UFC Pound for Pound Fighter Rankings: Israel Adesanya, Weili Zhang hold firm after title defenses

If we learned anything as far as the pound-for-pound rankings are concerned from the pair of title bouts atop UFC 248 in Las Vegas last weekend, it's that Israel Adesanya and Weili Zhang appear poised to challenge for the top spot for years to come after their first respective title defenses. 

It goes without saying that the performances of middleweight champion Adesanya and women's strawweight Zhang were as different as night and day. The fact that Adesanya and Yoel Romero were nearly booed out of the building while Zhang was celebrating after co-authoring one of the greatest fights in the sport's history against Joanna Jedrzejczyk is hard to overlook. 

Yet despite the differences in the type of challenge they received, both relied on their incredible intangibles to figure out a way to succeed in a pair of decisions that could have gone either way depending upon the judges' perspectives. 

Adesanya certainly isn't excused from shouldering a portion of the blame for the lack of excitement his fight produced given Romero's passive and defensive game plan. What shouldn't be overlooked, however, was the championship adjustments he made in Rounds 3 and 4 to figure out a way to win rounds without taking reckless chances by focusing on jabs and leg kicks. 

It certainly won't win him many new fans in the short term, especially given how much the preflight narrative centered upon Adesanya going out of his way to select Romero as an opponent and then guaranteeing a knockout. That doesn't mean it wasn't smart as "The Last Stylebender" made a longterm business decision to essentially survive and advance instead of playing into any of Romero's traps. 

Adesanya is 8-0 since making his UFC debut two years ago, and the greatest compliment to his P4P standing just might be the fact that he's been forced to show such diverse elements of his skill set in his most important and recent fights: technique (Anderson Silva), toughness (Kelvin Gastelum), power (Robert Whittaker) and intelligence (Romero). 

Zhang, the first Chinese champion in UFC history, wasn't afforded the same luxury of Adesanya because of how frenetic and brilliant the performance of the former champion Jedrzejczyk was in their split-decision thriller. With 115 pounds standing historically as the deepest and most dangerous women's division in UFC history, Zhang proved herself worthy of being the class of it by answering every single question that her 2019 first-round knockout of Jessica Andrade to win the title was unable to. 

Zhang's reputation as a power-puncher was certainly on display with the way she disfigured Jedrzejczyk's face due to swelling. But it was her five-round stamina as well as incredible toughness and durability that won over fans most and cemented her as a possible superstar in the making. 

For every adjustment Jedrzejczyk was able to make to stay in the fight, Zhang seemingly had an answer at each turn. 

For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings, click here.

Men's pound-for-pound rankings

 Dropped out: None

Just missed: Jorge Masvidal, Conor McGregor, Dominick Reyes, Robert Whittaker, Colby Covington, Dustin Poirier, Paulo Costa

Women's pound-for-pound rankings

Dropped out: None

Just missed: Rose Namajunas, Tatiana Suarez, Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha, Aspen Ladd, Marina Rodriguez

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories