UFC: Power Ranking the Divisions from Weakest to Strongest

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2014

UFC: Power Ranking the Divisions from Weakest to Strongest

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    With Renan Barao's shocking loss to TJ Dillashaw ending his claim to the top of the promotion's pound-for-pound list, there's plenty available for debate in the world of mixed martial arts these days.

    Who is the best mixed martial artist presently active in the sport? What division is the toughest to compete in? What's the weakest?

    Inspired by the sudden upheaval that came out of UFC 173, what follows is an attempt to rank the UFC's divisions from weakest to strongest in hopes of adding a new wrinkle to the debate.

    The metric established for ranking the divisions is as follows:

    1. Length of current champion's reign, in total fights. One point per defense.
    2. Number of former UFC champions in the top 15 of the division. Three points per fighter.
    3. Number of former title challengers in the top 15 of the division. Two points per fighter.
    4. Number of former champions from major promotions outside the UFC in the top 15 of the division. Qualifying promotions include PRIDE, WEC, Strikeforce and Bellator. Two points per fighter.
    5. Number of fighters in the top 15 of the division to never hold or challenge for a UFC title currently on a win streak (more than one fight). One point per fighter.

    Hopefully, if this all works out, we'll have something else to help us as we struggle to understand who the best fighter alive is today and how the divisions stack up in terms of depth and toughness.

    However if it doesn't, I'll have done a bunch of arbitrary math for nothing. And I hate math. So let's hope it does.

No. 9: Flyweight, 13 Points

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    Demetrious Johnson is the only flyweight champion the UFC has ever known.
    Demetrious Johnson is the only flyweight champion the UFC has ever known.Associated Press

    Not much is surprising here, as the division is still new enough to be pretty limited by most of the ways this ranking is scored.

    It's buoyed a little by the fact that Demetrious Johnson has been a dominant champion, and there are guys who have either challenged him or are streaking towards challenging him, but overall this placement for flyweight probably isn't a shock to anyone.

No. 8: Women's Bantamweight, 17 Points

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    Alexis Davis will fight Ronda Rousey at UFC 175.
    Alexis Davis will fight Ronda Rousey at UFC 175.USA TODAY Sports

    Similar to the men's flyweight situation, there isn't much shocking about the UFC's newest division being near the bottom of the barrel. While Ronda Rousey is a relatively well-known commodity and there are women who have either challenged her or look primed to, the division is simply too young to rank highly.

    The main difference between WBW and FW is that former Strikeforce champions had a bigger influence on the score than former WEC titleholders did for the 125ers. When it comes down to that, there's not much else to say.

No. 7: Lightweight, 22 Points

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    Anthony Pettis could be a dominant champion but hasn't defended his title yet.
    Anthony Pettis could be a dominant champion but hasn't defended his title yet.David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps a surprising addition to the back half, the lack of title defenses from injured champion Anthony Pettis definitely hurt the total score. There also aren't many guys presently ranked who held the UFC title in the past, nor are there many who held a title in competing organizations.

    The score, interestingly, was inflated by the number of contenders who are on the rise with win streaks of their own, suggesting that the division is in a holding pattern at the moment but that a crop of contenders is right around the corner.

    Looking at guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov, that's hard to argue.

No. 6 (tie): Featherweight, 25 Points

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    Jose Aldo has been the best 145er alive for as long as anyone has been paying attention.
    Jose Aldo has been the best 145er alive for as long as anyone has been paying attention.USA TODAY Sports

    Featherweight is comfortably in the middle of the pack for these rankings, a slot reflected by a wide distribution of points. With Jose Aldo running the division for a while now, he's racked up points on his own, and also racked them up by beating so many challengers who are still kicking around the division.

    In a pattern similar to lightweight though, there are plenty of guys on streaks who could be getting near the top of the heap. That means Aldo, for however long he sticks around at 145 pounds, could be busy for a good while to come.

No. 6 (tie): Welterweight, 25 Points

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    Robbie Lawler's resurgence has made 170 very interesting at the top.
    Robbie Lawler's resurgence has made 170 very interesting at the top.USA TODAY Sports

    For how wide open the welterweight division is now that GSP is gone, he left it at a time when it can't possibly score well in a ranking like this. To put it in perspective, if GSP was still running things, the 170-pound class would probably be second in these rankings, maybe first.

    He basically beat an entire generation of welterweights, then left town. That means that the new champion hasn't had time to rack up defenses himself, and GSP's lengthy reign sees no former UFC champions in the top 15.

    The ranking is only as high as it is thanks to former Strikeforce kingpins and guys who are building a case for contendership through their own win streaks, otherwise welterweight would be at the back of the pack.

No. 4 (tie): Bantamweight, 27 Points

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    TJ Dillashaw is the shocking new kingpin of a surprisingly tough division.
    TJ Dillashaw is the shocking new kingpin of a surprisingly tough division.USA TODAY Sports

    The first proper surprise of the list, the 135-pound class is one most people don't think of when they think of deep divisions. However by the measure being used here, bantamweight scores well across the board and hangs with the big boys.

    Barao's title loss means points for his run were erased, and new champion Dillashaw scores nothing for a reign presently still measured in hours. There are a host of guys who have challenged for titles at bantamweight and other weights though, and they bolster the point total. That's to say nothing of the number of fighters surging throughout the top 15 or who have held major titles outside the UFC.

    Pretty impressive stuff for a largely forgotten weight class.

No. 4 (tie): Middleweight, 27 Points

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    Anderson Silva is the best ever, but can he come back in a tough weight class?
    Anderson Silva is the best ever, but can he come back in a tough weight class?USA TODAY Sports

    Though champion Chris Weidman has defended his title once, the rankings suggest that the toughest tests are yet to come. Weidman himself only accounts for one point of the 27 his division scored here, but 185 is just plain steady everywhere else.

    The division has three former UFC champions ranked and two former Strikeforce champions, plus a few former challengers and a few guys on win streaks. By the metrics being employed here, middleweight might be the most well-rounded division outside of the top-ranked class (more on that in a minute).

    It was exciting while Anderson Silva was running things, but for a totally different reason. It might be more exciting than ever right now.

No. 2: Heavyweight, 34 Points

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    Champion Cain Velasquez may be the best heavyweight the UFC has ever seen.
    Champion Cain Velasquez may be the best heavyweight the UFC has ever seen.USA TODAY Sports

    The other major shocker on the list, heavyweight blasted its way to great heights due to the number of guys who have held titles. Thanks to big dudes with heavy hands, a heavyweight title belt in MMA might as well come caked in Vaseline for how hard it is to hold onto.

    Champion Cain Velasquez scored a pair of points thanks to his current run of defenses, but from there the numbers get wacky. Four former UFC champions are ranked in the top 15, and six guys who have challenged for the title at some point are still kicking around. Throw in four fighters presently riding win streaks, and you've got a recipe for a shocker in the two hole.

    Crazy stuff.

No. 1: Light Heavyweight, 42 Points

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    In the UFC's toughest division, Jon Jones has made it look easy for years.
    In the UFC's toughest division, Jon Jones has made it look easy for years.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    In perhaps the least surprising outcome, the UFC's longtime marquee division holds down the top spot in the power rankings. It makes sense considering the dominant champion, the laundry list of former challengers and champions still ranked, and the handful of contenders who are streaking or on the rise.

    That only makes what champion Jon Jones has done that much more impressive. He's been nearly flawless in the cage, battering elite challengers and/or former champions with whatever tools he decides to implement, all in the name of cementing his own greatness.

    Make no mistake about it, light heavyweight is the top division in the UFC and its champion could very well be the baddest man on the planet.

     

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