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

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 monthly.

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 some honourable mentions:

Brandon Moreno (19-6-2, interim flyweight champion)

The Mexican has two draws in his last eight outings but was in any case unbeaten in three-and-a-half-years until dropping the flyweight title back to Deiveson Figueiredo in January, which saw him fall from No 10 on this list. In his previous bout, Moreno won the belt with a stunning submission of the incredibly dangerous Brazilian in June, after outstriking him for the best part of two rounds. The pair’s trilogy bout at the start of this year was almost as close as their initial draw in December 2020. A fourth clash seems inevitable, with Moreno having won the interim flyweight title by stopping Kai Kara-France in July.

Aljamain Sterling (22-3, bantamweight champion)

The Jamaican-American was mocked by some fans after winning the bantamweight title via disqualification in 2020, 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 – and others hoping for it – he silenced some doubters and irked others by winning a narrow decision against his rival this 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.

Max Holloway (23-7, featherweight)

The former featherweight champion has lost four of his last seven fights, though one of those defeats came at lightweight and one was a controversial points loss. Despite what recent results suggest, the Hawaiian seems to be in his prime, shining even in defeat and producing mesmerising performances in victory. Holloway moved into our top 10 at the expense of Moreno following the Mexican’s loss to Figueiredo at UFC 270, but he dropped back out after losing his trilogy bout with Alexander Volkanovski in July – marking the 30-year-old’s third loss to the man who dethroned him.

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 new champion Leon Edwards. Usman retained his belt against Covington twice in the last three years before losing it to Edwards this August. Covington responded to the latter of those losses by easily outpointing friend-turned-rival Jorge Masvidal in March, and he climbed back into our top 10 as Holloway fell following UFC 276.

Top 10

10. Dustin Poirier (29-7, 1 No Contest; lightweight)

Former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (Getty Images)
Former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (Getty Images)

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 and most recently submitted Michael Chandler to improve that tally.

9. Islam Makhachev (23-1, lightweight champion)

Islam Makhachev won the UFC lightweight title by submitting Charles Oliveira (AFP via Getty Images)
Islam Makhachev won the UFC lightweight title by submitting Charles Oliveira (AFP via Getty Images)

Some questioned 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 lightweigh title, suggesting that he would have done the same to most contenders at 155lbs. That result made it 11 wins in a row for Makhachev, and five straight finishes for a combatant once criticised for wrestling for the sake of control alone. In his first title defence, the Dagestani will take on a fighter who will bid to become just the fifth ever dual-weight UFC champion, but more on that later...

8. Stipe Miocic (20-4, heavyweight)

Stipe Miocic holds the record for most successful UFC heavyweight title defences (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Stipe Miocic holds the record for most successful UFC heavyweight title defences (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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 also holds a decision victory over Ngannou, plus wins against more UFC champions in Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski.

7. Leon Edwards (20-3, 1 No Contest; welterweight champion)

Leon Edwards became Britain’s second ever UFC champion in August (UFC via Instagram)
Leon Edwards became Britain’s second ever UFC champion in August (UFC via Instagram)

Edwards became Britain’s second ever UFC champion with a stunning, last-gasp knockout of Usman this 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.

6. Robert Whittaker (24-6, middleweight)

Robert Whittaker holds one of the most impressive resumes in MMA (Zuffa LLC)
Robert Whittaker holds one of the most impressive resumes in MMA (Zuffa LLC)

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” this 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.

5. Charles Oliveira (33-9, 1 NC; lightweight)

Charles Oliveira has the most finishes and submissions in UFC history (Getty Images)
Charles Oliveira has the most finishes and submissions in UFC history (Getty Images)

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 this May). 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 this 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. As such, Oliveira, 33, dropped a spot in these rankings.

4. Francis Ngannou (17-3, heavyweight champion)

Francis Ngannou (right) carries hellacious knockout power (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Francis Ngannou (right) carries hellacious knockout power (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Surely the hardest hitter the sport has ever seen, and honorary ‘baddest man on the planet’ as UFC heavyweight champion. All but one of his wins have come via stoppage, with 12 knockouts to his name – a number of them achieved in fewer than 60 seconds. After suffering back-to-back decision losses in 2018, the Cameroonian recorded four straight first-round KOs before avenging a defeat by Miocic to secure the gold with another vicious finish. He then shocked fans and pundits by outwrestling interim champion Ciryl Gane for a successful first defence this January. A phenom.

3. Israel Adesanya (23-2, middleweight)

Israel Adesanya is one of the most engaging fighters in the world (Getty Images)
Israel Adesanya is one of the most engaging fighters in the world (Getty Images)

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.

2. Kamaru Usman (20-2, welterweight)

Kamaru Usman went 3-0 in 2021, retaining the UFC welterweight title with each win (AP)
Kamaru Usman went 3-0 in 2021, retaining the UFC welterweight title with each win (AP)

In 2021, Usman was arguably the best mixed martial artist in the world, let alone the UFC. The Nigerian-American is the most clinical wrestler in the promotion and has added knockout power to his game. Last year, 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, mesmerising knockout defeat by Edwards this August.

Despite that loss to a man he outpointed in 2015, Usman retains the No 2 spot here. Also of great merit is the fact that the 35-year-old fought three times in 2021, more than any other fighter on this list with the exception of Poirier. Two of his three victories in 2021 came via stoppage, and 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.

Was our No 1 here until UFC 276 in July, where a certain smaller champion overtook him...

1. Alexander Volkanovski (25-1, featherweight champion)

Alexander Volkanovski is riding a 22-fight winning streak (Getty Images)
Alexander Volkanovski is riding a 22-fight winning streak (Getty Images)

Since suffering the sole defeat of his professional career in 2013, Volkanovski has won a stunning 22 fights in a row. In fact, his only pro loss came against a welterweight champion. Six of the Australian’s last seven fights have pitted him against ‘elite’ featherweights, with some fans unfairly holding a grudge against the champion due to the controversial nature of the second of his three decision victories over Holloway.

This April, Volkanovski took on fan favourite Chan Sung Jung and put on an absolute clinic to stop the “Korean Zombie” in the fourth round. In July, he produced a masterclass to outpoint Holloway for the third time, leaving no doubt about his superiority over the man he dethroned in 2019. Volkanovski made the Hawaiian, seen by some fans as the greatest featherweight of all time, look like just another contender. 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. His most recent showing against Holloway saw him overtake both teammate Adesanya and Usman, with that outing leading some to finally suggest that Volkanovski is the best mixed martial artist alive right now. He will get the chance to confirm his status as pound-for-pound king when he challenges lightweight champion Makhachev on home turf in February, in a bid to become just the fifth ever dual-weight UFC champion.