MMA Rankings, March 2022: Islam Makhachev cements top-4 spot — is No. 1 inevitable?

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev v Green
Islam Makhachev | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Welcome to the latest update to the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, where our esteemed panel of experts team up to sort out the movers and shakers of an ever-shifting MMA landscape.

Between the continued rises of divisional stalwarts like Islam Makhachev and Jared Cannonier, the sudden eruptions of disrupters Tai Tuivasa and Arman Tsarukyan, and the free-for-all that took place at 185 pounds which saw more than half of the top 15 fighting to keep their spot, February was a hectic time for the global MMA scene.

Fortunately for us, March appears to be no different, as matchups featuring ranked contenders are scheduled to go down in all 11 of the sport’s major divisions. So before we look ahead to Saturday’s UFC 272 pay-per-view and beyond, let’s first set the table and check in where things stand in our global rankings after the chaos of the past four weeks.

Don’t forget to listen to the new episode of the MMA Fighting Rankings Show below, where the panel debated the biggest winners and losers of the latest rankings cycle, crowned an MVP of February, and predicted who will be the breakout story of a busy March.

Before we begin, a quick refresher on some ground rules:

  • Our eight-person voting panel consists of MMA Fighting staffers Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Guilherme Cruz, Mike Heck, E. Casey Leydon, Steven Marrocco, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew.
  • Fighters will be removed from the rankings if they do not compete within 18 months of their most recent bout.
  • Updates to the rankings will be completed at the start of every month.
  • Fighters will be ranked in the weight class that their promotion regularly lists them at. That means ONE Championship fighters, who compete at a weight class one division above their counterparts in most other organizations (i.e. flyweights fight at 135 pounds, lightweights compete at 170 pounds, etc.) will be placed alongside fighters in the same listed division. In other words, use your common sense: Demetrious Johnson is a flyweight, people.
  • Should a fighter announce their retirement, our panel will decide whether that fighter should immediately be removed from the rankings or maintain their position until further notice (let’s put it this way: we’d have taken Khabib Nurmagomedov out of our rankings a lot quicker than the UFC did).
  • Fighters who regularly compete or hold titles in multiple weight classes are eligible to be ranked in multiple lists.
  • Holding a promotion’s title does not guarantee that fighter will be viewed as the best in their promotion.
  • Regarding all the above rules, any possible exceptions will be discussed internally and noted in the article.

In case you missed it, last month’s divisional rankings can be seen here.

And with that, let’s dive in.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.


UFC 271: Derrick Lewis v Tai Tuivasa
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Heavyweight


No, you haven’t accidentally done an acid-laced shoey, it’s real: Tai Tuivasa is a top 4 heavyweight in the world.

That might not sound all that unbelievable given that we just saw him pick up his fifth straight win with a knockout of perennial contender Derrick Lewis, but keep in mind that it wasn’t long ago that Tuivasa was on a listless three-fight losing streak and joking on Instagram that he’d been released by the UFC. Now, he’s within spitting distance (I know, I know) of a UFC title shot.

Whether Tuivasa has the potential to go any further is up for debate, as he remains a tier below the three-headed dragon of Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane, and Stipe Miocic, plus there’s an argument to be made that a matchup with No. 5 Curtis Blaydes would end poorly for the affable Aussie.

But for now, let’s bask in the glory of Tuivasa’s unlikely career turnaround and appreciate him having his moment in the sun. After all, he rarely seems to be worrying about where his career is headed, so why should we?

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Tai Tuivasa def. No. 4 Derrick Lewis

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 5 Curtis Blaydes vs. No. 13 Chris Daukaus (UFC Columbus, March 26), No. 7 Alexander Volkov vs. No. 12 Tom Aspinall (UFC London, March 19)

Fighters also receiving votes: Shamil Abdurakhimov, Arjan Bhullar, Phil De Fries, Fedor Emelianenko, Alexander Romanov, Augusto Sakai


Light Heavyweight


Welcome to the rankings, Jamahal Hill.

“Sweet Dreams” had been knocking on the door of a top 15 spot for some time. But after a couple of hiccups that included injuring his arm against Paul Craig and having a knockout win over Klidson Abreu overturned due to a positive marijuana test, it looks as if Hill’s ascent is beginning to stabilize. Back-to-back finishes in under three minutes will do that for you.

