UFC weight class power rankings: New champions reign, but will a different division be No. 1?

There have been eight UFC title changes this year, if you include championships being vacated due to retirement or injury. Undoubtedly, 2023 has been marked by fluidity and perhaps a passing of the torch to the next generation.

With all the fluctuations, it’s an excellent time to look at the UFC’s divisions and how they stacked up. There are three major pay-per-view cards remaining in the year and at least five more title fights. That doesn’t count the other top contender battles that have also been scheduled before the year ends.

So, what are those major bouts still to come, ones that will decide champions and potential next challengers? And which divisions in the UFC stand out among the rest as we go into the final quarter of the year?

Our panel of 10 ranked the weight classes and Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim answer these questions below.

Suga Sean brings men’s bantamweight to top spot

1. Men’s Bantamweight: 135 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Rob Font vs. Deiveson Figueiredo, Dec. 2

This is the UFC’s marquee weight class, led by one of the sport’s biggest stars in newly crowned champ, Sean O’Malley. Impactful potential fights? Take your pick. Because O’Malley rose to the top so quickly, there are plenty of new and exciting title defense matchups. And because he’s so good at promoting himself, there’s a storyline to every one of them.

On top of all that, there are multiple rematches that will draw. Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera is expected to be next to challenge for the title. There’s also Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan. All good rematches. New matchups include Merab Dvalishvili, Henry Cejudo and Cory Sandhagen. O’Malley has lifted a division already in a good place to a whole new level. So, who is the next O’Malley waiting to ascend to greatness? It’s Umar Nurmagomedov, who is a potential 2024 breakout candidate. — Okamoto

2. Lightweight: 155 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira, UFC 294 on Oct. 21

The UFC lightweight title will be on the line in a rematch between Makhachev, the current champion, and Oliveira, the former titleholder, at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi. Makhachev and Oliveira are two of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters, and the second fight between them should be an absolute barnburner. Makhachev finished Oliveira via second-round submission when they met last October, but Oliveira looked fantastic in dispatching Beneil Dariush in his following fight at UFC 289 back in June. This is one of the best fights in the UFC for the rest of 2023.

One fight that is not yet on the books also has a ton of implications that extend to the mainstream. Conor McGregor, the biggest star in UFC history, is supposed to meet Michael Chandler at some point, though it will not happen this year. The fight will be at 170 pounds, most likely. But Chandler is a top lightweight and there are major implications for the division, especially if he wins. The next UFC Fight Night main event, on Oct. 7, is also one to watch: Grant Dawson is unbeaten in nine UFC fights and takes on wily veteran Bobby Green. — Raimondi

3. Welterweight: 170 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Leon Edwards (c) vs. Colby Covington, UFC 296 on Dec. 16

Leon Edwards will defend his title on Dec. 16 against Colby Covington, who’ll be fighting for the first time in 21 months and is coming off a 2-2 stretch. It would be right in keeping with the UFC’s erratic 2023 narrative for Covington to win the belt. That would displace a pound-for-pound top-five guy in Edwards but would reinvigorate two careers — Covington’s and Kamaru Usman’s. The ex-champ is in exile off on the fringe of the title picture because of two losses to Edwards, but Usman would be right back in the mix if the belt were around the waist of Covington, whom he’s beaten twice.

That December fight card also features a welterweight matchup that could lead to a different twist in the road. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Shavkat Rakhmonov will tangle in a top-10 showdown between the division’s possible future — Rakhmonov is 17-0 with all finishes — and a 40-year-old who does not wish to be relegated to being a thing of the past. — Wagenheim

4. Women’s Flyweight: 125 lbs



Valentina Shevchenko wants trilogy fight with Alexa Grasso when healthy

Valentina Shevchenko talks about her recent fight against Alexa Grasso, when she will return from injury and a potential trilogy fight with Grasso.

Best remaining fight in 2023: Jennifer Maia vs. Viviane Araujo, Oct. 14

There are no major fights on the books yet for the rest of the year, following three huge ones in the last several weeks. Alexa Grasso retained the UFC women’s flyweight title against former champ Valentina Shevchenko via a split draw at Noche UFC. In the weeks before that, Erin Blanchfield gutted out a win over Taila Santos and Manon Fiorot edged former two-time strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, who has moved up.

