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 crowning of a new UFC strawweight champion and the rises of a trio of up-and-comers and contenders — Ketlen Vieira, Marlon Vera, and a new-look Alexandr Romanov — May proved that even in a month light on major MMA action, the blood gods never fail to make things interesting.
Luckily, they’ll have their work cut out for them as the summer schedule is about to heat up, with eight UFC events taking pace over the next eight weeks, three of which are star-studded pay-per-views.
So before we hit the ground running, let’s first check in where the MMA world stands after a month filled with controversial calls, perplexing performances, and a handful of statement wins from some of the sport’s more underappreciated fighters.
Don’t forget to listen to the new episode of the MMA Fighting Rankings Show below, where the panel debated the MVP of May, made sense of the Pokemon-esque game of rock-paper-scissors taking place at the top of 115 pounds, took a hard look at some of 2022’s most prospect-heavy divisions, and much more.
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.
And with that, let’s dive in.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Make your voice heard in the comments below.
*This month’s ranking cycle includes first week of July, so UFC 276 fights are included in upcoming bouts
The heavyweight top 10 need to be on the lookout for “King Kong.”
It may seem odd to see Alexandr Romanov vault into the rankings with a win over journeyman Chase Sherman, but the undefeated Moldovan has been so impressive in his first five UFC outings that our panel could no longer deny him a spot. With finishes in all but one of his 16 pro bouts — and a slimmed-down physique that has him looking less like a cuddly cartoon bear and more like a real-life terrifying bear — Romanov has kept pace with fellow heavyweight high-risers Tom Aspinall, Tai Tuivasa, and Sergei Pavlovich.
Helping Romanov’s case is the fact that two heavyweight stalwarts have seen their stock plummet. Longtime contender Alistair Overeem is currently set for a kickboxing trilogy bout against Badr Hari at GLORY Collision 4 this October and he is also expected to make his pro wrestling debut soon, which makes a return to MMA increasingly unlikely. And former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos’ Eagle FC debut ended in disappointment when his shoulder popped out during his fight against the lightly regarded Yorgan De Castro.
“JDS” exits the rankings for the first time, and it won’t be long before Overeem joins him.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 10 Ryan Bader def. Cheick Kongo, Yorgan De Castro def. No. 15 (tied) Junior dos Santos
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 8 Alexander Volkov vs. No. 9 Jairzinho Rozenstruik (UFC Vegas 56, June 4)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Sergei Pavlovich (4), Phil De Fries (3), Junor dos Santos (2), Fedor Emelianenko (2), Arjan Bhullar (1), Bruno Cappelozza (1), Linton Vassell (1)
Speaking of injuries, a mishap in the main event of UFC Vegas 54 prevented a potential shakeup at the top of the light heavyweight division.
Aleksandar Rakic was in the middle of a competitive contest with former UFC champion Jan Blachowicz when his leg gave out (it was later revealed that he tore his ACL in his right knee), bringing an unsatisfying conclusion to the fight. Instead of a top-5 spot and title contender talk, Rakic now finds himself with a long road to recovery ahead.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the win, Blachowicz feels that he’s done enough to stay in pole position for another crack at UFC gold — and, like the rest of the division, he eagerly awaits the result of the UFC 275 main event between champion Glover Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka. Blachowicz said on The MMA Hour that he thinks a fight between himself and Prochazka could sell out a 60,000-seat stadium in his native Poland.
Over on the Bellator side, we welcome Yoel Romero back to the conversation as the former UFC middleweight contender scored his first win as a Bellator light heavyweight and his first win in over four years with a buzzer-beating knockout of Alex Polizzi. The ageless wonder appeared on just three ballots this month, but there’s plenty of room for advancement in his new division so don’t be surprised if he has a number next to his name again in the near future.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 4 Jan Blachowicz def. No. 6 Aleksandar Rakic
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Glover Teixeira vs. No. 3 Jiri Prochazka (UFC 275, June 11)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Nikita Krylov (4), Antonio Carlos Junior (4), Yoel Romero (3), Israel Adesanya (1), Ryan Bader (1), Tomasz Narkun (1), Ryan Spann (1)
We didn’t have a lot of big names making waves last month at 185 pounds, but the division is starting to show some depth.
Outside of the top 15 we had veterans Krzysztof Jotko, Lorenz Larkin, and Chidi Njokuani scoring notable wins, while prospect Andre Petroski has become one to watch after a disappointing showing on The Ultimate Fighter 29.
Jotko has long been one of the middleweight division’s toughest outs, and Gerald Meerschaert discovered that firsthand as he dropped a unanimous decision to the Polish standout. In his past six outings, Jotko has lost just once and his UFC record now stands at 11-5.
Larkin has quietly continued to make a case for himself as a contender in Bellator with two straight wins since returning to 185 pounds. “The Monsoon” made short work of Kyle Stewart at Bellator 280 and will be in consideration for a title shot should Gegard Mousasi fend off Johnny Eblen in June.
Make it two impressive knockouts in two appearances this year for Njokuani, a former Bellator fighter who has an immediate splash in the UFC. Njokuani brings plenty of experience to the promotion while also feeling like a jolt of new blood.
And at UFC Vegas 54, Petroski silenced the hype surrounding the Diaz brothers-adjacent Nick Maximov, choking him out in just 76 seconds. Petroski is due for a step up in competition after finishing his first three UFC foes.
Looking ahead to June, top-5 middleweights Israel Adesanya, Jared Cannonier, and Mousasi are all in action, plus a bout between Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira could give Adesanya his next challenger.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): N/A
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Israel Adesanya vs. No. 4 Jared Cannonier (UFC 276, July 2), No. 3 Gegard Mousasi vs. Johnny Eblen (Bellator 282, June 24), No. 8 Sean Strickland vs. Alex Pereira (UFC 276, July 2), No. 10 Andre Muniz vs. No. 12 Uriah Hall (UFC 276, July 2)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Johnny Eblen (2), Kevin Holland (2), Krzysztof Jotko (2), Chris Weidman (2), Chris Curtis (1), Lorenz Larkin (1), John Salter (1), Brad Tavares (1)
Happy (or maybe not so happy) trails to Ray Cooper III and Michael Page! For now, anyway.
Two of the best welterweights outside of the UFC slipped up and out of our rankings entirely, with Cooper missing weight by over five pounds for his 2022 PFL season debut and then dropping a clear-cut decision to talented newcomer Carlos Leal, and Page falling short in his shot at an interim Bellator title with an uninspiring performance against Logan Storley in a bout that didn’t make a convincing case for either fighter’s inclusion in the rankings.
Storley’s win earns him his first appearance in the top 15, but he might not be there long with the likes of Michel Pereira, Roberto Soldic, and Randy Brown racking up wins against quality competition. He currently sits in a tie for 13 with Shavkat Rakhmonov and Jorge Masvidal — and Rakhmonov could be set to break into the top 10 with a strong performance against Neil Magny later this month.
Ahead of those names, the top of the welterweight division remains stagnant with Kamaru Usman recovering from injury, Colby Covington in no hurry to return to action after allegedly being attacked at a Miami restaurant by Jorge Masvidal, and Leon Edwards just hoping that the UFC doesn’t change see fit to rob him of a long-deserved title shot.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): Carlos Leal def. No. 12 Ray Cooper III, Logan Storley def. No. 13 Michael Page
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 12 Neil Magny vs. No. 13 (tied) Shavkat Rakhmonov (UFC Vegas 57, June 25)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Michel Pereira (4), Roberto Soldic (4), Michael Page (3), Randy Brown (1), Jason Jackson (1), Carlos Leal (1), Douglas Lima (1), Geoff Neal (1)
Just call Charles Oliveira “The Bomb Squad,” because the UFC’s lightweight king is defusing threats left and right as he stakes his own claim to greatness.
The latest contender who was expected to dethrone Oliveira? Former interim champion Justin Gaethje, arguably the most exciting fighter in the history of one of MMA’s most exciting divisions. Given Oliveira’s penchant for getting hit in even his best outings, it was easy to imagine him falling to Gaethje’s destructive power punches. But just like in his title fights against Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler, “do Bronx” took the best that his opponent had to offer and fired back with the fury of a thousand suns.
