UFC rankings: The Independent’s pound-for-pound fighters list

Here are our top 10 men’s fighters in the UFC, in a list to be updated throughout the year

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Friday 24 May 2024 09:25
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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 after each pay-per-view-event.

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.

Without further ado... Here are our rankings after UFC 301 in May:

10. Tom Aspinall (14-3, interim heavyweight champion)

Tom Aspinall is crowned interim UFC heavyweight champion
Tom Aspinall is crowned interim UFC heavyweight champion (Getty Images)

Aspinall almost entered our rankings in November, when he demolished Sergei Pavlovich to win the interim heavyweight title, but he finally got the nod this January, as a couple of other fighters fell out of the list. The Briton could do with a few more big names on his resume, but that is not in his control – much as he is trying to secure bouts with regular champion Jon Jones and divisional great Stipe Miocic.

The 30-year-old’s resume will improve with time, but what cannot be disputed is his talent. Aspinall is the future of heavyweight MMA: a remarkable athlete who moves like a lightweight while hitting like his predecessors. He also holds the record for the shortest average fight time for an athlete with five or more UFC bouts (and barring his early injury a fight with Curtis Blaydes, he has won them all).

9. Max Holloway (26-7, featherweight)

Max Holloway celebrates his knockout of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300
Max Holloway celebrates his knockout of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 (Getty Images)

Re-enters our rankings after his stunning stoppage of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 – one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history. After a previous, failed endeavour at lightweight in 2019, featherweight icon Holloway returned to 155lb and beat up Justin Gaethje for five rounds. Then, with 10 seconds left on the clock, the Hawaiian called on Gaethje to trade hands in the centre of the cage, risking the victory. What happened? Holloway faceplanted Gaethje with one second left, claiming the ‘Baddest Motherf***er’ belt. And at 145lb, save for a trio of decision losses to Alexander Volkanovski, Holloway has been phenomenal for years, previously reigning as champion and recording wins over a who’s-who of featherweights.

8. Sean O’Malley (18-1, 1 No Contest; bantamweight champion)

Sean O’Malley during his win over Marlon Vera (left) at UFC 299
Sean O’Malley during his win over Marlon Vera (left) at UFC 299 (Getty Images)

Some fans accused the UFC of fast-tracking “Sugar Sean” through the division because of his crossover potential, but O’Malley has done enough to justify the promotion’s decision. There were missteps along the way to his bantamweight title win – a TKO by Marlon Vera in 2020, a No Contest against Pedro Munhoz in 2022 – and the American was perhaps lucky to be handed a decision win against ex-champ Petr Yan.

However, when O’Malley was put in the ring with the then-reigning champion, he delivered in devastating fashion, knocking out Aljamain Sterling to win the title in August 2023. Then, in his first title defence, O’Malley put on a masterclass against Vera to avenge his sole professional loss, showing that he has finetuned his flashy performance to resemble something like genius in the striking department. One of the UFC’s bigger stars.

7. Ilia Topuria (15-0, featherweight champion)

Ilia Topuria reacts to his UFC featherweight title win
Ilia Topuria reacts to his UFC featherweight title win (Getty Images)

The Georgian-Spaniard spoke arrogantly about his chances against featherweight great Alexander Volkanovski in February, only for his words to prove prophetic. Topuria, 27, knocked out the Australian in brutal fashion in the second round, taking the 145lb title from “Alexander The Great” and becoming the first UFC champion to represent Spain or Georgia. That win also kept Topuria unbeaten, moving him to 15-0. “El Matador”’s versatility is evidenced within his record, too; eight of his wins have come by submission, with five coming by knockout.

There was much talk of his power ahead of his title fight with Volkanovski, and that talk was justified in the fight. Previously, Topuria showed his submission threat by tapping out grappling specialist Bryce Mitchell in 2022, before he outclassed Josh Emmett in every area of the game for a decision win in June 2023. Topuria may well be set for a dominant reign, which would delight his considerable fanbase in Spain, where he would like the UFC to stage an event for the first time in the promotion’s history. Look out for a Madrid card later in 2024...

6. Dricus Du Plessis (21-2, middleweight champion)

Dricus Du Plessis, moments after winning the UFC middleweight title
Dricus Du Plessis, moments after winning the UFC middleweight title (Getty Images)

It is funny to think that the South African was derided not long ago, with many fans saying his bulldozing, almost ungainly style would derail him against the best fighters in the middleweight division. Instead, that style – as well as gradual improvements and investment in better cardio, partly through nasal surgery – have led Du Plessis to the title. The 30-year-old won a narrow decision in a battle with Sean Strickland in January, making him South Africa’s first UFC champion, and that followed a surprise TKO of ex-champ Robert Whittaker in July. “Stillknocks” also holds wins over Darren Till, Derek Brunson and Brad Tavares, is unbeaten in the UFC, and has secured 19 of his 21 wins via stoppage – with a near-even split of KOs and submissions.