UFC president Dana White has said the Grasso vs. Shevchenko trilogy will happen next due to the controversial nature of that result. That could leave Blanchfield vs. Fiorot as a natural title eliminator at some point, perhaps before the end of the year. Araujo and Maia are ranked fighters who will meet on Oct. 14 as they jockey for position. Maycee Barber, Tracy Cortez and Natalia Silva are all rising contenders coming off big wins that will likely be positioned in big fights next. Veterans Katlyn Chookagian and Lauren Murphy are still game, as well. — Raimondi

5. Men’s Featherweight: 145 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Sodiq Yusuff vs. Edson Barboza, Oct. 14

It’s a fantastic, dynamic weight class that’s deeper than it gets credit for because the man at the top, Alexander Volkanovski, has a way of making things look easy. In addition to Volkanovski, you have the former champ, Max Holloway, who has been essentially perfect at the weight against anyone but Volkanovski. So, it’s a tale of a clear 1A, 1B and then the rest. One might think that could make for a lack of storylines, but it doesn’t.

Ilia Topuria has injected new excitement into the 145-pound division, and the eventual return of Brian Ortega from shoulder injury will do the same. Yair Rodriguez came up short against Volkanovski this year, but he is still in his prime and one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport. The dark horse is Movsar Evloev, who hasn’t been extremely active and doesn’t carry the most exciting fighting style, but will be a serious problem if he can stay healthy. — Okamoto

6. Middleweight: 185 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Paulo Costa vs. Khamzat Chimaev, UFC 294 on Oct. 21

There have been plenty of divisional shake-ups thus far in 2023, but arguably none were more shocking than Sean Strickland‘s dominant, five-round upset of Israel Adesanya. That single result created a list of new potential matchups with new stakes. Obvious enticing matchups include Strickland vs. Adesanya 2, Adesanya vs. Dricus du Plessis, a du Plessis title fight against anyone and Strickland vs. Robert Whittaker. But the UFC’s biggest fight might be between Chimaev and Costa next month. If Chimaev returns to form and can be anything that resembles “active,” the 185-pound division could turn into the most exciting weight class in the sport in 2024. Chimaev brings that much excitement and intrigue. He just needs to be healthy and active. — Okamoto

7. Women’s Strawweight: 115 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Jessica Andrade vs. Mackenzie Dern, UFC 295 on Nov. 11

It might be contradictory to call this one of the UFC’s most competitive weight classes while pointing out that its champion might be the sport’s most dominant. But that’s strawweight for you. Zhang Weili is coming off a thorough beatdown of Amanda Lemos last month, but as transcendent as the champ is, there are interesting challenges ahead.

Stylistically, a title defense against undefeated Tatiana Suarez would put Zhang’s ground game to a severe test. But if the UFC were to book an event in China before the end of the year, as CEO Dana White has said he wants to make happen, the obvious main event would be Zhang against another Chinese 115-pounder, Yan Xiaonan. After seeing a 13-fight unbeaten streak end with a pair of losses, Yan defeated contenders Mackenzie Dern and Jessica Andrade to put herself in prime position for a title shot. — Wagenheim

8. Heavyweight: 265 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Jon Jones (c) vs. Stipe Miocic, UFC 295 on Nov. 11

It doesn’t get much bigger than the main event at Madison Square Garden. Jones will defend his UFC heavyweight title for the first time against Miocic in November in New York. Miocic is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion and the most accomplished champ the division has ever seen. Meanwhile, Jones is the most dominant light heavyweight in the sport’s history, coming off a one-sided victory over Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 in March to win the heavyweight strap. That is a massive fight, and the outcome will shape the division. There is speculation that either one or both could retire afterward, leaving a void at the top of heavyweight.

