Columnists, Mixed Martial Arts, Sports

The Red Corner: The state of every UFC weight division

The UFC will return from last Saturday’s hiatus this weekend with Fight Night: Smith vs. Spann. This card is better than no fights at all, but it’s still borderline unwatchable — even for hardcore fight fans. Because this card is so insipid, this week’s Red Corner will break down each UFC weight division and give our pound-for-pound rankings as we see them today. 

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Strawweight, 115 lbs

Champion: Rose Namajunas (11-4)

This division has some real killers: many of them have had a turn with the belt. A title rematch between Zhang Weili (21-2) and “Thug” Rose will take place on the November Supercard that is UFC 268, and waiting in the wings are former SW champs Joanna Jędrzejczyk (16-4), Jessica Andrade (21-9) and Carla Esparza (19-6). Strawweight is the only women’s division without a dominant and seemingly unbeatable champion, and thus it is the women’s division that I find most interesting. 

Women’s flyweight, 125 lbs

Champion: Valentina Shevchenko (21-3)

Dominant and seemingly unbeatable — that is Shevchenko in four words. “Bullet” has held up the flyweight division for years, and no other woman at 125 lbs is even worth mentioning. The only person who has been able to beat Shevchenko in the UFC happens to be the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time, Amanda Nunes. Which is a perfect segue to the next two divisions:

Women’s bantamweight and featherweight, 135 and 145 lbs

Champion: Amanda Nunes (21-4)

Unequivocal dominance over two divisions. Nunes could retire today, with both belts, and every single mixed martial artist in those two divisions would rejoice. Nunes is just that good. Knockout power and lethal grappling — she is truly the GOAT. Oh, and remember when I said she was the only one able to beat Val? She did it twice. TWICE. 

Men’s flyweight, 125 lbs

Champion: Brandon Moreno (19-5-2)

Moreno submitted then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) in their rematch at UFC 263 en route to becoming the first Mexican-born UFC champion. Figueiredo was an impressive champion and will likely get to face “The Assassin Baby” again. Outside of the top two, it won’t be long until the undefeated Askar Askarov (13-0-1) will bang down the door. 

Men’s bantamweight, 135 lbs

Champion: Aljamain Sterling (20-3)

This division remains on fire. Sterling will rematch Petr Yan (15-2) in Abu Dhabi in October, TJ Dillashaw (18-4) and Cory Sandhagen (14-3) put on the fight of the year in July, and old man Jose Aldo (30-7) is rocketing up the rankings. This division will continue to deliver for the foreseeable future.

Men’s featherweight, 145 lbs

Champion: Alexander Volkanovski (22-1)

Volkanovski nicked the belt off and subsequently defended it against Max Holloway (22-6). Now he is set to defend the strap against Brian Ortega (15-1) on Sept. 25. I will preview that entire card next week, but I honestly can’t see Volk losing the strap to “T-City.” My biggest hope for this division is that Holloway accepts Giga Chikadze’s (14-2) callout, and we see one of the most technical striking matches ever.   

Lightweight, 155 lbs

Champion: Charles Oliveira (31-8) 

There’s the champion of this division, and there’s the guy who is next in line. Oliveira is a wizard on the mat — he impressively knocked out Michael Chandler (22-6) at UFC 262. That being said, I think he needs to beat Dustin Poirier (28-6) before being truly undisputed. 

Welterweight, 170 lbs

Champion: Kamaru Usman (19-1)

Usman is the Red Corner’s unanimous pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter. His base in wrestling has been unused in his last two defenses — because he keeps knocking the other dude out. Usman is beginning to clear out this division, and I cannot wait to see him rematch Colby Covington (16-2) at UFC 268 in November. Although their first match was close, I think Marty has improved so much since December 2019, and we haven’t even seen his best yet.

Middleweight, 185 lbs 

Champion: Israel Adesanya (21-1)

I simply do not see anyone taking the belt from Izzy anytime soon. I and likely everyone else in the MMA world would love to see Robert Whittaker (24-5) rematch Adesanya, but even that fight may not be close. Derek Brunson (23-7) has racked up a spree of wrestling-dominant wins over fan-favorite fighters recently — Kevin Holland (21-7), Darren Till (18-4-1) — so with his name likely toward the top of Dana White’s Most Wanted list, perhaps the trend continues … 

Light heavyweight, 205 lbs

Champion: Jan Blachowicz (28-8)

Blachowicz and his signature “Polish Power” will face Glover Teixeira (32-7) at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi in October. That fight could be good, but I am more excited to see the winner — likely Jan — face the next man in line. Jiri Prochazka (28-3-1) is terrifying. He knocked out Dominick Reyes (12-3) with a spinning back elbow for his 12th straight win and 10th straight knockout. No matter who Jiri fights for the belt, he will be the champion.   

Heavyweight, 265 lbs

Champion: Francis Ngannou (16-3)

From one headhunter to the next, Ngannou presides over the biggest and scariest division in the UFC. Ngannou’s next opponent will likely be the interim heavyweight champion, Cyril Gane (10-0). I think Gane presents way more of a threat to Ngannou than former champion Stipe Miocic (20-4) ever did. Crisp and tactical striking will be on tap for this inevitable clash. When it happens, do not miss it. 

Women’s pound-for-pound top 5: 

  1. Amanda Nunes
  2. Valentina Shevchenko 
  3. Rose Namajunas
  4. Zhang Weili
  5. Joanna Jędrzejczyk

Men’s pound-for-pound top 15: 

  1. Kamaru Usman
  2. Israel Adesanya
  3. Francis Ngannou
  4. Alexander Volkanovski
  5. Jan Blachowicz
  6. Dustin Poirier
  7. Stipe Miocic
  8. Max Holloway
  9. Charles Oliveira
  10. Petr Yan
  11. Brandon Moreno
  12. Jiri Prochazka
  13. Deiveson Figueiredo
  14. Robert Whittaker
  15. Justin Gaethje 

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