In his first UFC main event, Hill — now tied for the No. 14 spot — sent Johnny Walker packing with a Knockout of the Year candidate that affirmed him as a contender at 205 pounds. Add in wins over Jimmy Crute and Ovince Saint Preux and it’s not inconceivable that Hill could punch his way to a title shot sometime next year.

He’s facing stiff competition on the way up though, including No. 13 Craig and the streaking Magomed Ankalaev, both of whom compete this month.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 7 Magomed Ankalaev vs. No. 9 Thiago Santos (UFC Vegas 50, March 12), No. 11 Phil Davis vs. Julius Anglickas (Bellator 276, March 12), No. 13 Paul Craig vs. Nikita Krylov (UFC London, March 19)

Fighters also receiving votes: Antonio Carlos Junior, Nikita Krylov, Tomasz Narkun, Johnny Walker, Israel Adesanya, Ryan Bader


Middleweight


Last month, we warned that there could be major movement in the middleweight division, and while most of the top names ultimately defended their spots, several fighters nonetheless continued their climbs up the charts.

Israel Adesanya remains at the center of the middleweight galaxy, having taken care of business against Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 in a competitive rematch that only confirmed the two are a cut above the rest of the pack. On that same card, Jared Cannonier made the matchmakers’ jobs easy by dispatching Derek Brunson, saving Adesanya from another rematch, and punching his ticket as the next in line.

That said, there is one man who believes he deserves mention alongside — and if you ask him, ahead of — Adesanya and Whittaker: Bellator champion Gegard Mousasi. The 19-year veteran completely outclassed Austin Vanderford to record his third title defense and improve to 12-1 in his past 13.

Unfortunately for fans, unless Mousasi returns to the UFC or Adesanya or Whittaker jump ship to Bellator, any comparison between them is pure speculation. However, if Mousasi continues to dice up the competition and Whittaker shows any sign of a drop off in the future, expect there to be a healthy debate over whether Mousasi deserves more respect in the rankings.

Also worth noting, former champion Chris Weidman exits the top 15 for the first time since the start of the MMA Fighting Global Rankings as he continues his recovery from a broken leg suffered last April. That departure means ONE Championship two-division titleholder Reinier de Ridder now has sole ownership of the No. 15 spot. “The Dutch Knight” improved to 15-0 with his first successful middleweight title defense, a dominant submission win over Kiamrian Abbasov.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Israel Adesanya def. No. 2 Robert Whittaker, No. 3 Gegard Mousasi def. Austin Vanderford, No. 6 Jared Cannonier def. No. 4 Derek Brunson, No. 9 Sean Strickland def. No. 8 Jack Hermansson, No. 15 (tied) Reinier de Ridder def. Kiamrian Abbasov

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 13 Kevin Holland vs. Alex Oliveira (UFC 272, March 5, welterweight bout)

Fighters also receiving votes: Chris Curtis, Nassourdine Imavov, John Salter, Brad Tavares, Chris Weidman


Welterweight


Colby Covington has earned the distinction of being the best welterweight on the planet not named Kamaru Usman — a title that Jorge Masvidal could take away in one fell swoop.

The former best friends turned bitter enemies finally clash at UFC 272 on Saturday in a rare non-title pay-per-view headliner. Given their history and willingness to sell a fight, it’s not surprising that the UFC felt comfortable proceeding with this as a main event attraction after a pair of title fights fell through. Would-be champion vs. “BMF” champion? Sign us up.

Despite the lack of gold on the line, this one feels like it has “must-win” implications — and not just for personal reasons. Covington’s abrasive personality is embraced by the UFC so long as he’s winning fights (his only losses in the past six years are to Usman), so a stumble against Masvidal would divest him of much of his promotional currency.

The same could be said for Masvidal, who beat the odds to reach a late-career peak with a spectacular 2019 campaign and could peak a second time if he upsets Covington. For a division with an indomitable champion up top, the welterweights always find a way to keep things interesting.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 2 Colby Covington vs. No. 11 Jorge Masvidal (UFC 272, March 5), No. 14 Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin (UFC Columbus, March 26)

Fighters also receiving votes: Roberto Soldic, Jason Jackson, Douglas Lima, Geoff Neal, Shavkat Rakhmonov


UFC Fight Night: Makhachev v Green
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Lightweight


Is Islam Makhachev destined to be a UFC lightweight champion?

