Silva, GSP, Jones, Aldo unanimous in the Top 4
HeavyMMA’s fighter rankings are back, and every week we’ll bring you a list in a different weight class.
We’ll start off our run with the always-controversial pound-for-pound list, then move into heavyweights next week, light heavyweights and on down the line. When we get to the bottom, we’ll turn back around and update things starting at the top again.
Heavy’s panel consists of HeavyMMA editor Matt Brown, writer Duane Finley and writer/editor Matt Erickson. Each panelist compiles his rankings independently, and the votes are tabulated to reach the results listed below. The panel’s top four picks were the same across the board, but from No. 5 on down, things get a little more iffy. So without further delay …
1. Anderson Silva
UFC middleweight champion (31-4, 14-0 UFC)
Silva was our panel’s unanimous top pick, to no real surprise. Silva has rewritten the UFC record books with his 14 straight wins and and nine straight middleweight title defenses. His last came at UFC 134 in front of his home fans in Brazil, a convincing TKO against Yushin Okami to avenge a controversial loss – his last setback – from 2006 before he signed with the UFC. Silva’s stiffest test in the UFC came at the hands of Chael Sonnen in August 2010, and Sonnen gets the next crack at dethroning the king in June, likely in a Rio de Janeiro soccer stadium.
2. Georges St-Pierre
UFC welterweight champion (22-2, 16-2 UFC)
GSP has been out for nearly a year already, and it could be another eight months until we see him again following knee surgery. Interim champ Carlos Condit is likely his next challenger, since Condit has said he will likely wait it out till St-Pierre can go rather than risk his interim belt in a fight to stay busy. GSP’s streak since winning the welterweight title back from Matt Serra has been impressive – six straight defenses, with only Jake Shields able to even win a round against him last April in Toronto.
3. Jon Jones
UFC light heavyweight champion (15-1, 9-1 UFC)
Jones’ 2011 was arguably the greatest single year in MMA history. He beat Ryan Bader to get a surprise shot at Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s title. He dominated Shogun to win the belt six weeks later. He defended it in dominant fashion against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in September, becoming the first fighter in the UFC to submit him. And less than three months later, he choked former champ Lyoto Machida unconscious in another brilliant title defense. His only loss? A controversial disqualification for illegal elbows in a fight he was about to win. Up next for Jones is a fight against Rashad Evans in one of the fiercest rivalries in MMA history. If he can dominate Evans the way he’s dominated everyone else, don’t be surprised if he moves ahead of GSP the next time this list rolls around.
4. Jose Aldo
UFC featherweight champion (21-1, 3-0 UFC)
After going 8-0 in the WEC and going to just one decision, Aldo got tested in his first two UFC fights – though he remained dominant in going all five rounds against Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick. But in January at UFC 142 in front of his home fans in Rio, Aldo was back to his old self. He knocked out Chad Mendes with just one second left in the first round, then tore out of the Octagon and into the stands, where he was mobbed by the crowd in one of the greatest celebrations in MMA history. Aldo now awaits his next challenger, but UFC president Dana White said last week he’ll headline UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on July 21. His likeliest opponent will be the winner of a May 15 fight between Dustin Poirier and “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung.
5. Dominick Cruz
UFC bantamweight champion (19-1, 2-0 UFC)
Like Aldo, Cruz dominated in the WEC before moving into the UFC post-merger. His only loss came to arch rival Urijah Faber at featherweight five years ago, and he avenged that loss last summer with a unanimous decision win over Faber at UFC 132. He then went on to a unanimous decision win over Demetrious Johnson in October. Cruz is now coaching “The Ultimate Fighter LIVE” against Faber, and they’ll meet again for the title this July in Las Vegas.
6. Ben Henderson
UFC lightweight champion (16-2, 4-0 UFC)
Yet another WEC fighter who has taken the UFC by storm, Henderson has gone 4-0 since moving over. In February, he turned in a great performance against then-champion Frankie Edgar to win the title by unanimous decision – though the fight was closely contested throughout, which ultimately earned Edgar a rematch later this summer. Henderson has been unbeaten since he lost his WEC lightweight title to Anthony Pettis in December 2010 thanks to Pettis’ legendary kick off the cage. If he beats Edgar in their rematch, a rematch with Pettis might not be far behind.
7. Gilbert Melendez
Strikeforce lightweight champion (20-2, 10-1 Strikeforce)
Melendez lobbied hard last year to be brought over to the UFC the way Strikeforce champs like Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson and Nick Diaz had happen. But it was to no avail. White is keeping Melendez in Strikeforce for now, where he hasn’t really been tested since he lost his title to Josh Thomson in June 2008. Since winning the belt back from him (after two wins as the interim titleholder) in December 2009, “El Nino” has dominated Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Jorge Masvidal. The problem for him continues to be the level of competition Strikeforce can provide for him. He says he’ll be defending his title May 19 in San Jose, Calif., but his opponent is not yet known.
8. Rashad Evans
UFC light heavyweight No. 1 contender (17-1-1, 12-1-1 UFC)
Evans has had one of the oddest roads back to a title shot of anyone in history. But after all kinds of injury delays for him, injury delays for Jon Jones, opponent changes and bad timing, Evans finally gets his shot at the belt he lost to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98. And he’ll get a shot at his fierce rival Jones, as well. Since losing the title, the only loss of his career, Evans has taken out Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz and, two months ago, Phil Davis with a five-round dominant decision. Evans believes his past training with Jones will give him an edge when they meet in the main event of UFC 145 next month in one of the most anticipated title fights in UFC history. An upset win – Jones is a 5-to-1 favorite – would no doubt catapult Evans quite a few spots up this list.
9. Junior dos Santos
UFC heavyweight champion (14-1, 8-0 UFC)
JDS still hasn’t been tested in the UFC. He’s only gone to two decisions in eight fights, but was dominant against Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, getting 10-8 rounds against each of them. His other six wins? All thanks to his heavy hands, including his quick first-round title win over Cain Velasquez in November. The big Brazilian now faces former Strikeforce heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem in one of the biggest heavyweight title fights in UFC history at UFC 146 in May – on a show with five heavyweight fights on the main card. If he can get past Overeem, he’ll face the winner of former champs Velasquez and Frank Mir, who fight in the co-main event on that same card.
10. Joseph Benavidez
UFC flyweight title challenger (16-2, 3-0 UFC)
The fourth former WEC fighter to make our list, Benavidez dropped down to the UFC’s new flyweight division earlier this month and found instant success with a second-round knockout of Yasuhiro Urushitani to reach the finals of the four-man flyweight tournament that will determine the class’s first UFC champ. He’ll have to sit on the sidelines for a while, though, and wait for the winner of the rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall after their controversial draw in Australia. Benavidez’s only two losses have been decision setbacks to Cruz, including a split decision loss in a bantamweight title fight in the WEC. But at 125 pounds, Benavidez may be able to win that long-awaited title and park himself on this list for a while.
On the fringe: Dan Henderson, Carlos Condit, Frankie Edgar, Alistair Overeem, Jake Ellenberger, Cain Velasquez, Chael Sonnen, Urijah Faber, Gray Maynard, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua