Islam Makhachev is No. 1 in the ESPN men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Alexander Volkanovski is No. 1 in the ESPN men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Both guys’ arms get raised by the ref, and we call it a draw … or, in rankings lingo, a tie.
How is it possible that Makhachev is not alone at the top of our rankings after he successfully defended his UFC lightweight championship over the weekend with a victory over none other than Volkanovski? The superfight main event of UFC 284 was awfully close, but Makhachev did win by unanimous decision in his fight with the featherweight champ, who previously owned the top spot all by himself.
However, rankings are different from judges’ scorecards, and pound-for-pound rankings in particular take into account a wide variety of factors. Let’s face it: Assembling a pecking order of fighters ranging from heavyweight to flyweight is an exercise in fantasy, because we’re never going to see Brandon Moreno go mano a mano inside a cage with Francis Ngannou (thankfully).
We did get a head-to-head matchup between Makhachev and Volkanovski, though. But even factoring in Saturday’s classic fight, it’s reasonable to look beyond the result. One cannot ignore, for instance, that Makhachev was competing in his natural weight class while Volkanovski was moving up 10 pounds. There are all sorts of twists and turns in the process of sorting out what’s at the top of the heap.
Here’s how our six panelists arrived at their votes:
Megan Anderson: I kept Volkanovski as No. 1 because, while the fight was super close, I thought he edged the decision, three rounds to two. I also feel that Volk took more of a risk in taking that fight than Islam did, by going up a weight class. Even though the judges didn’t score it in his favor, Volk cemented himself as the No. 1 guy.
Brett Okamoto: I understand arguments for Volkanovski and I don’t strongly disagree. But so much about pound-for-pound rankings is speculative, and in this case we saw a fight between these two and Makhachev was the winner. And if we were to picture the fight at 145, in a fantasy world where Makhachev could actually make that weight, the matchup looks different because you’d assume Volkanovski’s speed/cardio edge wouldn’t be as significant. So, as is always the case with pound-for-pound, there are multiple ways to look at it and split hairs. Ultimately I felt I had to go with who won the fight.
Carlos Contreras Legaspi: Volkanovski is the best example of what a pound-for-pound ranking means. He can compete in several divisions, and his size disadvantage never plays against him. At UFC 284 he faced a massive opponent in Makhachev but showed his usual pace, striking volume and composure. I scored the fight for him.
Marc Raimondi: Makhachev beat Volkanovski; it’s really as simple as that. The fight was close and Volkanovski afforded himself incredibly well, absolutely. It’s all subjective, but what’s the point of even having pound-for-pound rankings if head-to-head results don’t matter?
Eddie Maisonet III: Volkanovski did the unthinkable: He outhustled a grappling superhero to land top position and rained ground-and-pound on Makhachev at the end of a 25-minute fight. Crown the man No. 1.
Jeff Wagenheim: I was the only panelist who didn’t have Makhachev at No. 2, right behind Volkanovski, going into the weekend. To me, the Charles Oliveira fight was his only win over a top-shelf opponent. But now he has two, and that is what I needed to see. His well-roundedness wowed me, too. I get why some are keeping Volkanovski at the top, because he moved up a weight class and fought brilliantly, but Saturday proved to me that Makhachev is the pound-for-pound boss.
So there it is: Makhachev and Volkanovski share our No. 1 spot … just three weeks before the return of a fighter who made that top ranking his longtime home, Jon Jones. Stay tuned.
For the ESPN divisional MMA rankings, click here.
Note: Results are current; rankings as of Feb. 14.
Men’s pound-for-pound rankings
T-1. Islam Makhachev
UFC lightweight champion
Previous ranking: 2
Last: W (UD) Alexander Volkanovski, Feb. 11, 2023
UFC featherweight champion
Last: L (UD) Islam Makhachev, Feb. 11, 2023
3. Kamaru Usman
Last: L (KO5) Leon Edwards, Aug. 20, 2022
Next: March 18 vs. Leon Edwards
Last: L (TKO5) Alex Pereira, Nov. 12, 2022
Next: April 8 vs. Alex Pereira
Last: W (UD) Ciryl Gane, Jan. 22, 2022
Record: 33-9, 1 NC
Last: L (Sub2) Islam Makhachev, Oct. 22, 2022
7. Leon Edwards
UFC welterweight champion
Record: 20-3, 1 NC
Last: W (KO5) Kamaru Usman, Aug. 20, 2022
Next: March 18 vs. Kamaru Usman
T-8. Brandon Moreno
UFC flyweight champion
Last: W (TKO3) Deiveson Figueiredo, Jan. 21, 2023
T-8. Aljamain Sterling
UFC bantamweight champion
Last: W (TKO2) TJ Dillashaw, Oct. 22, 2022
10. Robert Whittaker
Last: W (UD) Marvin Vettori, Sept. 3, 2022
Other fighters receiving votes: Alex Pereira, Dustin Poirier and Jiri Prochazka.
