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UFC power rankings: Which is the No. 1 weight class in the UFC?

May 23, 2022

The UFC has fighters ranging from 115 pounds to more than twice that weight. Yet size does not matter very much when it comes to assessing where the greatest fights are.

Some weight classes are top-heavy, featuring dominant champions no one can match. Other divisions draw their intrigue from a level playing field in which any one of several contenders could conceivably wear the title belt. Some divisions tend to produce the most heated rivalries and drama shows.

Among the eight men's divisions in the UFC, heavyweight produces the highest-voltage power, but the divisions for smaller fighters -- flyweight and bantamweight -- are home to speed and technical mastery that draw gasps from the fans. There's an even greater disparity among women's divisions. There are several championship-worthy strawweights, while flyweight has perhaps the most dominant champion in MMA. And then there's women's featherweight, which doesn't even have enough fighters on its roster to fill a top-10 ranking -- so we're just steering clear of the 145-pound women here.

How do the various weight classes in the UFC stack up? ESPN put together a panel to vote on power rankings, which we're launching today and will update each month.

Note: Throughout the year, our panel is ranking all 12 weight classes from top to bottom, taking stock of which divisions are performing the best now and which divisions have the best pound-for-pound fighters.

1. Lightweight: 155 pounds

  • Champion: Charles Oliveira

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Oliveira (No. 3), Dustin Poirier (No. 7)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev on July 9

This has been the weight class to watch ever since the reigns of BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar over a decade ago, all the way through the dominance of Khabib Nurmagomedov. The 155-pound division of today has much to live up to, and Charles Oliveira is handling business with stunning success. He's not the champ, because of a weight miss earlier this month, but Oliveira has made the likes of Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler feel who's boss. However, his work is far from done in a weight class featuring Islam Makhachev and Beneil Dariush. There's always a big fight ahead at lightweight. -- Jeff Wagenheim

2. Men's featherweight: 145 pounds

  • Champion: Alexander Volkanovski

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Volkanovski (No. 4, tie), Max Holloway (No. 6)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Calvin Kattar vs. Josh Emmett on June 18

Alexander Volkanovski's dominance is the key point at 145 pounds. Some of us assumed this division might have a dominant champion a few years ago, but we thought that would be Max Holloway. Volkanovski has taken the reins of this division and is carrying himself as the best fighter on the planet, which is fun to see. He hasn't been perfect, his fights against Holloway were close, and he nearly got submitted by Brian Ortega.

If Volkanovski can beat Holloway in their trilogy fight July 2, it could set him up for a future move to lightweight to challenge for a second belt. If Holloway wins, it could do the same for him. This division is electric, with many finishers and a lot of contenders in their prime. However, it's still ruled by 1A (Volkanovski) and 1B (Holloway), and July 2 is a massive date for the top of this division because it might be for all the marbles. It's hard (but not impossible) to envision Volkanovski and Holloway ever fighting four times, even if Holloway is the winner of the third. -- Brett Okamoto

3. Men's bantamweight: 135 pounds

  • Champion: Aljamain Sterling

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Sterling (No. 9)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Sean O'Malley vs. Pedro Munhoz on July 2

Aljamain Sterling cemented himself as UFC bantamweight champion at UFC 273 after a year of doubts. But the list of contenders coming for him is long and includes former UFC champions TJ Dillashaw, Jose Aldo and Petr Yan (the man Sterling beat to retain the belt). Plus, former double champ Henry Cejudo is out of retirement and targeting a return in the second half of the year. Sean O'Malley, who could end up being the most bankable star in the division, has the biggest fight of his career against Pedro Munhoz at UFC 276 on July 2. -- Marc Raimondi

4. Women's strawweight: 115 pounds (tie)

  • Champion: Carla Esparza

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Esparza (No. 5), Rose Namajunas (No. 6), Zhang Weili (No. 7)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk on June 11

Yes, Carla Esparza was crowned champion in one of the most actionless fights in MMA history. But that doesn't mean the top 10 of the division isn't strong with exciting fights on the schedule. At UFC 275, the rematch between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk should give fans another fireworks show, and the winner will likely challenge for Esparza's belt. Jessica Andrade is back in the division and ready for something big. Marina Rodriguez and Mackenzie Dern could be a win away from the cusp of contention. And then there's Rose Namajunas, arguably the best women's strawweight of all time, who has a history of bouncing back from losses and will be waiting in the wings should Esparza fall from grace. -- Carlos Contreras Legaspi

4. Welterweight: 170 pounds (tie)

  • Champion: Kamaru Usman

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Usman (No. 1)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Kevin Holland vs. Tim Means on June 18

The shadow of Georges St-Pierre, perhaps the greatest fighter in the sport's history, still hovers over the 170-pound division even nearly five years after his retirement. That's because the current champ, Kamaru Usman, is aiming for GSP's status of all-time supremacy. Usman, No. 1 in the ESPN men's pound-for-pound rankings, has won 19 in a row and is 15-0 in the UFC. He has beaten a succession of high-level challengers, with more headed toward him. Can Leon Edwards, who appears to be next in line, hang with Usman? If you want to watch the best fighter in MMA today, you come to the welterweight division. -- Wagenheim

