Most UFC divisions have had a spell as the strongest. With an ever-changing roster and the crowning of new champions, the weight classes seem to cycle through stacked periods and weak ones. You’d be hard-pressed to find a time with as many strong divisions as the UFC has in 2021.
With champions from North America, Africa, Europe, South America, Asia and Oceania, we’re only one Antarctica-born champ away from total global representation. After the year we’ve had, stranger things have happened…
UFC's strongest divisions
With top prospects and contenders throughout most divisions in the promotion, it's become hard to identify the strongest. With an eye on champions, contenders, fight quality and entertainment, let’s have a go at ranking the current top five divisions in the UFC.
#5 UFC Flyweight division
If a year-ago you’d have a said I’d be including the men’s flyweight division in a piece based on the strongest divisions in the UFC, I’d have laughed and said you’re crazy. The progress at 125lbs has been frightening, as has the reign of its champion.
The development of the flyweight division is largely down to one man, Deiveson Figueiredo. Although the Brazilian missed weight in the first title fight after the belt had become vacant, leaving many predicting the end of the division, Figueiredo later stepped up. He became the dominant and intimidating champion the flyweights needed. They call him “God of War.” Not many monikers are as appropriate as that.
The demolition of Joseph Benavidez was scary. From the knockout in their first fight to the hard-to-watch rear-naked choke that brought him the title, Figueiredo was brutal. A first-round guillotine against Alex Perez in his first defense put him amongst the most dominant and imposing champions in the UFC.
What came next really put the division back on the map. A Fight of the year with Brandon Moreno had us all talking. The result caused debate but the fierce action inside the cage didn’t. Both men left everything in that octagon. The rematch is set for UFC 263 on June 12. For me, there isn’t a fight I’m looking forward to more.
The flyweight division has genuine contenders like Askar Askarov and Alexandre Pantoja. It gives us fast-paced fights and finishes involving the likes of Kai Kara-France and Alex Perez. It has a host of prospects like Su Mudaerji and Matheus Nicolau. The future is bright at 125lbs.
#4 UFC Bantamweight Division
The bantamweight division is a strange one. A month ago, I'd have perhaps placed it as the strongest division in the UFC. At the very least, it would have been top-two. The championship fight at UFC 259 has weakened it.
The 135lb division is now missing one key component. An impressive and must-watch champion. It almost doesn't feel like there is a bantamweight champion. The title feels vacant, which is no disrespect to Aljamain Sterling. The 31-year-old was illegally struck by Petr Yan and clearly wouldn't have wanted to win the title that way.
But that doesn't change the fact that the champion was crowned by Yan's disqualification, in a fight where they seemed to be clearly on the way to losing. Sterling could rematch the Russian, defend his title and become a top champion, but as it stands, it doesn't feel like the 135lbers are represented by a champion there on merit.
But Sterling embracing the way in which he won the belt and mocking those calling him a fake champ is great...
Nonetheless, the state of the championship doesn’t do enough to send the bantamweights out of the top-five. Yan had shown the hallmarks of becoming a dominant champion. Sterling is as talented a bantamweight as they come and his victory over Cory Sandhagen showed he belongs at the top.
Contender-wise, the weight class is stacked. With highlight reel KO’s galore, Sandhagen has established himself as one of the best. The division will go from strength-to-strength when he welcomes back former champion TJ Dillashaw next month. Cody Garbrandt and Rob Font bring excitement, and veterans like Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar are big names still active at 135lbs.
With exciting prospects like Sean O’Malley rising the ranks, the bantamweight division could soon make its way to the top of the UFC.
#3 UFC Heavyweight division
The heavyweight division has its ups and downs. As easily as it can become the strongest division in the UFC, it can crumble to the bottom. As of now, it feels as good as it has felt in a long while. A certain man has helped that happen, Francis Ngannou.
It was an inevitability. Someone with the explosive knockout power of Ngannou was always going to become champion. They say that the heavyweight king is the “baddest man on the planet,” no one can argue that ‘The Predator’ is exactly that.
Against the greatest heavyweight of all time in Stipe Miocic, the Cameroonian fought the perfect fight. We didn't see the crazy swinging we had come to associate Ngannou with. We saw patience, takedown defense and then the brutal KO he so often produces.
For the first time in three years, the heavyweight division has new names fighting for the belt. That can only be a good thing for a weight class stacked with power and talent. Jon Jones' arrival has added an extra level of anticipation and excitement.
If the UFC and Jon Jones weren't embroiled in a dispute over pay, we'd probably have confirmation of Ngannou's first defense and an octagon-shaking bout between the champ and "Bones" would be set for later in the year. That would perhaps have elevated the division to one of the top two spots.
Nevertheless, with the era of Ngannou underway, the likes of Jones, Miocic, Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane hanging around the title picture, and future stars like Tom Aspinall racking up wins, the heavyweight division is one to watch.
#2 UFC Lightweight division
I've spoken a lot about the importance of a must-watch champion, only to put a division without one in the top-two. Lightweights are an exception. We know we’ll see a top champion crowned in May and every contender is a must-watch name.
With Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler set to go five rounds for the lightweight strap at UFC 262, and Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor completing their trilogy in July, no other division has two better blockbuster fights booked.
The future at 155lbs was uncertain after Khabib’s retirement. UFC 257 went some way to confirming the lightweight division was still one of the best. Chandler’s incredible arrival added a massive new name to the mix, whilst Poirier confirmed his star status.
With Tony Ferguson and Beneil Dariush set to face off next month, the likes of Justin Gaethje waiting in the wings and rising prospects like Islam Makhachev, it stands to reason the lightweight division will remain one of the strongest for the foreseeable future.
#1 UFC Featherweight division
The UFC featherweight division ticks every box. An impressive fighting champion, check. A host of talented and hungry contenders, check. Promising future stars and prospects, check. Exciting and fast-paced action with some crazy finishes, check. The champion and top contender were even recently confirmed as coaches for the return of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
It was gutting to see Alexander Volkanovski’s defense against Brian Ortega canceled due to Covid-19 at UFC 260, but it hasn’t changed anything for the division. If anything, the postponement allowing for the two to be TUF coaches has made the 145lb weight class even stronger.
The depth of the featherweight division is astonishing. Below a strong champion and number one contender lies a host of must-see names.
Former champion Max Holloway showed why he is still one of the best in the world as he destroyed Calvin Kattar with one of the greatest striking displays in UFC history. Although currently inactive, Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez are quality 145lbers. The list of contenders is endless.
With the likes of Dan Ige, Arnold Allen and Sodiq Yusuff making a name for themselves, the featherweight division is the strongest weight class in the UFC.