The much maligned bantamweight champion took another step closer to universal acclaim as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport by edging former two-division champion Henry Cejudo via split decision at UFC 288 last weekend in Newark, New Jersey.
Aljamain Sterling, 33, had previously been dealt the scarlet letter of having captured the title via disqualification against Petr Yan, along with not receiving credit for a title defense against injured former champion TJ Dillashaw. But following both his close win over Yan in their rematch and his technical thriller against Cejudo, it's time Aljo gets the credit he deserves.
"The Funk Master" relied on his underrated grappling prowess to neutralize Cejudo's wrestling game and used constant movement to keep the former Olympic gold medalist guessing on the feet. Sterling has always been long and awkward for the division, but the experience he has compiled throughout a nine-fight win streak has only helped him tie his entire game together.
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Sterling is expected to defend his title later this year against rising star Sean O'Malley, but his future atop the division might be affected by the concurrent rise of his teammate, top bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili.
Both fighters, who train together under Ray Longo and Matt Serra in New York, have vowed they would never fight one another. Although Dvalishvili could be headed toward a Cejudo fight, if recent social media chatter rings true, Sterling has already announced he would likely move up to 145 pounds should a showdown opposite Dvalishvili become necessary for the division.
Either way, Sterling's unusual run atop the division has only clouded just how great of a fighter he has become. A possible victory over O'Malley could be the final straw in Sterling finally getting the universal recognition he deserves.
Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let's take a closer look at the top fighters inside the Octagon.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings, click here.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
1. Alexander Volkanovski -- Featherweight champion (24-2)
Previous ranking: No. 1
The striking wizard proved his wrestling is just as world class in a close loss to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev at UFC 284. Volkanovski retained his crown as best in the sport, for now, but things will only get more difficult from here as newly crowned interim featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez is up next in July.
We just witnessed an ALL TIMER 🙌 #UFC284 pic.twitter.com/Abd1D0T24S— UFC (@ufc) February 12, 2023
2. Islam Makhachev -- Lightweight champion (24-1)
Previous ranking: 2
Lost in his victory over defending featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and the subsequent fallout of dispute over the fight's scoring, was just how incredibly Makhachev has grown as a striker. His pinpoint accuracy and poise was able to prevent Volkanovski from edging him, even as his preferred wrestling game was stifled.
The new world P4P #1 and NOBODY can take that away from @MakhachevMMA 💪 #UFC284 pic.twitter.com/FLoq82H05E— UFC (@ufc) February 12, 2023
3. Jon Jones -- Heavyweight champion (27-1, 1 NC)
Previous ranking: 3
With nearly 50 pounds of added weight following a long-awaited move up to heavyweight, Jones removed any fears of cage rust after three years away by quickly finishing Cyril Gane to become a two-division champion. At 35, Jones' return coincided perfectly for the promotion with the exit of Francis Ngannou. Up next is former champ Stipe Miocic, possibly for November.
THE GREATEST. #UFC285 pic.twitter.com/4pZ7YLw9dF— UFC (@ufc) March 5, 2023
4. Israel Adesanya -- Middleweight champion (24-2)
Previous ranking: No. 4
After three failed attempts across two different combat sports, Adesanya finally slayed the beast that is Alex Pereira. "The Last Stylebender" scored a resounding second-round knockout at UFC 287 to regain his 185-pound title and avenge a fifth-round stoppage from last November.
5. Aljamain Sterling -- Bantamweight champion (23-3)
Previous ranking: No. 6
Sterling's reign atop the deepest division in the sport hasn't always produced conclusive results but it has produced big wins over historically relevant names. Add Henry Cejudo to that list following Sterling's heady split-decision win over the former champion at UFC 288 in May. "The Funk Master" continues to raise his game to a higher level.
6. Leon Edwards -- Welterweight champion (20-3, 1 NC)
Previous ranking: 5
Doubt him no more. Seven months removed from his real-life "Rocky" moment against Kamaru Usman via fifth-round knockout to commandeer the 170-pound title, Edwards doubled down in their UFC 286 rematch by taking home a majority decision. For his second title defense, Edwards is expected to face former two-time title challenger Colby Covington.
