of turnstile contender, a warm body to toss in as prey for the queen. We all saw what happened that time. Grasso came in with a chip on her shoulder and shocked the world. Third verse, same as the first?

4. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

With the PFL’s purchase of Bellator, the partition has come down to one of the biggest fights possible outside the UFC: Kayla Harrison versus Cris Cyborg. Will it happen? It would seem silly if the PFL missed this opportunity. Cyborg is 38 years old and vacillating between the boxing ring and the cage. Her window for a super fight is closing. Kayla has faced all of the anonymous fighters she can, and has made millions doing it. Why risk losing another fight before cashing in on the Cyborg fight? It has to happen, is what we’re saying. It has to freaking happen!

5. Tatiana Suarez

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 5

Will Suarez fight Zhang Weili for a title next? Will she face-off with Yan Xiaonan in a true title eliminator? Or does she face somebody like Amanda Lemos next? It’s possible that Suarez could end up on the tight-lipped UFC 300 card, given that A) she’s generally considered to be the female Khabib, B) she’s 10-0 and looks inevitable as a UFC champion, and C) she crushes the souls of everyone she comes into contact with. A fight with Weili would be downright stupid. And we mean that as a contronym, meaning extremely awesome.

6A. Erin Blanchfield

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6

One of the buzz names to keep in mind as we head into 2024 is Blanchfield, the 24-year-old flyweight contender who also happens to be a bringer of ruin. She carries the name “Cold Blooded” as a badge of honor. And if you saw her ragdoll Taila Santos in her last fight … and if you caught her treating former champion Jéssica Andrade like so much silly putty … and if you saw her knock the stuffing out of Molly “Meatball” McCann … well, you know why. She is going right through every challenge with a kind of diabolical smile on her face, and here’s thinking she’ll be wearing UFC gold in the new year.

6B. Manon Fiorot

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 7

Similar to what’s happening at strawweight, the flyweight division has a logjam at the top. In this case, it looks all but certain that Grasso and Shevchenko will need to settle the score for the title, leaving Blanchfield and France’s own Manon Fiorot in a perfect setup. Sometimes the UFC doesn’t love sticking two surging contenders against each other, thus killing one of them off before they can be marketed into a title fight. But it’s got to be tempting here. Fiorot is 11-1 with a perfect 6-0 record in the UFC, and Blanchfield is 12-1 with a perfect 6-0 record in the UFC. The symmetry—as well as the style clash—would be incredible.

8A. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

You get the sense that Peña has all but recovered from Amanda Nunes’s abrupt retirement and all the associative pain that comes with accepting that trilogy fight will never happen. And you get the feeling that Peña is at least coping with the idea that she won’t be the immediate heir apparent at bantamweight, either, as the UFC has announced that Raquel Pennington will face Mayra Bueno Silva for the vacant 135-pound title. Being left out due to injuries is a lot to deal with, but soon enough Peña will have her chance to turn the spotlight back where it belongs.

8B. Yan Xiaonan

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 10

Apologies if we sound like a broken record, but the question for Yan Xiaonan as we close out 2023 is the same one we’ve been asking since she knocked out Jéssica Andrade on May 6: Will she fight Zhang Weili for a title, or take on Tatiana Suarez in a title eliminator at 115 pounds? Xiaonan has been relegated to playing a wait-and-see game for UFC matchmakers. It’s a shame, too, because Xiaonan has looked very good in her last two victories over Andrade and Mackenzie Dern.

10. Larissa Pacheco

PFL Featherweight Champion
Last month: Not ranked

Look who is sliding back into the women’s P4P rankings to end the year! It’s Larissa Pacheco, the PFL’s 2023 featherweight tournament champion. Brazil’s own just keeps winning. Since dropping a decision to Kayla Harrison to close out 2019, she has compiled 10 straight victories—including a revenge win over Harrison, and the million-dollar bounty win over Marina Mokhnatkina last month. A fourth fight with Harrison may be on the docket in the not-so-distant future, but in the here and now Pacheco has proven she belongs among the very best in the world.

Others receiving votes: Rose Namajunas

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili
2. Valentina Shevchenko 2. Cris Cyborg 2. Alexa Grasso 2. Valentina Shevchenko
3. Alexa Grasso 3. Alexa Grasso 3. Valentina Shevchenko 3. Cris Cyborg
4. Cris Cyborg 4. Valentina Shevchenko 4. Tatiana Suarez 4. Alexa Grasso
5. Tatiana Suarez 5. Tatiana Suarez 5. Cris Cyborg 5. Tatiana Suarez
6. Erin Blanchfield 6. Manon Fiorot 6. Manon Fiorot 6. Erin Blanchfield
7. Manon Fiorot 7. Erin Blanchfield 7. Erin Blanchfield 7. Manon Fiorot
8. Julianna Peña 8. Larissa Pacheco 8. Yan Xiaonan 8. Yan Xiaonan
9. Larissa Pacheco 9. Julianna Peña 9. Julianna Peña 9. Rose Namajunas
10. Yan Xiaonan 10. Rose Namajunas 10. Rose Namajunas 10: Larissa Pacheco