Sherdog’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10 Rankings
John Brannigan/Sherdog.com illustration
Aljamain Sterling’s road to eventual respect may run right through the Ultimate Fighting Championship record book.
In the main event of UFC 288 on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, Sterling won a hard-fought decision over returning two-division champ Henry Cejudo, in a fight that may not have been as close as the split scorecards would seem to indicate. By having his hand raised, Sterling left behind former champs T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz to become the first man to defend the UFC bantamweight title three times. Yet he entered the arena as a slight betting underdog to a man who hadn’t fought in three years—and was booed by what should have been practically a hometown crowd for the Long Island, New York native. That is par for the course for “Aljo,” who through no fault of his own, seems doomed to have some sort of asterisk attached to every title fight in which he takes part. After winning the belt from Petr Yan via disqualification, he defended in a rematch by split decision in a fight most seemed to see as either a Sterling win, or a draw that would have resulted in Sterling retaining the belt. His second title defense against Dillashaw was a dominant win, tainted by the challenger competing with a concealed injury, and now comes another split decision.
Goodness knows what it will take for the 33-year-old “Funk Master” to get his flowers from the UFC or its fans—perhaps the featherweight move that he has teased for quite some time as his friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili has climbed the rankings will win them over—but the Sherdog rankings panel believes his body of work is already quite impressive, caveats and all. With his successful rebuff of Cejudo at UFC 288, Sterling jumps from 13th to 10th on our pound-for-pound list.
Note: Previous ranking in brackets.
1. Jon Jones (27-1, 1 NC) | UFC After a three-year absence, Jones looked as strong as ever in a new division, authoring a first-round submission triumph against Ciryl Gane in the UFC 285 headliner on March 4 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In victory, “Bones” staked his claim to GOAT status while adding heavyweight gold to his trophy case. The longtime light heavyweight king has set his sights on a showdown with ex-heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic for his first title defense, with UFC 290 looking like an ideal landing spot for the bout.
2. Islam Makhachev (24-1) | UFC Though he was hardly dominant, Makhachev found a way at UFC 284, earning a five-round verdict against reigning featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski in the evening’s main event at the RAC Arena, in Perth, Australia. While the size advantage wasn’t as big a factor as expected, Makhachev nonetheless extended his winning streak to 12 and retained his 155-pound belt in the process. While he may yet have unfinished business with Volkanovski down the road, Makhachev will now devote his focus to a full cadre of contenders in the UFC’s always-crowded lightweight division.
3. Alexander Volkanovski (25-2) | UFC Volkanovski performed admirably in the UFC 284 headliner, giving Islam Makhachev everything he could handle for five rounds before ultimately falling in a closely-contested unanimous decision defeat. The reigning UFC featherweight champion undeniably raised his stock in the loss, and he has a legitimate claim to a rematch against his Dagestani rival. However, there’s also business to attend to in his weight class, where Yair Rodriguez claimed interim gold with a dominant performance in the UFC 284 co-main event. While Volkanovski can clearly hang with the world’s best at lightweight, he will turn his attention to a 145-pound title unification bout next against Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290.
4. Leon Edwards (21-3, 1 NC) | UFC While Edwards needed a last-minute knockout to wrest the welterweight crown from Kamaru Usman at UFC 278, “Rocky” authored a much more complete performance in their trilogy, taking a five-round, majority-decision triumph over “The Nigerian Nightmare” in the UFC 286 headliner at the O2 Arena in London. Edwards outlanded Usman on the feet, showcased solid defensive wrestling and weathered a third-round point deduction to extend his unbeaten streak to 12 within the Las Vegas-based promotion. Edwards can move on from his rivalry with Usman, but his next challenge may already be looming: Colby Covington weighed in as an alternate for the main event and was very animated cageside in the aftermath of the champion’s victory.
5. Israel Adesanya (24-2) | UFC Adesanya restored order to the middleweight division with a massive second-round knockout of Alex Pereira in the UFC 287 headliner. Not only did “The Last Stylebender” regain the belt he lost to his rival at UFC 281 last November, but he earned his first victory in the pair’s combat sports series — which now spans four bouts across kickboxing and MMA. Adesanya’s eight title fight victories rank second all-time at 185 pounds, and he has victories over the top five UFC middleweights currently ranked below him: Pereira, Robert Whittaker, Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori and Paulo Costa.
6. Francis Ngannou (17-3) | UFC 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. 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. After being sidelined for the remainder of 2022 due to knee surgery, Ngannou was unable to come to terms with the UFC for a deal to defend his heavyweight crown against Jon Jones. As a result, he was stripped of his belt and granted his release, making him one of the most coveted free agents in combat sports. If “The Predator” doesn’t book an MMA bout by July 22, his rankings eligibility will expire.
7. Patricio Freire (35-5) | Bellator Freire was methodical in victory against Kleber Koike Erbst at Rizin 40, as he denied his foe’s takedown attempts and landed solid offense on the feet en route to a unanimous decision triumph against the Japanese promotion’s featherweight champion. “Pitbull,” who is currently on his third reign as Bellator’s 145-pound king, has won 10 of his last 11 professional appearances dating back to 2017. After previously holding the lightweight belt, Freire will make his second bid to become a two-division champ when he meets bantamweight king Sergio Pettis at Bellator 297.
8. Charles Oliveira (33-9, 1 NC) | UFC 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. 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. “Do Bronx” will look to return to the win column in a matchup with top contender Beneil Dariush at UFC 288.
9. Brandon Moreno (21-6-2) | UFC Moreno got the last laugh against Deiveson Figueiredo, as he improved to 2-1-1 against the Brazilian with a doctor stoppage victory at UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro. Moreno now begins his second reign as flyweight champion with the Figueiredo rivalry clearly in his rearview mirror. It seems quite likely that Alexandre Pantoja — who owns wins over Moreno at UFC Fight Night 129 and on “TUF 24” — will be next on the fight itinerary for “The Assassin Baby.”
10. Aljamain Sterling (20-3) | UFC Sterling held serve—and held onto his UFC title—at UFC 288 on May 6, taking a hard-fought decision over returning former two-division champ Henry Cejudo. While it may not have been the emphatic result he hoped for, his third title defense breaks a three-way tie with T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz for the most in UFC bantamweight history. Sterling has made noises about moving up to featherweight, but should he elect to stay at 135 pounds, his next title challenger would appear to be set, as Sean O’Malley entered the cage after the UFC 288 main event for a face-off that ended up having to be broken up by security.
Other Contenders: Kamaru Usman, Alex Pereira, Dustin Poirier, Vadim Nemkov, Jiri Prochazka.
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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