When Alex Pereira first moved his life and training to suburban Connecticut in 2020 under the tutelage of Glover Teixeira, few could have imagined what the next few years would ultimately bring.
The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger, who debuted in UFC one year later as a two-division kickboxing champion best known for his pair of early wins over Israel Adesanya, had just four pro MMA bouts when he first stepped foot in the Octagon. Fast forward to two years later, and "Poatan" finds himself in rarefied historical air as just the ninth two-division champion in UFC history.
To say it has been a wild year inside the cage for Pereira (9-2) would be an understatement. In April, he was knocked out by Adesanya in their MMA rematch to lose the middleweight title he had claimed so dramatically last November. But Pereira moved up in weight and, after a tough split-decision win over former champion Jan Blachowicz in July, rode the wave of opportunity to a title fight in a second division.
Did Pereira benefit from every ounce of timing, luck and opportunity to secure such opportunities just two years into his UFC run? Without question.
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But it's one thing to accept big fights and another thing to go out and win them. And what Pereira did last Saturday at UFC 295 in New York, brutalizing the lead leg of former champion Jiri Prochazka before violently finishing him with a series of elbows in Round 2, catapulted Pereira to an all-new level of significance by claiming the vacant 205-pound title.
It's not that Pereira was without holes to his game when he boldly transitioned to MMA, largely to chase after his old kickboxing rival Adesanya. His ground game was largely non-existent. And even with his devastating power and timing as a striker, he wouldn't have been the first kickboxing star to come to MMA and find out the hard way that the two combat disciplines are not the same.
Somehow, that never happened for Pereira, who deservingly returned to the top 10 of CBS Sports' pound-for-pound rankings.
A big part of that credit goes to Teixeira for creating such a welcoming new home for Pereira and challenging him each step of the way to improve during the same time period that Texeira, now 44, was enjoying such a renaissance period when he made an unlikely run to beating Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in 2021. But it would've been impossible for Pereira to accomplish so much in such a short period of time if he wasn't extra special to begin with in many intangible qualities that are difficult to quantify.
For all of the accolades Pereira receives for his power, his timing and technique are on another level. And he's also an incredible competitor, as evidenced by the manner in which he survived nearly being finished by Adesanya in Round 1 of their UFC 281 bout only to rally in Round 5 to score such a dramatic finish.
Pereira also has incredible cardio in ways that don't always make sense. He formerly cut upwards of 40 pounds to make middleweight yet somehow retained enough desire and stubborn will to be just as dangerous late as he is in the opening round.
Now that Pereira has evolved his takedown defense thanks to Teixeira, he has become even more dangerous because he forces you to fight on his terms as his constant pressure and devastating calf kicks slowly back you up to the cage.
Should Pereira continue to evolve on the ground in the form of a submission game, there's no telling the limits to what he can still accomplish, even at this somewhat advanced age. And in a division that has craved some form of consistency in the aftermath of Jon Jones' exit in 2020, Pereira might be that exact fit after three years of injuries and hot potato have caused the 205-pound title to change hands at an alarming rate.
Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let's take a closer look at the top fighters inside the Octagon.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
1. Islam Makhachev -- Lightweight champion
Record: 25-1 | Previous ranking: No. 1
Charles Oliveira's withdrawal from his UFC 294 title rematch allowed Makhachev a last-minute second chance against featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski, whom he finished via first-round knockout via head kick. The victory brought an end to any P4P debate as Makhachev controlled the action from start to finish and now owns two stoppage victories in his last three fights against highly ranked P4P foes.
2. Jon Jones -- Heavyweight champion
Record: 27-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 2
Jones' first title defense at heavyweight, scheduled for UFC 295 in November against former champion Stipe Miocic, was canceled after Jones suffered a pectoral tear in training. An eight-month recovery is expected for Jones, who will turn 37 next summer. Despite the ill-timed injury creating more havoc in the heavyweight title picture, Jones has vowed he will be back.
3. Leon Edwards -- Welterweight champion
Record: 20-3, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 3
Doubt him no more. Seven months removed from his real-life "Rocky" moment against Kamaru Usman via fifth-round knockout to commandeer the 170-pound title, Edwards doubled down in their UFC 286 rematch by taking home a majority decision. For his second title defense, Edwards is expected to face former two-time title challenger Colby Covington in December.
4. Alexander Volkanovski -- Featherweight champion
Record: 25-3 | Previous ranking: 4
Volkanovski's decision to risk it all on 12 days' notice to rematch Makhachev in Abu Dhabi turned out to be a disastrous one as the reigning 145-pound king never got out of first gear and appeared tentative en route to a first-round knockout loss. Volkanovski is expected to turn around quickly for a February title defense against top featherweight contender Ilia Topuria.
