Ranking UFC champions from most to least beatable
It's been a little more than two years since we last ranked UFC champions based on their vulnerability. So we thought it would be a good idea to publish a second edition that shows what's changed at the top of the sport since April 2021.
At the time, Kamaru Usman and Valentina Shevchenko were two of the most dominant champions in MMA. Francis Ngannou had just won the heavyweight title. Jan Blachowicz was enjoying his surprise run as light heavyweight king. Lightweight didn't even have a champion due to Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement. Since then, Amanda Nunes, Zhang Weili, and Israel Adesanya all lost their titles but won them back. Deiveson Figueiredo lost the flyweight belt, regained it, and lost it again.
Here's our new list of the current UFC champions ranked from most to least beatable.
(Note: These rankings take into account the overall skill level and well-roundedness of each champion, plus the strength of their division/potential challengers. And they only apply to how each champion fares within their own weight class. So, for instance, Alexander Volkanovski moving up to lightweight and losing to Islam Makhachev is a largely irrelevant result.)
11. Jamahal Hill, light heavyweight
This placement might seem disrespectful to Hill, but it's hard to put him any higher when he won the vacant title by beating retiring 43-year-old Glover Teixeira. It was no doubt a dominant and impressive victory, but don't forget Hill was only ranked No. 7 in the division before getting that gift of a title shot due to another vacant title fight between Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev being ruled a draw. "Sweet Dreams" has made big improvements to his MMA game recently, but he'll need to beat his predecessor, Jiri Prochazka - who relinquished the belt last year due to an injury - to get respect as the real champion.
10. Alexa Grasso, women's flyweight
Grasso pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC title-fight history by submitting Shevchenko in March. That finish will be part of her highlight reel forever, but it didn't prove she can be a longtime champion. Grasso was down on the scorecards before capitalizing on a missed spinning kick by Shevchenko in the fourth round. It wouldn't be shocking if Grasso wins the rematch, but it also wouldn't be surprising if Shevchenko does. And even if Grasso beats Shevchenko again, she has a tough road ahead of her, with the likes of Erin Blanchfield, Manon Fiorot, Taila Santos, and Jessica Andrade all waiting in the wings.
9. Brandon Moreno, flyweight
The next few champions on this list could probably go in any order, so Moreno is somewhat getting the short end of the stick here. He's made a lot of improvements over the years, and now in his prime at 29 years old, he has become a truly elite fighter. But when his next challenger, Alexandre Pantoja, has beaten him twice (once in the UFC and once in an exhibition bout on "The Ultimate Fighter"), it kind of goes against the whole unbeatable thing. If Moreno finally defeats Pantoja when they meet again at UFC 290 in July, then perhaps the Mexico native would move up in these rankings.
8. Aljamain Sterling, bantamweight
Sterling has made huge leaps since we ranked him the most beatable champion in 2021, just one month after he controversially beat Petr Yan by disqualification. He upset Yan in a rematch, proving he was the best bantamweight in the world, and then made quick work of TJ Dillashaw. "Funk Master" has a critical test coming up at UFC 288 on May 6, as he's set to defend against Henry Cejudo. A win over Cejudo would surely move Sterling up this list even further, as Cejudo could be the toughest test for Sterling at 135 pounds. It would also give Sterling the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC bantamweight history.
7. Leon Edwards, welterweight
Edwards became a lot less beatable at UFC 286 in March. The Englishman defeated Usman for a second straight time, but this time it was a convincing decision win, not a Hail Mary knockout that left fans unsure if he was the best at 170 pounds. He's an intelligent, sharp striker, and his takedown defense was much less of a problem in the third Usman fight than it was in last summer's rematch. Edwards isn't untouchable, but he should be able to get past the likes of Colby Covington, Belal Muhammad, or Gilbert Burns, all of whom could face him in the near future.
6. Israel Adesanya, middleweight
If Alex Pereira is in the middleweight division, then Adesanya isn't so unbeatable. It looked like Pereira was on his way to finishing him again earlier in April before Adesanya scored a highlight-reel knockout. But other than Pereira, who announced after the loss that he's moving to light heavyweight, who really is going to give Adesanya a run for his money? "The Last Stylebender" has beaten everyone in the top five, and they were almost all dominant wins. Dricus Du Plessis is the highest-ranked middleweight who has yet to face Adesanya. Perhaps his biggest challenge is Khamzat Chimaev, but Chimaev needs a big win at 185 pounds before he's in that conversation.
5. Zhang Weili, strawweight
Zhang leveled up in a big way in 2022 - so much so that it's hard to see anyone beating her in her current form. She knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk to put a stamp on their rivalry and then submitted Carla Esparza to regain the 115-pound belt. She has gotten stronger, more explosive, meaner, and just all-around better since her two losses to Rose Namajunas in 2021. Perhaps Namajunas will one day prove she has Zhang's number, but don't expect anyone to dethrone the Chinese fighter in the foreseeable future.
4. Jon Jones, heavyweight
Similarly to Ngannou in 2021, Jones is one of the least beatable UFC champions just one month into his title reign. This is largely because of what we already know about him: The former longtime light heavyweight champ is one of the most talented fighters in MMA history. What prevents him from cracking the top three are the unknowns about how he'll continue to perform at heavyweight. The Ciryl Gane fight ended too quickly to know for sure. Maybe the extra weight will make Jones sluggish if Stipe Miocic takes him into deep waters. Plus, it's historically been difficult to reign as UFC heavyweight champion for a long time. Power is the greatest equalizer in MMA, and heavyweights have a lot of it.
3. Amanda Nunes, women's bantamweight and featherweight
We ranked Nunes - widely considered the greatest women's fighter of all time - the least beatable champion in 2021. While still high on the list, she has fallen off a bit because of a shocking loss to Julianna Pena that took place late that year. Nunes regained the title with a dominant victory over Pena in July 2022, and she could further prove that the defeat was a fluke if she gets past Pena for a second straight time at UFC 289 in June. No one at 135 pounds seems to be good enough to beat Nunes, but as of now, she doesn't quite deserve to be No. 1.
2. Islam Makhachev, lightweight
When Makhachev fought for the UFC lightweight title last October, he started right where his longtime teammate and mentor, former champ Nurmagomedov, left off. Makhachev dominated Charles Oliveira en route to a submission win and then handed featherweight champ Volkanovski his first UFC loss in a thrilling superfight in February. The Dagestani has a grueling wrestling style that'll be difficult for any top-five lightweight to thwart moving forward, and his striking is vastly underrated. Makhachev would be a big favorite against anyone besides maybe Volkanovski. It's unlikely that he'll be bounced from the UFC lightweight throne anytime soon.
1. Alexander Volkanovski, featherweight
Yes, Volkanovski lost to Makhachev (in a competitive fight). But again, this is specifically about each champion's own division. And when it comes to Volkanovski compared to his featherweight peers, there's no UFC champion less beatable right now than him. Volkanovski has dominated most of his opposition, from ex-champ and rival Max Holloway to Chan Sung Jung. Essentially, the only time he's been in trouble was against Brian Ortega, who nearly pulled off a submission in their 2021 barn burner. But Volkanovski is one of the toughest, gutsiest fighters on the roster. His ability to avoid being finished, in addition to his superb fight IQ and well-roundedness, is what seals the deal that he should be No. 1.
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