The Ringer MMA February Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Ilia Topuria didn’t exactly look past Alexander Volkanovski ahead of their UFC 298 featherweight title fight, but he made it clear he didn’t intend to lose. Topuria declared himself the champion on social media long before Saturday night’s fight, and all but guaranteed he would knock Volkanovski out to anybody with the energy to ask.

Well, if you want to start drawing parallels between Ireland’s Conor McGregor and Spain’s Topuria, now is the time. Topuria knocked Volkanovski out, just like he said he would. Folded him with a right hand from hell in the second round. And just like that we have an audacious, vainglorious new champion from a European country that is rabid for a national cage hero.

What does Topuria’s toppling of a longtime pound-for-pound giant mean for the UFC? For starters it means that featherweight is back open for business. Everybody who lost to Volkanovski during his 1,500-day reign as the 145-pound champion (which is just about everybody) has been issued a get-out-of-jail-free card. Topuria is the target now. Everyone’s arrows are aimed at Spain, which is exactly where the UFC has declared El Matador’s first title defense will take place.

Topuria has become for Spain what McGregor was for Ireland 10 years ago. Not only a national icon that all the other sporting heroes from the country can get behind, but a self-manifesting playboy with psychic ability and a vibe that calls to mind old Pamplona. Nobody in the world right now looks as good as he does chewing on the stem of a red rose while posing for photo ops.

What it means for this month’s P4P rankings is that Volkanovski—a longtime staple at the top of the list—finds himself slipping down a greasy pole, while Topuria’s stock is skyrocketing up, up, up!

As always, the panel of Chuck Mindenhall, Ariel Helwani, Petesy Carroll, and producer Troy Farkas—known as 3PAC on The Ringer MMA Show—have ranked both the men’s and women’s P4P best, one through 10.

Our only criterion for these monthly rankings is that a fighter has competed within at least a calendar year of the publication date, or has at least had a fight booked within that window. If a fighter hasn’t competed in a year and books a fight after that time, he or she is once again eligible to be voted back in.

Fighters who retire are no longer eligible for the rankings.

Though most of the best fighters are currently in the UFC, these rankings are not UFC exclusive. We take into consideration all the major promotions, from the Bellator/PFL conglomerate to ONE Championship.

Without further ado, the Ringer MMA P4P rankings for February.

Men’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Islam Makhachev

UFC Lightweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

Islam’s name came up a lot over the past week as a specter from Volkanovski’s recent past. It was Makhachev who gave the world a visual of Volk being knocked out back in October when they faced off in Abu Dhabi, a sight that many people in the world of combat sports never thought they’d see. And it was Islam who made Volk’s decision to stand in on short notice for that fight a subtext to his eventual tailspin. Did Islam age Volkanovski in dog years? The verdict is still out, but you get the feeling Islam might age a few more contenders with equal cruelty before it’s all said and done.

2. Jon Jones

UFC Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Jones’s name came up over the past couple of weeks, too, as he said in an interview that the UFC tried to tap him to headline UFC 300. As Jones’s track record for telling the whole truth is sketchy at best, needless to say the grains of salt this should be taken with would be large enough to make blood pressures soar … but, the conversation it kicked up is what matters. Because here’s the thing: Jon Jones remains the kind of marquee name that can bring the “wow” factor to a gala affair like UFC 300, and it’s the kind of name people expect to see. After 16 years in the UFC, Jonny Bones still captivates the imagination. (He’s also good at keeping his would-be challengers’ balls turning the deepest shades of blue—sorry, Tom Aspinall!).

3. Leon Edwards

UFC Welterweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

According to Dana White, Leon is a stud above measure. The UFC brought Leon no less than three names to consider for headlining UFC 300, and Leon—a mensch any which way you cut it—immediately agreed to all three. Who were they? Khamzat Chimaev was likely one of them, and perhaps Shavkat Rakhmonov was part of this mean relish tray, but it appears the rightful no. 1 contender, Belal Muhammad, will forever be left smudging his nose against the windowpane. No offers came his way. Talk about deflating. In any case, Leon won’t be appearing on UFC 300.

