Rankings are vital to a combat sport such as the UFC, providing fans with a glimpse into the overall state of a weight class and creating the structure to define challengers to championships.
But the concept of pound-for-pound rankings, or ranking that attempt to define the best fighters in the world regardless of weight class can be frustrating in their ambiguity. Still, they’re a fun exercise and simply making it onto such a list is an accomplishment for any fighter.
Let’s take a list at five of the absolute best in the Octagon today.
Daniel Cormier (heavyweight champion)
Former Olympian and Olympic team captain, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion, Jon Jones’ biggest adversary, “champ champ,” PokerStars ambassador, and now arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet.
That’s a partial list of the accolades of UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
Cormier (22-1) currently sits at the top of the UFC’s own pound-for-pound list, one spot ahead of the only man he’s been unable to defeat: Jon Jones. Jones defeated Cormier by decision at UFC 182 in January 2015, defending his light heavyweight championship in the process. Two and a half years later, at UFC 214, Jones knocked out Cormier in the rematch only to have the result overturned following a failed drug test for the steroid metabolite turinabol.
In between those fights, Cormier had become light heavyweight champion, winning the belt after Jones had been stripped following his involvement in a hit-and-run accident.
Following three successful defenses of his title (and the aforementioned no-contest against Jones), Cormier jumped to heavyweight and took less than one round to knock out Stipe Miocic. Miocic came into the fight as the man with the most defenses of the heavyweight title (3) in UFC history.
After a successful heavyweight title defense against Derrick Lewis, Cormier relinquished the light heavyweight belt.
Next fight: Heavyweight title defense vs. Stipe Miocic at UFC 241 – August 17, 2019
Jon Jones (light heavyweight champion)
One only has to read the brief bio of Cormier to know Jon Jones’ toughest opponent has been himself.
Jones (24-1) has never truly been bested in an MMA fight. The lone blemish on his resume came via a controversial disqualification for illegal strikes thrown against Matt Hamill in a situation where replay and Hamill’s deafness caused some confusion in a situation which could easily have been rendered a no contest.
Despite a nearly perfect in-cage career, Jones has repeatedly found himself in hot water. He failed a drug test for presence of a cocaine metabolite ahead of his first fight with Cormier, but was not stripped of his title as cocaine was not a banned substance outside competition by USADA (the UFC’s drug testing agency partner). He then was stripped of his title for a hit-and-run incident only to return, win the interim light heavyweight championship and lose it following his positive steroid test after the second bout with Cormier.
There have also been DUI cases and other less than perfect out-of-cage behaviors on Jones’ part.
Yet, he remains one of the most spectacular competitors to ever set foot in the Octagon.
When Jones fights, it’s art. His size, strength and speed — combined with a legitimate wrestling background — allows him to do things seemingly unique in the sport.
There may be no many who can beat “Bones” at the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds.
Next fight: Light heavyweight title defense vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos at UFC 239 – July 6, 2019
Khabib Nurmagomedov (lightweight champion)
Conor McGregor sat comfortably at the top of the pound-for-pound list before his own combination of self destructive tendencies, a decision to box Floyd Mayweather and the dominant MMA skills of Khabib Nurmagomedov shuffled him away.
While McGregor still sits at #9 on the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings despite a single fight — a loss — since 2016, Nurmagomedov (27-0) is ranked #3.
Nurmagomedov was already a known force at 155 pounds when he stepped into the ring against McGregor. McGregor a slight underdog coming into the fight, but was roundly dominated before submitting to Nurmagomedov in the fourth round.
Nurmagomedov has fought 27 professional bouts and picked up 27 wins. There’s very little a man can do to prove his dominance more than that.
Much as the story of Cormier’s career will always be tied in some way to Jones, Nurmagomedov and McGregor defined at least a portion of each other’s story.
After trash talk from both camps, McGregor attacked a bus carrying Nurmagomedov ahead of UFC 223, throwing a metal equipment dolly into one of the bus windows.
Multiple fighters were forced off the card due to injuries from the attack, but Nurmagomedov went on to win the vacant UFC lightweight title at the event.
After Nurmagomedov defeated McGregor at UFC 229, the two camps engaged in a wild brawl in and out of the cage, leading to a nine month suspension for Nurmagomedov. He will be eligible to fight again in July.
Heated rivalry aside, Nurmagomedov is an almost unstoppable force in the takedown department and is no slouch when it comes to striking or submissions.
Fights with interim lightweight champ Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson or a rematch against McGregor would all be thrilling bouts and could cement Nurmagomedov’s place in MMA history.
Next fight: No fight scheduled pending end of suspension
Henry Cejudo (flyweight champion)
Cormier was an Olympian. Henry Cejudo was an Olympic gold medalist.
Cejudo (14-2) made a fairly seamless transition to MMA following a career as one of the world’s best freestyle wrestlers.
His current status as flyweight champion may be an even more impressive accomplishment than Olympic gold, however.
That’s because Cejudo had to knock off Demetrious Johnson, a man who set the UFC’s consecutive title defense record with 11 straight wins in defending his 125 pound belt.
Cejudo toughed out the win at UFC 227 and then scored a 32-second knockout win over former two-time bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw in Dillashaw’s bid to drop a weight class and win another title.
One of the great accomplishments in MMA is to become a two-division champion — or “champ champ” as Conor McGregor coined — and Cejudo is looking to take his fast hands and elite wrestling game up to bantamweight to challenge for the vacant 135-pound belt.
A win there could vault him up from his current #4 spot in the UFC rankings.
Amanda Nunes (bantamweight and featherweight champion)
Pound-for-pound shouldn’t discriminate by gender and you can’t talk pound-for-pound without mentioning Amanda Nunes, the only fighter currently holding two belts.
Nunes (17-4) is the first woman in UFC history to win belts in multiple divisions and her current eight-fight winning streak has established her in many minds as the best female MMA fighter in history.
The two other women who have long been the center of that argument (Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg) lasted a combined 99 seconds in their bouts with Nunes, who currently sits at #6 in the UFC’s official pound-for-pound rankings.
Nunes defeated Miesha Tate by first round submission at UFC 200 to win the bantamweight title, then took 48 seconds to knock out Ronda Rousey in her first title defense at UFC 207.
Following the win over Rousey, Nunes scored her second career win over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215. Shevchenko has gone on to become the UFC’s first ever women’s flyweight champion.
Following a UFC 224 knockout of Raquel Pennington, Nunes jumped up to featherweight to take on Cris Cyborg and her 20-fight winning streak. It only took 51 seconds for Nunes to dispatch of the feared Cyborg and become “champ champ.”
Nunes not only belongs on the pound-for-pound list, she may well deserve to be atop it.
Next fight: Featherweight championship defense vs. Holly Holm at UFC 239 – July 6, 2019