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

by Msnbctv news staff

On. Jan. 22, Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane will sq. off in the principle occasion of UFC 270 (10 p.m. on ESPN+ PPV), with the heavyweight title on the road. That struggle will form the course of three fighters within the prime 10 of ESPN’s MMA Rank, an effort to challenge which fighters may have the perfect 2022.

Such is the continued affect of the heavyweight division, and the way in which that every potential end result will alter the course of the careers of Ngannou, Gane and Jon Jones, who looms within the distance.

It additionally speaks to the appreciable accomplishments of fighters comparable to Kamaru Usman and Valentina Shevchenko, who sit even increased on this checklist, and the potential for what they will do in 2022.

The MMA world is able to go after a uncommon month with restricted motion, and the highest 10 fighters on this yr’s ESPN MMA Rank are there for a motive.

ESPN’s MMA contributors got down to challenge which fighters will present out probably the most in 2022, and after a two-step voting course of, they narrowed it right down to the highest 30. That checklist options fighters from three promotions — veterans and rising stars, champions and contenders — ranked by their potential for fulfillment over the subsequent 12 months. Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim have so much to say about these final 10 fighters, amongst whom solely Gane has by no means held UFC gold as of the beginning of 2022.

Comply with the hyperlink to every UFC end result to look at a replay of that struggle on ESPN+ | 30-21 | 20-11

2021 file: 2-0 (TKO2 over Michael Chandler; Sub3 over Dustin Poirier)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: Unranked

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: The UFC’s light-weight division had been kind of dominated by the identical two names for years going into 2022: Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. One in all them by no means misplaced, and the opposite is so widespread it feels as if the division all the time revolves round him to an extent. Oliveira is difficult that historical past, coming off a implausible yr wherein he received the title in opposition to Michael Chandler, then defended it in opposition to Dustin Poirier. Oliveira now holds the belt in a division that’s overstocked with large names and large fights. If he goes undefeated this yr, his standing shall be sky excessive. — Okamoto

2021 file: 1-0 (UD over Michael Chandler)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: seventeenth

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: Gaethje has lengthy been one of the vital thrilling fighters within the sport, maybe the most enjoyable of all. He additionally has reworked himself, with the assistance of coach Trevor Wittman, from a brawler right into a strategist and technician, whereas not shedding something off his fastball. Subsequent up, he is anticipated to get a shot at including “champion” to his résumé. The UFC has not but set a date for Charles Oliveira’s second light-weight title protection, however whereas the when is up within the air, the who is not: Firm president Dana White has stated Gaethje “is smart” as the subsequent challenger. It could be his second alternative for gold, after falling to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2020. Gaethje’s 2022 will hinge on this potential struggle, which has a sky’s-the-limit really feel for each males. — Wagenheim

2021 file: 3-0 (UD over Jairzinho Rozenstruik; UD over Alexander Volkov; TKO3 over Derrick Lewis)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: Unranked

Subsequent struggle: Jan. 22 vs. Francis Ngannou, for the UFC heavyweight championship (UFC 270)

2022 outlook: Gane’s rise has been nothing in need of meteoric. His MMA debut got here in 2018, and now he’ll be preventing Ngannou, his former teammate, for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 270 on Jan. 22 in Anaheim, California. Undefeated Gane has gotten higher in each struggle. He went into Derrick Lewis’ hometown of Houston final August and dominated Lewis en path to a third-round end to win the UFC interim heavyweight belt. If Gane can beat daunting Ngannou, it’s going to be a testomony to the work he has carried out with coach Fernand Lopez at MMA Manufacturing facility in Paris — and maybe the beginning of a protracted reign by the versatile, tactical and athletic fighter. — Raimondi

2021 file: 0-0

2021 ESPN MMA rank: 2nd

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: It is arduous to foretell something round Jones as of late. One of many surest issues in MMA for a very long time has change into utterly unpredictable due to authorized and different points exterior the cage and a contract dispute in 2021. As we head into 2022, Jones says he intends to compete within the spring or summer season, at heavyweight. It is a transfer he has teased for a very long time, and it will be a welcome one within the sport. The concept of Jones going for a second championship has all the time captured the creativeness of the MMA world. He is arrange for a doubtlessly large yr, however Jones all the time appears to place obstacles in his personal approach. If he does compete at heavyweight in 2022, it’ll robotically be one of many greatest tales of the yr. — Okamoto

2021 file: 1-1 (misplaced by UD vs. Jan Blachowicz; UD over Marvin Vettori)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: 1st

Subsequent struggle: Feb. 12 vs. Robert Whittaker, for the UFC middleweight championship (UFC 271)