6. Middleweight: 185 pounds

  • Champion: Israel Adesanya

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Adesanya (No. 2)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier on July 2

After Robert Whittaker was forced to pull out of his UFC 275 fight with Marvin Vettori because of injury, all attention at middleweight shifts to the title fight between Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier in July. The American was hugely impressive in his KO over Derek Brunson earlier this year, but the step up to face the champion is massive -- a jump no one has managed at middleweight to date. While Whittaker gave Adesanya some issues in their rematch, the champion seems nearly unbeatable at 185 and will probably be a favored to beat Cannonier. -- Sam Bruce

7. Heavyweight: 206-265 pounds

  • Champion: Francis Ngannou

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Ngannou (No. 4)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Alexander Volkov vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik on June 4

Perhaps no other division in the UFC is more up in the air right now than this one. Francis Ngannou is the undisputed champion but asserts his contract is over in December. Is he going to stay in the UFC? That is a significant domino that needs to fall at heavyweight. Ngannou wants to re-sign with the UFC, but he has made it clear his next contract has to allow him to box Tyson Fury -- something Dana White has never been in favor of.

In the meantime, the biggest fight on the horizon is Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic for the interim belt. That fight is not scheduled yet, but it's expected to occur in the fall. The result of that fight will have a massive impact on the division's future. Would the loser retire? Will the winner fight Ngannou to unify the title? Or will the winner become the undisputed champ by default if Ngannou leaves the company? There is a lot to shake out in the next six months at the top of this weight class. -- Wagenheim

8. Men's flyweight: 125 pounds

  • Champion: Deiveson Figueiredo

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Figueiredo (No. 9, tie)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France on July 30

It seems wild that after three fights between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, which took place consecutively over 13 months, there is still unfinished business between them. But that's the reality of this division. Figueiredo and Moreno kind of have to fight at least one more time. This is that rare matchup in combat sports, where it literally could happen five or six times and it doesn't feel like anyone would complain. These two were made to fight each other. So, that rivalry will always kind of loom over this entire division.

But that could change if Kai Kara-France has his say July 30 in an interim title fight against Moreno. Kara-France is the one guy in the division who has forced the conversation away from Figueiredo/Moreno. He has injected new energy into it with wins over Cody Garbrandt and Askar Askarov. If Moreno wins that fight and claims an interim belt, we're right where we were. We need to see the fourth fight. But if Kara-France upsets things by beating Moreno -- in a rematch of a fight that took place in 2019 -- then this division will get a little bit of a makeover. -- Okamoto

9. Women's bantamweight: 135 pounds (tie)

  • Champion: Julianna Peña

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Peña (No. 4), Holly Holm (No. 10)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes on TBD

This is the glamour division of women's MMA and has been since Feb. 23, 2013. That was the night Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche met in the first women's bout in UFC history, propelling Rousey toward becoming the biggest star in the sport, male or female. More recently, the 135-pound division was ruled for five years by Amanda Nunes, the consensus GOAT among women. But Nunes was upset in December by Julianna Peña, and their expected rematch -- especially in light of the lack of success for ex-champs trying to reclaim their belts -- will be one of the most intriguing fights of the year. -- Wagenheim

9. Light heavyweight: 205 pounds (tie)

  • Champion: Glover Teixeira

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Teixeira (No. 8)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Glover Teixeira vs. Jiri Prochazka on June 11

There has been instability at the top of the division since Jon Jones, the longtime former champion, relinquished the title in August 2020. Jan Blachowicz won the belt, defended it against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya successfully and then dropped it to Glover Teixeira at UFC 267 last October. Now, Teixeira will try to hang onto the hot potato in his first title defense against Jiri Prochazka at UFC 275 on June 11. Blachowicz beat Aleksandar Rakic earlier this month to keep pace, while Magomed Ankalaev and Anthony Smith meet in a top contender bout at UFC 277 on July 30. -- Raimondi

11. Women's flyweight: 125 pounds

  • Champion: Valentina Shevchenko

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Shevchenko (No. 1), Jessica Andrade (No. 8)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Taila Santos on June 11

Valentina Shevchenko is the most dominant current champion in the UFC. But some intriguing potential contenders are coming her way in the next few months, beginning with Taila Santos at UFC 275 on June 11. Katlyn Chookagian beat Amanda Ribas earlier this month to remain a top contender and could be looking at a big fight against rising French star Manon Fiorot. Viviane Araujo picked up a big win over Andrea Lee this month, raising her stock. And then there's the surging Alexa Grasso, the Mexican pugilist who many have had pegged for stardom since she was in her early 20s. -- Raimondi

12. Women's featherweight: 145 pounds

  • Champion: Amanda Nunes

  • Fighters in ESPN P4P ranking: Nunes (No. 2)

  • Biggest upcoming fight: Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Julija Stoliarenko on July 2

The last time Nunes defended her title was 14 months ago against Megan Anderson. Since then, Nunes has lost her "champ-champ" moniker with the loss to Julianna Peña for the women's bantamweight title, and Anderson has unofficially retired from the sport. Macy Chiasson -- the winner of The Ultimate Fighter Women's Featherweight tournament -- looms as a potential opponent for Nunes' 145-pound title, but until the UFC successfully restocks the division, this weight class will remain last in these power rankings. -- Eddie Maisonet

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