What’s beautiful is that Oliveira already has his next high-profile challenger ahead of him in Beneil Dariush or first-place vote-getter Islam Makhachev. And that’s not even mentioning the possibility that featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski successfully settles his trilogy with Max Holloway and persuades the UFC to let him chase two-division glory.
It’s not easy being Oliveira, but if he passes all of his potential tests, he’ll have a résumé that stacks up against the best to ever do it.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 1 Charles Oliveira def. No. 3 Justin Gaethje, No. 6 Michael Chandler def. No. 7 Tony Ferguson
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 (tied) Arman Tsarukyan vs. No. 11 (tied) Mateusz Gamrot (UFC Vegas 57, June 25), No. 13 Brad Riddell vs. Jalin Turner (UFC 276, July 2), No. 14 (tied) Raush Manfio vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (PFL 4, June 17)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Grant Dawson (3), Diego Ferreira (2), Roberto Satoshi (2), Clay Collard (1), Bobby Green (1), Conor McGregor (1)
No ranked featherweights were in action this past month, so let’s look ahead to what could be a big month for the division.
Less than three months after a masterpiece of a title defense against Chan Sung Jung, Alexander Volkanovski is set to resolve his business with fan favorite Max Holloway. His first win over Holloway was definitive, the second competitive and controversial, and the third could be legacy defining. Only Jose Aldo would stand between Volkanovski and the title of featherweight GOAT, and it’s worth mentioning that Volkanovski has a win over Aldo.
Also this month, Calvin Kattar can keep himself in the title conversation with a win over Josh Emmett in a bout that has bonuses written all over it, and Movsar Evloev can strengthen his case to be considered the best prospect at 145 pounds when he fights Dan Ige in Saturday’s co-main event.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): N/A
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Alexander Volkanovski vs. No. 2 Max Holloway (UFC 276, July 2), No. 7 Calvin Kattar vs. No. 8 Josh Emmett (UFC Austin, June 18), No. 13 Dan Ige vs. No. 14 Movsar Evloev (UFC Vegas 56, June 4)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Aaron Pico (4), Edson Barboza (3), Adam Borics (2), Ilia Topuria (2), Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (1)
Marlon Vera has constantly campaigned for top-10 opponents — and he didn’t waste his chance when given the chance to take Rob Font’s spot.
“Chito” slugged it out with the technical-minded Font in the main event of UFC Vegas 53, and when it was all said and done, there was no question that Vera deserved a decision win and his highest position yet in our rankings. The Ecuadorian makes an impressive four-spot jump past Font, Dominick Cruz, and Bellator standouts Raufeon Stots and Sergio Pettis to land at No. 7 this month.
Making Vera’s move even more impressive is how difficult it is to gain any sort of traction in the loaded bantamweight division. That said, if Vera can shake loose a name from the top 5 for his next outing — Petr Yan or Cory Sandhagen, where you at? — then he could finally make the transition from bonus collector to belt collector.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 11 Marlon Vera def. No. 6 Rob Font
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: N/A
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Pedro Munhoz (3), Juan Archuleta (1), Frankie Edgar (1), Sean O’Malley (1), Danny Sabatello (1), Ricky Simon (1)
It was still waters at flyweight last month, though Brandon Royval reminded everyone why he’s a dark horse contender in the division.
Royval submitted Matt Schnell in an entertaining bout that lasted just over two minutes to score a second straight win after dropping consecutive fights to Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja. Losing to two elite fighters has temporarily removed Royval from title contention, but he already has two wins this year, and a third could make him a front runner to challenge for the UFC belt in 2023.
Yes, as crude as his nickname sounds, how can anyone argue that we’re in the midst of The Year of The Raw Dawg?
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 9 Brandon Royval def. Matt Schnell
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 11 Manel Kape vs. No. 14 Rogerio Bontorin (UFC 275, June 11), No. 15 (tied) Tim Elliott vs. Amir Albazi (UFC Vegas 57, June 25)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Jeff Molina (5), Muhammad Mokaev (2), Matt Schnell (2), Amir Albazi (1), Danny Kingad (1)
You’re reading that right: Holly Holm has relinquished her iron grip on a top-3 spot.
