The Ringer MMA September Pound-for-Pound Rankings

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Where does Sean Strickland land after his all-time upset? And how far do Israel Adesanya and Rose Namajunas fall after their losses? There’s plenty of movement on this month’s lists.

September has been a busy month in the UFC, with back-to-back title fight weekends. So what does that mean? A shake-up in our monthly pound-for-pound rankings.

The most stunning development this month is the inclusion of an uninvited guest to the party, Sean Strickland. It wasn’t quite Buster Douglas shocking the world against Mike Tyson, but Strickland’s upset at UFC 293 carried some serious Villanova-over-Georgetown-in-’85 vibes. Not a lot of people picked Strickland to dethrone Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title. Strickland was a nearly 5-to-1 underdog fighting in Sydney, Australia, a stone’s throw from Izzy’s home country of New Zealand.

If we’re being honest, Strickland was booked to lose. The talk all during fight week was about Strickland not being made for big moments, especially since he got knocked out by Alex Pereira last year. People argued that he was undeserving of a title shot, with better contenders out there. That he was a poor substitute for Dricus Du Plessis, who was originally supposed to fight Izzy but suffered an injury. And, oh yeah, Strickland simply didn’t have a path to victory. If he stormed out throwing clumsy punches, the masterful counter-striker Izzy would put him on the dream flow with a well-timed right hand.

Welp, MMA loves making fools of its experts. Strickland nearly knocked Izzy out early (!?), dominated down the stretch of the five-round clash (!?!), and all but broke the unbreakable middleweight kingpin by the end (!!!). And now we have a new champion and therefore a debutant in the P4P rankings, and—with Valentina Shevchenko fighting Alexa Grasso to a controversial split draw—we have plenty of movement on the women’s side of the ledger, too.

The panel of Chuck Mindenhall, Ariel Helwani, Petesy Carroll, and producer Troy Farkas—known as 3PAC on The Ringer MMA Show—has ranked both the men’s and women’s P4P best, 1 through 10.

Our only criterion for these monthly rankings is that a fighter has competed within at least a calendar year of the publication date, or has at least had a fight booked within that window. If a fighter hasn’t competed in a year and books a fight after that time, he or she is once again eligible to be voted back in.

Fighters who retire are no longer eligible for the rankings.

Though most of the best fighters are currently in the UFC, these rankings are not UFC-exclusive. We take into consideration all the major promotions, from Bellator to ONE Championship to the PFL.

Without further ado, The Ringer MMA P4P Rankings for September.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Jon Jones

UFC Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, UFC CEO Dana White was asked who he’d pick to “literally fight for (his) life” from any fighter over the last 100 years. The name Dana came up with (after a rant about Muhammad Ali) was none other than Jon Jones. That’s a lot of respect being heaped on his current heavyweight champion, who defends the title on November 11 against Stipe Miocic at Madison Square Garden. We can argue the point all we want, but Jones quietly occupies the space of being the baddest man alive. I think he likes that title better than the heavy one he wears around his waist, to be honest.

2. Alexander Volkanovski

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

When they showed Volkanovski in attendance at UFC 293, the crowd let out a thunderous roar. That’s their guy! And yet there he was, a bystander rather than a participant on the UFC’s first fight card in Sydney in several years. Bummer. There’s still some work to do at featherweight before Volk bounces up to the lightweight division for good, and right now it looks like a clash with Ilia Topuria is in the cards. Can Topuria end the reign of the greatest 145-pounder of all time? Is Volk’s time just about over? Nothing’s impossible, but we won’t get too nervous until they book the fat lady to sing at the Sydney Opera House.

3. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

Back in 2013, the UFC was dropping fighters into cages throughout Brazil as if they were food for their ever-hungry TRT goblin, Vitor Belfort. Belfort just clobbered the living daylights out of the likes of Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping, and Dan Henderson in more and more spectacular ways. It was appointment television. Locationally speaking, Abu Dhabi is to Islam what Brazil was to Belfort; a feeding ground. He beat Charles Oliveira there last year to win the vacant lightweight title, and he destroyed Dan Hooker and poor Davi Ramos there before that. The UFC helicopter is dropping Oliveira into the cage with him again at UFC 294 in October, and Islam is pacing back and forth in anticipation.

4. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

Tick. Tock. The pages keep turning on the 2023 calendar, and Leon Edwards isn’t booked into that much-maligned fight with Colby Covington yet. Some news on Edwards’s title defense date should be on the horizon, but with the startling development of contenders like Sean Strickland and Sean O’Malley becoming champions, it no longer feels so drastic to imagine Covington breaking through, too. That thought will give plenty of people the willies, but we’re just saying …

5. Sean O’Malley

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

It’s the Year of Sean, as the UFC now has two different Seans slinging gold over their shoulders. The great thing about “Suga” Sean is that he fans the flames with every rival within a two-division radius. People love to hate him, and everyone wants a piece of his burgeoning star power. Will Chito Vera get the next crack at his bantamweight title? He’s the leading candidate, and why not? The two have the backstory, the cult followings, and all the juice. If the UFC is interested in a long O’Malley run to maximize his star potential, they’ll keep Georgian juggernaut Merab Dvalishvili as far away from him as possible.

6. Max Holloway

Former UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 9

Listen, not a lot of people liked the Korean Zombie’s chances against Max Holloway. But when Max showed up to Singapore with the dire situation in Maui fresh on his mind, it felt particularly ominous. You give Holloway added motivation, and it’s usually curtains. Holloway did what he does best—that is, overwhelm Chan Sung Jung with a fusillade of precision shots that were being delivered rapid-fire from every conceivable stance. The question next for Max is: What now? With the three losses to the champ Volkanovski, getting a fourth title shot is a tough ask. He might need to keep beating up contenders for a few.

7. Charles Oliveira

Former UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

The first time Charles Oliveira fought Jim Miller, he lost via kneebar. The second time he fought Miller, he won in just 75 seconds with a rear naked choke. The first time he fought Nik Lentz, he choked Lentz out but the match was deemed a draw because he landed an illegal knee to set up the submission. In the subsequent fights with Lentz he finished him via submission and then strikes, looking better each time. What are we saying here? That Oliveira gets better in rematches. There’s no reason to believe he won’t make key adjustments in his second fight with Makhachev, but the wind keeps whispering the same caution over and over again: Islam Makhachev is no Nik Lentz.

8. Demetrious Johnson

ONE Championship Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

As time goes on, the admiration for Demetrious Johnson only grows. Not only did he break Anderson Silva’s UFC title defense record as an unsung flyweight champion back in the day, now he’s out there winning jiu-jitsu tournaments like it ain’t no thing. Johnson won gold at the IBJJF World Master Championship in Las Vegas, which just raises his legacy of badassery up a couple of bars. What’s next? That’s anybody’s guess, but he’s not quite done with MMA. At least, not yet. Enjoy him while he’s still here, MMA fans.

9. Sean Strickland

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: Not ranked

Forget about the odds in his fight against Izzy being stacked against him: The odds that a dude who was in a serious motorcycle accident five years ago would come back to fight at all were long. And yet, here is Strickland, overcoming all of life’s adversities, holding a belt as the unlikeliest of middleweight champions, making a fuzzy feeling out of one of the UFC’s strangest stories. How will he handle the mic now that the spotlight is on him? Does he tone down his murderous desires and scale back the misogyny just a little bit? Who knows, but buckle up because this will be an interesting ride.

10. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

Perhaps the most difficult thing to be in the UFC is a dominant champion, not because of the exceptional skill it requires, but because of everything else. The expectations. The media obligations. The ability to sell a fight. The obligation to deliver on a pay-per-view that was put together just a month before it occurred. It can be a taxing gig being the legit no. 1. Did Izzy show up in a compromised form in his fight with Strickland? He didn’t seem to have any answers to the lancing jab and the lumbering pressure, which only brings up more questions. A rematch at some point seems likely, but time off after fighting five times since the beginning of 2022 might be in order first.

Others receiving votes: Alex Pereira, Kamaru Usman

Women’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

It would be hard for a champion to look any better than Weili did in her title defense against Amanda Lemos at UFC 292. Weili out-landed Lemos in significant strikes 163-24 and scored six out of her seven takedown attempts, meaning she dominated every aspect of the fight. If anything, this second stint as a titleholder seems that much scarier because Weili has experienced the gamut just as she’s coming into peak form. If there’s a fighter out there who can match Weili in the ranks of absolutely diabolical destruction, it’s the undefeated Tatiana Suarez, who was baptized in the pillar of life’s fire. (Which is to say she’s a wrestler who knows how to drag an opponent through every sector of hell.)

2. Valentina Shevchenko

Former UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

What’s this now? A new no. 2 emerging even though she didn’t win her last fight? These are strange times, to be sure, but if you watched Shevchenko’s bout with Grasso this past weekend, you saw two peculiar things. One, the reports of Shevchenko’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and two, Shevchenko actually won a fight that was officially declared a split draw. One of the judges indefensibly scored the final round 10-8 in Grasso’s favor, and the fight swung into a state of irresolution. Will the UFC look to create a trilogy fight between the two, given the controversial nature of the scorecards? There’s a strong case to be made.

