When it comes to combat sports and the idea of winning fights simply through the lens of intimidation, the relatively short primes of Mike Tyson and Ronda Rousey are perfect examples that quickly come to mind. Just the threat of Tyson's power in the boxing ring or the remarkable ease with which Rousey took opponents down to force an instant tap via armbar during her UFC title reign was often enough to take foes out of their game plan and away from their given strengths in favor of a more submissive posture.
Israel Adesanya (20-0) certainly has the power to finish opponents off with one strike, similar to how he commandeered the UFC middleweight title from Robert Whittaker nearly one year ago thanks to one perfect right hand. Yet it was largely his timing and precise counterpunching which helped him disarm unbeaten Paulo Costa at UFC 253 last weekend with such surprising ease.
Either way, Adesanya benefitted from the intimidation of his sizzle reel, similar to Tyson and Rousey, which made a fighter against the hulking Brazilian slugger anything but the toughest test of his career that it was billed. And while dominating elite opponents with your sublime skill-set is typically enough to gain consideration on a pound-for-pound list, doing so on reputation alone without breaking a sweat is enough for you to contend for the top spot.
That's exactly where Adesanya finds himself, closing in on the likes of P4P mainstays Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jon Jones even though his resume is largely still being built after just two title defenses. Debate all you want whether it's too soon, but the eye test in this case is simply too flashy to overlook.
Adesanya reduced a wrecking ball like Costa (13-1) to standing in place without once rushing forward to uncork his big right hand. Whether Costa was hiding an injury, saving his stamina or simply carrying out a poor game plan, the end result remains the same: Costa withheld his best chance at winning out of fear that Adesanya's response might be too much.
With unwavering confidence, championship stamina and a proven backbone able to withstand a violent storm, Adesanya has all the makings to be someone who holds serve atop this list for years to come while simultaneously expanding his brand enough to become a global star.
Yes, his critics will likely still be waiting for an elite threat with next-level wrestling or submission skills to try and challenge him where he isn't as strong. But until we see someone does just that and bypass Adesanya's next-level instincts and creativity as a striker, all of the praise he currently receives remains justified.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
| 1. Khabib Nurmagomedov||Lightweight champion||28-0||--|
|Protecting his incredible unbeaten record gets no easier with a UFC 254 test against interim champion Justin Gaethje. Given the recent death of his father and coach, "The Eagle" appears poised to hang it up sooner rather than later. At 32, Nurmagomedov has expressed interest in just two more fights.|
|2. Jon Jones||Heavyweight||26-1 (1 NC)||--|
|Although he recently vacated his 205-pound crown for a move up with the big boys, recent Twitter activity from Jones suggests he's just as interested in fighting middleweight champion Israel Adesanya or new light heavyweight king Jan Blachowicz than at heavyweight. Either way, the once dominant Jones' hold on this spot is precarious at best. |
|3. Israel Adesanya||Middleweight champion||20-0|
|Adesanya mentioned the name of Jared Cannonier as his preferred next foe, provided he can get past former champion Robert Whittaker on Oct. 24. The bigger question is whether Adesanya's social media war with Jon Jones leads to a one-off super-fight at 205 pounds before Jones moves north to heavyweight.|
|4. Stipe Miocic||Heavyweight champion||20-3|
|Somehow only getting better at 37, Miocic closed out his trilogy with Daniel Cormier at UFC 252 by cementing his status as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. Miocic said he isn't retiring anytime soon, and should stand to make big dollars against Francis Ngannou or Jon Jones. |
|5. Kamaru Usman||Welterweight champion||17-1|
|Despite playing it safe down the stretch, Usman was dominant in outworking late-replacement Jorge Masvidal to defend his title at UFC 251. Up next should be the red-hot Gilbert Burns in what would be a dangerous test on paper. |
|6. Alexander Volkanovski||Featherweight champion||22-1||--|
|A second win over former champion Max Holloway brought with it a bit of controversy over the disputed split decision. However you scored it, Volkanovski made enough championship adjustments to hold off a slow start and impress with a late rally.|
|7. Justin Gaethje||Interim lightweight champion||22-2||--|
|Just how good is Gaethje? The violent ease in which he snapped Tony Ferguson's incredible 12-fight win streak was an eye-opener. The ultimate test remains a shot this fall for Nurmagomedov's full 155-pound crown. |
|8. Dustin Poirier||Lightweight||26-6 (1 NC)||--|
|Poirier refused to allow the lightweight division's future to be written without his name still included at the top of the rankings. He edged Dan Hooker in their all-action June clash. At just 31, Poirier remains championship material. |
|9. Deiveson Figueiredo||Flyweight champion||19-1|
|Two dominant finishes of long-time contender Joseph Benavidez have Figueiredo standing tall as the baddest 125-pound fighter in UFC. Although he's a menace with his hands and seemingly always looking for the finish, his ground game is nothing to take for granted. |
|10. Max Holloway||Featherweight||21-6||--|
Holloway was forced to settle for a split-decision loss in his title rematch with Volkanovski. So what's next? That remains unknown within a deep division and the unlikely scenario he gets a trilogy anytime soon.
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Petr Yan, Tony Ferguson, Robert Whittaker, Jan Blachowicz, Gilbert Burns, Aljamain Sterling
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
|1. Amanda Nunes||Bantamweight/Featherweight champion||20-4||--|
A dominant featherweight title defense over Felicia Spencer in June has left Nunes without an obvious next move in either division. Expect the women's GOAT to take some time off following the birth of her first child with partner Nina Ansaroff.
|2. Valentina Shevchenko||Flyweight champion||19-3||--|
|The best 125-pound fighter in the world looked unbeatable at UFC 247 in her title defense against Katllyn Chookagian. The gap between Shevchenko and the rest of the division is so wide, it's very likely her next defining fight comes against a champion below or above her. |
|3. Weili Zhang||Strawweight champion||21-1||--|
|Zhang's inevitable ascent to global stardom after becoming China's first UFC champion only continued in her first title defense at UFC 248. She co-authored quite possibly the best fight in women's MMA history against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and answered any remaining questions about her skills, toughness and cardio. |
|4. Rose Namajunas||Strawweight||9-4||--|
|The former 115-pound champion made an emphatic return from a long layoff to end talk of retirement by avenging her title loss to Jessica Andrade. "Thug" Rose was forced to walk through hell to do so in a near disastrous final round that left her swollen and bloody. An inevitable showdown with Weili Zhang for the belt could be the best fight to make in women's MMA.|
|5. Joanna Jedrzejczyk||Strawweight||16-4||--|
|At 33, the former champion proved she's still got a ton left in the tank by pushing Weili Zhang to the limit in a split-decision loss. Jedrzejczyk suffered heavy damage including a grotesquely swollen face yet showed a limitless level of resolve. The loss drops her to 0-4 in title bouts since 2017. |
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Germaine de Randamie, Jessica Andrade, Tatiana Suarez, Holly Holm, Aspen Ladd, Cynthia Calvillo