UFC rankings: The Independent’s pound-for-pound fighters list
The UFC is home to some of the best mixed martial artists on the planet, so it is no surprise that fans often debate how the elite fighters compare to one another.
Alongside its weekly-updated rankings for each weight class, the UFC has its own pound-for-pound rankings, containing 15 names – as with each list for every division.
Here, The Independent has constructed its own top 10, pound-for-pound rankings for men’s UFC fighters, to be updated throughout the year.
While there is no exact science to putting together lists such as this, a number of factors have been considered in making the rankings, including each fighter’s overall record, recent record, level of activity and calibre of opposition.
Before diving into the top 10, here are a couple of honourable mentions:
Colby Covington (17-3, welterweight)
The former interim welterweight title holder is one of the best 170lbers on the planet, behind Kamaru Usman and maybe also champion Leon Edwards. Usman retained his belt against Covington twice in the last three years before losing it to Edwards in August. Covington responded to the latter of those losses by easily outpointing friend-turned-rival Jorge Masvidal in March. He has been in and out of the top 10 and is currently out due to a year of inactivity without injury (as far as we know).
Stipe Miocic (20-4, heavyweight)
The consensus heavyweight GOAT, the part-time firefighter holds the record for most successful title defences in the division – the hardest weight class at which to put together a sustained run. The American surrendered the belt to Francis Ngannou and the French-Cameroonian’s freakish knockout power in March 2021, but prior to that achieved back-to-back wins against one of the greatest ever in Daniel Cormier. The veteran, 40, also holds a decision victory over Ngannou, plus wins against more UFC champions in Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski. However, he has dropped out of our top 10 due to two years of inactivity.
Brandon Moreno (20-6-2, flyweight champion)
The Mexican has two draws in his last nine outings but was in any case unbeaten in three-and-a-half-years until dropping the flyweight title back to Deiveson Figueiredo in 2022, which saw him briefly exit this list. In his previous bout, Moreno won the belt with a stunning submission of the incredibly dangerous Brazilian in June 2021, after outstriking him for the best part of two rounds. The pair’s trilogy bout at the start of 2022 was almost as close as their initial draw in December 2020. A fourth clash took place at UFC 283, with Moreno dominating Figueiredo to settle the rivalry for good, unifying the flyweight title after winning the interim belt last July. That win also brought him back into our top 10, though he was displaced when a returning star shot straight into our top three...
10. Aljamain Sterling (22-3, bantamweight champion)
The Jamaican-American was mocked by some fans after winning the bantamweight title via disqualification in 2021, when Petr Yan landed an illegal knee. Amid neck surgery, Sterling had to wait more than a year for his rematch with the Russian. With many predicting that Sterling would receive the loss that he looked on course to suffer in his first meeting with Yan, he silenced some doubters and irked others by winning a narrow decision against his rival in April. That result made it seven straight wins for the grappling specialist and saw Sterling enter our honourable mentions. He then stopped former champion TJ Dillashaw via TKO in October, though the American was battling a dislocated shoulder throughout the bout, and has since entered our rankings.
9. Dustin Poirier (29-7, 1 No Contest; lightweight)
The American has only two defeats in the last six years – coming against the greatest lightweight of all time in Khabib Nurmagomedov and one of the best active lightweights right now in Charles Oliveira. The “Diamond” holds eight wins against six different former world champions of the sport, having beaten Conor McGregor twice in 2021 before most recently submitting Michael Chandler to improve that tally.
8. Leon Edwards (20-3, 1 NC; welterweight champion)
Edwards became Britain’s second ever UFC champion with a stunning, last-gasp knockout of Usman in August. After taking down the Nigerian-American – something no fighter had ever done in the UFC – in Round 1, Edwards continually rose to his feet amid an onslaught of grappling pressure from the champion over the next few frames, keeping himself in the fight. Then, with a minute left on the clock, Edwards knocked Usman out cold with a perfect head kick to take his gold, beating the man who outpointed him seven years earlier.
Since that 2015 loss to Usman, 31-year-old Edwards has gone unbeaten and won 10 fights in a row, culminating in his title victory. He has endured luckless spells over the years, seeing fights against top contenders fall through on numerous occasions, but ultimately he did not need to prove his quality against any of them; he did so against Usman in spectacular fashion to enter our top 10. He also holds win against ex-lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos and fan favourites Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone.
7. Robert Whittaker (24-6, middleweight)
The Australian has tasted defeat just twice in the last eight years. Both of those losses came against the phenomenal Israel Adesanya, with Whittaker losing the middleweight belt to his rival by TKO in 2019 before dropping a debatable decision to the “Last Stylebender” last February. Between those bouts, the “Reaper” earned three straight wins against elite competition, and his earlier run to the belt saw him successfully navigate a murderers’ row of opponents that is almost incomprehensible. He bounced back from his second loss to Adesanya with a masterful points win against Marvin Vettori.
6. Charles Oliveira (33-9, 1 NC; lightweight)
The Brazilian’s 2010 debut in the UFC gave way to an inconsistent record with numerous failed weight-cuts along the way, but the former featherweight then turned his career around (save for a half-a-pound weight-miss in spring). An 11-fight win streak over five years saw Oliveira claim the lightweight title vacated by the retired Khabib, retain it late last year, then submit Justin Gaethje in May – one day after being stripped of the belt for the afore-mentioned weight-miss. That most recent win extended Oliveira’s records for most finishes (19) and most submissions (16) in UFC history and positioned him as No 1 contender as he looked to regain the gold. However, he was submitted by Makhachev in October as the Russian followed in his friend Khabib’s footsteps by winning the 155lbs title.