2022 outlook: Adesanya has proven himself to be keen to chase new horizons. As soon as he established himself as UFC middleweight champion in 2019, he got down to fend off his division’s two prime contenders whereas additionally concentrating on larger recreation, Jon Jones. A showdown with the then-light heavyweight king by no means materialized, however Adesanya nonetheless put his unbeaten file on the road in opposition to Jones’ successor as UFC’s 205-pound titlist, Jan Blachowicz. Adesanya misplaced that superfight final March, after which it was proper again to prolonging his 185-pound reign, albeit by retracing some acquainted steps. After defeating Marvin Vettori for the second time in his profession, Adesanya will struggle the person he beat for the UFC middleweight title, Whittaker. Adesanya is displaying championship mettle by going through the perfect his division can put in entrance of him. — Wagenheim

2021 file: 1-0 (TKO2 over Stipe Miocic)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: 4th

Subsequent struggle: Jan. 22 vs. Ciryl Gane, for the UFC heavyweight championship (UFC 270)

2022 outlook: The trail of Ngannou’s yr shall be one of the vital intriguing storylines of the subsequent 12 months. If Ngannou beats Gane, his former teammate, at UFC 270 on Jan. 22, he may have retained the UFC heavyweight title and cemented himself as one of many greatest stars and greatest fighters in blended martial arts. That might additionally thrust him towards one of the vital vital (and anticipated) fights in UFC historical past, in opposition to arguably the perfect fighter of all time, Jon Jones. If Ngannou loses to Gane, he turns into a free agent and will find yourself in a big-money boxing match. He and Tyson Fury have already gone backwards and forwards on Twitter. — Raimondi

2021 file: 2-0 (TKO1 over Zhang Weili; SD over Weili)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: twenty sixth

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: Namajunas has blossomed into the most effective fighters on this planet, and one of many best champions to root for within the sport. She captured the UFC’s strawweight title for the second time in April by knocking out Zhang Weili, and pictures of her repeating to herself, “I am the perfect” will stay on within the sport’s video library endlessly. Going into 2022, Namajunas is, undeniably, the perfect strawweight on this planet. And she or he believes it, which makes her particularly harmful. She first received the belt in 2017, however she wasn’t prepared then to be the sort of champion she is now. She’s arrange for yr, which is able to most likely start with a title protection in opposition to Carla Esparza, to who Namajunas misplaced in 2014 when she was only a 22-year-old title challenger. — Okamoto

2021 file: 1-1 (misplaced by DQ vs. Aljamain Sterling; UD over Cory Sandhagen)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: eleventh

Subsequent struggle: April 9 vs. Aljamain Sterling, for the UFC bantamweight championship (UFC 2732)

2022 outlook: Yan has solely himself guilty for not getting into the yr as UFC bantamweight champion. He was effectively answerable for his UFC males’s bantamweight title protection in opposition to Sterling final March till, late within the fourth spherical, he crushed his kneeling challenger with a knee to the face. It was an unlawful blow, and it misplaced the Russian his title. However Yan has an opportunity for redemption April 9 when he meets Sterling once more. If Yan walks away with the belt that night time at UFC 272, he’ll haven’t any time to relaxation on his laurels, as he’ll most likely be referred to as out by ex-champ TJ Dillashaw earlier than he may even exit the Octagon. But when he wins, Yan shall be surveying the formidable challenges forward from proper again in his acquainted spot on the prime of the world at 135 kilos. — Wagenheim

2021 file: 2-0 (TKO2 over Jessica Andrade; TKO4 over Lauren Murphy)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: sixth

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: There’s an argument to be made that Shevchenko is beginning the yr as the perfect ladies’s fighter on the planet. She is No. 1 on ESPN’s pound-for-pound checklist after Julianna Peña’s beautiful upset of Amanda Nunes. There are only a few ladies seemingly capable of problem Shevchenko, who’s the UFC champion at flyweight. Taila Santos is probably going subsequent in that division, however then do not be stunned if Shevchenko returns to bantamweight in an effort to change into a double champion. Whether or not that is a rematch with Peña or a rematch in opposition to Nunes, Shevchenko could possibly be favored in opposition to both lady. Shevchenko beat Peña in early 2017, and though Nunes owns two wins over Shevchenko, their most up-to-date bout, in September 2017, was very shut. — Raimondi

2021 file: 3-0 (TKO3 over Gilbert Burns; TKO2 over Jorge Masvidal; UD over Colby Covington)

2021 ESPN MMA rank: ninth

Subsequent struggle: TBD

2022 outlook: It is good to be king. Usman went into 2021 promising exercise, and he delivered. He defended his welterweight title 3 times final yr, and every title protection had a narrative behind it. He defeated his previous teammate and pal Gilbert Burns, overcoming adversity within the opening spherical. He put a stamp on his two-fight collection with Jorge Masvidal, delivering a Knockout of the 12 months candidate in April. And in November, he put his previous rival Colby Covington behind him in a call win in a important occasion inside Madison Sq. Backyard. How does one comply with up that sort of a yr? That could possibly be Usman’s greatest problem in 2022, frankly — topping what he did in 2021. But when anybody can do it, it seems to be him. His growth below head coach Trevor Wittman was a significant story final yr, and he is a near-universal choose proper now for greatest pound-for-pound fighter on this planet. The talents are there, clearly, as is the need to stay energetic. — Okamoto

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