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The Ringer MMA January Pound-for-Pound Rankings

With Dricus Du Plessis breaking through at UFC 297, things are shaking up in the men’s pound-for-pound MMA rankings

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In a roundabout way, Dricus Du Plessis spurned a lot of haters at UFC 297. A few months back, the South African was public enemy no. 1 for having the audacity to turn down a tight turnaround title fight against then-UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya after he beat Robert Whittaker. The UFC wasn’t too happy with Du Plessis for not jumping at the chance to win a belt.

Of course, we saw how things played out. Du Plessis declining the offer gave way to Sean Strickland, who then shocked the world by upsetting Adesanya at UFC 293, leading to a four-month victory lap that ended Saturday night in Toronto at UFC 297 against … none other than Dricus Du Plessis.

Du Plessis beat Strickland via a bloody five-round decision to win the middleweight title. Now, with a perfect 7-0 record in the UFC and a belt around his waist, he debuts in this month’s edition of the Ringer MMA P4P rankings. Which means that Strickland, who had cameoed in recent months, drops back out.

In other P4P news, there’s finally some movement on the women’s side of the ledger. Throughout the winter, most of the top women in the world of MMA were not booked into fights. Not anymore. The UFC has been on a matchmaking spree in the last few weeks, pairing off fighters who appear in the women’s P4P 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, that fighter is 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 consider all the major promotions, from the Bellator/PFL conglomerate to ONE Championship.

Without further ado, the Ringer MMA P4P rankings for January.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

You need to pay attention to two geographical locations for Makhachev’s 2024 campaign: Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. The latter has had dibs on booking the UFC lightweight champion, as he is the preferred attraction for the UFC’s annual October trek there. Yet now that the UFC has a deal with Saudi Arabia, there’s bound to be a tug-of-war for certain fighters. Saudi Arabia has money to burn. They are paying the UFC $20 million to bring a Fight Night over there that will blow everybody’s mind. Realistically, the UFC doesn’t often do title fights on Fight Nights. But with Saudi Arabia? You get the feeling nothing less than an Islam Makhachev fight will do. (Or, short of that, a no. 1 contender match featuring Khamzat Chimaev.) Who will Makhachev face next? If Justin Gaethje beats Max Holloway at UFC 300 for the BMF title, Gaethje is the man. If Holloway prevails, well, that’s a whole different conversation.

2. Jon Jones

UFC Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Jones is enjoying life on X these days, waxing romantic about his contented station in life and all the glorious things that have happened to him throughout his time growing up in the UFC. Of course, he wasn’t always the company man he seems today. In fact, as documents from the UFC antitrust case are slowly being released, in 2014 Dana White was calling Jones a “scumbag” and a “punk” for his refusal to play ball with their matchmaking efforts. These days, it’s interim heavyweight title holder Tom Aspinall hollering at Jones, hoping for a unifying title fight. And so far, Jones has turned a deaf ear to it, as he has made up his mind that his next fight will be against Stipe Miocic at some point in 2024. Buzzkill.

3. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

One of the great speculations making the rounds across social media is that Dana and Co. will try to book welterweight champion Edwards for its big gala affair, UFC 300, in April. Not exactly an ace up the sleeve, but it’s a fine addition to an otherwise stacked card that already has a title fight (Zhang Weili vs. Yan Xiaonan) and a BMF title fight (Gaethje vs. Holloway). The real problem? It seems to be that the next logical opponent for Edwards is Belal Muhammad, a man who was so anonymous during his come-up that he gave himself an appropriate nickname: “Remember the Name.” So you can see the dilemma. Edwards is at the very peak of his powers, ready to join the canon of great welterweights, and booking a sexy name opposite him is the way to go. That’s why, if the UFC were to book Edwards against … wait, who were we talking about again?

4. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

We’ve seen Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski do some amazing things. He came over as a 200-pound chunker from the world of rugby in Australia to join the 145-pound weight class in MMA, which is some serious yogi shit. If that wasn’t enough, he started winning fights in his whittled-down frame. All the fights, as a matter of fact. Beating legends like Holloway (three times), José Aldo, and Yair Rodríguez, and befriending Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray along the way. It’s been an improbable run. Of course, his attempts to make history as a two-division champion failed twice at the hands of Makhachev, and now Volk’s in a strange place where he finds himself back at featherweight with something to prove. Namely, that he is not on the decline. We will find out as he faces the super-dangerous, extremely handsome Ilia Topuria on February 17 in Anaheim at UFC 298.

5. Alex Pereira

UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

The rise of Alex Pereira is a story to watch in 2024. When he showed up in Toronto to take part in the festivities at UFC 297 this past week, he was met with such adulation and fanfare that he seemed genuinely surprised (though it’s hard to tell, given that his facial expression is set permanently to “blank emotion”). Pereira has a zillion options right now, including facing the bruiser Magomed Ankalaev in his next title defense. That’s where conventional wisdom points, though Pereira’s name is hot on the callout circuit. Du Plessis said he wouldn’t mind fighting Pereira; some fans are already placing Pereira in an interim heavyweight title fight with Aspinall; and then there’s Izzy Adesanya, whom Pereira himself seems to want next, this time at 205 pounds to conclude their trilogy.

