September 30, 2022

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Combat Sports Power Rankings for April | Bleacher Report

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    Pool/Getty Images

    You want fights? You’ve got fights.

    The boxing and mixed martial arts calendars are particularly packed with compelling fights in the first full month of spring, with the UFC putting on a pay-per-view show this Saturday night and high-profile champions like Gennady Golovkin, Errol Spence Jr. and Tyson Fury defending ring titles in the next three weeks.

    And we’re barely a month away from the return of Canelo Alvarez, too.

    Put them all together and you have fighters most worthy of water-cooler discussion as we begin another month and take a few steps closer to summer.

    With them in mind, the B/R combat sports team got together to assemble another definitive top-10 list, power rankings-style, to kick April off in the right way.

    Read through to see what we came up with, and feel free to drop a viewpoint or two in the comments.

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    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Last Ranking: None

    Next Fight: April 9, vs. Gilbert Burns

    Why He’s Here: Haven’t heard of Khamzat Chimaev? That’ll change by this time next month.

    The 27-year-old was born in Russia, lives in Sweden and has spent the better part of the last two years introducing himself to the UFC with the sort of whirlwind destruction that leaves an indelible mark.

    Four fights thus far have yielded four finishes and four bonus checks, not to mention a main-card slot on this weekend’s UFC 273 pay-per-view show in Jacksonville, Florida.

    There, he’ll meet second-ranked welterweight contender Gilbert Burns with a chance to parlay another impressive win into a title shot against 170-pound king Kamaru Usman, or perhaps a trash-talk-palooza with the likes of high-profile chatterboxes Conor McGregor or Colby Covington.

    Either way, no less an authority than Daniel Cormier is quite impressed.

    “He’s the scariest contender we have seen for a while,” the former two-division champion told MMA Fighting.

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    Ben Gray/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: None

    Next Fight: April 30, vs. Oscar Valdez

    Why He’s Here: As Chimaev is to mixed martial arts, Shakur Stevenson is to boxing.

    Still more than two months from his 25th birthday, the charismatic New Jersey native is on the brink of a fight that’ll make him a household name among combat sports fans—an April 30 date in Las Vegas, where he’ll face fellow title claimant Oscar Valdez in a bid to meld their pieces of the 130-pound pie.

    Stevenson began his trek to stardom with a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, then won his first 12 pro fights before capturing the WBO title at featherweight in 2019. He immediately set his sights upon another jewel-encrusted belt and jumped up a division to win three straight bouts before stopping Jamel Herring for another WBO championship last October in Atlanta.

    He’ll face Valdezanother two-division champ who’s unbeaten in 30 career boutsas a significant favorite according to the oddsmakers at DraftKings, where he’s a -450 (wager $450 to win $100) proposition.

    And according to Stevenson at least, the one-sided line will prove perfectly prophetic.

    “I have been chasing this fight for nearly three years, since we were both at featherweight,” he told Boxing Scene. “On April 30, I’m going to show him and the world why he ducked me all this time.

    “I’m the best young fighter in the world, and I will become unified champion.”

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: None

    Next Fight: April 9, vs. Chan Sung Jung

    Why He’s Here: As 5’6″, 145-pound guys go, none come any tougher than Alexander Volkanovski.

    The UFC’s reigning titleholder at featherweight honed his craft in muay thai bouts while taking on opponents who were far bigger and heavier. And he’s particularly adept at battering his opponent’s legs, as evidenced by the 75 kicks he landed while dethroning then-champ Max Holloway in their first fight in December 2019.

    And complementing the striking is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and additional training in Greco-Roman wrestling.

    The Australian with Greek and Macedonian roots has since defended his championship twice, beating Holloway again and Brian Ortega, and he’ll risk it for the third time in the UFC 273 main event against “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.

    “He’s an OG of the sport,” Volkanovski said on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani.

    “You talk about legacy, he’s one of the biggest names in the division as well. I want to take out all the guys, the legends of the featherweight division, and he’s one of them.”

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 3rd

    Next Fight: TBA

    Why He’s Here: No one in their right mind would argue Francis Ngannou’s combat chops.

    He’s been the UFC’s heavyweight champ since KO’ing Stipe Miocic last March in Las Vegas and has since defended once, beating top contender Ciryl Gane by decision in January in Anaheim, California.

    It was the first scorecard victory in the Cameroonian’s eight-year professional career.

    But the question now is, what’s next?

    The champ had gone public with contract issues even before the Gane fight, and the optics of UFC czar Dana White not putting the belt on him after the victory were combative to say the least.

    White doesn’t want Ngannou mixing with the likes of Tyson Fury. 

    Ngannou wants freedom to cross over for a duel with the heavyweight boxing king.

    And he’s issuing chilling declarations to set the stage while he recovers from knee surgery.

    “It can be in a phone booth or wherever but that fight will happen,” Ngannou told The Mirror.

    “Obviously he would not come to MMA, he would get killed. Basically in the heavyweight division if you see people getting in the octagon or in the ring that weigh around 270 pounds, everybody can knock everybody out. That’s a fact.”

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    Chase Stevens/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 6th

    Next Fight: May 7, vs. Justin Gaethje

    Why He’s Here: Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe he’s not.

    But UFC lightweight champ Charles Oliveira is at least making the suggestion that he’ll meet power-hitting challenger Justin Gaethje in the center of the octagon when they come together in the UFC 274 main event.

    It’s a break from character for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has more submission wins (15) than anyone in the promotion’s history, but he suggests it’s a product of the confidence that comes from a 10-fight win streak—including KOs of Nik Lentz, Jared Gordon and Michael Chandler.

    Gaethje has 19 KOs in 23 career wins and nine in his last 10 victories since 2014, so a punch-for-bunch brawl would figure to be more in his wheelhouse. But not according to Oliveira.

