If there was a common thread in the title victories at UFC 261 that had an effect on the sport's top 10 pound-for-pound rankings, it was the fact that both fighters benefitted from the same mastermind in the corner.
Heaping praise upon Trevor Wittman as quite possibly the best coach in mixed martial arts today isn't necessarily a new pastime. Yet it's clearly a worthy one following title triumphs last weekend from two of his biggest named clients.
Wittman was in the corner for welterweight champion Kamaru Usman's destruction of Jorge Masvidal via one-punch knockout in their rematch headlining the card, just as he was in the co-main event when Rose Namajunas reclaimed the 115-pound throne by stopping Weili Zhang via first-round head kick in a finish that was no less spectacular.
A 47-year-old native of Denver, Wittman has also stayed busy in recent years as the architect behind lightweight contender Justin Gaethje's transformation from reckless brawler to technical assassin, which took him as far as a title shot in 2020 and his own spot (for a time) on the P4P rankings. Yet the work Wittman did at UFC 261 would be enough for most coaches to retire upon with their head held high.
In just his third training camp as the strategic mind behind what had already been a dominant run through the welterweight division for Usman, Wittman's ability to help his pupil add distinctive layers to a striking game that was recently considered non-existent has been a thing to behold.
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Already considered among the most technically brilliant and dominant wrestlers in MMA history, Usman's improvement on his feet was perfectly stamped home by his stunning finish of Masvidal, one of the UFC's most durable fighters who hadn't been stopped due to strikes since 2008. At 33, Usman is improving by leaps and bounds, which helped him climb up the P4P rankings at a swiftness that can best be described as a perfect storm.
Usman may have benefitted from Khabib Nurmagomedov's recent retirement, Jon Jones' close fights (and inactivity) and Israel Adesanya's recent defeat to find an opening to secure the top spot. But he certainly wouldn't have seized the adulation without his evolution into a dominant finisher.
Conversely, Wittman was just as effective in guiding Namajunas back to the top of her division following a season of doubt (and public thoughts of retirement) in the aftermath of her knockout loss to Jessica Andrade two years ago.
Namajunas rebuilt her confidence thanks to surviving a war with Andrade in their 2020 rematch. But it was Wittman's drilling about the potential opening for a high kick to circumvent Zhang's guard that Namajunas gave credit to after her stoppage win.
The victory allowed Namajunas to move even closer to the top of a women's P4P list, which includes two of the greatest fighters in history atop it in Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko (who defeated Andrade at UFC 261 to defend her flyweight title). It was also a reminder of how far she has come under Wittman from the days of her first title loss in her 2014 UFC debut back when Namajunas was known only for her submission skills, all the way to becoming a master striker of her own.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
| 1. Kamaru Usman||Welterweight champion||18-1|
|"The Nigerian Nightmare" has become just that to the competition at 170 pounds, extending his winning streak to 14. His spectacular knockout of Jorge Masvidal in their UFC 261 rematch proved Usman could fill the void left by the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov as the UFC's dominant champion of the moment. |
|2. Jon Jones||Heavyweight||26-1 (1 NC)|
|It wouldn't be wrong to consider the former light heavyweight champion as MMA's G.O.A.T. That doesn't mean his hold on the P4P throne isn't slipping. The competition has slowly caught up to Jones, which makes his move up to heavyweight at age 33 an interesting one. |
|3. Israel Adesanya||Middleweight champion||20-1||--|
|Still the best 185-pound fighter in the world, Adesanya's stock was brought back down to earth just a bit in a somewhat humanizing light heavyweight title loss to Jan Blachowicz. While Adesanya certainly had his moments, he was out maneuvered by a bigger champion, slowing any designs he might have had on moving up even higher in weight to fight Jon Jones.|
|4. Francis Ngannou||Heavyweight champion||16-3||--|
