Any MMA fan could have told you there was a vast difference in quality and top-10 relevance between the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s UFC Fight Night 102 card on Dec. 9 in Albany, New York, and the promotion’s UFC 206 event on Dec. 10 in Toronto, even with the latter having its original main event -- Daniel Cormier-Anthony Johnson 2 -- fall apart due to Cormier’s adductor injury. Yet here we are on the other side of the UFC’s doubleheader, and both aforementioned shows have impacted this update of the Sherdog.com rankings.
Of course, UFC 206 led the way in this department. While the dissolution of Cormier-Johnson 2 forced -- or irrationally compelled -- the UFC to strip Conor McGregor, make Jose Aldo full featherweight champion and line up Max Holloway-Anthony Pettis as the interim title fight main event, Hawaii’s Holloway was positively sublime throughout the week in his media and fan engagements before taking to the Octagon and simply smashing the former UFC lightweight champion. Not only did Holloway’s sensational striking victory give him the biggest win of his career and a small-if-illegitimate slice of the UFC featherweight title, it sees him break through to the top three of his division in these rankings.
Less than an hour before Holloway went into the Octagon and dominated Pettis in “The Six,” Donald Cerrone won his fourth straight UFC bout as a welterweight. “Cowboy” was pressed, as always violent contender Matt Brown took him to task in the first round. Ultimately, Cerrone’s third-round knockout via sensational head kick earned him another breathtaking stoppage; and even if he has exited our lightweight rankings, his recent streak at 170 pounds has finally landed him in our top 10. Speaking of Cerrone, his slated UFC 205 opponent, Kelvin Gastelum, was forced up to 185 pounds after blowing weight before he fought “Cowboy,” so he took on Tim Kennedy at UFC 206 and, frankly, destroyed him. Yet “The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner remains adamant his future is at welterweight, and thus, Gastelum retains a surprising place in these rankings.
That same UFC 206 main card gave rise to Misha Cirkunov’s breakthrough performance. Canadian MMA and grappling fans pegged the 29-year-old as a future cagefighting superstar literally years before he ever had a pro bout under his belt; seven years after the Latvia native made his MMA debut, Cirkunov has joined the 205-pound elite. With a one-round domination of Ukraine’s Nikita Krylov in front of his adopted hometown of Toronto, Cirkunov is now deep in the mix at light heavyweight -- a division that sorely needs talents like him.
The night before in Albany, heavyweight slugger Derrick Lewis outlasted Shamil Abdurakhimov in an admittedly awful bout, but nonetheless, it was a fourth-round TKO for “The Black Beast,” who earned his fifth straight win in the UFC, jumping from our bubble list into the heavyweight top 10. Know who might not be far behind? Fellow hitter Francis Ngannou, who rather than using his fists, used a Kazushi Sakuraba-style kimura to tap Anthony Hamilton, notching a place in our top 15.
Lest we leave out the second largest MMA promotion in the world: With Cerrone dedicating himself to welterweight and precipitating his official exit from our 155-pound rankings, we had room for one more. That means former top-10 lightweight fixture Michael Chandler rejoins the gilded bunch at 155 pounds, coming off of his highly entertaining Bellator MMA title defense against former divisional ruler Benson Henderson on Nov. 19. Welcome back, “Iron Mike.”
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