The latest Dagestani terror propelled his win streak to 10 straight in February with an effortless first-round stoppage of Bobby Green — and captured sole possession of the division’s No. 4 spot after being stuck in a tie with Beneil Dariush. Makhachev certainly looks like a future king of 155 pounds, much in the same way Khabib Nurmagomedov did before him. But will the win over Green be enough to earn Makhachev a shot at the belt? After a short-notice matchup against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 272 failed to come to fruition, that answer remains up in the air. After all, the specter of Conor McGregor forever looms.

Lightweight also welcomed some new blood to its ranks as top prospect Arman Tsarukyan debuted in a tie for No. 11 following his bloody destruction of Joel Alvarez at UFC Vegas 49. The 25-year-old has rattled off five dominant wins since debuting with a competitive bout against Makhachev. At this rate, it may not be long until a Tsarukyan vs. Makhachev rematch is within the realm of possibility — potentially with UFC gold on the line.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 (tied) Islam Makhachev def. Bobby Green

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 8 Rafael dos Anjos vs. Renato Moicano (UFC 272, March 5)

Fighters also receiving votes: Drew Dober, Diego Ferreira, Bobby Green, Conor McGregor, Renato Moicano, Thiago Moises


Featherweight


All eyes are understandably on Alexander Volkanovski and his upcoming fight with Chan Sung Jung, not to mention a championship trilogy bout with Max Holloway that will inevitably be revisited if Volkanovski gets past “The Korean Zombie.” But don’t sleep on March’s featherweight offerings.

Arnold Allen has long been one of the division’s overlooked contenders due to inactivity (he’s fought twice in a calendar year just once since 2014) and a lack of marquee opponents, but 8-0 in the UFC is still 8-0 in the UFC. He welcomes the rangy Dan Hooker back to the featherweight division on March 19, as Hooker looks to jump-start his career after facing a murderer’s row of opponents at 155 pounds.

And this Saturday, Edson Barboza will defend his No. 13 spot against Bryce Mitchell, an undefeated up-and-comer at 145 pounds. If Mitchell gets the better of the grappler vs. striker matchup, look to see his name featured in next month’s rankings update.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Arnold Allen vs. No. 13 LW Dan Hooker (UFC London, March 19), No. 13 Edson Barboza vs. Bryce Mitchell (UFC 272, March 5)

Fighters also receiving votes: Adam Borics, Shane Burgos, Mads Burnell, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Bryce Mitchell, Aaron Pico, Ilia Topuria


Bantamweight


For the second month in a row there’s little to report at 135 pounds, as the most important bantamweight matchup is still a month away. Fingers crossed, the always fickle MMA Gods keep their meddling paws off the April 9 UFC 273 co-main event and we finally get to see Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan settle the score. That needs to happen for the sake of the division, because there’s a lineup of challengers waiting in the wings, including former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Merab Dvalishvili, and — further down the road — former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw.

Also looming on the horizon is the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix, which still does not have a targeted start date. Presumably, officials are waiting for top guns Sergio Pettis and Kyoji Horiguchi to be ready before booking anything, which is smart, because a potential rematch between the two will be one of the most highly anticipated fights of the year (that year being 2023, most likely). Even if we’re robbed of a Pettis-Horiguchi tournament final, that bracket should provide plenty of fun fights and possibly bump a few names up the rankings.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Marlon Moraes vs. Song Yadong (UFC Vegas 50, March 12)

Fighters also receiving votes: Frankie Edgar, Cody Garbrandt, Patchy Mix, Said Nurmagomedov, Hiromasa Ougikubo, Ricky Simon, Song Yadong, Raufeon Stots


Flyweight


Pay close attention, for that is the buzzing of flyweights that you hear.

March sees three of the world’s best 125ers in action, with No. 3 Adriano Moraes returning to action for the first time since his stunning knockout of all-time great Demetrious Johnson last April, No. 4 Johnson competing in a custom rules (half MMA/half kickboxing) bout against Rodtang Jitmuangon, and No. 5 Askar Askarov facing No. 9 Kai Kara-France for the chance to potentially be Deiveson Figueiredo’s next challenger (assuming Figueiredo doesn’t run it back with Brandon Moreno one more time).