|How do you properly frame just how scary and dangerous "The Predator" really is? If his knockout streak hasn't fully convinced you, the evolution shown in his game during his rematch with Stipe Miocic to capture the heavyweight title should be enough. At 34 and still somewhat new to the sport, Ngannou is improving at a terrifying rate. |
|5. Deiveson Figueiredo||Flyweight champion||20-1-1||--|
|Despite being fresh off of an all-action draw against Brandon Moreno, the reigning 125-pound champion capped off a breakout 2020 by winning Fighter of the Year honors. This force of nature also injected much-needed life into the 125-pound division following the exits of Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo. Up next is a rematch with Moreno in June.|
|6. Dustin Poirier||Lightweight||27-6 (1 NC)||--|
|UFC president Dana White wasn't willing to crown Poirier as the new lightweight king following his TKO of Conor McGregor in their January rematch, and Poirier ultimately chose a July trilogy above a title shot. Still, there isn't a better active 155-pound fighter at the moment. |
|7. Alexander Volkanovski||Featherweight champion||22-1||--|
|Volkanovski was expected to return in March only to see his scheduled title defense against Brian Ortega postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test. The native Australian is riding a 19-bout win streak following his first title defense in 2020 when he edged Max Holloway by disputed split decision.|
|8. Max Holloway||Featherweight||22-6||--|
|A shutout of Calvin Kattar in January might just be the most dynamic performance of the future Hall of Famer's career. Holloway set countless records for attempts and strikes landed over the five rounds. He also likely secured a shot at the winner of Volkanovski-Ortega.|
|9. Jan Blachowicz||Light heavyweight champion||28-8|
|Often lost within his Cinderella story of securing an unlikely UFC title as he pushes closer to 40 is just how intelligent a fighter Blachowicz has evolved into. The Polish powerhouse never over commits and can adapt well under pressure as his victory over Adesanya displayed.|
|10. Robert Whittaker||Middleweight||23-5|
|A three-fight win streak following his knockout title loss to Israel Adesanya in 2019 has "The Reaper" likely entering a shot to regain his crown later this year. At 30, Whittaker appears even more calculated than his initial championship rise and is among the most well-rounded fighters in the game.|
Dropped out: Justin Gaethje
Just missed: Petr Yan, Charles Oliveira, Gaethje, Brian Ortega, Aljamain Sterling
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
|1. Amanda Nunes||Bantamweight/Featherweight champion||20-4||--|
First-time parenthood did nothing to slow "The Lioness" in her dominant finish of Megan Anderson in March to defend her 145-pound title. Unless a trilogy against flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko can be made, Nunes will continue to be an overwhelming favorite against any fighter across two divisions.
|2. Valentina Shevchenko||Flyweight champion||21-3||--|
|Despite holding a pair of close decision defeats to Nunes, all Shevchenko has done since moving down to her natural weight of 125 pounds is make a case for inclusion alongside Nunes atop the P4P rankings. Her demolition of an always dangerous Jessica Andrade in April only echoed her greatness. |
|3. Rose Namajunas||Strawweight champion||10-4|
|Meet the new boss of the 115-pound division; it's the same as the old boss. "Thug" Rose cemented her comeback with authority by finishing Weili Zhang at UFC 261 via head-kick knockout in the opening round. True to form, when Namajunas is at her very best, few in history can compare. |
|4. Weili Zhang||Strawweight||21-2|
|Despite her complaints regarding an early stoppage, Zhang's return from a 13-month layoff and five-round war against Joanna Jedrzejczyk turned out to be disastrous as Namajunas regained her title. Luckily for Zhang, UFC president Dana White seemed to favor an immediate rematch.|
|5. Joanna Jedrzejczyk||Strawweight||16-4||--|
|The former 115-pound champion, more than a year removed from co-authoring the greatest fight in women's MMA history against Zhang, announced her intentions in March for a summer return and is hoping to draw Namajunas into a trilogy.|
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Germain de Randamie, Holly Holm, Aspen Ladd, Yan Xiaonan, Jessica Andrade