5. Alex Pereira -- Light heavyweight champion
Record: 9-2 | Previous ranking: NR
Pereira's storybook turn to MMA continues to amaze after a two-division championship run with Glory kickboxing that recently landed him in the Hall of Fame. In just seven UFC bouts and 11 pro MMA fights overall, "Poatan" is now a two-division champion after knocking out Jiri Prochazka for the vacant 205-pound title at UFC 295 in November. The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger called out chief rival Israel Adesanya in hopes of an MMA trilogy (and fifth fight overall).
6. Charles Oliveira -- Lightweight
Record: 34-9 | Previous ranking: 5
The former 155-pound champion redeemed himself after losing his title by finishing Beneil Dariush in the first round at UFC 289. But the Brazilian submission threat suffered a costly cut above his right eye in sparring that pulled him from a title rematch at UFC 294 against Makhachev. "Do Bronx" must now hope UFC doesn't pass him over for the next shot in favor of BMF champion Justin Gaethje.
7. Sean O'Malley -- Bantamweight champion
Record: 17-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 6
The "Sugar Show" is alive and well atop the deepest division in the sport following a second-round TKO of Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292. O'Malley silenced his critics by preventing Sterling from getting a takedown and appears ready to become the global superstar his talent and charisma have long teased. A March return, possible for Miami at UFC 299, brings a long-awaited rematch of O'Malley's lone defeat against Marlon "Chito" Vera.
8. Alexandre Pantoja -- Flyweight champion
Record: 26-5 | Previous ranking: 7
The Brazilian submission threat relied much more on his chin and iron will to edge Brandon Moreno by split decision at UFC 290 in one of the most thrilling and savage fights in flyweight history. At 33, Pantoja now owns three wins over Moreno and is riding a four-fight win streak. He returns at UFC 296 in December to face Brandon Royval in his first title defense.
9. Max Holloway -- Featherweight
Record: 24-7 | Previous ranking: 8
A master of reinvention, the 31-year-old Hawaiian star still hasn't lost to anyone not named Volkanovski at 145 pounds since 2013. Holloway bounced back big in 2023 by edging Arnold Allen in April before knocking out "The Korean Zombie" in Chan Sung Jung's August retirement fight.
10. Aljamain Sterling -- Bantamweight
Record: 23-4 | Previous ranking: No. 9
Frustrated by being unable to take down or bother Sean O'Malley at UFC 292, Sterling made a critical mistake that led directly to a TKO defeat. The loss snapped a nine-fight win streak as Sterling appeared on the verge of securing G.O.A.T. status at bantamweight. A move up to 145 pounds is possible for the 34-year-old former champion.
Dropped out: Israel Adesanya
Just missed: Adesanya, Sean Strickland, Justin Gaethje, Dricus du Plessis, Khamzat Chimaev
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
1. Zhang Weili -- Strawweight champion
Record: 24-3 | Previous ranking: No. 1
The first Chinese-born UFC champion regained her 115-pound crown by dominating Carla Esparza at UFC 281 via second-round submission. She followed it up with ain August and, at 34, is at the top of her game.
2. Alexa Grasso -- Flyweight champion
Record: 16-3-1 | Previous ranking: 2
The native of Mexico teamed up with former champion Valentina Shevchenko to co-author an exciting and tactical 125-pound title rematch at Noche UFC. A split draw was the result as the defending champion Grasso benefitted from a controversial 10-8 final round to curtail defeat. Whether or not a trilogy fight is next remains uncertain in such a crowded division.
3. Valentina Shevchenko -- Flyweight
Record: 23-4-1 | Previous ranking: No. 3
The future all-time great stepped up her game at age 35 and nearly regained her flyweight title from Alexa Grasso in their September rematch. A disputed draw was the result, with Shevchenko openly considering an appeal in the aftermath. Either way, it's hard to imagine that Shevchenko's days of fighting for UFC gold are behind her.
4. Erin Blanchfield -- Flyweight
Record: 12-1 | Previous ranking: 4
The native of New Jersey is 6-0 in the UFC and seemingly on the verge of a title shot following consecutive victories over Jessica Andrade and Talia Santos. Although Blanchfield's grappling skills remain her calling card, her striking has improved tremendously. She also possesses a killer gas tank, as evidenced by the pace she put on Santos.
5. Manon Fiorot -- Flyweight
Record: 11-1 | Previous ranking: 5
Add Fiorot's name to the list of those who could be next for a shot at the 125-pound crown. The native of France is a dynamic kickboxer who is fresh off a unanimous decision win over former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas in September.
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Yan Xionan, Tatiana Suarez, Julianna Pena, Mayra Bueno Silva, Raquel Pennington