4. Alex Pereira

UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 5

It turned into a big weekend for Alex Pereira, whose cult following seemingly expands at a faster rate than the universe he calls home. Through all of the hubbub of UFC 298 this past weekend in Anaheim, Dana White was careful to keep a carrot dangling for what would happen after the event. That is, the big reveal of who would headline UFC 300. The name that he pulled out of his hat was none other than … Alex Pereira! It’ll be Poatan defending his light heavyweight title against the man who had to relinquish it due to injury last year, Jamahal Hill. The subplots are delicious. It was Hill who beat the living daylights out of Pereira’s coach and mentor, Glover Teixeira, to win the title early last year at UFC 283, meaning this has all the elements of a classic avenger’s story.

5. Tom Aspinall

UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion
Last month: no. 6

The important thing is that Aspinall makes his peace with the idea that legacy besties Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones don’t want to fight him. Eh, no big whoop anyway. All Aspinall has to do is parade around like he’s the man with his interim heavyweight belt, which—we’ve been told—weighs the exact same as Jones’s non-lineal, more official heavyweight belt. If Aspinall just carries himself as the real champion, as the only one who’s out there fighting at the moment, here’s guessing the public will buy in. And if the public buys in, Jon Jones will get to huffing and reconsidering …

6. Ilia Topuria

UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: Not ranked

Well, well, well. Not all that long ago Topuria was fighting Damon Jackson at the UFC Apex in front of dozens of spectators. Now he’s the featherweight champion of the world, with people like Rafael Nadal and Iker Casillas singing his praises. Let’s face it, Topuria was the worst kind of “rebound” fight for Volkanovski after Volk got knocked out by Islam in October. Topuria was eight years younger, hungry as hell, modestly unsung, and loaded with preternatural power in his hands. A veritable Spanish powder keg, in other words. Now the UFC is talking about hitting Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Spain to showcase its new shiny gemstone. Ka-ching!

7. Alexander Volkanovski

Former UFC Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

Really, Volk couldn’t have handled fight week better for his return to the division he has owned for five years. Accused of being too old for Topuria and past his prime, Volk played the part by dressing up as an old fella, complete with the same-toned cardigan and button-up shirt, glasses, and a porch-rocker cap, even releasing one of the best promo videos in UFC history to draw out some laughs. Behind it all there was always that moment of truth fast approaching, and those who love Volk—which is pretty much everyone—really hoped he would defy the “35 or older” curse that has riddled the lower weight class champions. He didn’t. Now it’s a matter of finding out what’s left for the featherweight GOAT.

8. Sean O’Malley

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 7

If it weren’t enough that “Suga” Sean O’Malley has a huge main-event fight with Chito Vera scheduled at UFC 299 in March, now there’s a pummeling marauder waiting in the wings. O’Malley was in Anaheim for Merab Dvalishvili’s showcase win over former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, and he drew a big pop when the camera found him chilling there in his white furs and sunglasses. Now Merab is next for the winner of O’Malley and Chito. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but what a spectacle that would be: The super-lank O’Malley and the diminutive, blitzing Dvalishvili. What a fight. (But first things first: UFC 299.)

9. Dricus Du Plessis

UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 8

It bodes well for DDP that everyone is on board with a massive title defense against Israel Adesanya. In fact, if that fight headlined UFC 300, fans would’ve let out a collective “LFG!” The lead-up to that fight promises to stray into some massively uncomfortable territory, especially with Dana White’s new stand-aside-and-let-people-say-whatever-they-want policy. Let’s not forget that Sean Strickland and DDP would also do business, and Robert Whittaker—who beat Paulo Costa at UFC 298 to re-enter the title conversation—says he would beat Du Plessis nine times out of 10. Plenty of options for South Africa’s finest.

10A. Israel Adesanya

Former UFC Middleweight Champion
Last month: no. 10

Izzy is still one of the top names in the UFC, and whenever he comes back it’ll be with tremendous fanfare. The Du Plessis fight feels inevitable at this point, but really just about anybody within a two-class radius would love to get their hands on the Last Stylebender. Why? Because that’s a money fight. Should Alex Pereira successfully defend the title against Jamahal Hill at UFC 300 and call out Izzy again (just like he did after beating Jiri Prochazka to win the light heavyweight title)? Well, that would just set the table for one of the biggest fights of the year. That trilogy at 205 pounds would move needles from Lagos to Sao Paulo and all ports in between.

