Rankings Review: Alexander Volkanovski remains on top of the UFC P4P List despite losing to Islam Makhachev

February 15, 2023

It might be an understatement to say the UFC has some questionable rankings.  You would expect rankings to be questionable as they are subjective; however, in this column, I will point out rankings that I think are glaring mistakes.  I will also analyze significant movement in the rankings that I agree with.

Editorial Commentary by Peter Parsons

It is very rare to see the number one and two pound-for-pound fighters fight each other.  UFC 284 on Sunday in Perth, Australia, was headlined by the No. 1 pound-for-pound, and featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski versus the No. 2 pound-for-pound, and lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev.  The bigger Makhachev won a close decision.  Despite the loss, Alexander Volkanovski remains atop the UFC pound-for-pound rankings.  

Alexander Volkanovski ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound

Should Volkanovski be ranked ahead of Islam Makhachev on the pound-for-pound list after losing to the UFC lightweight champion on Sunday?  Or should Makhachev now be the pound-for-pound king after defeating Volkanovski?  I agree with the UFC rankings voting panellists on this one.  Let me explain why.

When it comes to divisional rankings, I would never put a fighter ahead of another fighter who they just lost to.  However, pound-for-pound rankings are a different beast.  The main criteria I see for pound-for-pound is who is the best fighter if size was not a factor?

I am not one who thinks the judges had it wrong and that Volkanovski should have won the decision.  In my opinion, it was clear cut that Makhachev won three rounds to two, having won the first, second and fourth rounds, while Volkanovski won the third and fifth.

It was a very high level MMA fight as  you would expect from the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.  What many people didn’t expect was for the fight to be as close as it was.  The only round that wasn’t close was the fifth and final round where Volkanovski did the most damage in the fight.  Under the old Pride rules, where the fight is scored as a whole, Volkanovski won that fight.

Back to the main criteria I stated earlier, I feel that Volkanovski beats Makhachev if the two fighters were the same size.  There was an obvious size discrepancy with Volkanovski moving up from 145 pounds to 155 pounds to challenge the lightweight champ.  Even with the size difference, Volkanovski gave Makhachev all he could handle and was the fresher, less damaged fighter at the end of the fight.

With so little separating the fighters in terms of skill, I think it’s important to look at both fighters resumes going into the fight.  Makhachev has the dominant victory over Charles Oliveira to win the lightweight title, but other than Oliveira, he hasn’t beat any top five ranked opposition.  His previous five fights were victories over Bobby Green, Dan Hooker, Thiago Moises, Drew Dober and Davi Ramos.  Compare that to Volkanovski’s resume where he beat two of the all-time greats in Max Holloway (three times) and Jose Aldo.  Alexander “The Great” also has solid wins over top contenders in Chad Mendes, Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.  Going into their epic champ vs. champ fight, Volkanovski was 5-0 in UFC title fights and Islam Makhachev was 1-0.

It should also be noted that Makhachev also deserves a ton of credit for going into Volkanovski’s home country and fighting the smaller fighter who he was expected to beat.

Another thing to consider is, would Makhachev do as well if he moved up to welterweight to challenge for the welterweight title as what Volkanovski did moving up to challenge for the lightweight title?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that Volkanovski put it all on the line and moved up to fight for the lightweight title and he deserves a lot of credit for doing so.  If the Australian stayed at featherweight and had another successful title defence, he would still be the clear number on pound-for-pound fighter based on his resume.  I feel strongly that Alexander Volkanovski is still the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport with his stellar performance on Sunday in a losing effort.

We are in interesting times in the pound-for-pound discussion as Jon Jones makes his long awaited heavyweight debut on March 4.  Jones will take on Cyril Gane for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 285.  Jones is considered by many as the GOAT in MMA having a record 14 UFC title fight wins, all at light heavyweight.  If Jones wins the heavyweight title on March 4, where does that put him in the pound-for-pound conversation?

Jack Della Maddalena ranked No. 14 at welterweight

Volkanovski was not the only Australian on Sunday to bring the hometown fans to their feet.  Perth’s own Jack Della Maddalena scored his fourth straight first round finish to go 4-0 in the UFC.  After losing his first two professional fights, Della Maddalena has rallied off 14 consecutive victories.

The 26-year-old welterweight has yet to defeat a ranked opponent and finds himself ranked No. 14 in a stacked welterweight division.  I agree with this ranking as Della Maddalena has been dominant in the UFC over some noteworthy opponents.  The Dana White Contender Series alum was very impressive with two first round victories over veterans Ramazan Emeev and Danny Roberts.  He deserves high praise for the way he handled a very tough Randy Brown in a featured pay per view fight.  Brown was just outside the rankings himself, having won his last four inside the octagon including his last two victories over notable welterweights in Khaos Williams and Francisco Trinaldo.

The welterweight division is red hot right now with big fights coming up, none bigger than the trilogy fight between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards at UFC 286 for the welterweight title.  Could Jack Della Maddalena insert himself in the welterweight title picture in the next couple of years?  UFC’s 2022 Rookie of the Year is sure to get his first ranked opponent in his next fight.

Upcoming Notable UFC Welterweight Fights

Mar 4 – (10) Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. (7) Geoff Neal

Mar 18 – Daniel Rodriguez vs. Gunnar Nelson 

Mar 18 – (1) Kamaru Usman vs. (C) Leon Edwards

Mar 25 – (15) Michel Pereira vs. (8) Sean Brady

Apr 8 – Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Kevin Holland 

Apr 8 – Li Jingliang vs. (13) Michael Chiesa

Apr 8 – (11) Jorge Masvidal vs. (5) Gilbert Burns

My rankings would look different than any other writer or fan who follows the sport closely.  This is to be expected, as rankings are subjective.  Rankings should be based primarily on results and not perceived potential or popularity.

Some people think rankings do not matter.  Rankings do matter.  They matter when it comes to matchmaking.  They matter when it comes to contract negotiations.

Let’s keep the rankings conversation going.  Do you agree or disagree with the above Ranking Review? Express your thoughts in the comments below.

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