Ever since Holm authored a historic head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey six and a half years ago, she has been entrenched at the top of the 135-pound division. It wasn’t just because of her reputation either, as a number of tough opponents have come for Holm’s spot only to be sent back by the resilient former champion. This time it was Ketlen Vieira’s turn — and the Brazilian contender did enough to get over the hump.
Vieira’s five-round decision win immediately sparked talk of a robbery (it wasn’t, here’s why) and renewed requests for open scoring (OK), but fans and media should really just be celebrating a major move in a division that regularly sees little significant change. Vieira will get her chance to prove she truly deserves her new No. 3 ranking. Until then, just enjoy the bantamweight division finally experiencing some upheaval.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 7 Ketlen Vieira def. No. 3 Holly Holm, No. 12 Macy Chiasson def. Norma Dumont (featherweight bout)
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 9 Miesha Tate vs. No. 5 FLW Lauren Murphy (flyweight bout) (UFC 276, July 2)
Fighters also receiving votes: Jessica-Rose Clark (1)
Katlyn Chookagian just keeps winning.
Look up “gatekeeper” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of “Blonde Fighter,” the 125-pound decision machine who refuses to give up ground except against the best in the division. Chookagian improved to 18-4 with a split nod over strawweight contender Amanda Ribas last month, and her four losses remain to the following fighters:
- Valentina Shevchenko (MMA Fighting’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter)
- Jessica Andrade (ranked in the top 5 of two divisions)
- Jessica Eye (one-time UFC title challenger)
- Liz Carmouche (current Bellator flyweight champion)
That’s four straight wins now for Chookagian, though she might need four more to get another title shot after Shevchenko made it look like easy work against her at UFC 247. Just don’t bet against her pulling it off.
Meanwhile, Araujo overcame a game Andrea Lee (and some heinous comments from Lee’s corner) to inch one step closer to the top 10.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 3 Katlyn Chookagian def. No. 8 SW Amanda Ribas, No. 12 Viviane Araujo def. No. 13 Andrea Lee
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 1 Valentina Shevchenko vs. No. 8 Taila Santos (UFC 275, June 11), No. 5 Lauren Murphy vs. No. 9 BW Miesha Tate (UFC 276, July 2), No. 13 Erin Blanchfield vs. JJ Aldrich (UFC Vegas 56, June 4)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Maycee Barber (3), Tracy Cortez (2), Vanessa Porto (2), Cynthia Calvillo (1), Justine Kish (1), Jessica Eye (1), Amanda Ribas (1), Karina Rodriguez (1)
Carla Esparza beat Rose Namajunas again, which makes her our new undisputed No. 1 strawweight. Well, maybe not so undisputed.
Two of our panelists instead awarded their first-place vote to former UFC champion Jessica Andrade — and given the clusterbiff at the top of this division, can you blame them? Trying to use MMA math to sort out the 115-pound elite will leave you scribbling on windows like John Nash, and the eye test isn’t too helpful either. Do you feel Esparza did enough to score that second win over Namajunas or should it have been a draw? Who wins a Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade trilogy bout? Can you rank Andrade over Zhang Weili when Zhang beat Andrade in 42 seconds? Can you rank Zhang over Namajunas when Namajunas has beaten her twice? Would you favor Esparza in a fight against any of those three?
Add in the fact that we’re just a week away from the return of Joanna Jedrzejczyk — you know, the former champion who holds dominant wins over Andrade and Esparza — and you can see why Esparza’s hold on No. 1 is tenuous at best.
Then there’s poor Marina Rodriguez is on the outside looking in. You get the sense that she’ll have to wait for the dust to settle around the four former titleholders before her call for a championship opportunity is answered.
May results for ranked fighters (previous ranking shown): No. 3 FLW Katlyn Chookagian def. No. 8 Amanda Ribas (flyweight bout), No. 12 Viviane Araujo def. No. 13 Andrea Lee
Upcoming bouts featuring ranked fighters: No. 3 Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 275, June 11)
Fighters also receiving votes (number of ballot appearances shown): Emily Ducote (2), Jessica Penne (2), Kanako Murata (1)