6. Tom Aspinall

UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

You could hear the sigh from all the way out in Salford after Aspinall made his case to face Jon Jones and unify the heavyweight title, only to be diverted into the throes of Jones’s Twitterbabble. We can discuss merit all we want, and say that Aspinall vs. Jones is the biggest fight the UFC could make right now, and point out the inarguable merits thusly. But unless Dana White and Jonny Bones are on board with the idea, we’re just wasting our breath. So what happens with a glorified placeholder champion like Aspinall when the actual champ has no interest? (No, seriously, that’s a question we’re hoping you might be able to answer for us …)

7. Sean O’Malley

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

Sean O’Malley is the kind of fighter who can headline a UFC pay-per-view (as he is doing at UFC 299 in March) on the strength of his influencer status alone. With the vibrant, silly-string hair and all the tattoos, “Suga” Sean is tailor-made for today’s attention-grabbing spotlight. More impressive, he’s been kicking some serious ass at bantamweight, and all roads go through his Carny Candy Land version of hell to take the belt. First up is a familiar foe, Marlon “Chito” Vera. Vera won their first fight back in 2020, but only in actuality. O’Malley has since overruled that loss (in his own mind) on the premise that … he didn’t accept it.

8. Dricus Du Plessis

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: n/a

Listen, man, Du Plessis is a hard fighter to figure out. Before he stood in against Strickland for the middleweight title at UFC 297, the most common words to describe Du Plessis’s style were “unorthodox,” “confounding,” and “unconventional.” He comes forward throwing punches like an 18-wheeler that’s lost control down a steep grade, yet there’s a method to that madness; he flattens people by overwhelming them. He didn’t exactly overwhelm Strickland, though. He was poised and measured even as he absorbed about a million jabs, but he kept Strickland on his back foot and did just enough to get the nod on the scorecards. It was a heartfelt moment when the UFC showed a scene in South Africa where his countrymen were celebrating the victory. Now, what’s next? A fight with Adesanya would be a blockbuster, especially given that they hate each other with such a passion.

9. Max Holloway

UFC Featherweight Contender
Last month: no. 8

Wait, wait, wait—hold the fuck up. With the bane of Holloway’s existence, Alexander Volkanovski, finally in a vulnerable spot to cough up the featherweight title and thus free Holloway from the purgatory he finds himself in with that 0-3 deficit against Volk, Max is doing what now? Fighting Gaethje for the BMF title at UFC 300? In a weight class that he looked lost in before against Dustin Poirier? Talk about a risky proposition. Holloway is thinking big with this Gaethje fight, which promises to be full of low-velocity blood spatter. Though it’s tough, let’s be honest—if he loses, this will feel like a mistake. If Holloway wins? Why, he’d look like a genius. At that point, he could either fight Topuria for the featherweight title (if Topuria takes the title from Volk next month) or Makhachev for the 155-pound belt.

10. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 10

Everyone wants a piece of the Stylebender. After Pereira won the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 295 over Jiri Prochazka, who did he call out? Izzy. After Du Plessis took the middleweight title from Strickland at UFC 297, who did he call out? Izzy. Adesanya has many suitors for a guy who swore off the fight game until 2027. That’s a king-sized mojo Adesanya walks around with. Though UFC 300 feels tantalizingly enormous for Izzy’s return, his camp has insisted (as of this writing) that he won’t be ready for that. Whenever he does return, it’ll be big business for the UFC.

Others receiving votes: Demetrious Johnson, Charles Oliveira, Sean Strickland

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. Alex Pereira 5. Alex Pereira
6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall 6. Tom Aspinall
7. Max Holloway 7. Sean O’Malley 7. Sean O'Malley 7. Sean O’Malley
8. Sean O’Malley 8. Dricus Du Plessis 8. Max Holloway 8. Dricus Du Plessis
9. Charles Oliveira 9. Sean Strickland 9. Dricus Du Plessis 9. Demetrious Johnson
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

Five months after she annihilated Amanda Lemos while defending her strawweight title at UFC 292, the UFC finally booked a fight for Weili—she will face off with Yan Xiaonan at UFC 300. Would this fight have been ideal to host in China, where both fighters hail from? Sure! But if the UFC is cool with sacrificing the natural geographical fit to load up its champagne affair at UFC 300, who’s to hate? The civil war here is a fun aspect, but given that both fighters are in their primes, it will be must-see theater.