5. Israel Adesanya (23-2, middleweight)
One of the most exciting fighters to watch in the history of the sport. The former kickboxer routinely produces striking masterclasses against his opponents, simply proving too slick and too clever for his competition. Adesanya has faced a who’s-who of 185lbers, knocking out a number of them and losing to just one. The “Last Stylebender” suffered his first defeat in pro MMA in 2021, but there was even merit in that as the Nigerian-born New Zealander moved up a weight class to challenge then-champion Jan Blachowicz for the light-heavyweight title.
He then began to “lap the opposition” – a term that will come up again below – with back-to-back rematch wins against Vettori and Whittaker prior to his decision victory over Jared Cannonier at UFC 276. Adesanya then suffered just his second MMA defeat – and first at middleweight – in losing the title to old foe Alex Pereira in November. Pereira, who twice beat Adesanya in kickboxing bouts across 2016 and 2017, stopped the Kiwi in the final round to dethrone “Stylebender” at the end of a thrilling encounter. The pair will clash again in April.
4. Kamaru Usman (20-2, welterweight)
In 2021, Usman was arguably the best mixed martial artist in the world, let alone the UFC. The Nigerian-American is perhaps the most clinical wrestler in the promotion and has added knockout power to his game. In 2021, Usman extended his unbeaten run to nine years, his 19-fight win streak including a dominant title win in 2019 and five successful defences before he dropped the title with a late knockout defeat by Edwards in August.
Despite that loss to a man he outpointed in 2015, Usman retains the No 2 spot here. Also of great merit is the 35-year-old’s activity, and prior to his title loss the “Nigerian Nightmare” was “lapping the opposition” in his own words, having beaten almost every divisional contender of note at least once – some of them twice. In fact, he was on the verge a second points victory over Edwards until the Briton produced one of the greatest KOs in UFC history.
Usman was our No 1 here until UFC 276 in July, where a certain smaller champion overtook him. But we’ll get to that shortly...
3. Islam Makhachev (24-1, lightweight champion)
Some used to question the Russian’s credentials, given a lack of top-tier opponents on his record, though that was arguably due to highly-ranked fighters’ tentativeness to risk their spots against a dangerous up-and-comer. Others accused Makhachev of benefiting from his connection to Khabib – his childhood friend and now one of Makhachev’s coaches. Regardless, the 31-year-old banished any doubt in October when he submitted Oliveira – the fighter with the most submission wins in UFC history – to win the vacant lightweight title, suggesting that he would have done the same to most contenders at 155lbs.
Makhachev then made it 12 wins in a row by outpointing Alexander Volkanovski in February, matching the Australian’s record streak for an active fighter while retaining his title against the featherweight champion in a very close contest. In advance of that fight, many suggested that a Makhachev win would make him the new pound-for-pound No 1, but Indy Sport was more impressed by Volkanovski’s showing in a higher weight class and would like to see Makhachev add some more notable names to his resume. As such, the Russian was our No 2, until...
2. Jon Jones (27-1, 1 NC; heavyweight champion)
When Jon Jones returned to the UFC in March after a three-year absence, winning the heavyweight title by submitting Ciryl Gane in the first round, many believed that the American confirmed himself as the greatest of all time. A lot of fans also felt that he should go straight to the top of any and all pound-for-pound lists. And Jones’ victory certainly was impressive, particularly due to the manner in which it was achieved and the factors around the 35-year-old’s heavyweight debut.
It was also enough for the former two-time light-heavyweight champion to shoot straight into our rankings at No 2, with his long-term resume standing out more than Makhachev’s (Jones has beaten numerous world champions), but his lack of activity keeping him below our No 1 – for the time being, at least.
1. Alexander Volkanovski (25-2, featherweight champion)
After suffering the sole defeat of his professional career in 2013, Volkanovski won a stunning 22 fights in a row. In fact, his only pro loss came against a welterweight champion, until this February.
Seven of the Australian’s last eight fights have pitted him against ‘elite’ fighters, and in 2022 Volkanovski put on a clinic against fan favourite Chan Sung Jung before producing a masterclass to outpoint Max Holloway for the third time, leaving no doubt about his superiority over the man he dethroned in 2019. In doing so, the 34-year-old enhanced his own claim to be labelled the 145lbs GOAT. He even holds a win against the other standout contender for that title – Jose Aldo – as well as Chad Mendes and Brian Ortega.
Volkanovski is as dynamic, composed and well rounded as they come. He had the chance to confirm his status as pound-for-pound king when he challenged lightweight champion Makhachev on home turf in February, in a bid to become just the fifth ever dual-weight UFC champion, and – although he narrowly lost on points – he remained our No 1. That is due to the stunning performance produced by the Aussie in that fight, with Volkanovski dropping Makhachev twice, neutralising the Russian in many of the grappling exchanges, and arguably winning the bout despite a significant size disadvantage.
Volkanovski also keeps the returning Jon Jones at bay, for now...