Predicting the Top 10 Pound-for-Pound Fighters at the End of 2018

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2018

Predicting the Top 10 Pound-for-Pound Fighters at the End of 2018

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    UFC 227 had staggering results in the main and co-main events. TJ Dillashaw ousted Cody Garbrandt inside of a round, and longtime flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson finally was toppled by Henry Cejudo in a narrow decision.

    Those fights last Saturday affected the UFC pound-for-pound rankings:

    • No. 10: Robert Whittaker
    • No. 9: Stipe Miocic
    • No. 8: Khabib Nurmagomedov
    • No. 7: Tyron Woodley
    • No. 6: Demetrious Johnson
    • No. 5: Georges St-Pierre
    • No. 4: Max Holloway
    • No. 3: TJ Dillashaw
    • No. 2: Conor McGregor
    • No. 1: Daniel Cormier

    Are there fights left to change those rankings? You best believe it. Conor McGregor is returning against Khabib Nurmagomedov, and other champions are likely to defend their gold in the final few months of the year. And those sitting just outside of the Top 10 are looking to force their way into the conversation.

    So, who ends the year as a Top 10 pound-for-pound talent? That is what we will examine and try to project. When trying to project the Top 10, we will take into consideration their current ranking, possible future fights before the end of the year and inactivity.

    Let's take a gander at the projected ending rankings for the UFC's pound-for-pound best fighters.

No. 10: Rose Namajunas

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Bout: N/A

    The strawweight champion solidified her status as the best 115-pound woman on the planet with her first title defense in April, but she only checks in at No. 15 as August begins.

    How does she jump five slots?

    Along with some losses from folks in the Top 10, Namajunas will pick up another victory in her next title defense before the end of the year. Namajunas' performance in that bout, against whomever the UFC slots into the role, will earn her more recognition.

    Namajunas' striking has been on display against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but no one should forget that she also has a dynamic ground game.

    Top contenders Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz meet in September in a likely title eliminator. If the winner does not meet Namajunas until early 2019, Namajunas won't be able to jump into the Top 10. It's just hard to imagine the UFC benching their champion for nearly a year while she is red-hot in the cage.

No. 9: Stipe Miocic

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    Sam Wasson/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Bout: N/A 

    The former heavyweight king fell to No. 9 in the rankings, and that will be where he stays for the remainder of the year.

    He has demanded a rematch with Daniel Cormier, as reported by ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto, but that is not a fight he will get. Cormier will be fighting Brock Lesnar in 2019. As such, don't expect Miocic to fight again this year unless the UFC rewards him handsomely. Which may be a stretch.

    Thus, Miocic's ranking in the pound-for-pound grouping is likely going to hold.

    If there are multiple performances from those just behind him while those in front continue to win, he may fall. But given the matchups of those booked in the Top 10, he looks like a safe bet to end the year as one of the P4P best.

No. 8: Cris Cyborg

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    Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Fight: N/A 

    Cris Cyborg is the most dominant female fighter the sport has seen. She brutalizes her opposition. She is still outside of the Top 10 pound-for-pound as she sits at No. 11, but look for her to burst through later this year.

    Cyborg wants to fight soon. She called out bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes for a date in September (h/t MMA Mania's Adam Guillen Jr.), but don't look for that fight to happen that soon. December would be the likely landing spot for that clash even though Cyborg does not want to wait that long to fight.

    Cyborg could defend her featherweight title prior to that or be out until the champion vs. champion meeting. In either case, it is difficult to envision how she loses. She's that good.

    With a win in either bout (or both), she should leap into the Top 10.

No. 7: Brian Ortega

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Bout: Max Holloway

    We know Brian Ortega's next fight, but we do not know the date. That will depend upon Max Holloway's health. And if you put two and two together, you see that our projection is for Ortega to unseat the featherweight king.

    Ortega has a great style to match up against Holloway. His length will be an interesting factor against Holloway. He possesses a lot of the technical skills that will make that fight one of the year's best. Ortega is also a slow starter, which makes the five-round slate even more enticing to pick the upset.

    Ortega is not yet in the Top 10, but a victory over the No. 4-ranked P4P fighter would vault him into the rankings without question. Henry Cejudo made it to No. 12 after beating Demetrious Johnson at UFC 227.

    2019 will see a new face of the featherweight division and a new entrant onto the pound-for-pound list.

No. 6: Robert Whittaker

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    Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Fight: N/A 

    Robert Whittaker is one of the most impressive champions on the roster, and the middleweight has beaten the same man twice in those title tilts. But he did it on one leg in the first meeting and one arm in the second.