3. Alexa Grasso

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

The UFC put some serious marketing effort into Grasso’s first title defense by booking it on Mexico’s Independence Day (traditionally reserved for boxing’s Canelo Álvarez) and using Guadalajara’s own as the vehicle into the market. It was a big spot for Grasso, no doubt. That the UFC aired it on ESPN+ rather than on PPV was all the sweeter, yet Grasso came away with two very different things: her belt, which remained around her waist due to the split draw, and a general sense that she got away with one.

4. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

It’s been a long freaking time since Cyborg last fought, and as a result, she and her decades of dominance haven’t been talked about enough recently. Her upcoming fight with 41-year-old Cat Zingano has legacy vibes written all over it, and that it’s happening at Bellator 300 is fitting. She deserves a spotlight. To put Cyborg’s career in perspective, think about this. Bellator 1 occurred just a week before Cyborg beat Hitomi Akano in 2009, which set up the biggest women’s MMA fight ever at that time—her bout against Gina Carano. The twilight feels like a victory lap.

5. Erin Blanchfield

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 7

Perhaps Blanchfield had one rooting interest in Grasso’s rematch with Shevchenko, and that was for the outcome to be emphatic. Instead, what she saw was the worst-case scenario—a kissing cousin split draw to leave the title she covets in a state of uncertainty. At 24 years old, Blanchfield is in an enviable position. She’ll either fight for the title next or face off with another contender for that right, with her youth intact and time on her side. If the UFC decides to run back Grasso and Shevchenko in a trilogy, a fight with Manon Fiorot is an incredible consolation and realistically a genuine no. 1 contender’s bout.

6. Manon Fiorot

UFCFlyweight Contender
Last month: no. 10

She hadn’t received a ton of fanfare ahead of her homecoming co-main event at UFC Paris against Rose Namajunas, but coming out of it, she was anything but “Manonymous.” Fiorot didn’t just beat Rose in a unanimous decision; she ransacked the smaller Namajunas for 15 grueling minutes. It was the kind of showing that screams title fight, but—as with Blanchfield above—the title picture didn’t clear up enough to make her the obvious next contender. The only problem with fighting Blanchfield next is that the UFC would kill off a super viable contender, but oh, baby, what a fight that would be.

7. Tatiana Suarez

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 5

Though she’s fought only 11 times as a professional, it’s been a long climb for Suarez. She was dubbed the female Khabib when she burst onto the scene in 2018, but her three-and-a-half-year injury hiatus cooled the buzz down and made her a bit of a divisional afterthought. If anything, Tatiana has looked even better upon her return, having submitted both Montana De La Rosa and Jéssica Andrade. Is a showdown with Weili in the cards? It’s the chance that Suarez has been building toward for half a decade, and you get the feeling she wouldn’t squander it. The only sticking point is that Yan Xiaonan is also out there with a claim to a title shot.

8. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

Peña has declared Amanda Nunes “dead to her,” which is a step forward. That trilogy fight, which Peña was booked into but had to pull out of with an injury, is gone forever. Peña is moving on. She doesn’t need Nunes in her life, and she certainly doesn’t need that rubber match to solidify her legacy. Peña is perfectly fine to … oh, who are we kidding? Nunes’s choice to up and retire without giving Peña that third fight is enough to land anybody on a shrink’s chaise lounge. Only when Peña fights for that vacant bantamweight title will the healing begin, yet here’s guessing the emptiness will never go away.

9a. Rose Namajunas

Former UFC Strawweight Champion; Current Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6

Hey, it was a big risk. Namajunas moved up to flyweight because she said it scared her. She fought a top contender in her new division because why mess around, you know? As a two-time former champion at strawweight, there’s no such thing as starting in the middle. She fought in Paris, Fiorot’s backyard, because there are levels to her fearlessness. It didn’t work out by any stretch of the imagination, but Namajunas seems set on continuing on as a flyweight. Though she did look small at 125 pounds, it would be silly to discount her there. Every time we sleep on Rose, she does something incredible (see: the first fights against Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Weili, as well as the second fights against those women).

9b. Yan Xiaonan

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 9

Similar to the situation with Blanchfield and Fiorot at flyweight, Xiaonan occupies a strange spot in the pecking order at 115 pounds. After obliterating Andrade in her last fight, she felt she’d done enough to earn a title shot, yet the UFC opted to give that to Lemos instead. Fast-forward to the present, and not much has changed. If the UFC doesn’t book Xiaonan against Weili in an all-Chinese title fight, that probably means Suarez got it. And if Weili needs time away, a match between Xiaonan and Suarez would give us contender clarity.

Others receiving votes: Larissa Pacheco

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