The UFC enjoyed one of it’s best years ever in 2021. Not only were the fights exciting, but the arenas were sold out and the organization’s popularity remained as high as ever. Due to the unforeseen circumstances of 2020, the Apex Center became the permanent venue for Fight Night. Once fans were allowed to attend, the atmosphere became a unique setting with lower attendance but heightened energy. Fighters had more family in attendance at these events and their coaches and sparring partners could be heard yelling in the background. It is now a staple of the UFC’s programming and has a unique niche of its own.
Like every individual sport, rankings are always an important topic in mixed martial arts. In the world of combat sport, the idea of “pound for pound” rankings is designated to decipher which fighter is the best in the sport regardless of weight class. While the UFC has posted its own pound for pound rankings on their sight, I’ve decided to take the liberty of comprising my own. As a fan who watches every major event the organization holds, I have grown to know the skill sets of the participants very well over the years. Without further ado, here are my pound for pound rankings of the top ten fighters in the UFC.
One through Five
- #1- Israel Adesanya
Adesanya has grown into his nickname “The Last Stylebender” over the years. Watching him fight, he seems like a character that was ripped from the pages of a comic book. Not only is he fast, with incredible reflexes, his height seems to give him an almost unfair advantage. Standing 6’4″, he is always taller than his opponents in the middleweight division. Looking at his frame, its clear he could bulk up if he chose to do so. However, trimming down to 185 lbs. has done nothing to steal his power, so he has decided to remain in the division that gives him a decided advantage.
In March of 2021, Adesanya decided to try his luck against a bigger opponent to see if he was ready for the challenge. His attempt to dethrone Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight championship did not go as planned. He was soundly beaten in a unanimous decision defeat, the first loss of his career. In June, he returned to his rightful place, defending his middleweight title against longtime rival, Marvin Vettori. At just 32-years-old, there is no end in sight to Adesanya’s reign over the division. The challenger who can stand up to his combination of quickness, striking and grappling has yet to be identified.
- #2- Alexander Volkanovski
Since joining the UFC in November of 2016, Volkanovski hasn’t lost a single fight. However, since winning the organization’s featherweight championship in December of 2019, he has only defended the title twice. He has vowed to become a much more active champion in 2022. He was impressive against Brian Ortega in September, earning a unanimous decision victory. When he’s on top of his game he is one of the most skilled technicians in the entire sport. Fight fans are looking forward to seeing him live up to his nickname, “The Great.”
- #3- Francis Ngannou
After losing back to back fights at the beginning of 2018, the man nicknamed “The Predator” came back stronger than ever. His last fight of 2018 resulted in a knockout victory over Curtis Blaydes. That exhibition of power earned him Performance of the Night honors; Ngannou hasn’t looked back since. He has amassed five consecutive victories and is the reigning heavyweight champion. his grappling is on par with his power, which is a scary thought in and of itself. At 260 lbs. Ngannou has a physique that looks like he was carved from granite. If an opponent is going to beat him, they must first overcome the fear and intimidation that this incredible athlete invokes in the hearts of men.
- #4- Kamaru Usman
Ranking Usman fourth is probably my most controversial take. My reasoning has everything to do with his last performance against Colby Covington. Usman looked uninspired at times and I did not feel that is was his best performance. Scoring the fight live, I gave two out of the five rounds to Covington. It was a close fight against an elite opponent, but I expect the man many consider to be the best in the sport to prove a point, not just do enough to win. Covington and Usman have been rivals for years; their open disdain for one another is well documented. Maybe I was spoiled by the absolute war that Aleksandr Volkanovski and Brian Ortega staged in September? Perhaps I thought that’s what a highly anticipated fight between two rivals should look like? Fair or unfair, I’m ranking the reigning welterweight champion as the fourth best pound for pound fighter in the organization. He’s capable of proving me wrong. I look forward to watching him preform for many years to come.
- #5- Charles Oliveira
After joining the UFC in 2010, Oliveira did not get a title shot until 2021. That eleven year span marked the longest period of time for a fighter to have his first bout in the organization before becoming a first time champion. For his first title defense, Oliveira faced the immensely popular Dustin Poirier, who was the favorite to win the fight and strip the champion of his belt. Instead, Oliveira submitted his opponent with a rear naked chokehold in the second round. As the champion of the lightweight division, Oliveira faces a tough night every time he steps foot into the octagon. So far, he’s proven to be up for the challenge.