    How does Whittaker go from No. 10 to No. 6 with no fight lined up or timetable for a return? Well, some of those ahead of him will lose or be removed from the ranking for inactivity. That includes former middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who took a sudden departure from the division upon winning the belt with a potential fight against Whittaker looming.

    Whittaker is perhaps the first lock on this projection to end the year in the Top 10.

    Every fight fan should be wishing this man well in his recovery from a broken hand because he is pure excitement inside the Octagon. Whittaker is everything we love about the sport and has proved himself as a worthy champion. If he can get healed up, there are no shortage of amazing fights awaiting him at 185.

No. 5: Tyron Woodley

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    Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Fight: Darren Till (UFC 228, September 8)

    Rising from No. 7 to No. 5 is the welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley.

    Woodley will face a stiff test in Darren Till when they meet in September. After another successful title defense, Woodley will gain yet more respect throughout the MMA community. Till offers an interesting stylistic clash and a sizable frame to go up against. Woodley will be ready.

    After the win, Woodley should be eyeing a fight against Colby Covington. That is the fight most thought would happen next anyway. Instead, Till got the call.

    This may be one of the biggest risks of the projection. Till could easily find Woodley's button and claim the title. But it is in that difficult fight that pushes Woodley up into a higher standing among the pound-for-pound elite.

No. 4: Demetrious Johnson

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Fight: N/A 

    Demetrious Johnson is the greatest of all time, but he was still only No. 2 in the pound-for-pound rankings after Daniel Cormier snagged his second title. After losing to Henry Cejudo, Johnson fell to No. 6. Look for him to rebound later this year in a likely rematch for the flyweight belt.

    Nothing is official for the rematch but that should be the expectation.

    Johnson was a dominant champion and cleared out the division, and one of those victories came against Cejudo. The trilogy fight only makes sense. Anything else would be a disservice to Johnson and the division.

    Picking Johnson to win is not a stretch, but it is also anything but a foregone conclusion. But by getting that win back, he should reclaim some steam in the rankings. However, due to the positioning of others, he won't get the respect of jumping back to the top spot.

No. 3: TJ Dillashaw

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    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

    Next Scheduled Fight: N/A

    One of the reasons Demetrious Johnson will fail to reclaim his position in the Top 10 is because bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw looks outstanding. His UFC 227 victory over Cody Garbrandt cemented his status as one of the sport's elite.

    The UFC has options for Dillashaw's next outing, but no matter who it schedules opposite Dillashaw, it is difficult to see anything other than Dillashaw getting his hand raised. He looks that good.

    Someone could make a solid argument he is the top pound-for-pound fighter right now.

    Dillashaw sits at No. 3 and could move up by the end of the year. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he ascends to the top spot. He could get even higher depending on how the two stars above him fare in upcoming contests.

No. 2: Conor McGregor

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Next Scheduled Fight: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 229, October 6) 

    This may be the most controversial entrant on the list. And that may be the case whether he wins or loses on October 6.

    You have not seen Khabib Nurmagomedov on the list and now Conor McGregor sits at No. 2. So, that is a little glimpse into my pick coming in two months for this epic showdown in what is sure to be the biggest UFC event of all time.

    McGregor has a dynamite left hand and is an underrated tactician. To suggest he won't have a plan or specific windows of opportunity against Nurmagomedov is nonsense. But Nurmagomedov is the favorite for a reason. It's a tough stylistic matchup for the Irish superstar.

    A win could catapult McGregor to the top spot. Nurmagomedov is a Top 10 P4P fighter himself, and McGregor never lost either belt he held. However, seeing as he doesn't have those distinctions while Daniel Cormier has the light heavyweight and heavyweight straps, look for McGregor to stick where he is at.

    If McGregor loses, he may still appear in the back end of the Top 10 while Nurmagomedov moves into the Top Five. But I'm banking on Mystic Mac to score another jaw-dropping knockout that stuns us all.

No. 1: Daniel Cormier

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Next Scheduled Fight: N/A 

    Expect no change at the top. The reigning champion of the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions will remain the pound-for-pound king, according to UFC voters, when the calendar moves into 2019.

    Daniel Cormier is the only dual-division champion, as Conor McGregor has been stripped of his belts. Thus it is hard to make a claim for anyone else being above Cormier.

    The double champ may yet fight again before 2019. He is open to defending the light heavyweight title before an early 2019 meeting against Brock Lesnar, per MMA Fighting's Alexander K. Lee. The only issue is that there is not a clear contender ready from that division, but no matter who could ascend before the end of the year, Cormier will be the clear favorite.

    Cormier is poised to end the year as the face of two divisions and one of the sport's best stories.

    As he nears retirement, the 39-year-old has cemented a legacy and will always be remembered as an all-time great.