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

·9 min read

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, flyweight)

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 (21-3, 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 that left Sterling unable to continue. While Yan went on to win the interim belt, Sterling recovered from neck surgery and 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 (including the DQ victory over Yan) and sees Sterling enter our honourable mentions.

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.

Top 10

10. Dustin Poirier (28-7, 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 the best active lightweight right now in Charles Oliveira. The “Diamond” holds seven wins against five different former world champions of the sport, having beaten Conor McGregor twice in 2021 to improve that tally. The first of those two wins against the Irishman marked the first knockout loss of McGregor’s career.

9. Colby Covington (17-3, welterweight)

Former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington (AFP via Getty Images)
Former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington (AFP via Getty Images)

The former interim welterweight title holder is surely the second best 170lber on the planet, behind only Kamaru Usman, who has retained his belt against Covington twice in the last three years. 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.

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. Petr Yan (16-3, bantamweight)

Petr Yan is one of the most clinical and creative strikers in the UFC (Zuffa LLC)
Petr Yan is one of the most clinical and creative strikers in the UFC (Zuffa LLC)

Went exactly five years without a loss until he was disqualified while defending the bantamweight title against Sterling in spring 2021, in a fight he looked well on course to winning. The Russian responded by claiming the interim gold by outpointing Cory Sandhagen in a fight of the year contender. Was deemed by many fans to be the true champion at 135lbs, despite his naive foul against Sterling, and some still hold that view despite his loss to the Jamaican-American in their unification bout this April. The rematch was a closely-contested affair that Sterling won via split decision, though some fans felt that the Russian had done enough to edge it.

6. Robert Whittaker (23-6, 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.

5. 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.

4. Charles Oliveira (33-8, 1 NC; lightweight)

Charles Oliveira has the most finishes and submission wins in UFC history (Getty Images)
Charles Oliveira has the most finishes and submission wins 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. The former featherweight has turned his career around, however (save for a half-a-pound weight miss this May), winning 11 in a row over the last five years to emerge as the retired Khabib’s successor atop the lightweight division. Oliveira holds the records for most finishes (19) and most submission wins (16) in UFC history. Of his 33 victories as a professional, a remarkable 30 have come via stoppage. His recent weight miss saw him stripped of the lightweight title that he won last year, but his first-round submission of Justin Gaethje the very next day established him as No 1 contender immediately.

3. Israel Adesanya (23-1, middleweight champion)

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, beating them all and knocking out a number of them. 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 is now “lapping the opposition” – a term that will come up again below – with back-to-back rematch wins against Marvin Vettori and Whittaker prior to his decision victory over Jared Cannonier at UFC 276. Was No 2 on this list until that event, where one of his City Kickboxing teammates leapfrogged him in our rankings; more on that shortly...

2. Kamaru Usman (20-1, welterweight champion)

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, the welterweight champion arguably became 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. Usman is unbeaten in nine years, his ongoing 19-fight win streak including a dominant title win in 2019 and five successful defences since.

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” is now “lapping the opposition” in his own words, having beaten almost every divisional contender of note at least once – some of them twice. In fact, next up for Usman is another rematch – against Leon Edwards, whom he outpointed in 2015. 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 Max 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 33-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. Despite his seminar of a performance against “Zombie”, the Australian remained third in our pound-for-pound rankings. His most recent showing against Holloway saw him overtake both teammate Adesanya and Usman, however, with that outing leading some to finally suggest that Volkanovski is the best mixed martial artist alive right now.