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Jon Jones continues to reign atop the pound-for-pound list, but he did show some signs of vulnerability at UFC 239.
“Bones” retained his light heavyweight crown in Saturday’s headliner with a split-decision triumph over converted middleweight Thiago Santos. While Jones was the more efficient striker in the 25-minute contest, he absorbed considerable punishment to his legs and needed help exiting the cage after his victory. Losing the first scorecard of his career isn’t enough to warrant a drop in the rankings for the Jackson-Wink MMA star, who could take a fight with serious pound-for-pound implications if he elects to move to heavyweight to face the Daniel Cormier-Stipe Miocic winner down the road. For now, Jones still reigns supreme as pound-for-pound king in our poll.
1. Jon Jones (25-1)For the second time this year, Jones needed five rounds to retain his 205-pound belt in a matchup with a converted middleweight. Unlike his five-round beatdown of Anthony Smith in March, Jones did experience some adversity against Thiago Santos in the UFC 239 main event. The Brazilian striker punished Jones’ legs with low kicks and attacked with aggression throughout their 25-minute encounter but ultimately dropped a split decision to Jonny “Bones.” Upon further examination, Jones might have been more in control than it initially appeared, as he was the far more efficient striker throughout the contest, while Santos often struggled to navigate the reach of his foe. Still, losing a scorecard is a first for Jones, and only time will tell if it’s the beginning of a decline or simply the product of a cautious performance against a dangerous foe.
2. Daniel Cormier (21-1)The best thing you can say about Cormier’s effort at UFC 230 was that it was predictable. “DC” landed multiple takedowns on underdog Derrick Lewis before securing a tapout with a rear-naked choke at the 2:14 mark of the second stanza. Cormier became the first fighter to defend titles from two divisions in UFC history. Cormier previously set March 20 as a retirement date, but lingering issues from a back injury suffered before UFC 230 will force “DC” to fight beyond his 40th birthday.
3. Henry Cejudo (16-2)After a shaky first round, Cejudo turned up the heat on Marlon Moraes in the UFC 238 main event, winning via third-round technical knockout to become the fourth simultaneous two-division champion in the history of the Las Vegas-based promotion. It’s difficult to deny the Olympic gold medalist as one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best given recent wins over Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw and Moraes. “The Messenger” plans on defending on both his flyweight and bantamweight belts – and he even has designs on making an eventual move to 145 pounds. All those plans will likely have to wait until 2020 as Cejudo recovers from shoulder surgery.
4. Khabib Nurmagomedov (27-0)Post-fight shenanigans aside, Nurmagomedov was in prime form against Conor McGregor at UFC 229. He completed takedowns, applied heavy top pressure and generally made life difficult for the knockout-minded Irishman at every turn. “The Eagle” even survived adversity — he lost a round for the first time in his promotional tenure — before tapping McGregor with a neck crank at the 3:03 mark of round four. Nurmagomedov received a nine-month suspension — which can be reduced to six with the production of an anti-bullying PSA — and a $500,000 fine for his role in the post-fight brawl that occurred after the bout. The Dagestani will next defend his title against interim king Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 on Sept. 7.
5. Robert Whittaker (20-4)An emergency hernia surgery forced Whittaker to withdraw from his scheduled title defense against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234. Even more disappointing, that’s twice that “The Reaper” has been forced to pull out of headlining championship fights in his home country of Australia (An injury also forced him out of a proposed matchup with Luke Rockhold at UFC 221.) Whittaker has won nine bouts in a row but is still awaiting his first official belt defense, as his UFC 225 triumph over Yoel Romero was a non-title bout due to Romero missing weight. A title unification bout with interim champ Israel Adesanya will take place at UFC 243 on Oct. 5.
6. Kamaru Usman (15-1)Even those who predicted victory for Usman couldn’t have imagined “The Nigerian Nightmare” being as dominant as he was against Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. Usman claimed the welterweight throne on the strength of five dominant rounds against Woodley, overwhelming his opponent with wrestling, clinch work and top control. In fact, Usman probably deserved more 10-8 scorecards than he received. Nonetheless, Usman has hardware for his trophy case and an ongoing 10-fight winning streak. Usman is targeting a fall return to the Octagon as he recovers from a March surgery that repaired a double hernia.
7. Dustin Poirier (25-5)It took him 22 fights to get there, but Poirier is finally a UFC champion. “The Diamond” went five hard rounds with featherweight king Max Holloway, relying on his power to pull out a unanimous decision triumph in the UFC 236 headliner. Poirier has lost just once in 11 bouts since moving up to lightweight, compiling a resume that includes victories over the likes of Holloway, Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje and Anthony Pettis, to name a few. That path doesn’t get any easier for the American Top Team product, as he now has a title unification bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov officially set for UFC 242 Abu Dhabi..
8. Max Holloway (20-4)For the first time in a long time, Holloway simply couldn’t wear down an opponent. The reigning featherweight king was very competitive in his first lightweight foray at UFC 236, but it was ultimately the power of Dustin Poirier that won the day — and interim 155-pound gold — in Atlanta. The decision defeat brings an end to a remarkable 13-bout winning streak for “Blessed,” who will look to rebound with a successful featherweight title defense against Frankie Edgar at UFC 240 on July 27.
9. Demetrious Johnson (28-3-1)Johnson kicked off his One Championship tenure with a second-round guillotine choke submission of Yuya Wakamatsu in the opening round of the promotion’s flyweight grand prix. “Mighty Mouse” survived a game effort from his unheralded opponent before locking in a power guillotine choke at the 2:40 mark of the second round at One “A New Era” on March 31. A closely contested split-decision setback against Henry Cejudo in his final UFC appearance is Johnson’s only loss since 2011. The AMC Pankration product will look to continue his run through the bracket when he locks horns with Tatsumitsu Wada at One “Dawn of Heroes” on Aug. 2.
10. Tony Ferguson (25-3)It wasn’t necessarily the ending he envisioned, but Ferguson appeared to be well on his way to defeating Donald Cerrone at UFC 238 before the contest was halted prior to round three due to “Cowboy’s” swollen eye. Cerrone certainly got his shots in, but “El Cucuy” utilized his usual multi-faceted offensive approach to land more than 50 significant strikes in both the first and second rounds. With 12 consecutive wins under his belt, there is no more deserving No. 1 contender at lightweight than Ferguson. Merit doesn’t always win out in the modern UFC era, however.
Sherdog’s divisional and pound-for-pound rankings are compiled by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Tristen Critchfield, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Ben Duffy, Jay Pettry, Jacob Debets, Nathan Zur, Kevin Wilson, Edward Carbajal, Jason Burgos, Guy Portman, Anthony Walker, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Mike Sloan, Tom Feely and Adam Martin.