5. Alexander Volkanovski (26-4, featherweight)

Alexander Volkanovski retained the UFC featherweight title five times
Alexander Volkanovski retained the UFC featherweight title five times (Getty Images)

After suffering the first defeat of his professional career in 2013, Volkanovski won a stunning 22 fights in a row. In fact, his only pro losses had come against a welterweight champion and a lightweight champion until February, when he finally lost the UFC featherweight title.

Two of those defeats came in 2023, with Volkanovski losing a narrow decision to Islam Makhachev in February while challenging for the 155lb belt, then suffering a shock, early knockout against the Russian in their October rematch. Those results, the latter of came after Volk stepped in on short notice, saw the Australian drop from No 1 to No 4 here. The 35-year-old now falls by one more spot after losing his 145lb belt to rising star Ilia Topuria, who knocked out “Alexander The Great” in February.

In any case, Volk remains one of the best to ever do it, his four-year title reign consisting of wins over Max Holloway (three times), Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez and the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.

4. Jon Jones (27-1, 1 NC; heavyweight champion)

Jon Jones is widely seen as one of the greatest fighters in MMA history
Jon Jones is widely seen as one of the greatest fighters in MMA history (Getty Images)

When 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’s victory certainly was impressive, particularly due to the manner in which it was achieved and the factors around the 36-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. However, his lack of activity has seen him drop by two spots following his injury in October, which derailed his planned clash with heavyweight ‘GOAT’ Stipe Miocic. That fight might get rebooked later this year, but a unification bout with interim champion Aspinall could also be on the cards...

3. Alex Pereira (10-2, light-heavyweight champion)

Alex Pereira retained the light-heavyweight strap at UFC 300
Alex Pereira retained the light-heavyweight strap at UFC 300 (Getty Images)

The Brazilian kickboxing extraordinaire enjoyed a rapid rise through the middleweight rankings after transitioning to MMA, culminating in a knockout victory of his old rival Israel Adesanya in November 2022 to take the title. Although Pereira was stopped by Adesanya to lose the gold in a rematch last April, he bounced back with a swift move up to light-heavyweight, where he outpointed former champion Jan Blachowicz.

In his next fight, Pereira fought for the vacant 205lb title, beating another ex-champion in Jiri Prochazka to secure two-weight-champion status in record time. Pereira, 36, sealed that feat with a second-round TKO. He also holds a knockout win over former middleweight champion Strickland. Next up for Pereira was a title defence against his predecessor atop the 205lb division, Jamahal Hill, in the main event of UFC 300 – a fight that Pereira won emphatically in round one.

2. Leon Edwards (22-3, 1 No Contest; welterweight champion)

Leon Edwards has retained the UFC welterweight belt twice since winning it
Leon Edwards has retained the UFC welterweight belt twice since winning it (Getty Images)

Edwards became Britain’s second UFC champion with a stunning, last-gasp knockout of Kamaru Usman in August 2022. After taking down the Nigerian-American – something no fighter had ever done in the UFC – in round one, 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.

In March 2023, Edwards outpointed Usman in London to solidify his status as champion, before further cementing that status by beating Colby Covington in December. Edwards put on clinical displays in both decision wins, showing just how well rounded he is – one of the best examples of the modern mixed martial artist.

The Jamaican-born southpaw has won 12 fights in a row since a points loss to Usman in 2015, save for a No Contest against Belal Muhammad in 2021. And Muhammad looks set to be Edwards’s next challenger.

1. Islam Makhachev (25-1, lightweight champion)

Islam Makhachev, friend and protege of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov
Islam Makhachev, friend and protege of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov (AFP via Getty Images)

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 32-year-old banished any doubt in October 2022 when he submitted Oliveira to win the vacant lightweight title, suggesting that he would have done the same to most contenders at 155lb.

Makhachev then made it 13 wins in a row by beating Volkanovski twice in eight months, retaining his title against the then-featherweight champion on both occasions. In February 2023, Makhachev outpointed the Aussie in Perth, then in October, he knocked him out with a head kick in round one, stunning those in attendance. Volkanovski had stepped in on short notice for the rematch, but Makhachev was also affected by the late replacement – after Oliveira, his original opponent, suffered a cut over his eye.

Those victories saw Makhachev rise to No 1 in our rankings.

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