10B. Max Holloway

UFC Featherweight Contender
Last month: no. 9

Not long after he agreed to a lightweight fight against Justin Gaethje for the BMF title at UFC 300 did the clouds clear in his spiritual home of featherweight. With Topuria overthrowing Volkanovski, Holloway has a clear shot to regain his featherweight title. Is all that in jeopardy now? You bet it is. Should Gaethje buzz-saw right through Holloway in this highly visible novelty fight, it would be tough to sell him against Topuria right away. Should he beat Gaethje, and hold the BMF belt as he zeroes back in on featherweight? Shoot, in that case it’s game on!

Others receiving votes: Merab Dvalishvili

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev 1. Islam Makhachev
2. Jon Jones 2. Leon Edwards 2. Jon Jones 2. Jon Jones
3. Leon Edwards 3. Jon Jones 3. Leon Edwards 3. Leon Edwards
4. Alex Pereira 4. Alex Pereira 4. Alex Pereira 4. Alex Periera
5. Tom Aspinall 5. Tom Aspinall 5. Tom Aspinall 5. Ilia Topuria
6. Ilia Topuria 6. Ilia Topuria 6. Alexander Volkanovski 6. Tom Aspinall
7. Sean O’Malley 7. Alexander Volkanovski 7. Sean O’Malley 7. Alexander Volkanovski
8. Alexander Volkanovski 8. Sean O’Malley 8. Dricus Du Plessis 8. Sean O’Malley
9. Max Holloway 9. Dricus Du Plessis 9. Ilia Topuria 9. Dricus Du Plessis
10. Dricus Du Plessis 10. Israel Adesanya 10. Israel Adesanya 10. Merab Dvalishvili

Women’s Pound-for-Pound rankings

1. Zhang Weili

UFC Strawweight Champion
Last month: no. 1

Right, so about that “35 and over” curse for champions, who’ve gone 1-22 over the course of history in weight classes at or below welterweight. Do we believe it with Weili? She will turn 35 in August. Yet she has never looked better than she did against Amanda Lemos last August, in which she flexed for the whole world to see. Weili didn’t just outclass Lemos, she overwhelmed her. Tortured her. Brutalized her. She has a title defense against Yan Xiaonan at UFC 300, and if she wins that in similar fashion as the Lemos fight, we’re thinking she might be immune to the cold fingers of Father Time.

2. Valentina Shevchenko

Former UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 2

Valentina spent Valentine’s Day in Thailand, swaying on rope swings in swimwear and gazing out at a tranquil blue sea. What does she see out there? Is it Alexa Grasso, who is parading around with the flyweight belt on a distant shore, even though Shevchenko got robbed in their rematch last September? Is it Rocky Pennington, the bantamweight champion who looks super beatable to an assassin carrying the nickname “Bullet?” Time will tell, but in the meantime Valentina is saying Phuket.

3. Alexa Grasso

UFC Flyweight Champion
Last month: no. 3

The “threematch” with Shevchenko looms, and right now Grasso should enjoy her victory lap with the 10 pounds of gold. Because even if she closes out the trilogy with Valentina with a victory, the winner of the Erin Blanchfield and Manon Fiorot match will be gunning for her. That’s a daunting slate to look at in this young year for the Mexican champ, yet doubt her at your own risk. It seems every time we count Grasso out she shocks the world! (Or at least, you know, that section of the world that pays attention to cage fighting.)

4. Cris Cyborg

Bellator Featherweight Champion
Last month: no. 4

It’s not been a good start to the year for Cyborg, even if she did smoke somebody named Kelsey Wickstrum last month in the boxing ring. The money fight was against Kayla Harrison, the Olympic judoka who has been long on spotlight but short on challenges. When the PFL bought out Bellator, it seemed as though we might finally get to see a Cyborg-Harrison rumble. Instead, the UFC was able to snatch Harrison away and throw her onto its upcoming UFC 300 card against Holly Holm. Cue the sad game show music. What’s left is a possible matchup against Larissa Pacheco, which is still fun, even if it does feel like a consolation.