How our panel voted
Brett Okamoto: 1. Islam Makhachev; 2. Alexander Volkanovski; 3. Israel Adesanya; 4. Kamaru Usman; 5. Robert Whittaker; 6. Charles Oliveira; 7. Aljamain Sterling; 8. Brandon Moreno; 9. Francis Ngannou; 10. Leon Edwards.
Marc Raimondi: 1. Makhachev; 2. Volkanovski; 3. Usman; 4. Oliveira; 5. Ngannou; 6. Adesanya; 7. Sterling; 8. Edwards; 9. Moreno; 10. Alex Pereira.
Carlos Contreras Legaspi: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Usman; 4. Ngannou; 5. Oliveira; 6. Adesanya; 7. Edwards; 8. Jiri Prochazka; 9. Moreno; 10. Pereira.
Megan Anderson: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Adesanya; 4. Usman; 5. Oliveira; 6. Ngannou; 7. Edwards; 8. Whittaker; 9. Pereira; 10. Moreno.
Eddie Maisonet III: 1. Volkanovski; 2. Makhachev; 3. Ngannou; 4. Adesanya; 5. Usman; 6. Oliveira; 7. Dustin Poirier; 8. Moreno; 9. Sterling; 10. Prochazka.
Jeff Wagenheim: 1. Makhachev; 2. Volkanovski; 3. Ngannou; 4. Usman; 5. Oliveira; 6. Adesanya; 7. Edwards; 8. Pereira; 9. Sterling; 10. Moreno.
1. Amanda Nunes
UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion
Last: W (UD) Julianna Peña, July 30, 2022
UFC flyweight champion
Last: W (SD) Taila Santos, June 11, 2022
Next: March 4 vs. Alexa Grasso
3. Zhang Weili
UFC strawweight champion
Last: W (Sub2) Carla Esparza, Nov. 12, 2022
4. Cris Cyborg
Bellator featherweight champion
Record: 26-2, 1 NC
Last: W (UD) Arlene Blencowe, April 23, 2022
Last: W (UD) Lauren Murphy, Jan. 21, 2023
Next: Feb. 18 vs. Erin Blanchfield
Last: L (UD) Amanda Nunes, July 30, 2022
Last: L (SD) Carla Esparza, May 7, 2022
Last: L (Sub2) Zhang Weili, Nov. 12, 2022
Last: L (UD) Larissa Pacheco, Nov. 25, 2022
10. Amanda Lemos
Last: W (TKO3) Marina Rodriguez, Nov. 5, 2022
Other fighters receiving votes: Larissa Pacheco, Raquel Pennington, Alexa Grasso, Manon Fiorot and Seika Izawa.
How our panel voted
Brett Okamoto: 1. Amanda Nunes; 2. Valentina Shevchenko; 3. Zhang Weili; 4. Cris Cyborg; 5. Rose Namajunas; 6. Jessica Andrade; 7. Julianna Peña; 8. Kayla Harrison; 9. Larissa Pacheco; 10. Carla Esparza.
Marc Raimondi: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Cyborg; 4. Zhang; 5. Andrade; 6. Peña; 7. Namajunas; 8. Esparza; 9. Amanda Lemos; 10. Seika Izawa.
Carlos Contreras Legaspi: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Peña; 6. Harrison; 7. Esparza; 8. Andrade; 9. Pacheco; 10. Namajunas.
Megan Anderson: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Namajunas; 6. Andrade; 7. Esparza; 8. Raquel Pennington; 9. Alexa Grasso; 10. Peña.
Eddie Maisonet III: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Peña; 5. Cyborg; 6. Andrade; 7. Esparza; 8. Namajunas; 9. Lemos; 10. Pacheco.
Jeff Wagenheim: 1. Nunes; 2. Shevchenko; 3. Zhang; 4. Cyborg; 5. Andrade; 6. Peña; 7. Esparza; 8. Namajunas; 9. Lemos; 10. Fiorot.