Sherdog’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10 Rankings

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The UFC hasn’t seen a champion with such limited big-time MMA experience since Brock Lesnar was patrolling the Octagon.

Alex Pereira defied the odds in the UFC 281 headliner, rallying for a fifth-round technical knockout victory against reigning middleweight king Israel Adesanya at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night. “Poatan” is now 3-0 against Adesanya in combat sports and has become a champion in the world’s premiere MMA organization after just four Octagon appearances. While Pereira certainly has his flaws — namely, a lack of wrestling and grappling ability — that didn’t prevent him from dispatching the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in emphatic fashion. As a result, Pereira joins Sherdog’s pound-for-pound rankings at No. 9, while Adesanya takes a tumble to 10th on the heels of his first middleweight defeat.

Elsewhere, Dustin Poirier continued to add to his resume with another victory over a Top 10 lightweight, as he rallied for a third-round submission victory against former Bellator MMA champ Michael Chandler on the UFC 281 main card. But as a result of Pereira’s upset victory, “The Diamond” falls one spot in the pound-for-pound poll from 10th to 11th.

Note: Previous ranking in brackets.

1. Alexander Volkanovski (25-1) | UFC [1]

Volkanovski was virtually flawless in his championship trilogy bout against Max Holloway at UFC 276, sweeping the scorecards by identical 50-45 counts in a lopsided unanimous decision triumph. The City Kickboxing stalwart has won 12 straight in UFC competition and a whopping 22 in a row overall, clearly establishing him as one of the top pound-for-pound talents in the sport. His rivalry with Holloway now clearly in the rearview mirror, Volkanovski has set his sights on a move to 155 pounds and two-division dominance. He’ll get a chance to complete that vision when he faces Islam Makhachev at UFC 284.

2. Francis Ngannou (17-3) | UFC [3]

Ngannou displayed a significant step in his evolution at UFC 270, as he relied on takedowns and positional control to grind out a unanimous decision win over Ciryl Gane to unify the heavyweight title at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan. 22. While it wasn’t the most thrilling performance, the effort speaks volumes about Ngannou’s resolve, when in previous fights he struggled to do anything of note when forced to go past the second round. “The Predator” now faces an uncertain future, as he is unhappy with the way he has been treated by the UFC and seems willing to sit out for a significant period of time unless the two sides are able to come to terms. Regardless of how that happens, Ngannou will be sidelined for much of the remainder of 2022 due to knee surgery.

3. Leon Edwards (20-3, 1 NC) | UFC [4]

Edwards is living proof that a fight is never over until the final bell sounds. “Rocky” was well behind on the scorecards against Kamaru Usman with time winding down in the fifth round of their headlining bout at UFC 278 when he unleashed a head kick knockout that will go down in history. Edwards, who endured some hard luck at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, will carry an 11-fight unbeaten streak into his first 170-pound title defense. Considering he now has a 1-1 record against Usman, that defense could very well come in a trilogy against “The Nigerian Nightmare.”

4. Islam Makhachev (23-1) | UFC [5]

If there were any doubts regarding Makhachev’s championship worthiness prior to UFC 280, there aren’t any now. Makhachev outclassed Charles Oliveira on the feet and on the ground en route to a second-round submission victory to claim lightweight gold at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, carrying on a legacy started by retired ex-champ and coach Khabib Nurmagomedov. Now the owner of an 11-fight winning streak at 155 pounds, Makhachev can look forward to a first title defense against reigning featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia.

5. Kamaru Usman (20-2) | UFC [6]

In MMA, all good things must come to an end, and that includes Usman’s 15-fight UFC winning streak. “The Nigerian Nightmare” was well on his way to a clear-cut unanimous decision triumph over Leon Edwards in the UFC 278 main event when his opponent shocked the world with a head-kick knockout late in the fifth round. The 35-year-old Usman didn’t show any signs of decline as he controlled most of the fight with Edwards, and his 1-1 record against the Englishman suggest that a trilogy could be in store.

6. Patricio Freire (34-5) | Bellator [7]

Freire turned back yet another determined challenger, nullifying the normally explosive Adam Borics on his way to a unanimous decision in the main event of Bellator 286 on Oct. 1. “Pitbull” is now the first Bellator fighter to successfully defend titles in three separate reigns, and his 12 title fight wins are twice as many as any other fighter in promotional history can claim. Having avenged his only featherweight loss in nearly a decade in his April rematch with A.J. McKee, Freire looks close to running out of challenges at 145 pounds. A rubber match with McKee, who moved up to lightweight and won at Bellator 286, might not be far off.

7. Charles Oliveira (33-9, 1 NC) | UFC [8]

Oliveira entered UFC 280 with the confidence of someone on an 11-fight winning streak, but in the end he simply had no answers for Islam Makhachev. The Brazilian was outgunned on the feet and outgrappled on the canvas en route to a second-round submission loss in the evening’s main event at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 22. The setback doesn’t diminish all that Oliveira has accomplished, most notably a complete turnaround from a middling featherweight to one of the top talents in the sport at 155 pounds. The defeat didn’t dampen his resolve, as “do Bronx” was already plotting his climb back to the top in the fight’s immediate aftermath.

8. Deiveson Figueiredo (21-2-1) | UFC [9]

After relocating to Fight Ready in Arizona, Figueiredo evened the score with Brandon Moreno at UFC 270, winning a closely contested unanimous decision in the evening’s co-main event at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Jan. 22. In a bout where each round was difficult to score, Figueiredo’s more powerful offense might have made the difference and allowed him to regain the UFC flyweight crown. With the series against Moreno knotted up at 1-1-1, a fourth bout is set for UFC 283.

9. Alex Pereira (7-1) | UFC [NR]

Pereira maintained his combat sports mastery over Israel Adesanya in the UFC 281 headliner, rallying for a scintillating fifth-round technical knockout victory at Madison Square Garden. It’s an improbable rise to the top of the middleweight division for “Poatan,” who becomes champion in just his fourth UFC appearance. As deadly as is striking appears to be, Pereira’s lack of wrestling acumen means that he’ll have plenty of challengers lining up to take his title. Whether any of them will be able to withstand is standup arsenal remains to be seen.

10. Israel Adesanya (23-2) | UFC [2]

Adesanya appeared to be on his way to a decision victory against Alex Pereira in the UFC 281 headliner, but the Brazilian put the pressure on in Round 5, swarming with power punches en route to a technical knockout victory. Not only does “The Last Stylebender” fall to 0-3 against Pereira in combat sports — including a pair of losses in kickboxing — but he also suffers his first middleweight defeat as a professional mixed martial artist. Given his dominance over the rest of the division, an immediate rematch with Pereira is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Other Contenders: Dustin Poirier, Jiri Prochazka, Aljamain Sterling, A.J. McKee, Justin Gaethje.

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.
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