Six through Ten
- #6- Brandon Moreno
In June, Moreno became the first Mexican-born champion in the history of the UFC. Now the King of the flyweight division, he is scheduled to face Deiveson Figueiredo for the third installment of their rivalry in 2022. His dominant performance in their rematch solidified his place among the best fighters in the world. Now that he’s got the belt, everyone in his division will be targeting him. It will be interesting to see how he performs under the increased scrutiny and intense spotlight that comes with being the champ.
- #7- Justin Gaethje
Gaethje is one of the most popular fighters in all of UFC, and for good reason. His is a versatile performer who can hold his own on the mat, as well as strike with the best fighters in his division. After his impressive performance over the wildly popular Michael Chandler in November, Gaethje has publicly stated that he deserves a title shot against reigning lightweight champion Charles Oliveira. The fans seem to agree, and the UFC is notorious for staging title fights that generate large pay-per-view numbers. It will be interesting to see how Gaethje performs with the belt on the line.
- #8- Ciryl Gane
Gane is on the verge of getting his first shot at the undisputed heavyweight championship on January 22nd. His opponent will be his former sparring partner, Francis Ngannou. These two are definitely the best that the heavyweight division has to offer and this should be a fight to remember. Currently, Gane is the interim heavyweight champion and the number one ranked contender in the division. Beating Ngannou is no small task; if it can be done, Gane is the man for the job.
- #9- Deiveson Figueiredo
As the number one ranked flyweight contender, Figueiredo can’t wait to get another shot at reigning champion Brandon Moreno. Not long ago, Figueiredo was seen as almost invincible; in combat sports, that never proves to be true. Now that he has been humbled by the much younger Moreno, it will be interesting to see how he responds. If he is going to get his belt back, he must do it now. If not, he finds himself in a division occupied by a young champion who could rule with an iron fist or years to come.
- #10- Petr Yan
Yan is the Interim Bantamweight champion, and the man most recognize as the true King of the division. Having lost to Aljamain Sterling through a controversial disqualification, Yan has been begging for a rematch. Sterling pulled out of the fight scheduled for these two to lock horns again with an injury on short notice. Yan has been the more active fighter, and was ahead on the scorecards when he was disqualified on a fluke play during their first meeting. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he is declared the undisputed champion of the division.
- Jon Jones
Once upon a time Jon Jones was the light heavyweight champion of the world. Ultimately, he decided that being undefeated was boring and he needed a knew challenge. At the time, no one questioned his ranking as the best pound for pound fighter in the organization. He has been training to become a heavyweight for over a year but is yet to appear in the octagon in his knew division. When he does return, men like Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane will not give him a warm welcoming.
- Aljamain Sterling
It may seem controversial to leave a champion out of the top ten but Sterling has not proven that he deserves it. I normally refrain from being highly critical, but I do not think he has lived up to the title of being a champion. Winning the belt through a disqualification should not be satisfactory to anyone. Most fighters would be chomping at the bit to prove it was not a fluke. Instead, Sterling pulled out of his scheduled title defense and seems content to sit ringside at large pay-per-view events. Until he gets back in the octagon and defends his title the way a champion should, he will not be included on any list of mine.
The UFC’s stable of women fighters includes some very impressive athletes who deserve all of the recognition they receive. I have been very entertained by their fights this year, both at the Apex Center on Fight Night and in large pay-per-view settings. Without further ado, here is my opinion for the top five pound for pound women fighters in the organization.
- 1- Valentina Shevchenko- Flyweight Champion
- 2- Rose Namajunas- Strawweight Champion
- 3- Julianna Peña- Bantamweight Champion
- 4- Amanda Nunes- Featherweight Champion
- 5- Jessica Andrade- Number one ranked Flyweight contender
Honorable Mentions: Zhang Weili (Number one ranked Strawweight contender), Carla Esparza (Number two ranked Strawweight contender), Holly Holm (Number two ranked Bantamweight contender)
By the end of 2022, this list will look completely different. That’s the beauty of mixed martial arts; your reputation and accomplishments can only take you so far. At the end of the day, you have to step into the octagon and earn your status. Even the best fighters in the world can lose on any given day. Fight fans owe it to themselves to start tuning into Fight Nights at the Apex Center. Some of those bouts rival anything staged during the pay-per-view events. Personally, the fight I’m most looking forward to is the heavyweight championship bout between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane. No matter who wins, I firmly believe it will end in a knockout. I cannot fathom that fight going the distance. Stay tuned to World In Sport. We’ll be covering every major fight held by the UFC and keep you informed the whole year long. 2021 was a great year for the sport; 2022 looks like it will be even better!