MMA Rank 10-1 – Kamaru Usman set for another defining year for legacy, key year for Francis Ngannou, Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane


At. On January 22, Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane will face off in the main event of UFC 270 (10 p.m. on ESPN+PPV), with the heavyweight title on the line. This fight will shape the journey of three fighters into the top 10 of ESPN’s MMA rankings, an effort to project which fighters will have the best 2022.

Such is the continued influence of the heavyweight division and how each potential outcome will alter the course of the careers of Ngannou, Gane and Jon Jones looming in the distance.

It also speaks to the tremendous accomplishments of fighters like Kamaru Usman and Valentina Shevchenko, who are even higher on this list, and the potential for what they can do in 2022.

The MMA world is ready to go after a rare month with limited action, and the top 10 fighters on this year’s ESPN MMA rankings are here for a reason.

ESPN’s MMA contributors set out to project which fighters will show up the most in 2022, and after a two-step voting process, they narrowed it down to the top 30. This list includes fighters from three promotions – veterans and all-stars. rising stars, champions and contenders – ranked by their potential for success over the next 12 months. Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim have a lot to say about these last 10 fighters, of which only Gane has never held UFC gold at the start of 2022.

Follow the link to each UFC result to watch a replay of that fight on ESPN+ | 30-21 | 20-11

Record 2021: 2-0 (TKO2 against Michael Chandler; Sub3 vs. Dustin Poirier)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: Unclassified

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: The UFC lightweight division was more or less dominated by the same two names for years until 2022: Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. One of them has never lost, and the other is so popular it feels like the division still revolves around him to some degree. Oliveira defies this history, after a fantastic year in which he won the title against Michael Chandler, then defended him against Dustin Poirier. Oliveira now holds the belt in a division overloaded with big names and big fights. If he remains undefeated this year, his status will be at its highest. –Okamoto

Record 2021: 1-0 (UD on Michael Chandler)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 17th

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: Gaethje has long been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, perhaps the most exciting of all. He also transformed, with the help of coach Trevor Wittman, from a brawler to a strategist and technician, without losing any of his fastball. Next, he should attempt to add “champion” to his resume. The UFC has yet to set a date for Charles Oliveira’s second lightweight title defense, but while the timing is in the air, the who isn’t: company president Dana White said Gaethje “made sense” as the next challenger. It would be his second chance for gold, following his fall to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2020. Gaethje’s 2022 will depend on this potential fight, which has a borderline feel for both men. –Wagenheim

Record 2021: 3-0 (UD v Jairzinho Rozenstruik; UD on Alexander Volkov; TKO3 on Derrick Lewis)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: Unclassified

Next fight: January 22 c. Francois Ngannou, for the UFC Heavyweight Championship (UFC 270)

Outlook 2022: Gane’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. His MMA debut came in 2018, and now he will fight his former teammate Ngannou for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 270 on Jan. 22 in Anaheim, Calif. Gane, undefeated, got better with every fight. He entered into Derrick Lewis‘ hometown of Houston last August and outplayed Lewis en route to a third round to win the UFC interim heavyweight belt. If Gane can beat the intimidating Ngannou, it will be a testament to the work he put in with trainer Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory in Paris – and perhaps the start of a long reign as the versatile, tactical and athletic. –Raimondi

Record 2021: 0-0

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 2nd

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: It’s hard to predict anything around Jones these days. One of the surest things in MMA for a long time has gone completely unpredictable due to legal and other issues outside of the cage and a contract dispute in 2021. As we head into 2022, Jones says he intends to compete in the spring or summer, at heavyweight. It’s a move he’s been teasing for a long time, and it would be welcome in the sport. Jones’ idea for a second championship has always captured the imagination of the MMA world. He’s set for a potentially big year, but Jones always seems to put obstacles in his way. If he competes at heavyweight in 2022, it will automatically be one of the biggest stories of the year. –Okamoto

Record 2021: 1-1 (lost by UD against Jan Blachowicz; UD on Marvin Vettori)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 1st

Next fight: February 12 c. Robert Whittaker, for the UFC Middleweight Championship (UFC 271)