5. Tatiana Suarez

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 5

This past weekend was meant to be an emphatic statement for a title shot for Suarez, the persevering strawweight monstress who is the subject of a great Netflix documentary dealing with all she’s overcome. Yet it ended up being just another thing to overcome. Suarez had to pull out of her scheduled fight with Amanda Lemos with an injury, and she was forced to watch on as Lemos demolished Mackenzie Dern at UFC 298. Where does that leave things? In that same state of pending that Suarez has spent the bulk of her career. Whenever she does come back, a win might get her to the same place…though just where she’s headed is never as clear as fans would like it to be.

6A. Erin Blanchfield

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6A

Hot damn! Talk about a title eliminator. The 24-year-old Blanchfield is set to headline a Fight Night in Atlantic City against her French equivalent Manon Fiorot. The fight was bumped up to main-event status, which is perfect. Five rounds is better than three, especially if you are a will-breaking, soul-sucking badass on a nine-fight win streak like Blanchfield, who is young enough to still believe herself completely invincible. Sign us up!

6B. Manon Fiorot

UFC Flyweight Contender
Last month: no. 6B

Hot damn, hot damn! Just read the above blurb and reverse it. Fiorot is a machine. She is on a hot streak that parallels that of Blanchfield, and is one of the best-kept secrets in the UFC. If rag-dolling Rose Namajunas didn’t get her respect, plowing through a juggernaut like Blanchfield will do the trick. This will be must-see theater on March 30, and one of the best Fight Night offerings we’ll get this year.

8. Yan Xiaonan

UFC Strawweight Contender
Last month: no. 8

There is a scene in Oliver Stone’s The Doors when the Ray Manzarek character says, “I feel the universe functioning perfectly, but I’m still perfectly locked inside myself.” Ray was supposed to be in the throes of an acid trip, but leave that aside—somehow this line makes us think of Xiaonan. Everything around her is bustling and changing and there she is, just biding her time in her own inner sanctum, mashing her fists, waiting to throw bombs at UFC 300 against her Chinese counterpart, Zhang Weili.

9. Julianna Peña

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: no. 9

Look, the greatest thing that could have happened to Julianna Peña was UFC 297. Not only did the fight for the vacant women’s bantamweight title between Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva make time sag like in that Dali painting, it had Peña looking like a savior to that once glamorous division. She may not have gotten that trilogy fight with Amanda Nunes (yet), but there is a hero’s moment in the offing for her. People are pining for Peña’s return now more than ever.

10. Raquel Pennington

UFC Bantamweight Champion
Last month: Not ranked

On the other hand, when you think about all the years that Pennington has put into MMA—all the blood, sweat, and tears, all the turmoil and anonymous training sessions through a decade and 18 UFC fights, through scant fanfare and dismissiveness and daytime prelims—you can’t help but feel good for Rocky. Hers is a story of not only perseverance, but also of self-belief. No matter what happens from here on out, she is a champion. That can’t be taken away from her.

Others receiving votes: Rose Namajunas, Larissa Pacheco, Amanda Lemos

Voting Results

Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
Troy Farkas Ariel Helwani Petesy Carroll Chuck Mindenhall
1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili 1. Zhang Weili
2. Valentina Shevchenko 2. Cris Cyborg 2. Alexa Grasso 2. Valentina Shevchenko
3. Alexa Grasso 3. Alexa Grasso 3. Valentina Shevchenko 3. Cris Cyborg
4. Cris Cyborg 4. Valentina Shevchenko 4. Tatiana Suarez 4. Alexa Grasso
5. Tatiana Suarez 5. Tatiana Suarez 5. Cris Cyborg 5. Tatiana Suarez
6. Erin Blanchfield 6. Manon Fiorot 6. Manon Fiorot 6. Erin Blanchfield
7. Manon Fiorot 7. Erin Blanchfield 7. Erin Blanchfield 7. Manon Fiorot
8. Julianna Peña 8. Larissa Pacheco 8. Yan Xiaonan 8. Yan Xiaonan
9. Larissa Pacheco 9. Julianna Peña 9. Raquel Pennington 9. Raquel Pennington
10. Raquel Pennington 10. Raquel Pennington 10. Julianna Peña 10. Amanda Lemos

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