Sherdog’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10 Rankings

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Alexandre Pantoja continues to find a way in five-round fights.

The reigning flyweight champion got all he could handle from surprise contender Steve Erceg in the UFC 301 headliner, but his ability to unleash a versatile offensive attack allowed him to emerge with a hard-fought unanimous decision triumph at Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night. In less than a year’s time, “The Cannibal” has bested Brandon Moreno, Brandon Royval and Erceg in 25-minute affairs, often showcasing an ability to survive adverse situations in the process. With his current winning streak standing at six, Pantoja is well deserving of his No. 7 pound-for-pound ranking.

Note: Previous ranking in brackets.

1. Islam Makhachev (25-1) | UFC [1]

Makhachev made a statement at UFC 294, knocking out featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski with a head kick and follow-up punches in the opening round of their lightweight title clash at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The Dagestani standout has won 13 straight fights in the Octagon and thanks to consecutive title defenses against Volkanovski, can close the book on his rivalry with the Australian star. Makhachev’s next assignment will come against Dustin Poirier at UFC 302.

2. Jon Jones (27-1, 1 NC) | UFC [2]

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 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The longtime light heavyweight king was scheduled for a UFC 295 showdown with ex-heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic at Madison Square Garden for his first title defense before a torn pectoral forced him to withdraw from the bout. The hope is that Jones vs. Miocic can be rebooked at some point in 2024.

3. Leon Edwards (22-3, 1 NC) | UFC [3]

For all the sound and fury promised by the public build-up between Edwards and challenger Colby Covington, the actual fight was a straightforward affair, lacking any of the eye-popping drama of Edwards’ pair of fights against Kamaru Usman. Instead, the champ forced Covington into the sort of mid-paced kickboxing match that characterized Edwards’ long rise to the top of the division, on his way to winning the first four rounds on all judges’ scorecards. While Edwards’ second title defense is unlikely to have earned him many new fans, it was a dominant showing against a veteran challenger. Whether Edwards’ next defense comes in the form of unfinished business against Belal Muhammad or a meeting with a streaking contender like Shavkat Rakhmonov, his place as one of the top fighters in the sport is secure for the moment.

4. Ilia Topuria (15-0) | UFC [4]

Topuria ushered in a new era in the featherweight division with a second-round knockout of Alexander Volkanovski in the UFC 298 headliner at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, on Feb. 17. “El Matador” ended what had been a competitive bout with a clean right hook at the 3:32 mark of Round 2, showcasing his frightening fight altering power in the process. Topuria has all the makings of a massive star, capable of spearheading the promotion’s first-ever card in his home country of Spain. At just 27 years old, the future appears to be bright indeed for Topuria.

5. Alex Pereira (10-2) | UFC [5]

Alex Pereira left no doubt regarding the true identity of the light heavyweight champion with his first-round knockout of Jamahal Hill in the UFC 300 headliner. Once he found his opening, “Poatan” wasted little time, dropping his foe with a left hook and sealing his victory with follow-up ground strikes 3:14 into the opening stanza. By besting Hill, who had to vacate the title due to injury in 2023, Pereira avenged mentor Glover Teixeira and continued to raise his profile as one of the promotion’s biggest stars.

6. Alexander Volkanovski (26-4) | UFC [6]

Volkanovski couldn’t overcome Father Time at UFC 298, as the 35-year-old Aussie suffered a second-round knockout loss to Ilia Topuria in the evening’s main event at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Regardless of what the future holds, Volkanovski will go down as one of the sports all-time great featherweights and given his previously perfect record at 145 pounds, he has a solid case for an immediate rematch with Topuria. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

7. Alexandre Pantoja (28-5) | UFC [7]

Pantoja’s second successful title defense wasn’t sealed until the fifth round at UFC 301, when he assumed top position late in the frame against Steve Erceg to clinch a hard-fought unanimous decision triumph in Rio de Janeiro on May 4. Pantoja’s ability to mix up his attacks proved crucial against Erceg, who often got the better of exchanges with crisp boxing and elbows to the head. In less than a year, “The Cannibal” has captured flyweight gold and defended it twice — all in five-round battles — so some time off could be in store for the 34-year-old Brazilian.

8. Max Holloway (26-7) | UFC [8]

Concerns for Holloway’s health against Justin Gaethje proved to be misguided, as “Blessed” authored an all-time classic knockout victory to claim the BMF belt at UFC 300 on April 13. Options abound for the Hawaiian, who remains a top contender at 145 pounds and is now also a person of interest at lightweight after vanquishing Gaethje, who would have been in line for a title shot with a victory. Holloway has won five of his last six Octagon appearances, with victories over the likes of Gaethje, Chan Sung Jung, Arnold Allen, Yair Rodriguez and Calvin Kattar adding to his considerable resume.

9. Vadim Nemkov (17-2, 1 NC) | Bellator [9]

After vacating his 205-pound belt, Nemkov enjoyed a successful heavyweight debut at PFL vs. Bellator, as he put Bruno Cappelozza to sleep with an arm-triangle choke 2:13 into the second round of their encounter at Kingdom Arena in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 24. Not only did the Fedor Emelianenko protege carry the extra 40 pounds quite well, but he managed to survive a brief moment of adversity when his Brazilian opponent clipped him on the feet just prior to the finishing sequence. The Russian is unbeaten in his last 13 professional appearances dating back to June 2016, and he becomes an instant contender in his new weight class.

10. Sean O’Malley (18-1, 1 NC) UFC [10]

O’Malley avenged his lone career defeat in the UFC 299 headliner, putting on a striking masterclass for five rounds in a clear-cut unanimous decision triumph against Marlon Vera. “Suga” is unbeaten in his last seven Octagon appearances, and a challenging title defense looms against top contender Merab Dvalishvili. However, if O’Malley gets his way, his next assignment will be a crack at two-division dominance against Ilia Topuria in Spain.

Other Contenders: Aljamain Sterling, Israel Adesanya, Tom Aspinall, Dricus Du Plessis, 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, Marcelo Alonso, Keith Shillan, Tyler Treese and Rob Sargent.


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