clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ringer MMA May Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Can Aljamain Sterling crack the top five after his big win at UFC 288? Plus, one of the greatest MMA fighters ever makes his return to the men’s top 10.

AP Images/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There were some strange intersections in MMA this past weekend. The original flyweight GOAT, Demetrious Johnson, fought in a rubber match with Adriano Moraes on Friday night—settling the series by defending the 135-pound title in ONE Championship’s first-ever fight card in the United States.

Meanwhile, at UFC 288 in Newark, two men also weighing 135 pounds—known more commonly as bantamweights in the UFC—fought in what amounted to a legacy bout between current champion Aljamain Sterling and returning two-division champion Henry Cejudo.

It was Cejudo, you might remember, who narrowly beat “Mighty Mouse” Johnson back in 2018 to essentially save and revitalize the UFC’s dying flyweight division, thus facilitating the unprecedented trade of Johnson to the Asia-based ONE Championship. Since then, Cejudo has defended the flyweight title against T.J. Dillashaw, moved up to bantamweight to capture a second UFC belt (which he also defended), and took a three-year break from fighting.

Sterling, meanwhile, won the vacant bantamweight title in 2021 and has never looked back. With his victory over Cejudo on Saturday night, he has now strung together a historic nine-fight win streak, the longest in UFC bantamweight history.

What does it all mean? For starters, it solidifies Sterling’s place in the P4P rankings while Cejudo misses his opportunity to regain a spot in the top 10. And Demetrious Johnson? The GOAT of the smaller weights? Guess who’s back in the P4P discussion, baby!

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. That is why you will not see Cris Cyborg (who last fought in April 2022) or Rose Namajunas (who just passed the year mark with her fight last May) on this latest women’s P4P list, and it’s also the reason erstwhile UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is excluded.

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, from Bellator to ONE Championship to the PFL.

Without further ado, The Ringer MMA P4P Rankings for the first half of May.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Jon Jones

UFC Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

It didn’t take long for Jones to remind everyone that he is a finite commodity in the UFC. After making his long-awaited heavyweight debut and winning the vacant title against Ciryl Gane in March, Jones is now teasing the idea that his next fight—presumably against Stipe Miocic in the fall—might well be his last. That is unless … you know … the UFC can coax Francis Ngannou back for the biggest fight in heavyweight history! Jones seems open to hanging around a bit longer if Francis comes back for the massive payday. Where does that leave Sergei Pavlovich, the new contender at heavyweight who has six straight first-round knockouts? In the lurch, that’s where.

2A. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 2A

If anybody was keeping a sideways eye on UFC 288, it was Volkanovski—the man that Henry Cejudo has been gunning for in his quest to become “Triple C,” the UFC’s first three-division champion. But Cejudo sputtered away his chance to move up and face Volkanovski, and besides, Volk is already busy for the foreseeable future. He has a date with interim featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez on July 8 in Las Vegas, the headliner of International Fight Week. After a failed attempt to capture the lightweight title against Islam Makhachev back in February, Volk returns to the place where he’s been an absolute beast: featherweight. And if he wins again in the summer, he’ll be breathing down Jon Jones’s neck in these rankings.

2B. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 2B

To unearth the next challenger to Makhachev’s lightweight title, all eyes will be on UFC 289 in early June, when Charles Oliveira takes on Beneil Dariush. The winner likely earns a date with Dagestan’s latest cage marauder. Perhaps Volkanovski removed a smidge of the terror that comes with stepping in there with Makhachev (Volk more than held his own, and actually was turning the tide late), but there is something about Makhachev’s dark, abyss-like eyes, the Caucasus beard, and the overall icy demeanor that makes a grandiose label like “Khabib 2.0” feel like an understatement.

