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By: Rich Hansen, MMATorch Guest Columnist
Despite my hiatus from this site, both writing and audio, I'm still keeping up with the sport and with the site. On top of that, I'm still in charge of compiling the monthly rankings. And since I'm going through the effort to compile the rankings (not to mention all the nagging. Oh Christ, the nagging), I still put together my own rankings in each division as well. So with no further adieu, I'll run down my ballot for each division, starting today with the pound for pound ranks.
Pound for Pound
1.) Jon Jones: This should be a no-brainer. Jon Jones has been in the UFC since UFC 87 in August 2008, and has never legitimately lost a fight. Hell, he hasn't been tested other than the fight with Alex Gustafsson at UFC 165 in September 2013. Gustafsson fought the fight of his life, one he might not be able to repeat, and Jones still had his hand raised. When the rematch does happen, expect Jones to be prepared for the surprises Gustafsson presented during their first fight, and to win the rematch more easily than their original fight.
Significant victories: Stephan Bonnar (HEY! HE'S A UFC HALL OF FAMER! STOP SNICKERING AND SHOW SOME RESPECT), Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Alexander Gustafsson (The win over Chael Sonnen does not qualify as 'significant,' hence the omission).
2.) Jose Aldo: You want divisional dominance? Jose Aldo has never lost a fight at featherweight. His one career loss was a lightweight bout when he was 21 years old back in November 2005. Aldo is the only Featherweight Champion in UFC history, after closing out the WEC as their Featherweight Champion. While it would be nice to see the maniacal aggression we saw earlier in his career, he is undoubtedly a better fight now than he was in those days. But one can't help but wonder how he'd look if he threw just slightly more strikes per minute than he does right now, as he possesses one of the lowest rates in the UFC.
Significant victories: Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Manvel Gamburyan, Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas
3.) Renan Barao: Jose Aldo's teammate at Nova União, Barao is as dominant as anyone in the sport. After losing his MMA debut fight in April 2005, Barao has rattled off 32 straight wins (with one early No Contest thrown in there). Barao sits behind Aldo on this list solely due to the shorter resume in the WEC and UFC, but I'd have no issue with anyone who said Barao was the better fighter. It also is notable that Chris Cariaso, Brad Pickett, and Scott Jorgensen are now fighting at flyweight while Barao could dominate the featherweight division when Jose Aldo moves to lightweight. Or even with those who said Barao is the best fighter in the world. Barao's finished his last three fights, and hasn't ever looked vulnerable fighting for Zuffa.
Significant victories: Chris Cariaso, Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland, Urijah Faber (2x)
4.) Demetrious Johnson: The three lightest weight classes feature the three least vulnerable champions in the UFC. At this moment, it's nearly impossible to envision anyone in the flyweight division putting Mighty Mouse to the test. I was a major proponent of Joseph Benavidez being that guy. Johnson needed barely two minutes to finish that fight last December to remove all doubt. The knock on Johnson used to be his inability to finish fights, as after he submitted Damacio Page at WEC 52 in November 2010, Johnson's next seven bouts went the distance. But after submitting John Moraga and Joseph Benavidez in his last two fights, it's impossible to deny his dominance over the flyweight division.
Significant victories: Kid Yamamoto, Miguel Torres, Ian McCall, John Moraga, John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez (2x)
Notable losses: Brad Pickett, Dominick Cruz
5.) Chris Weidman: The undefeated 29 year old New Yorker has fought Anderson Silva for 17 minutes and 26 seconds in the last year. He has finished him twice. If you need more evidence than that, then you're predisposed to sell Weidman short, and there's nothing I can write that will get through to you.
Significant victories: Demian Maia, Mark Munoz, Anderson Silva (2x)
6.) Cain Velasquez: Had an injured Cain Velasquez not felt the pressure to fight in the main event of the first ever UFC on Fox event, the UFC would have an undefeated, unchallenged wrecking ball of a heavyweight champion. As it stands, Velasquez has avenged the early KO loss to Junior dos Santos not once, but twice. And both of those fights were among the most the most brutal slaughters in UFC history. To put this into perspective, no heavyweight in the world stands a chance against Junior dos Santos, and dos Santos' only chance against Velasquez would be to catch him with a lucky punch. Also among the most brutal slaughters in UFC are his two massacres of Antonio Silva, the same Silva who dominated Fedor Emelianenko. Velasquez signed with the UFC with a meager 2-0 record, because there was no one at that level who was willing to fight Velasquez. And honestly, if it weren't for the lure of the glory of the belt, I can't figure out why anyone takes a fight with him yet today.
Significant victories: Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Silva (2x), Junior dos Santos (2x)
Notable loss: Junior dos Santos
7.) Lyoto Machida: Machida gets a bad rap for being unique, yet many fans of the sport bitch about how so many fighters are interchangeable. Nobody fights like Machida, nobody frustrates like Machida, and nobody sticks to a gameplan like Machida. If an opponent of Machida gets impatient and frustrated, they get knocked out with one punch like Ryan Bader. Thiago Silva, Randy Couture, and Mark Munoz have all been KO'd by one touch of a Lyoto Machida limb, so let's not call him a point-striker, Mkayyyy? Add to his resume the fact that his fight with Rampage Jackson should have been ruled a draw, and that he got robbed by weird judging against Phil Davis, and you have one of the great resume of victories in fight history.