    “The first round will be a war. I’m going to trade shots with that guy,” he told AG Fight. 

    “People might call me stupid, but I’m not being stupid. I’m acting like an MMA fighter. He walks forward and so do I. We’ll see who has the heavier hands. Who can take a shot and get back up.”

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    Chase Stevens/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 5th

    Next Fight: TBA

    Why He’s Here: And now, we wait.

    First, for the result of an April 16 bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Yordenis Ugas to determine whether the Texan or the Cuban will emerge with three shares of the championship kingdom at welterweight.

    And then, to see what Terence Crawford will do.

    The unbeaten Nebraskan has been a titleholder at 147 pounds for nearly four full years but hasn’t had the type of competition that’d provide a truly transcendent type of victory.

    Spence or Ugas could provide that. And now that Crawford is a promotional free agent and able to call his own fight-making shots, the chances seem better than a career-defining match is on the way.

    “Hopefully I can get the winner,” he told Boxing Now.

    “If not, I want to fight the winner of (Brian) Castano-(Jermell) Charlo.”

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 4th

    Next Fight: TBA

    Why He’s Here: Like Crawford before him, it’s waiting time for Israel Adesanya.

    The UFC middleweight king has reigned at 185 pounds since beating Robert Whittaker in October 2019 and has since run a lap around the division, defeating Whittaker and Marvin Vettori in rematches alongside other one-sided victories over Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa among four defenses.

    He sustained his only career loss at UFC 259 in March 2021 when he climbed to light heavyweight to challenge champion Jan Blachowicz a lost by a similarly clear-cut unanimous decision.

    The biggest question: What’s next?

    A handful of recent stories have suggested a handful of new-blood opportunities, ranging from welterweights Colby Covington and Khamzat Chimaev to kickboxing crossover Alex Pereira.

    Covington recently defeated Jorge Masvidal in a pay-per-view main event at 170 pounds. Chimaev has a fight at UFC 273 with second-ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns. And Pereira ran his UFC record to 2-0 in March with a scorecard defeat of Bruno Silva.

    Of those options, Chimaev, at least, has reached the champion’s radar.

    “It’s just barking in the wind because who’s he fought at 185?” Adesanya said on the True Geordie podcast. “Look, he can beat a lot of these guys at 185, a lot of the top guys, from what I’ve heard. But let me see it first and then we’ll start talking before all this hype around him.”

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 2nd

    Next Fight: TBA

    Why He’s Here: This waiting thing is getting to be a trend.

    Kamaru Usman is the best mixed martial artist on the planet, according to the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, where he’s listed atop a high-profile crowd that includes the aforementioned likes of Adesanya, Ngannou, Oliveira and Volkanovski behind him.

    And he’s equally pre-eminent in his own weight class, where he won the 170-pound belt in 2019 and has since defended with two defeats apiece of UFC 272 headliners Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal in addition to a third-round finish of Gilbert Burns.

    He’s been so dominant, in fact, that it’s difficult to see where the next threat will come from.

    Most recently, the lure of a bout with social media/combat sports crossover Jake Paul had Usman suggesting on the Club Shay Shay podcast that a nine-figure payday would get that contract signed in an instant.

    “Write me a check for $100 million, Jake Paul,” Usman said, “and I’ll be there to kick your ass next week.”

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    Chase Stevens/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 3rd

    Next Fight: April 23, vs. Dillian Whyte

    Why He’s Here: Tyson Fury is the best heavyweight in the world.

    He beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and returned from a self-induced hiatus to battle Deontay Wilder to a draw before stopping him in two subsequent fights to claim their trilogy.

    He’d been tweaking UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou into a potential crossover fight between the two biggest mainstream belt-holders, but it appears he’ll have some actual in-ring work to do first.

    Fury, still unbeaten at 31-0-1, will meet fellow Brit big man Dillian Whyte in defense of his WBC title strap at a sure-to-be electric Wembley Stadium on April 23. Whyte has been stopped twice in his career—by Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin—but he KO’d Povetkin in a rematch seven months later and had Joshua wobbled badly early on before the then-unbeaten prospect rallied.

    So it’s a dangerous proposition for Fury, who was dropped twice by Wilder in their first fight, twice more in their third and has also been decked by Steve Cunningham and Neven Pajkic.

    Still, he remains as brash as ever.

    “I’m gonna knock him out,” Fury told BT Sport (h/t Boxing Scene). “I’m gonna tell you the game plan: straight out of the block, straight to the middle of the ring, push him back, straightaway. Big, heavy artillery from round one, and see how long he can take it for, without being hit back.”

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Last Ranking: 1st

    Next Fight: May 7, vs. Dmitry Bivol

    Another month in the penthouse for Canelo Alvarez.

    The cinnamon-haired Mexican is the best fighter in the world according to The Ring’s pound-for-pound rankings and he’s been a certified pay-per-view superstar since sharing a marquee with Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in September 2013.

    It remains the only loss on the now-31-year-old’s 60-fight resume, which includes championship claims in four weight classes ranging from 154 to 175 pounds.

    He also carries the sort of high-profile swagger that allows him to pick and choose the challenges that most intrigue him, and his agenda for 2022 includes a May 7 return to light heavyweight to face WBA champ Dmitry Bivol before a return to 168 pounds to face old friend Gennady Golovkin in a trilogy bout in September.

    Golovkin and Alvarez fought in 2017 and 2018, with the first ending in a split draw and the second going to Alvarez by a majority decision.

    “(Bivol’s) a champion in that division and I want to continue making history,” Alvarez told Fight Hype (h/t Marca). “It’s a good challenge for me. That’s why I chose the deal. They’re tough fighters, and they offered me a title. I like that kind of challenge.”