2. Valentina Shevchenko

Former UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Do you know what happens when you watch a 25-minute sleepy-time slugfest like the co-main at UFC 297 between Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva? You get to reflecting and thinking about life: all the mutations and variations that are out there to be explored. And it got us wondering whether this is the opening Valentina needs to make the jump up to bantamweight, take the title there, and become the face of that division. Imagine that. Amanda Nunes is gone for good. Enter Valentina. Why not? (Or she can just settle the score with Alexa Grasso and stay put at flyweight, where she’s the GOAT. In any case, it’s an excellent time to be Valentina Shevchenko.)

3. Alexa Grasso

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

All signs point to a “threematch” with Shevchenko, which is maybe what Grasso wants. After all, she wasn’t given much of a chance in the first fight with the Bullet, and we saw her take some of Valentina’s thunder with that submission win. If Grasso beats her in the rubber match after that unceremonious draw in September, she will essentially own those legacy rights.

4. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

Cyborg flattened some poor soul named Kelsey Wickstrum in a boxing match out at the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, California, this past weekend. Cyborg likes to stay busy and devour whatever steak is slid under the door at this stage of her career. Yet now that that little bit of business is done, might she take on either Larissa Pacheco or—better yet—Kayla Harrison under the new Bellator/PFL banner? PFL chairman Donn Davis is angling hard for something along those lines. At 38 years old, Cyborg has had one of the greatest careers in MMA history, but she hasn’t been challenged all that much. That could change shortly. A Harrison-Cyborg fight would make the eyes pop out of their sockets.

5. Tatiana Suarez

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 5

Just when it felt like we were about to see the steamrolla known colloquially as the Female Khabib get back in there and smesh somebody into the soft earth, ugh … another setback. Suarez had a fight booked against Amanda Lemos at UFC 298 in what looked exactly like a no. 1 contender’s bout, yet she was forced to withdraw after sustaining an injury. She simply wanted to delay the fight by a few weeks, but the UFC booked Mackenzie Dern in her spot against Lemos instead. Where does that leave Suarez? Somewhere between being the scariest contender currently competing and becoming the greatest “what if” story in MMA history. Here’s hoping it’s closer to the former.

6A. Erin Blanchfield

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6A

Of all the fighters on the UFC’s roster who are on the cusp of stardom, who is ready to take over some top P4P real estate and make people sweat by imagining how far she can go? It’s Erin “Cold Blooded” Blanchfield, that’s who. She is 24 years old and undefeated in six UFC fights. Her next fight is a pure no. 1 contender match against Manon Fiorot in March. Talk about as good as it gets.

6B. Manon Fiorot

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6B

Here we are gushing about Blanchfield’s hostile takeover at flyweight when Fiorot—a French bulldozer who rag-dolled Rose Namajunas her last time out—is slowly cranking up a middle finger at us. Listen, Blanchfield looks the part. She’s a wrestling juggernaut who just wrecks people. But Fiorot is doing the exact same thing, perhaps more quietly only because she’s fought half of her UFC fights overseas. The chance for her to become a household name arrives in March. Beat Blanchfield, and she inherits the bogeyman role.

8. Yan Xiaonan

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 8B

While everyone waited for Weili to get her next title defense booked, Xiaonan sat quietly on the side, mashing her fists into her palms. Not long ago, Xiaonan was 6-0 in the UFC and had a head of steam, yet her world came crashing down at the hands of Carla Esparza. When she lost her next fight against Marina Rodriguez at UFC 272, people began to write her off as a contender. Yet back-to-back wins over Mackenzie Dern and Jéssica Andrade have made the reports of her demise feel a little exaggerated. Xiaonan has looked better than ever in those last couple of fights, and you get the feeling that Zhang will see the best, most dangerous version of the woman they call Fury.

9. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 8A

If anything, Peña’s absence has made the heart grow fonder. UFC 289 was supposed to be about the Venezuelan Vixen, yet she lost the chance for good when she was forced to withdraw from her trilogy fight with Amanda Nunes. Nunes retired after she beat Peña’s replacement, Irene Aldana. UFC 297 should have been about Peña as well. With Nunes gone, the vacant women’s bantamweight title was on the line yet didn’t feature Peña because she wasn’t ready to return from an undisclosed injury. Now that Rocky Pennington holds the title, the division is desperate to find somebody who can be the face of women’s MMA. With that pearly ear-to-ear smile, might Peña be that face?

10. Larissa Pacheco

PFL 2023 Featherweight Women’s Champion
Last month: no. 10

Pacheco, the PFL’s 2023 featherweight tournament champion, is starting off the new year as a pretty hot commodity. 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 seems inevitable at some point, but nobody would be disappointed if Cyborg ends up on her dance card this year.

Others receiving votes: Rose Namajunas, Raquel Pennington

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. Raquel Pennington 9. Raquel Pennington
10. Yan Xiaonan 10. Rose Namajunas 10. Julianna Peña 10. Rose Namajunas