Outlook 2022: Adesanya has shown willingness to pursue new horizons. Once he established himself as the 2019 UFC middleweight champion, he set about fending off his division’s top two contenders while targeting the biggest game, Jon Jones. A showdown with the then light heavyweight king never materialized, but Adesanya nevertheless put his undefeated record on the line against Jones’ successor as the 205-pound UFC titlist, John Blachowicz. Adesanya lost that super fight last March and then began to extend his 185-pound reign again, albeit backtracking on some familiar milestones. After having defeated Marvin Vettori for the second time in his career, Adesanya will fight the man he beat for the UFC middleweight title, Whittaker. Adesanya shows championship courage by facing the best his division can put in front of him. –Wagenheim

Record 2021: 1-0 (TKO2 on Stipe Miocic)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 4th

Next fight: January 22 against Ciryl Gane, for the UFC heavyweight championship (UFC 270)

Outlook 2022: Ngannou’s path to the year will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the next 12 months. If Ngannou defeats Gane, his former teammate, at UFC 270 on January 22, he will have retained the UFC heavyweight title and established himself as one of the biggest stars and best fighters in martial arts. mixed. It would also push him towards one of the most important (and highly anticipated) fights in UFC history, against arguably the greatest fighter of all time, Jon Jones. If Ngannou loses to Gane, he becomes a free agent and could end up in a big-money boxing match. He and Tyson Fury have already gone back and forth on Twitter. –Raimondi

Record 2021: 2-0 (TKO1 against Zhang Weili; SD on Weili)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 26

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: Namajunas has become one of the best fighters in the world and one of the most cheerable champions in the sport. She won the UFC strawweight title for the second time in April by knocking out Zhang Weill, and the images of her repeating “I’m the best” will forever remain in the sports video library. In 2022, Namajunas is undeniably the best strawweight in the world. And she believes in it, which makes her particularly dangerous. She first won the belt in 2017, but she wasn’t ready then to be the kind of champion she is now. She has been preparing for a good year, which will probably start with a title defense against Carla Esparza, to whom Namajunas lost in 2014 when she was just a 22-year-old title contender. –Okamoto

Record 2021: 1-1 (lost by DQ to Aljamain Sterling; UD on Cory Sandhagen)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 11th

Next fight: April 9 c. Aljamain Sterling, for the UFC Bantamweight Championship (UFC 2732)

Outlook 2022: Yan has only himself to blame for not entering the year as a UFC bantamweight champion. He was well in control of his UFC men’s bantamweight title defense against Sterling last March until, late in the fourth round, he crushed his kneeling challenger with a knee to the face. It was an illegal move, and it lost the Russian his title. But Yan has a chance to redeem himself on April 9 when he meets Sterling again. If Yan walks away with the belt that night at UFC 272, he won’t have time to rest on his laurels as he will likely be called by the former champ. TJ Dillashaw before he could even step out of the Octagon. But if he wins, Yan will face the formidable challenges that await him back in his familiar place atop the world at 135 pounds. –Wagenheim

Record 2021: 2-0 (TKO2 on Jessica Andrade; TKO4 on Lauren Murphy)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 6th

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: There is an argument to be made that Shevchenko is starting the year as the best female fighter on the planet. She’s No. 1 on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list after Julianna Penais upset about Amanda Nunes. There are very few women seemingly capable of challenging Shevchenko, who is the UFC flyweight champion. Taila Santos is likely next in this division, but don’t be surprised if Shevchenko returns to bantamweight with the goal of becoming a two-time champion. Whether it’s a rematch with Peña or a rematch against Nunes, Shevchenko could be favored against either woman. Shevchenko beat Peña in early 2017, and although Nunes owns two wins over Shevchenko, their most recent fight, in September 2017, was very close. –Raimondi

Record 2021: 3-0 (TKO3 against Gilbert Burns; TKO2 against Jorge Masvidal; UD on Colby Covington)

2021 ESPN MMA Rankings: 9th

Next fight: To be determined

Outlook 2022: It’s good to be king. Usman entered a promising business in 2021, and he delivered. He defended his welterweight title three times last year, and each title defense had a story behind it. He defeated his former teammate and friend Gilbert Burns, overcoming adversity in the first round. He marked his two-fight streak with Jorge Masvidal, delivering a Knockout of the Year nominee in April. And in November he put his former rival Colby Covington behind him in a decisive main event win inside Madison Square Garden. How do we follow this kind of year? That might be Usman’s biggest challenge in 2022, frankly – surpassing what he did in 2021. But if anyone can do it, it looks like it’s him. His development under head coach Trevor Wittman was a major story last year, and he is currently a near-universal choice for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The skills are there, clearly, as is the desire to stay active. –Okamoto

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