Luckily for UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the qualifications for gaining critical respect by earning a high pound-for-pound ranking don't take into account superficial criteria along the lines of entertainment and popularity.
Usman didn't exactly gain new fans by the manner in which he mauled (and sometimes stalled) Jorge Masvidal in their pay-per-view main event at UFC 251 last Saturday. What the native of Nigeria did, however, was extend his impressive win streak to 16 in the second defense of his 170-pound title.
Whatever you think of him, Usman is among the best fighters in the world, and for whatever his methods lack from the standpoint of increasing his marketability, they were strategically sound. Usman never took the bait of feeling as if he needed a finish to silence his critics and largely avoided getting reckless enough to allow Masvidal, who took the fight on six days' notice, a chance to rally in spectacular fashion.
Instead, Usman was smart, safe and largely dominant, just as he has been in the majority of his UFC fights (in which he is now 12-0).
Anyone who chooses to fight in a defensive or boring style limits their ceiling of growth when it comes to things like sponsorships, attention and large social media followings. But without a bombastic personality worth flashing to begin with, Usman simply doesn't have the financial incentive to be anything more than he already is: a winner.
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Taking a risk of losing his title might not be worth the reality of his financial future without it. Until another 170-pound fighter can figure out how to out-grapple the former NCAA Division II national champion wrestler or overcome either his chin or his gas tank, fans need to get used to him because Usman very much appears to have staying power.
Usman is among the most fit fighters in the game and continues to show an evolution toward becoming one of its more intelligent and well-rounded performers. Will that ever lead to him taking more chances when he secures dominant positions? It probably depends upon the opponent and the level of danger he is facing at the time.
Just the same, Usman's critics need to be careful not to forget just how exciting he was in December when he knocked out fellow wrestler Colby Covington at the tail-end of five rounds of stand-up trading. Usman also deserves praise for the small wrinkles added to his striking game for this fight in his camp with coach Trevor Wittman, particularly in the early going when Masvidal stuffed seven of Usman's first eight takedown attempts.
Liking Usman is not a prerequisite to respecting his skill set, and with UFC wins over Leon Edwards, Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Covington and now Masvidal, he's building a resume that soon enough will become impossible not to admire.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
| 1. Khabib Nurmagomedov||Lightweight champion||28-0||--|
|Currently mourning the death of his father and coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, in early July places the timing of his return in question. "The Eagle" is expected to face interim champion Justin Gaethje in just the latest difficult challenge in his historically deep division. |
|2. Jon Jones||Light heavyweight champion||26-1 (1 NC)||--|
|Jones survived a massive scare against Dominick Reyes in a February bout at UFC 247 that left critics wondering if the judges had gotten it wrong. The victory helped "Bones" set a new UFC record for most wins in title fights with 14, but subsequent public battles with UFC brass over fighter pay leave his return uncertain. |
|3. 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. |
|4. Stipe Miocic||Heavyweight champion||19-3||--|
|Miocic may very well be the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history, but he'll need to prove that sentiment one final time when the 37-year-old faces Daniel Cormier for a third time on Aug. 15 at UFC 252. |
|5. Israel Adesanya||Middleweight champion||19-0||--|
|"The Last Stylebender" struggled to edge a non-combative Yoel Romero by decision in his first title defense at UFC 248 in March. Up next is expected to be unbeaten Brazilian slugger Paulo Costa in a fight that all but guarantees action for the latest UFC video game cover boy. |
|6. Alexander Volkanovski||Featherweight champion||22-1|
|A second-straight win over former champion Max Holloway at UFC 251 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 to close distance and impress with a late rally.|
|7. Daniel Cormier||Heavyweight||22-2 (1 NC)|
|Although he turned 41 in March, Cormier remains focused on one last fight in a trilogy against Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight crown. A victory would help DC cement his legacy as the greatest UFC fighter the division has ever known and one of the best overall in history.|
|8. Justin Gaethje||Interim lightweight champion||22-2|
|Just how good is Gaethje? Apparently, much better than we thought after "The Highlight" continued his evolution from reckless brawler into calculated destroyer by snapping Tony Ferguson's incredible 12-fight win streak. Gaethje earned a shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov's crown by taking home the interim strap. |
|9. 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 by bouncing back from a one-sided title loss last year to best Dan Hooker in their all-action June clash. Still just 31, Poirier remains championship material. |
|10. Max Holloway||Featherweight||21-6||--|
Holloway appeared to do just enough to edge Alexander Volkanovski and regain his featherweight title at UFC 251. Yet despite scoring a pair of knockdowns and clearly winning the opening rounds, "Blessed" was forced to settle for a split-decision loss. What's next? That remains the unknown within a deep division and the unlikely scenario he gets a trilogy anytime soon.
Dropped out: Henry Cejudo
Just missed: Petr Yan, Tony Ferguson, Dominick Reyes, Robert Whittaker, Gilbert Burns, Aljamain Sterling, Jorge Masvidal
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
|1. Amanda Nunes||Bantamweight/Featherweight champion||20-4||--|
A dominant decision win over Felicia Spencer in June to make the first defense of her 145-pound title has left Nunes without an obvious next move in either division. With the birth of her first child looming with partner Nina Ansaroff, recent teases from Nunes about retirement should be taken seriously.
|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 32, 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: Germaine de Randamie
Just missed: De Randamie, Jessica Andrade, Tatiana Suarez, Aspen Ladd, Cynthia Calvillo