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The Ringer MMA February Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Who gets the top spot after Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev’s showdown at UFC 284? Here are our updated rankings and a look ahead to next month’s monster card.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When getting involved with pound-for-pound debates, you’re arguing something subjective, irrational, and absurdly speculative. It’s very difficult to imagine a 125-pound Brandon Moreno fighting the heavyweight version of Jon Jones to determine which of them is superior. But that’s the task of P4P rankings. To hypothesize a world where all the best fighters, spanning all weight classes, are created equal in body, so that we can form a pecking order strictly based on skills.

UFC 284 delivered a doozy. The no. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the men’s side, Alexander Volkanovski, took his crack at history by going up a weight class to challenge the no. 2 P4P fighter, Islam Makhachev, for the lightweight title. The fight was brilliantly contested, close enough to qualify as “controversial,” as some people thought Volkanovski did enough to topple the Russian juggernaut, while others thought Makhachev rightfully got his hand raised to retain the title.

Judging by their faces afterward, Volkanovski won. He left Islam in rough shape. Judging by the scorecards, Islam won. The pivotal round ended up being the second, in which the difference was razor-thin. Due to biases, busted parlays, or personal interpretations of the rules, it’s the round nobody can seem to agree on. Everything else was straightforward enough. Islam won the first and fourth rounds, Volkanovski won the third and fifth.

Both fighters weighed in on the scale on the same day prior to the fight, yet when they stepped into the Octagon the size difference was jarring. Islam ballooned up to over 170 pounds, while Volkanovski was his usual hydrant-looking self.

How do you determine who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with all this new information?

The panel of Chuck Mindenhall, Ariel Helwani, Petesy Carroll, and producer Troy Farkas—known as 3PAC on The Ringer MMA Show—took a run at it.

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. That is why you will not see Jones or Henry Cejudo listed among the P4P best, and it’s also the reason erstwhile UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is excluded.

Though most of the best fighters are in the UFC, these rankings are not UFC exclusive. We take into consideration all the major promotions, from Bellator to ONE Championship to the PFL.

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

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1A. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

It’s fitting that after going toe-to-toe for five rounds Volkanovski and Makhachev tied for the top spot on the rankings. Plenty of people thought Volk would get destroyed by the much bigger, power-bombing wrestler who has been coldly dubbed Khabib 2.0—but he didn’t. If they meet again there’s a good chance Volkanovski would be favored, or that the line would end up a pick’em. Though the calls for a rematch are growing by the minute, it seems that Volkanovski is headed back to featherweight for a showdown with Yair Rodriguez, who carved up Josh Emmett at UFC 284 to win the interim 145-pound title.

1B. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

People were surprised that Volkanovski was able to hang because—whether they wanted to admit it or not—they saw Makhachev as a tyrant of the lightweight division. He had finished five straight opponents and seemed to be picking up a lot of steam. To Islam’s credit, he had the thankless task of cooling down the only man with a longer active winning than his own, and he had to do it in Western Australia, where Volk is a national hero. All of us on this panel thought he won the fight. Though maybe he seems a little less invincible than before, he has put together 12 straight wins. Next up, Beneil Dariush if he gets by Charles Oliveira?

3. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

Just two pay-per-view fights after the UFC delivered a legitimate no. 1 versus no. 2 P4P fight at UFC 284, we’ll get a no. 3 versus no. 4 P4P fight at UFC 286 on March 18. This is a rare run of top-flight main events, and Leon Edwards—who in 2022 upset then-no. 1 P4P king Kamaru Usman—has a chance to solidify himself for the ages as England’s best ever if he’s able to win the rubber match. Though there are plenty who still see his victory over Usman as a fluke, Vegas sharps might be telling us otherwise come fight night.

4. Kamaru Usman

Former UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

This has to have been the longest six months of Usman’s life. He’s not only had to watch the clips of himself getting knocked out by Edwards again and again (and again), he’s also looking up at Edwards in the P4P rankings and shaking his damn head. Whatever the case, Salt Lake City is now a house of horrors to the “Nigerian Nightmare,” who was on the verge of breaking Anderson Silva’s record of 16 straight wins in the UFC. That’s all behind him. Now the question is what happens in the trilogy fight in a month, and has he lost the psychological edge?

5. Aljamain Sterling

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

Aljo has been watching all these big-time fights and jonesing a bit to get involved in the action, saying recently he hopes to get a crack at Volkanovski’s belt at some point in the abstract future. There’s a lot of work to be done before he can make that happen. There are fighters like Henry Cejudo out there, slowly making his way toward a return, as well as Chito Vera, and Sean O’Malley. Oh, and there’s Aljo’s training partner, Merab Dvalishvili, creeping up into bantamweight contendership himself, which may expedite a move up in weight at some point to avoid conflict. It seems that just about every 135-pound fighter in the top five has a claim to a title shot.