Since Johnson’s departure from the UFC, the division that he ruled over for the majority of the 2010s has only become more competitive, and its exciting to see a healthy debate around who is truly the best in the world at 125 pounds right now. “Mighty Mouse,” your contributions are not forgotten. Now go and have your freak show fun.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Adriano Moraes vs. Yuya Wakamatsu (ONE Championship: One X, March 26), No. 4 Demetrious Johnson vs. Rodtang Jitmuangnon (ONE Championship: One X, March 26, custom rules bout), No. 5 Askar Askarov vs. No. 9 Kai Kara-France (UFC Columbus, March 26), No. 10 Matheus Nicolau vs. No. 13 David Dvorak, No. 15 Tim Elliott vs. Tagir Ulanbekov (UFC 272, March 5)

Fighters also receiving votes: Amir Albazi, Ali Bagautinov, Danny Kingad, Jeff Molina, Matt Schnell


Women’s Bantamweight


The good news: We’re getting Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes 2!

The bad news: You’re going to have to wait for them to coach The Ultimate Fighter 30 first.

In fairness to everyone involved, the reigning bantamweight champion already said she wasn’t expecting to book a fight with Nunes until the summer, and the airing of TUF 30 should fit that timeline, so the long-running reality show isn’t actually delaying the rematch. If anything, it gives the budding rivals plenty of time to build anticipation for a fight that was lacking hype the first time. With Peña now being the hunted, the whole dynamic has changed.

On a side note, happy trails to Alexis Davis, who fought out her contract with a win over Julija Stoliarenko at UFC Vegas 47 and was not re-signed. The one-time UFC title challenger has been a stalwart at 135 pounds and it’s a shame to not see her stick around in such a depleted division. Wherever Davis ends up next, you can trust her to put on a heck of a scrap.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 15 Alexis Davis def. Julija Stoliarenko

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Sara McMann vs. No. 11 Karol Rosa (UFC Columbus, March 26)

Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark, Stephanie Egger


UFC Fight Night: Wood v Santos
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Women’s Flyweight


This just in: Valentina Shevchenko has her next title fight.

As first reported by MMA Fighting, Shevchenko is set to fight No. 8 Taila Santos at UFC 275 on June 11. One could argue that’s a quick jump into the title picture for Santos, but consider that Shevchenko has vanquished all but one of the contenders from No. 2 to No. 7 (that one being Bellator champion Juliana Velasquez) and you’ll realize that Santos is the logical option. “Bullet” has stated many times that her priority is staying active and racking up title defenses — so Santos, you’re the next woman up.

Meanwhile, the lower third of the rankings is heating up with blue-chippers Casey O’Neill, Erin Blanchfield, and Manon Fiorot all claiming spots. O’Neill, MMA Fighting’s 2021 Rookie of the Year, made a strong statement with a decision nod over Roxanne Modafferi in “The Happy Warrior’s” retirement bout at UFC 271, but Fiorot could vault over her peers this Saturday.

With veteran Jessica Eye forced out of their scheduled UFC 272 bout, Fiorot has been given a massive opportunity — and challenge — in the form of No. 6 Jennifer Maia. Should Fiorot knock off the one-time UFC title challenger, it will advance her championship timetable considerably, and who knows, she could soon be next to face either Shevchenko or Santos.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 14 Casey O’Neill def. Roxanne Modafferi

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 6 Jennifer Maia vs. No. 15 (tied) Manon Fiorot (UFC Columbus, March 26), No. 10 Joanne Wood vs. No. 14 Alexa Grasso (UFC Columbus, March 26)

Fighters also receiving votes: Maycee Barber, Cynthia Calvillo, Jessica Eye, Melissa Gatto, Miranda Maverick, Vanessa Porto


Strawweight


Let’s just say it: Marina Rodriguez vs. Yan Xiaonan should be on the UFC 272 main card.

Somehow, it was decided that one of the two top contenders (the other being the painfully overlooked Carla Esparza) for UFC champion Rose Namajunas should be wedged in the middle of the preliminary card, despite the fact that Rodriguez has already done enough to be considered Namajunas’ next challenger after Esparza. If you’re wondering why the UFC struggles to build stars, illogical card placement certainly doesn’t help.

Add in the fact that heavyweight never-will-be Greg Hardy has somehow been slotted into a main card spot and it’s just insulting.

Regardless, Rodriguez will strengthen the argument that she is a future champion, or Yan — who won her first six UFC fights before being stopped by Esparza — could upset the apple cart with a much-needed bounce-back performance. Either way, these fighters deserve more respect, and you can bet that they’ll prove that on Saturday.

February results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): None

March bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 4 Marina Rodriguez vs. No. 6 Yan Xiaonan (UFC 272, March 5)

Fighters also receiving votes: Emily Ducote, Kanako Murata, Stamp Fairtex

Go to Source
Author: Alexander K. Lee

Leave a Reply