John Brannigan/Sherdog.com illustration
When Henry Cejudo announced his retirement from mixed martial arts following a second-round technical knockout victory against Dominick Cruz at UFC 249, it was believed to be as much a negotiating tactic as it was a genuine sentiment.
It’s been 15 months since the Olympic gold medalist called it quits, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a fight booking during that time, though Cejudo has been plenty vocal in interviews and on social media. We here at Sherdog.com don’t take retirement announcements at face value, which is why fighters aren’t immediately removed from our rankings when they claim they’re ready to move on. However, we do have our limits, which is why we are instituting a 12-month limit on retirements. If a “retired” fighter doesn’t come back within a year, then he or she will be removed from our rankings.
With that, Cejudo exits the pound-for-pound rankings after climbing to the No. 3 spot. As a former two-division champion, it’s a ranking that was well deserved, but he’ll have to fight again to claim such a lofty position. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on pound-for-pound king Khabib Nurmagomedov, who said he was hanging up the four-ounce gloves following a victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 last October. In recent months, “The Eagle” has given every indication that he will stick to his word.
Note: Previous ranking in parentheses.
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) 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, 2020. “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. If his retirement holds, Nurmagomedov’s rankings eligibility will expire on Oct. 24, 2021.
2. Kamaru Usman (19-1) Usman earned his 14th consecutive Octagon triumph at UFC 261, as he knocked out Jorge Masvidal in the second round of their rematch at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, on April 24. After taking a five-round verdict over “Gamebred” in July 2020, Masvidal brought their rivalry to an emphatic close with a powerful right hand. With the second-longest winning streak in UFC history in tow, Usman can look forward to another rematch, this time at UFC 268 against Colby Covington, whom he defeated via fifth-round TKO at UFC 245.
3. Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) 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 has been rescheduled for the UFC 266 headliner on Sept. 25.
4. Jan Blachowicz (28-8) 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 awaits next at UFC 267 on Oct. 30.
5. Israel Adesanya (21-1) After failing in his bid to become a two-division champion this past March, Adesanya showed the world that he still reigns supreme at middleweight, as he cruised to a five-round verdict over Marvin Vettori in the UFC 263 headliner at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., on June 12. It was a much more decisive triumph than their first meeting, when “The Last Stylebender” captured a split verdict over his Italian rival at UFC on Fox 29 in April 2018. With 10 consecutive middleweight triumphs under his belt, the City Kickboxing stalwart now turns his attention to a rematch with ex-champ Robert Whittaker.
6. Francis Ngannou (16-3) 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. For now, Ngannou will wait on the sidelines as Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane square off for interim heavyweight gold at UFC 265.
7. A.J. McKee (18-0) McKee had a star-making performance at Bellator 263, as he rocked Patricio Freire with a head kick and then rendered his opponent unconscious with a guillotine choke in their headlining encounter at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on July 31. Not only does McKee claim featherweight gold, but he earned a cool $1 million for making it through the promotion’s 145-pound bracket. McKee finished all four of his opponents — Freire, Darrion Caldwell, Derek Campos and Georgi Karakhanyan — in the grand prix and now looks poised to be one of the sport’s top featherweights for years to come.
8. Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) Moreno made history at UFC 263, becoming the first Mexican-born champion in promotion history with a third-round submission of Deiveson Figueiredo at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., on June 12. Moreno was much more dominant in the rematch after battling the Brazilian to a majority draw in their first meeting at UFC 256. “The Assassin Baby” is unbeaten in six Octagon appearances since his initial release from the promotion.
9. Dustin Poirier (28-6, 1 NC) Though it may not have ended exactly as he would have liked it, there’s no question that Poirier was impressive during the opening round of his trilogy bout against Conor McGregor at UFC 264. Prior to the leg injury suffered by McGregor that prompted a doctor stoppage, “The Diamond” was on the verge of securing a finish by virtue of his heavy ground-and-pound from above. While a fourth meeting with the Irishman may yet be in the cards, Poirier has more pressing matters at hand: a shot at current 155-pound champion Charles Oliveira.
10. Stipe Miocic (20-4) When his wrestling failed against Francis Ngannou in the UFC 260 headliner, so did Miocic’s bid to make another successful heavyweight championship defense. Miocic saw his reign end in a second-round KO defeat at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on March 27, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Ohio-based firefighter has already established himself as the organization’s most consistent heavyweight king with records for most victories in title bouts and consecutive title defenses. Though requesting a trilogy wouldn’t be out of line for the 38-year-old, Miocic’s Octagon forays have become less frequent in recent years, making it unclear when he might be willing to return for another matchup with Ngannou – or anyone.
Other Contenders:Justin Gaethje, Patricio Freire, Deiveson Figueiredo, 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, Marcelo Alonso, Tudor Leonte, Keith Shillan, Tyler Treese and Lev Pisarsky.