Significant victories: Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, BJ Penn, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Randy Couture, Ryan Bader, Dan Henderson, Mark Munoz, Gegard Mousasi
Notable losses: Shogun Rua, Quinton Jackson, Jon Jones, Phil Davis
8.) Anthony Pettis: I always think I'm being a little generous putting Pettis so high, but then I see all of my colleagues putting him higher than I do, and I don't feel so guilty. I think I'm guilty of overrating him because of the Milwaukee connection, his style of fighting, etc., but apparently I'm not too crazy with putting him so high. It would be much easier for me to rank him in the top five if he just had more fights and fewer injuries. Pettis is one of the great talents in the sport, and it's a damn shame he fights as infrequently as he does. Pettis might have the most complete arsenal of finishing skills in the sport. He was the first UFC challenger to submit a sitting champion since 2004, but he's much more widely known for his vicious and flashy striking abilities. As much as I still want to see him vs. Jose Aldo, the prospects of him vs. Gilbert Melendez will have all fight fans drooling (and praying to St. Jude) that the fight actually happens.
Significant victories: Danny Castillo, Jeremy Stephens, Joe Lauzon, Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson (2x)
9.) Johny Hendricks: Yes, I thought he beat Georges St-Pierre too. And had his hand been raised, he might be a few notches higher. But I also thought that both Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler beat Hendricks, so let's call it a wash, ok? Hendricks is one of the best amateur wrestlers to transition to this sport, and in MMA his punching power is even better than his wrestling ability. There might not be a completeness to his game, but there is excitement to damn near everything he does in the cage.
Significant victories: T.J. Grant, Mike Pierce, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Martin Kampmann, Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler
Notable losses: Rick Story, Georges St-Pierre
10.) Alexander Gustafsson: Even for someone like me who never for a second thought he defeated Jon Jones at UFC 165, Gustafsson was absolutely elevated in my eyes. That's one of the best fights I've ever seen, but that's not all there is to Gustafsson. A silky smooth striker with finishing power in both his hands and his feet, Gustafsson is comfortable everywhere the fight goes. I would like to see a longer list of significant victories though, as you will see below.
Significant victories: James Te-Huna, Thiago Silva, Shogun Rua
Notable losses: Phil Davis, Jon Jones
11.) Chad Mendes: If all you think about Chad Mendes is the last three seconds of his fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 142 in January 2012, you're selling yourself short. Mendes was three seconds away from taking the first round of that fight... before Jose Aldo damn near decapitated him. And yes, I can't be a wagon until I grow wheels. I get that. I'm just saying that Mendes doesn't get the credit he is due because Jose Aldo turned a cage grab into a hellacious knockout. Jamie Penick has gone on the record as saying that he would favor Mendes in a rematch with Aldo.
Significant victories: Stephen Siler, Erik Koch, Cub Swanson, Michihiro Omigawa, Rani Yahya, Darren Elkins, Clay Guida, Nik Lentz
Notable losses: The aforementioned Jose Aldo
12.) Eddie Alvarez: Alvarez is, for now, the best fighter in the world who is not currently under a UFC contract. And if he defeats Michael Chandler this May, he'll most likely be under UFC contract before the end of this year. Alvarez vs. Melendez. Alvarez vs. Cerrone. Alvarez vs. Grant. Alvarez vs., dare I say it, Alvarez vs. Pettis. Yes, please, to all of the above.
Significant victories: Joachim Hansen, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Roger Huerta, Pat Curran, Shinya Aoki, Patricio Freire, Michael Chandler
Notable losses: Nick "The Goat" Thompson, Shinya Aoki, Michael Chandler
13.) Michael Chandler: The worst thing that ever happened to the future legacy of Michael Chandler was the UFC matching Bellator's contract offer to Gilbert Melendez. With one fell swoop, Bellator went from having more top-five fighters in the lightweight division to being possibly one fight away from the same division being known as Chandler and the Chandlerettes. Had Melendez gone to Bellator, it is conceivable that would have persuaded Alvarez to stay. And Melendez's first six fights could (should) have been trilogies with Alvarez and with Chandler. Chandler is now going to be Tom Hanks, without even Wilson to talk with. Chandler's resume does not earn him a spot on this list. But my eyes have seen him fight Eddie Alvarez for fifty minutes, and there is no separating the two in my eyes on any list.
Significant victories: Eddie Alvarez, Rick Hawn (semi-significant. I mean, it's Bellator, Dude)
Notable losses: Eddie Alvarez
14.) Gilbert Melendez: The one downside of Melendez's continued stay in the UFC is that his next UFC fight won't be until New Year's Eve, which is more than 14 months after his last fight. Just as significantly, it will mean Anthony Pettis will be on the shelf for 16 months. Which sends the message to fight fans that The Ultimate Fighter should be perceived as more important that the UFC Lightweight Championship. Fans will absorb that message by forgetting how great these two fighters are and not order the PPV.
15.) Junior dos Santos: One of the most dominant fighters in his respective division, but that division is the same division Cain Velasquez calls home. Whoops. If the man were an inch or two shorter, he might be able to cut to light heavyweight, and who knows how he'd fare against Jon Jones and the rest of that division. But as it stands, he's the highest rated gatekeeper in the world. He'll destroy any legit contenders put in front of him, which severely limits the number of fighters Joe Silva can reasonably feed to him.
Significant victories: Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson, Shawn Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Mark Hunt
Notable losses (and these are very notable): Cain Velasquez (2x)
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