7. Jiri Prochazka -- Light heavyweight champion (29-3-1)
Previous ranking: No. 7
The unpredictable Prochazka achieved his full due of critical respect after extending his win streak to 13 in a dramatic and savage fifth-round submission of Glover Teixeira at UFC 275. But Prochazka, who is 23-1-1 since 2013, suffered a serious shoulder injury which pulled him from the rematch and led to him vacating the belt. A late 2023 return could be in the cards depending upon the length of his recovery.
8. Charles Oliveira -- Lightweight (33-9)
Previous ranking: 8
Was the Brazilian finish machine's one-sided title loss to Islam Mahkachev the result of a bad stylistic matchup or did Oliveira's reckless and dramatic ways finally catch up to him? Either way, the 33-year-old will be forced to regroup after a remarkable 11-fight win streak that won't be forgotten anytime soon. Up next is Beneil Dariush in June.
9. Robert Whittaker -- Middleweight (24-6)
Previous ranking: 9
The former middleweight champion has only ever lost in the UFC at 185 pounds to Israel Adesanya. While it's unlikely he can secure a third shot at his chief rival anytime soon, Whittaker remains one of the most well-rounded and durable fighters on the planet.
10. Henry Cejudo -- Bantamweight (16-3)
Previous ranking: NR
Some three years removed from his abrupt retirement, the former two-division champion came as close as one could come to regaining the 135-pound title he never lost in a split-decision defeat to Aljamain Sterling in May. At 36, Cejudo proved he still has it and his call out of Merab Dvalishvili afterwards suggests he isn't going anywhere.
Dropped out: Kamaru Usman
Just missed: Usman, Brandon Moreno, Yair Rodriguez, Alex Pereira, Jamahal Hill
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
1. Amanda Nunes -- Two-division champion (21-4)
Previous ranking: No. 1
Nunes soundly outpointed a stubborn Julianna Pena at UFC 277 to regain her 135-pound title and remind everyone of her G.O.A.T. ways. The victory was also a big one considering Nunes, after leaving American Top Team, started her own gym and changed her style. A rumored bantamweight title defense against Irene Aldana is targeted for UFC 285.
🦁 @Amanda_Leoa just became the first woman in UFC history score three knockdowns in a single fight! #UFC277 pic.twitter.com/YVnWxLdkFW— UFC (@ufc) July 31, 2022
2. Rose Namajunas -- Strawweight (11-5)
Previous ranking: No. 2
A baffling strategy of defensive circling led to Namajunas surrendering her 115-pound title to inaugural champion Carla Esparza in their May rematch. Namajunas was barely touched in her unanimous decision loss. An inevitable trilogy looms with new champion Zhang Weili, whom Namajunas has defeated twice.
3. Zhang Weili -- Strawweight (23-3)
Previous ranking: No. 3
The first Chinese-born UFC champion regained her 115-pound crown by dominating Carla Esparza at UFC 281 via second-round submission. The victory showcased Zhang's continued improvement in her grappling game yet she won't truly gain recognition as the best strawweight in the sport until she can avenge a pair of losses to Namajunas.
4. Alexa Grasso – Flyweight champion (16-3)
Previous ranking: 4
The former strawweight contender shocked the world by becoming the first flyweight to defeat Valentina Shevchenko in a massive upset at UFC 285. In doing so, Grasso became the first female Mexican-born champion in UFC history. Unbeaten in five fights at 125 pounds, Grasso was successful in turning the division upside down.
ALEXA GRASSO HAS SUBMITTED VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO!!— UFC (@ufc) March 5, 2023
WE HAVE A NEW FLYWEIGHT CHAMPION 👑🇲🇽 #UFC285 pic.twitter.com/t4HMH5vXnw
5. Valentina Shevchenko – Flyweight (23-4)
Previous ranking: No. 5
Her first defeat in six years brought an end to Shevchenko's dominant title reign at 125 pounds following a UFC female record seven title defenses. The fourth-round submission loss to Alexa Grasso at UFC 285 was nothing short of shocking. It remains to be seen whether an immediate rematch is in her future.
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Yan Xiaonan, Amanda Lemos, Taila Santos, Manon Fiorot, Erin Blanchfield