4. Israel Adesanya

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

With his primary rival Alex Pereira now shrinking in his rearview mirror, Izzy can breathe easy again. He is back on top at middleweight, where he’s right at home. And he’s once again the bullseye for all contenders to train their sights on. The question is, who the hell is next? Sean Strickland has a fight with Abusupiyan Magomedov in July, and Dricus Du Plessis (who has bad blood brewing with Adesanya) is set to face Robert Whittaker at UFC 290. Pereira is conflicted but seems destined for a move up to 205 pounds, and Jan Blachowicz—who has a victory over Izzy at light heavyweight—would need at least six months to whittle his body down into a middleweight frame. Who does that leave? (No, seriously … WHO DOES THAT LEAVE?!)

5. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

UFC 288 was supposed to spotlight a couple of new entries into the Leon sweepstakes, as welterweight contenders Belal Muhammad squared off with the prolific Gilbert Burns. It ended up being a cautionary tale, though. Muhammad beat Burns in a toiling, mundane affair, running his unbeaten streak to 10 in a row. But it also served as a reminder that Muhammad isn’t exactly going to blow the roof off the joint when he fights. It didn’t help that he couldn’t finish Burns, even though Burns tore a ligament in his shoulder early in the fight. So does that re-open the door for a Colby Covington-Edwards fight, as Dana White prophesied over a month ago? Or does the UFC reward Muhammad for stepping in on short notice and winning yet again?

6. Aljamain Sterling

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

At this point you wonder what it’ll take for Aljamain Sterling to get a measure of respect. Not only did he thwart Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 and establish himself as the undisputed bantamweight champion, he scored four takedowns against the Olympic gold medal wrestler. Yet what everyone was talking about after Sterling’s latest title defense was that his teammate—the fun-loving fellow bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili—pranced around wearing Sean O’Malley’s jacket in the Octagon after the UFC brought O’Malley in for a face-off with Sterling. The cascade of boos for Aljo was alarming, and the guess here is that he’ll hear a lot more when he steps in against “Suga” Sean.

7A. Kamaru Usman

Former UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

Somebody might want to check in on Kamaru Usman. There aren’t a lot of people calling out Khamzat Chimaev, yet the former welterweight champ was doing just that recently. “A fight with myself and Khamzat? Boom,” he said. “I’m kind of in a place now where I’m having fun with it, and what’s the biggest, funnest, most intense fight that really makes me feel something? That’s a fight right there—that could headline a pay-per-view.” It’s hard to imagine a fight with Chimaev being fun, but kudos to Usman for turning out his pockets to show how few fucks he has left to give. (UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard should run to the booking board and get this one down before anyone has a chance to have second thoughts).

7B. Charles Oliveira

Former UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

Oliveira was supposed to fight Beneil Dariush in Newark at UFC 288, but the fight was pushed back a month to Vancouver. Not that it’s exactly a stay of execution for the bleached blond Brazilian, but it’s a tall order to try and cool down Dariush, who has won eight straight and honestly has the feel of someone who won’t be denied his title shot. Oliveira has plenty of UFC records, including most submission victories and most finishes, yet you always wonder what’s left to prove for the ex-champ who has done so much already. He’s only 33, yet he’s been fighting in the UFC for 13 years. At some point it all has to take mental and spiritual tolls, right? I mean, right?

9. Demetrious Johnson

ONE Championship Flyweight Champion
Last month: Not ranked

It’s fitting that DJ breaks back into the pound-for-pound conversation just as he hints at retirement, given that there are plenty of those within the fight game who see him as the GOAT in mixed martial arts history. At 36, Johnson is an artist’s artist. You don’t need to be a connoisseur of fistic pleasures to understand just how special Johnson has been in his career. Since losing to Dominick Cruz in 2011 as an undersized bantamweight, Johnson has gone 18-2-1. He shattered the all-time title defense record in the UFC. He’s the only man to ever finish Henry Cejudo. And even when he lost his UFC title to Cejudo in the rematch, it was by the slimmest of squinting margins (many thought Johnson won). The new rules got to him at ONE Championship, as Adriano Moraes knocked him out with a knee when he was grounded (an illegal blow in the UFC), yet he has since avenged himself not once but twice against Moraes. Great? Nah, great barely begins to define DJ.