6. Alex Pereira

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

Well, the trilogy fight with Izzy Adesanya has a date and location: It all will go down at UFC 287 on April 8, in Miami. Pereira was the big surprise of 2022. Though fight game diehards knew he had beaten Adesanya in the kickboxing ring, not too many gave him a chance to overcome Izzy in a cage where so many more weapons can be deployed. He did, and it was pretty epic. In some ways, Pereira’s situation is similar to Edwards’s at welterweight: Both are headed to trilogy fights as the champions, and both will be underdogs come fight night. Many fans are disbelieving in Pereira’s overall ability, and see him as a bit of a Brazilian Cinderella.

7. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

Everything that was written above about Usman also applies to Israel Adesanya—only in his case, it’s New York’s Madison Square Garden that becomes the house of horrors. Adesanya was slaying all the ghosts that had haunted him at UFC 281, beating Pereira from pillar to post, proving that he’s the UFC’s most transcendent star for a reason, occasionally (and astoundingly) donning the singlet to out-wrestle Pereira just to exploit a suspected weakness, sniping, swiping, kicking, and cruising along until … until … damn. He got lit up in the fifth round and saw his belt stolen off his waist. It’s a cruel sport like that. He’ll get one more chance to confront his demons at UFC 287.

8. Charles Oliveira

Former UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

In the last P4P rankings, we said that Oliveira was like the Count of Monte Cristo with bleached-blond hair, and that remains true a month later. He wants another crack at Makhachev, who took his lightweight title at UFC 280. First he has the unenviable task of fighting Beneil Dariush, who has quietly, methodically, and perhaps somewhat alarmingly won eight straight in the division. Dariush is a killer with an unsexy, energy-sucking style. He’s where fancy wheel kicks and beautiful combos go to die. When he beat the golden prospect Mateusz Gamrot in October, it just seemed like he was hell-bent on plowing through anybody the UFC puts in his way. Now in steps Oliveira, who has made it clear he’s a masochist. He wants to fight Dariush and Makhachev back-to-back, which to anybody else might seem like torture.

9. Brandon Moreno

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 9

By closing the book on his four-part rivalry with Deiveson Figueiredo last month, Moreno solidified his spot in the P4P rankings. Now that the beer has dried off from that warm Rio de Janeiro sendoff, he can work on his Lego sets and build up his Funko pop collection while waiting for a contender to emerge. Right now it appears that Alexandre Pantoja might be in the catbird seat, given that he’s on a three-fight win streak and has history with Moreno. Pantoja beat the “Baby Assassin” almost five years ago down in Chile, which is the kind of backstory the UFC likes to market.

10. Jiri Prochazka

Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 10

The UFC’s light heavyweight division has suffered a Hitchcockian spell of vertigo since Prochazka was forced to pull out of his first title defense against Glover Teixeira almost three months ago. First, he surrendered his title, which went up for grabs between Magomed Ankalaev and Jan Blachowicz at UFC 282. After a drowsy draw, the UFC kept the title vacant and put it up for grabs between Teixeira and Jamahal Hill at UFC 283. Hill beat Teixeira (badly), and out of left field now holds Jiri’s title. Five guys have been battling for that title since December. Jiri put out a message to Hill that he’s coming, which was menacing enough until Hill responded with a video of his own saying, “But where you at, tho?”

Others receiving votes: Khamzat Chimaev, Demetrious Johnson

Voting Results

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

Women’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Valentina Shevchenko

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

People had grown more and more comfortable calling Shevchenko the GOAT over the past year, pointing to her ruthless dominance over the course of six flyweight title defenses. Of course, the seventh title defense against the massive underdog Taila Santos wasn’t exactly a rout. In fact, it was so close that some thought Santos won (including Santos herself). When you’re as good as Shevchenko, when you’re like a ruthless machine sent out to destroy everybody in a 10-pound radius of your body shape, a close call can seem cataclysmic. If anything, her fight with Alexa Grasso at UFC 285 has added drama, given that Santos gave the queen a run for her money.

2. Amanda Nunes

UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

They’re jockeying for position in the women’s bantamweight world to get a shot at Amanda Nunes’s title, but a quick perusal through the top five behind the champion is a little uninspiring. Nunes recaptured her title from no. 1 contender Julianna Peña, leaving a trilogy fight on the table if anybody is interested, and she just kind of demolished Raquel Pennington almost five years ago, who sits behind Peña. Nunes turned no. 3 Holly Holm into a piece of vicious B-roll with a headkick KO, and Ketlen Vieira (no. 4) just lost to Pennington. Guess that leaves Irene Aldana as the last option to get that shot? Actually, we’ll go ahead and answer that. Yes, that leaves Irene Aldana to get that shot.

3. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

MMA math is enough to make a fight fan tear their hair out. Carla Esparza has defeated Rose Namajunas twice, once for the inaugural women’s strawweight title, once to overthrow Rose at the height of her title reign later. Namajunas has twice beaten Zhang Weili, once by the head kick that shocked the world to win the title, and once via decision to defend the title. Weili, in turn, just obliterated Esparza to recapture the title; it’s like a hot potato is being passed around by this strawweight Ghidorah. It presently belongs to Weili, and if the UFC wants to keep it with her—to help fan the flames for China’s biggest MMA star—it’ll keep her the hell away from Namajunas. One name that Weili has mentioned is flyweight champ Shevchenko, which would be … bananas.

4. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion; Former UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

Right now, Cyborg is content trotting Bellator’s women’s featherweight belt around to live events, letting everyone know who the champ is. She is looking for a summer return to defend the title, hopefully against former UFC contender Cat Zingano (the same Cat Zingano who once beat Amanda Nunes), which is perhaps the biggest name she could fight other than PFL star Kayla Harrison or boxing sensation Katie Taylor. Cyborg likes to be associated with all these hypothetical fights, but only one thing is certain: At 37 years old, the women’s MMA pioneer doesn’t have a ton of time left to make these big fights.

5. Rose Namajunas

Former UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

When she lost her title to Esparza in May, there was a sneaking suspicion that Rose might disappear for a while and do her own thing. She took 10 months off after losing to Esparza the first time for the inaugural belt in 2014, and then 14 months off after losing her title to Jéssica Andrade. Will she lay low again? It’s back to the old drawing board for Namajunas, who—though it seems like she’s been fighting forever—is only 30 years old. Could she become the first champion in UFC history to win and lose the title half a dozen times? Given the MMA math laid out in the Weili blurb above, I’d put that possibility at around plus-400.

6. Carla Esparza

Former UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

Esparza should be celebrated more than she is. She’s held the title twice, which is a rare feat in itself. She has the nickname “Cookie Monster,” which is among the top 10 monikers out there. Before a fight her demeanor is one of bone-chilling hypnosis, like somebody has been swinging a pocket watch in front of her face while saying, “When you wake up, you’ll be a killer.” Yet for whatever reason, she doesn’t move the needle like the others. Maybe it’s her style or her soft-spoken nature, but whatever the case, she’s still on the list because she won’t be denied.

7. Jéssica Andrade

Former UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

You know what? Andrade doesn’t give a dayum. She’s fought a who’s who in different weight classes and left her mark in all. Now she’s taking on the darling of the flyweight division, the UFC’s undefeated 23-year-old Erin Blanchfield, with five days’ notice because, well … she’s a badass. Should Andrade prevail in this slapdash main event, she’ll shoot right back up into contention. Given that she was at one point the strawweight champion, it’s wild to think that Andrade is hungrier than ever. It’s almost like she wants to not just kick her opponent’s ass, but also knock her former self out for not seizing the moments earlier in her career.

8. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

If you peek at Peña’s journal, you’re likely to make that Shelley Duvall face of dawning horror at the sheer madness of what’s going on. It reads: Nothing’s over until I fight Amanda Nunes again. Nothing’s over until I fight Amanda Nunes again. Nothing’s over until I fight Amanda Nunes again. Nothing’s over until I fight Amanda Nunes again

9. Manon Fiorot

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 9

Things are looking up for Fiorot, who has won all five of her fights in the UFC and is knocking on the door of a title shot. With the UFC booking Shevchenko against Grasso, Fiorot will remain a no. 1 contender in the division. She banged up her knee in her last bout against the overweight Katlyn Chookagian, yet she prevailed anyway. A title shot seems likely at some point in 2023, though, and—if Ciryl Gane doesn’t beat Jon Jones at UFC 285—wouldn’t it be something if Fiorot became the UFC’s first French-born champion?

10A. Larissa Pacheco

Winner of 2022 PFL Lightweight Tournament
Last month: no. 10

She’s an unlikely special guest on the pound-for-pound rankings, but that’s what happens when you beat an invincible force like the Olympian Kayla Harrison. Pacheco was just one of the faceless lot of challengers that the PFL had on hand to feed to Harrison, and it pissed her off. In their third meeting, she ruined a lot of tomorrow’s parties by beating the face of the promotion and shocking the world. (Or, you know, stunning bettors with Harrison parlays.) What does it all mean? That Pacheco gets to take a victory lap while steam blows out of Harrison’s ears. Until they meet again!

10B. Taila Santos

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: not ranked

Santos came superfreakingclose to beating Shevchenko, which can operate as a moral victory when you come in as a no-chance 5-to-1 underdog. Though there was a small outcry for an immediate rematch, Santos was supposed to face Blanchfield this weekend in a main event to determine, for all intents and purposes, a no. 1 contender, but Santos had to pull out because of an injury. Where does that leave her in the pecking order after Andrade and Blanchfield square off at the UFC Apex? On the outside looking in, we’re afraid.

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. Cris Cyborg 4. Cris Cyborg 4. Cris Cyborg 4. Zhang Weili
5. Julianna Peña 5. Carla Esparza 5. Jéssica Andrade 5. Carla Esparza
6. Rose Namajunas 6. Rose Namajunas 6. Rose Namajunas 6. Rose Namajunas
7. Carla Esparza 7. Jéssica Andrade 7. Carla Esparza 7. Jéssica Andrade
8. Jéssica Andrade 8. Julianna Peña 8. Julianna Peña 8. Julianna Peña
9. Larissa Pacheco 9. Tailas Santos 9. Manon Fiorot 9. Manon Fiorot
10. Manon Fiorot 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.