The two fighters who would benefit most from a Jones or Miocic retirement would be the heavy-handed Sergei Pavlovich and the well-rounded Tom Aspinall. Both of them are knocking at the title challenge door and could be next in line for a shot. Perhaps the two could meet in a title eliminator in early 2024. The other big heavyweight matchup before the end of this year is Curtis Blaydes vs. Jailton Almeida on Nov. 4 in Brazil. Almeida is red hot and could be one of the future stars of the division. — Raimondi

9. Men’s Flyweight: 125 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Alexandre Pantoja (c) vs. Brandon Royval, UFC 296 on Dec. 1

There’s a lot more movement here than there used to be. Demetrious Johnson reigned for six years after becoming the UFC’s first flyweight champion in 2012. Then Henry Cejudo was the champ for a couple of years. But since the summer of 2020, the belt has changed hands five times, with Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno having two runs with the title. It’s become a game of musical chairs.

Alexandre Pantoja won the belt from Moreno in July and is already booked for his first title defense on Dec. 16 vs. Brandon Royval. Pantoja already owns a 2021 submission win over Royval. He also has three victories over Moreno (one in an exhibition on “The Ultimate Fighter”). Pantoja fought Figueiredo in 2019 and lost, but Figueiredo is set to make his bantamweight debut (Dec. 2 vs. Rob Font). Talk about moving parts. — Wagenheim

10. Light Heavyweight: 205 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Jiří Procházka vs. Alex Pereira, UFC 295 on Nov. 11

The Jon Jones curse continues to be in full effect at 205 pounds. Jones finally moved to heavyweight in 2023, but this division has been a mess since he vacated his title in 2020. There have been some great fights and singular performances, for sure, but the actual hierarchy of the division and the belt has been downright difficult to follow. Procházka claims the belt and then suffers a terrible injury. A vacant title fight ends in a draw. Jamahal Hill grabs the title, and then he suffers a significant injury of his own.

It now does seem to be in a good place, with a terrific vacant title fight between Procházka and Pereira booked for November in New York (on the same card as Jones, no less). The name to keep an eye on in this division is Aleksandar Rakic. He’s got some big wins and some big losses, but ultimately, it doesn’t feel like we’ve seen his full potential yet. — Okamoto

11. Women’s Bantamweight: 135 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: Miesha Tate vs. Julia Avila, Dec. 2

This division has gone quiet since the summer. In June, Amanda Nunes rode off into the sunset, retiring as the UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion. And no title fight has been scheduled for the vacant belt. Julianna Peña and Raquel Pennington seem likely to be the two participants in a title fight, but nothing is on the books for the rest of the year. And there isn’t a clear spot for that bout unless it finds its way onto the UFC 295 card on Nov. 11, which already has two title fights.

Mayra Bueno Silva seemed like a potential new face of the division after she finished Holly Holm in June. But she’s since been suspended due to a doping violation. It’s unclear when she might be back and that win over Holm will likely be overturned to a no contest. There are no other major fights in the division scheduled before the end of the year, except for Miesha Tate vs. Julia Avila on Dec. 2. If Tate wins, with her name value, she could be thrust into a major contender fight in 2024. — Raimondi

12. Women’s Featherweight: 145 lbs

Best remaining fight in 2023: N/A

This is by far the biggest division in women’s MMA — in competitor size. Yeah, that’s a small-minded joke, but jokes are about all we have for this abandoned warehouse of a weight class. Bellator and PFL manage to cobble together an interesting fight between 145-pound women now and then, but in the UFC, the bell has been ringing for years. It became deafening and ominous when Amanda Nunes vacated her title in June and retired. The UFC recently removed women’s featherweight from its divisional rankings page online.

It need not end this way. The vacuum created by the departure of Nunes could be filled with opportunity. There’s no heir apparent sitting around next to the Octagon — Cris Cyborg, Kayla Harrison and Larissa Pacheco compete in differently shaped cages — so the UFC belt is a loose ball waiting for someone to dive on it. The fight promotion could do worse than to book a rematch of last year’s Macy Chiasson split-decision win over Norma Dumont and wrap the strap around the winner. If the matchmakers prefer something fresher for a title bout, put Chiasson in with Josi Nunes. It could be the start of a second Nunes era. — Wagenheim