10. Brandon Moreno

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 9

Moreno finally knows who his next flyweight title defense is against, and it’s once again a familiar foe: Alexandre Pantoja. Moreno fought Pantoja back in 2018 and ended up on the wrong end of the judges’ scorecards. After closing out his epic quadrilogy with Deiveson Figueiredo with a resounding TKO to kick off 2023, the Mexican champ continues his revenge tour. One thing is certain with the “Assassin Baby”—he’s a completely different fighter than the one Pantoja faced five years ago. Since that loss Moreno has gone 7-1-2, facing the who’s who of dynamite in small packages.

Others receiving votes: Alex Pereira, Max Holloway

Voting Results

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

Women’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Amanda Nunes

UFC Bantamweight and Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

For just a minute there, it looked like Nunes would be forced to put an exclamation point on her rivalry with Julianna Peña at UFC 289, but that’s on hold for now. With Peña injured, Irena Aldana steps in to try to dethrone the queen of women’s MMA in Vancouver. The fresh blood perhaps gives Nunes’s next title defense a little more intrigue, especially since Aldana could become the fourth Mexican champion in the UFC (joining Moreno, Yair Rodríguez, and Alexa Grasso), but the “Lioness” will be a vast favorite to retain.

2. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Perhaps we have a clearer indication of who will get the next crack at China’s greatest champion, Zhang Weili. Her name is Yan Xiaonan, who just happens to be China’s greatest contender. With Xiaonan taking out Jessica Andrade at UFC 288, a battle with Weili would do gangbusters if it can be held in China (or at least the UFC’s favorite Chinese proxy, Macau). What are the options otherwise? Another fight with Rose Namajunas, who has beaten Weili twice already? Carla Esparza, whom Weili already beat in New York? Amanda Lemos? None of these names moves the needle like Xiaonan.

3. Alexa Grasso

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

The burden of toppling a long-reigning champion like Valentina Shevchenko is that you’ll inevitably be asked to do it again. Not that Grasso’s UFC 285 upset of Shevchenko came off as a fluke, as she was more than holding her own before applying that ridiculous face crank, but the UFC respects its tenured champions enough to give them a second crack once they lose the belt. Most were sleeping on Grasso’s chances heading into the first fight, but now that she’s proven she has the formula, it doesn’t seem all that wild to think she can do it again. (In fact, there’s a sneaking suspicion that she will.)

4. Valentina Shevchenko

Former UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

Before her loss to Alexa Grasso in March, the last time Shevchenko had tasted defeat was back in 2017 against the women’s GOAT, Amanda Nunes. In that fight, which she lost by split decision, Shevchenko was fighting up at bantamweight, just a little bit out of her comfort zone. What did she do back then? She ripped off a nine-fight win streak, winning the flyweight title from Joanna Jedrzejczyk, postering Jessica Eye with a brutal head kick, and finishing Katlyn Chookagian, Jessica Andrade, and Lauren Murphy with vicious elbows—which I believe in Kyrgyzstan are known as “hellbows.” In other words, she didn’t take to losing kindly. So how will she handle her loss to Grasso? Buckle up.

5. Carla Esparza

Former UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 6A

If you follow the UFC’s official rankings, which are put together by a handful of random strangers loosely affiliated with fighting, Esparza is the no. 1 contender in the strawweight division. That is a misleading piece of information. Esparza is about as far away from another fight with champion Weili Zhang as the proverbial hog from the moon. She will need to beat somebody—and possibly multiple somebodies—before she can re-emerge as a challenger. Now, if the UFC books Yan Xiaonan against Weili, and Xiaonan wins? Esparza does have a victory over Xiaonan, meaning Esparza could then sneak back into the title picture … but you get the feeling the UFC isn’t salivating at the idea.

