Jeff Wagenheim breaks down's pound-for-pound MMA rankings heading into 2016...

By Jeff Wagenheim
January 05, 2016

It’s a new year and a new landscape.

The last time published a pound-for-pound Top 10 for mixed martial arts, in late November, there was a startling development: Ronda Rousey, the dominant force who had spent several months at No. 1 in our rankings, disappeared in the wake of her unfathomable knockout by Holly Holm. We thought that was a game changer, but take a look at this month’s shuffling of the deck. Say goodbye to three other top-of-the-mountain stalwarts, welcome in a rising trio, and witness the slippage of another pair … one of whom won a fight just last weekend.

You know the Top 10 is on shaky legs when Jon Jones—stripped of his UFC light heavyweight belt and coming off a six-month suspension while facing a felony hit-and-run charge—is the tally’s steadying presence.

That Jones is No. 1 is old news; other than his recent exile to MMA Siberia, he’s been the sport’s alpha male for years. What is a long time coming, however, is flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson’s ascent to our No. 2 spot. A year ago, “Mighty Mouse” was at No. 5, behind José Aldo, Chris Weidman, and Rousey—also known as gone, gone and gone.

Conor McGregor emerges as UFC's biggest star in win over Jose Aldo

Actually, Aldo hasn’t completely vanished. The Brazilian lost his featherweight belt to Conor McGregor last month in 13 seconds, but that flash knockout didn’t erase a reign of five years and a 10-year winning streak. So Aldo slips quite a bit but is clinging to our No. 9 position.

Weidman’s reign at middleweight ended that same December night, and the fourth-round TKO at the hands of Luke Rockhold was enough to separate the New Yorker from this Top 10, just as Rousey’s beat-down loss had pushed her out a month earlier.

The conquerors need a place at the table, so McGregor sits at No. 4 and Rockhold at No. 5.   

Also new to the Top 10 is lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, who made quick work of Donald Cerrone last month in his first title defense. He’s slotted at No. 6, pushing down Robbie Lawler. The welterweight belt holder was victorious over the weekend but wasn’t as dominant as the others, so he falls from fifth to seventh.

Dropping out entirely are a couple of teammates, ex-heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez and nominal light heavy titlist Daniel Cormier, who simply had to make room. Velasquez will be knocking at the door in a month when he challenges Fabricio Werdum—No. 3 here—for the heavyweight belt the Brazilian took from him last June. And Cormier can shine a light on himself when he rematches Jones this spring.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Shuffle, shuffle.

So much is changing at the top of the sport. The UFC has 10 weight classes, and eight of them have seen new champions within the last 13 months. Only two current belt holders reigned prior to December 2015: T.J. Dillashaw, who puts his bantamweight belt on the line against ex-champ Dominick Cruz in less than two weeks, and Demetrious Johnson, who has been 125-pound king since way back in 2012. At least someone has managed to keep his footing during the earthquake.

On to the rankings …


1. Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1)
2. Cain Velasquez (13-2)
3. Stipe Miocic (14-2)
4. Ben Rothwell (35-9)
5. Alistair Overeem (40-14)
6. Junior dos Santos (17-4)
7. Andrei Arlovski (25-11, 1 NC)
8. Travis Browne (17-3-1)
9. Mark Hunt (11-10-1)
10. Josh Barnett (34-7)

Velasquez finally gets his sea-level shot at redemption when he challenges Werdum for his old belt at UFC 196 on Feb. 6. The winner likely will get a date with Miocic, who starched Arlovski in less than a minute last weekend. Waiting his turn will be Overeem, who climbed from last month’s No. 9 ranking on the strength of a KO of former No. 3 Dos Santos, and maybe Rothwell, who faces Barnett later this month.

Light heavyweight

1. Jon Jones (21-1)
2. Daniel Cormier (17-1)
3. Anthony Johnson (20-5)
4. Alexander Gustafsson (16-4)
5. Ryan Bader (20-4)
6. Phil Davis (13-3, 1 NC)
7. Glover Teixeira (24-4)
8. Liam McGeary (11-0)
9. Rashad Evans (19-4-1)
10. Ovince Saint Preux (18-7)

Still no date for Jones vs. Cormier II, though it’s expected to go down in New York on April 23. In the meantime, Bader will try to secure the title shot that’s so far eluded him when he faces Johnson on Jan. 30. If he beats “Rumble,” it’ll be hard to deny him.


1. Luke Rockhold (15-2)
2. Chris Weidman (13-1)
3. Yoel Romero (11-1)
4. Ronaldo Souza (22-4, 1 NC)
5. Vitor Belfort (25-11)
6. Lyoto Machida (22-7)
7. Tim Kennedy (18-5)
8. Michael Bisping (26-7)
9. Thales Leites (25-5)
10. Robert Whittaker (15-4)

It was a 185-pound game of leapfrog at last month’s UFC 194, as Rockhold TKO’d Weidman to claim the belt and climb over him to the top of this list, and Romero edged Souza that same night. Next month Bisping welcomes Anderson Silva back from his PED vacation when they tussle in London.


1. Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1 NC)
2. Johny Hendricks (17-3)
3. Rory MacDonald (18-3)
4. Tyron Woodley (15-3)
5. Matt Brown (20-13)
6. Ben Askren (14-0)
7. Carlos Condit (30-9)
8. Demian Maia (22-6)
9. Stephen Thompson (11-1)
10. Dong Hyun Kim (21-3-1, 1 NC)

It would have been interesting if last weekend’s split decision had gone to Condit instead of Lawler, because “The Natural Born Killer” would have faced a daunting line of challengers in wrestling singlets. But instead Lawler’s improbable reign continues, and with every victory he becomes a more inspiring story of resilience and resurgence.


1. Rafael dos Anjos (25-7)
2. Anthony Pettis (18-3)
3. Donald Cerrone (28-7, 1 NC)
4. Tony Ferguson (20-3)
5. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)
6. Will Brooks (16-1)
7. Beneil Dariush (12-1)
8. Edson Barboza (16-4)
9. Nate Diaz (18-10)
10. Gilbert Melendez (22-5)

Dos Anjos needed barely a minute to stop Cerrone, so who’s next? Will it be a rematch (Pettis, assuming the former champ can get by Eddie Alvarez this month) or a new challenge (Ferguson, coming off an impressive stoppage of Barboza)? Or will the UFC think outside the box and book the Brazilian in a superfight with new featherweight champ Conor McGregor? Hint: Follow the money.


1. Conor McGregor (19-2)
2. Frankie Edgar (20-4-1)
3. José Aldo (25-2)
4. Chad Mendes (17-4)
5. Max Holloway (15-3)
6. Ricardo Lamas (16-4)
7. Charles Oliveira (21-5, 1 NC)
8. Daniel Straus 25-6)
9. Patricio Freire (24-3)
10. Cub Swanson (21-7)

McGregor sees bigger things ahead (see above) but does have a stiff challenge right in front of him. After seeing what Edgar did to Mendes, putting him away in two minutes, and considering the wrestling threat the Jersey boy poses, UFC matchmakers ought not put McGregor in with current lightweight champ Dos Anjos. They should give him the ex-champ.


1. T.J. Dillashaw (12-2)
2. Dominick Cruz (20-1)
3. Renan Barão (33-3, 1 NC)
4. Urijah Faber (32-8)
5. Raphael Assunção (23-4)
6. Aljamain Sterling (12-0)
7. Thomas Almeida (20-0)
8. Bibianio Fernandes (16-3)
9. Marcos Galvão (17-6-1)
10. Joe Warren (12-4)

Finally “The Dominator” returns Jan. 17, fighting for the first time in 16 months and just the second time in four years plus, challenging Dillashaw for the belt he wore long ago and lost not to defeat but to injury. If Cruz is anywhere close to what he once was, this showdown will get the heart pumping.


1. Demetrious Johnson (23-2-1)
2. Joseph Benavidez (22-4)
3. John Dodson (17-7)
4. Henry Cejudo (10-0)
5. Ali Bagautinov (13-4)
6. Jussier da Silva (18-4)
7. Zach Makovsky (19-6)
8. John Moraga (16-4)
9. Kyoji Horiguchi (15-2)
10. Ian McCall (13-5-1)

Who can challenge “Mighty Mouse”? Benavidez and Dodson are nowhere men, both having lost twice to Johnson. (Dodson, knowing his lot in life, is moving to bantamweight.) That leaves Cejudo, the golden boy. Is it too soon in his MMA career—10 fights, four in the UFC, in less than three years—for the 2008 Olympic wrestling gold medalist to fight the champ? Maybe. But he appears to be next in line, so he’d better be ready.

Women’s Bantamweight

1. Holly Holm (10-0)
2. Ronda Rousey (12-1)
3. Cat Zingano (9-1)
4. Miesha Tate (17-5)
5. Alexis Davis (17-6)
6. Amanda Nunes (11-4)
7. Julianna Peña (7-2)
8. Valentina Shevchenko (12-1)
9. Tonya Evinger (17-5)
10. Sara McMann (8-3)

The division seems so open-ended with Rousey no longer at the top. And with reports indicating that Holm’s first defense might not be a rematch with “Rowdy Ronda” but might instead be against Tate, so many possibilities are swirling around.

Women’s Strawweight

1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0)
2. Claudia Gadelha (13-1)
3. Jessica Aguilar (19-5)
4. Carla Esparza (10-3)
5. Rose Namajunas (4-2)
6. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (8-0)
7. Valerie Letourneau (8-4)
8. Joanne Calderwood (9-1)
9. Tecia Torres (7-0)
10. Maryna Moroz (6-1)

Namajunas was impressive in her derailing of the Paige VanZant hype train last month, looking so much better than she had in her fight with Esparza for the title a little over a year ago. She has time to refine her game even more, as Jedrzejczyk likely will next put her belt on the line against Gadelha.

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