Ben Duffy/Sherdog illustration
Dustin Poirier might be the biggest Justin Gaethje fan in the world come this fall.
“The Diamond” returned to the win column at UFC on ESPN 12, earning a thrilling five-round verdict over Dan Hooker at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. After some rough moments in the opening 10 minutes, Poirier found his footing through accurate power punching, solid takedown defense and an active submission game to maintain his hold on the No. 10 spot in our latest pound-for-pound poll.
Given that Poirier was soundly defeated by reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 242 this past September, it’s likely that he will be pulling for Gaethje — a man he already defeated — to upset “The Eagle” in their title unification bout later this year. If it happens, Poirier might very well be next in line for another crack at UFC gold.
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0)Nurmagomedov needed less than 15 minutes to dispatch Dustin Poirier at UFC 242, and he made it look astonishingly easy. “The Eagle” overwhelmed his opponent with takedowns and pressure from the outset of the bout, gradually wearing Poirier down until he secured the rear-naked choke submission at the 2:06 mark of Round 3. Nurmagomedov’s long-anticipated date with Tony Ferguson remains cursed, as their headlining bout at UFC 249 was scrapped after the Dagestani fighter was stranded in Russia due to travel restrictions designed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Nurmagomedov is expected to face new interim king Justin Gaethje, though a date for that title unification bout remains unclear..
2. Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC)The competition is catching up to Jones, but it hasn’t surpassed him just yet. “Bones” survived by the skin of his teeth at UFC 247, as he edged Dominick Reyes in a unanimous verdict in the evening’s headliner at the Toyota Center in Houston. In a fight that many observers scored in favor of Reyes, Jones was able to sway the judges’ scorecards with consistent forward pressure and a strong push in the championship rounds. The hard-fought triumph gives Jones 14 victories in championship fights, the most in the history of the Las Vegas-based promotion. Seemingly unmotivated by the thought of another 205-pound title defense, Jones has engaged in a very public negotiation with the UFC over a possible heavyweight fight with Francis Ngannou. The progress thus far has not been promising, as Jones went on social media to say he has vacated his title following a spat with Dana White.
3. Henry Cejudo (17-2)Cejudo became only the second fighter in promotion history to successfully defend titles in two divisions at UFC 249 when he defeated Dominick Cruz via second-round technical knockout in the evening’s co-main event at VyStar Veteran’s Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. After the victory, the Olympic gold medalist made a surprising retirement announcement, citing a desire to start a family. Retirements often don’t last in MMA, but if it holds up, “Triple C” ends his career with a six-fight winning streak that includes triumphs over Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes and Cruz. The UFC is taking the announcement seriously, as Cejudo’s belt has been vacated..
4. Stipe Miocic (19-3)Down on the scorecards after three rounds, Miocic showed the ability to adjust at UFC 241, as he attacked Daniel Cormier’s body to set up a fourth-round technical knockout victory in their rematch in Anaheim, Calif. Not only was it a nice rebound from his KO loss to “DC” in their first meeting at UFC 226, but it refocused talks on Miocic as potentially the greatest heavyweight of all-time. The Ohio-based firefighter now owns five victories in UFC title bouts, the second most in the history of the heavyweight division. The trilogy with Cormier has been booked for UFC 252 on Aug. 15.
5. Daniel Cormier (22-2, 1 NC)For three rounds, Cormier waded forward with total disregard for Stipe Miocic’s power in the UFC 241 headliner. That approach ultimately failed him in the fourth stanza, however, as Miocic began to dig to the body. Those blows gradually accumulated until Miocic was able to hurt “DC” and flurry for the finish at the 4:09 mark of the period. Cormier will have a chance to end his MMA career in style when he faces Miocic in a farewell heavyweight championship trilogy bout at UFC 252 on Aug. 15.
6. Kamaru Usman (16-1)Usman endured a challenging first title defense, as he battled Colby Covington for nearly five rounds before earning a technical knockout victory at the 4:10 mark of the fifth round in the UFC 245 main event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Usman survived Covington’s high output early and gradually asserted himself as the bout wore on thanks to solid body work and harder strikes overall. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has begun his UFC tenure with 11 consecutive victories, and the latest was his most difficult to date. Usman will next defend his crown against surging contender Gilbert Burns at UFC 251 on July 11..
7. Israel Adesanya (19-0)Adesanya didn’t score many style points at UFC 248, but he was able to emerge from the evening’s headliner with his undefeated record intact following a unanimous verdict over Yoel Romero at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Nigerian-born Kiwi opted for a conservative approach against a dangerous opponent, as he picked his spots and relied heavily on leg kicks to improve to 8-0 in UFC competition. A showdown with another dangerous adversary in Paulo Henrique Costa looms for “The Last Stylebender,” who could certainly use a more fan-friendly effort in his next Octagon appearance.
8. Demetrious Johnson (30-3-1)Johnson added a new piece of hardware to his collection in Tokyo, as he outpointed Danny Kingad to capture the One Championship flyweight grand prix belt on Oct. 12. After losing the UFC 125-pound strap to Henry Cejudo in August 2018, “Mighty Mouse” was traded to a new organization and pieced together victories over Yuya Wakamatsu, Tatsumitsu Wada and Danny Kingad within the Singapore-based promotion in 2019. While it wasn’t always a cakewalk for the AMC Pankration product, the accomplishment was made even more impressive considering the fact that all three triumphs occurred essentially one weight class above the division where Johnson established himself as one of the sport’s most dominant competitors. A showdown with reigning One flyweight titlist Adriano Moraes awaits Johnson once One resumes its event schedule.
9. Alexander Volkanovski (21-1)Volkanovski became the fourth featherweight champion in promotion history with a masterful performance against Max Holloway at UFC 245 in Las Vegas. The City Kickboxing representative kept his opponent at bay with a steady diet of leg kicks and as a result, never allowed Holloway to land with his usual volume. Volkanovski’s eight-fight winning streak includes triumphs over two of the greatest 145-pound talents ever in Holloway and Jose Aldo, and it appears that the Aussie is only getting better with time. Volkanovski will next face Holloway in a rematch at UFC 251 on July 11.
10. Dustin Poirier (26-6, 1 NC)Coming off a disappointing loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in a 155-pound title bout at UFC 242 last September, Poirier displayed his championship mettle against Dan Hooker in the UFC on ESPN 12 main event. “The Diamond” dropped the first two rounds to his Kiwi opponent before picking up the pace down the stretch to earn a thoroughly entertaining unanimous decision at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Poirier has won five of his last six Octagon appearances and remains a dangerous force at the top of the division..
Other Contenders: Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor, Max Holloway, Robert Whittaker.
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, Ben Duffy, Jay Pettry, Edward Carbajal, Anthony Walker, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan , Mike Sloan, Patrick Auger and Tyler Treese.