6A. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

Peña suffered a fractured rib in training, which shelves her chance to get back at Amanda Nunes for the time being. However, you have to think she’s still in a good position to get that fight in the near future. If Nunes takes care of Irene Aldana at UFC 289, Peña represents the biggest “threat” to the throne, having shocked the world once already by taking out Nunes at UFC 269 in 2021. Should Aldana sneak in there and beat Nunes? That would be a double blow for Peña, who might find her place in the bantamweight pecking order—and in the world at large, given how much she obsesses over that Nunes fight—a little confusing.

6B. Erin Blanchfield

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 9

For now the brewing battle between her and Valentina Shevchenko will have to be tabled, as the new object of Blanchfield’s fancy is Alexa Grasso. That’s who has the title, and that’s who wears the target. Yet with the rematch all but certain to take place between Valentina and Grasso, Blanchfield may need to machete her way through another contender. The best bet might be Taila Santos, who nearly beat Shevchenko last summer in Singapore, and who is now sitting behind the 8-ball herself waiting for things to clear up at the top. Blanchfield was supposed to fight Santos back in February, yet when Santos was forced to withdraw due to visa issues with her cornermen, Blanchfield happily plowed right through her replacement, Jessica Andrade.

8. Yan Xiaonan

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: Not ranked

Let’s face it, UFC 288 was a dull affair. The main card produced four decisions in a five-fight offering, leaving any PPV-buying adventure seekers at a loss. Well, wouldn’t you know that the one fight that delivered on the card was Yan Xiaonan’s explosive first-round TKO over Jessica Andrade. It was an eye-opening moment for everyone who has followed Xiaonan’s career. Since coming to the UFC in 2017, she had scored seven victories before UFC 288, and all of them had been decisions. Yet just when you least expected it, boom—she opens up that can of whoop-ass. A title fight with Weili Zhang in China would be tremendous theater.

9. Manon Fiorot

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 10

Fiorot is already primed and ready to fight for a title, but with Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko set for a rematch, she finds herself in the crowded waiting room with Erin Blanchfield and Taila Santos. Maybe she fights one of them in the meantime, or maybe she takes another stay-busy fight against somebody a little lower in the rankings, but with a 5-0 in the UFC, you’d hate to see her slip in the penultimate challenge before getting her shot. She is France’s best chance to get an undisputed UFC champion, yet at 33 years old there’s no time to be lost in that pursuit.

10. Taila Santos

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: Not ranked

And of course there’s Santos, the other pending flyweight contender whose immediate future is cloudy. Santos came super close to defeating Valentina Shevchenko when they fought last year, controlling large patches of action and showing a blueprint on how to bite the “Bullet.” Yet now that Alexa Grasso has finished the job, Santos will need to keep at it a little longer. The fight with Erin Blanchfield is a tough one—as in super freaking tough, as in probably not all that advisable—but what are the options? To be a backup in the Grasso-Shevchenko rematch? (Actually, that might not be the worst idea …)

Others receiving votes: Jéssica Andrade, Amanda Lemos, Larissa Pacheco, Stamp Fairtex

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Amanda Nunes 1. Amanda Nunes 1. Amanda Nunes 1. Amanda Nunes
2. Valentina Shevchenko 2. Zhang Weili 2. Weili Zhang 2. Zhang Weili
3. Zhang Weili 3. Alexa Grasso 3. Alexa Grasso 3. Alexa Grasso
4. Alexa Grasso 4. Valentina Shevchenko 4. Valentina Shevchenko 4. Valentina Shevchenko
5. Julianna Peña 5. Carla Esparza 5. Carla Esparza 5. Carla Esparza
6. Carla Esparza 6. Erin Blanchfield 6. Julianna Peña 6. Erin Blanchfield
7. Erin Blanchfield 7. Julianna Peña 7. Manon Fiorot 7. Yan Xiaonan
8. Yan Xiaonan 8. Yan Xiaonan 8.Erin Blanchfield 8. Manon Fiorot
9. Amanda Lemos 9. Jéssica Andrade 9. Taila Santos 9. Julianna Peña
10. Stamp Fairtex 10. Larissa Pacheco 10. Yan Xiaonan 10: Taila Santos