Sherdog’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10 Rankings

By Tristen Critchfield Apr 7, 2021
Image: John Brannigan/ illustration

Patricio Freire deserves this.

Despite a track record of consistent excellence, Bellator MMA’s reigning featherweight and lightweight champion has often been overlooked when it comes to pound-for-pound consideration. Dating back to July 2013, the Brazilian has lost just two of 15 appearances within the California-based promotion, with many of those victories coming in high-stakes championship situations. And one of those defeats – a TKO loss due to leg injury vs. Benson Henderson at Bellator 160 – was a bout he was winning before the unfortunate ending.

On the heels of a quick submission victory against Emmanuel Sanchez in the semifinals of the featherweight grand prix at Bellator 255, Freire enters’s pound-for-pound rankings at No. 11, moving ahead of athletes who have more recent losses on their respective resumes. Freire’s own record looks better by the day thanks to Michael Chandler’s rise to prominence in the UFC’s lightweight division; in a little more than a month’s time, it’s possible that Freire could boast a knockout of the Las Vegas-based promotion’s newly-crowned 155-pound champ.

So, it’s not necessarily Freire’s victory over Sanchez alone – though becoming the first man to finish "El Matador" is no small feat – that warrants the ranking, but a complete body of work in recent years. Of course, Freire himself would tell you he should be placed higher. Perhaps in due time, he will be.

Note: Previous ranking in parentheses.

1. Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) [1]

Maybe 30-0 won’t become a reality, but Nurmagomedov put about a perfect a stamp as one could on his mixed martial arts career with a second-round submission of Justin Gaethje in the UFC 254 headliner on Oct. 24. “The Eagle” withstood some heavy artillery from his opponent — including some powerful low kicks — while continuing to apply constant pressure. Eventually, Gaethje wilted on the canvas, as Nurmagomedov choked him unconscious at the 1:34 mark of Round 2. In the aftermath, Nurmagomedov announced his retirement, leaving behind a legacy that includes a 13-0 UFC mark and a record-tying four championship victories in the brutal lightweight division. In March, Dana White and the promotion finally accepted Nurmagomedov’s retirement and vacated the 155-pound belt.

2. Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) [2]

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. After some public back-and-forth with the UFC and Dana White, Jones vacated his light heavyweight strap in August, signaling a new era for the division. A move to heavyweight looms, and Jones is expected to step right into a title shot in his debut.

3. Henry Cejudo (17-2) [3]

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.

4. Kamaru Usman (18-1) [5]

Usman displayed true championship mettle at UFC 258, as he survived a scare in the opening frame and rallied to defeat former teammate Gilbert Burns via third-round technical knockout in the evening’s main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Feb. 13. “The Nigerian Nightmare” now has four title defenses under his belt, and his 13 consecutive triumphs at 170 pounds allowed him to surpass the legendary Georges St. Pierre for the longest winning streak in the history of the division. At 33 years old, Usman shows no signs of slowing down. Next, Usman will give Jorge Masvidal a rematch in the UFC 261 headliner on April 24.

5. Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) [6]

Volkanovski improved to 2-0 against Max Holloway at UFC 251, but victory in the rematch came by a much slimmer margin than it did in their first meeting. After Holloway rocked the Australian featherweight champion at the end of Rounds 1 and 2 to take an early lead on the scorecards, Volkanovski finished strong over the bout’s final 15 minutes to earn a contentious split-decision triumph in Abu Dhabi. That makes nine consecutive UFC victories and 19 straight professional triumphs overall for the City Kickboxing representative. A showdown with Brian Ortega that was originally set for UFC 260 has been postponed after Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19. That bout figures to be delayed even further, as Volkanovski and Ortega have been tabbed as coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter 29.”

6. Jan Blachowicz (28-8) [7]

Ever the underdog, Blachowicz once again silenced the doubters at UFC 259, where he ended Israel Adesanya’s dreams of two-division dominance with a unanimous decision triumph at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on March 6. After beginning his promotional tenure with an underwhelming 2-4 mark, the Polish standout has won nine of his last 10 outings, besting the likes of Adesanya, Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson, Ronaldo Souza, Luke Rockhold and Jared Cannonier, to name a few. A showdown with surging veteran contender Glover Teixeira appears to be on the horizon for the light heavyweight king.

7. Israel Adesanya (20-1) [8]

Adesanya’s presumed coronation as two-division champion hit a speed bump at UFC 259, as he couldn’t deal with the size and skill of Jan Blachowicz in a unanimous decision loss. In addition to losing out on 205-pound gold, “The Last Stylebender” also sees a potential superfight with Jon Jones go up in flames. All is not lost for Adesanya, however. He is still unbeaten at middleweight and should have plenty of motivation to return to his own division to continue his title reign there.

8. Francis Ngannou (16-3) [NR]

Ngannou brought the same ferocious knockout power into his rematch with Stipe Miocic at UFC 260, but improved takedown defense allowed him to use it much more effectively. The end result was a second-round knockout victory that made “The Predator” the 17th heavyweight champion in UFC history. The Cameroonian-born Frenchman has laid waste to some of the division’s best during his run to the top and if the promotion can make it happen, a victory over light heavyweight GOAT Jon Jones would only add to his overall legacy.

9. Demetrious Johnson (30-3-1) [9]

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 last 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 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 on April 7.

10. Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1) [10]

Not only did Figueiredo make his second title defense within a 21-day span, but apparently he did so shortly after being hospitalized overnight with a stomach infection. What transpired was an all-time classic in the flyweight division, as “Deus da Guerra” and Brandon Moreno battled to a majority draw in the UFC 256 headliner that also stands out as one of 2020’s best fights. A deduction for a low blow in Round 3 came back to haunt Figueiredo, whose four-bout finishing streak came to an end. Figueiredo will get a chance to settle unfinished business with Moreno in a rematch at UFC 263 on June 12.

Other Contenders: Patricio Freire, Stipe Miocic, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway.

Sherdog’s divisional and pound-for-pound rankings are compiled by a panel of staff members and contributors: Tristen Critchfield, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Ben Duffy, Jay Pettry, Edward Carbajal, Marcelo Alonso, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Tyler Treese and Lev Pisarsky. Advertisement
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