Breaking down the UFC’s new fighter rankings

Feb 7, 2013, 3:33 PM | Updated: 3:37 pm

We’ve all heard the term “top pound-for-pound fighter in the world” before. It’s a term that recognizes the greatest of the great and when you see those three words next to a fighter’s name you know that person is in a class of their own when that cage door closes.

But for those who haven’t, the term is used to describe a fighter who would remain dominant amongst his/her peers if every fighter were the same size and weight. Essentially it’s a way to compare skills of the 125-pound UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson with the 240-pound UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velazquez equally.

But up until now there was no official ranking system. Following UFC 156 last Saturday, 90 members of the MMA media were given the opportunity to rank the fighters they felt were the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in each weight division and who were the top 10 fighters overall.

Here’s the official pound-for-pound ranking from UFC’s website:

1. Anderson Silva (UFC Middleweight Champion)

2. Jon Jones (UFC Light Heavyweight Champion)

3. Georges St-Pierre (UFC Welterweight Champion)

4. Jose Aldo (UFC Featherweight Champion)

5. Benson Henderson (UFC Lightweight Champion)

6. Cain Velasquez (UFC Heavyweight Champion)

7. Dominick Cruz (UFC Bantamweight Champion)

8. Demetrious Johnson (UFC Flyweight Champion)

9. Frankie Edgar

10. Dan Henderson

It’s no surprise to see Silva atop the list as he is widely considered the greatest fighter of all-time by his peers. But where it gets interesting is the two names below him. St-Pierre has long been considered the second best fighter in the world behind Silva as the two have gone on unparalleled runs in their respective weight divisions. For the better part of the last five years, it’s been Silva and St-Pierre then everybody else. But two ACL injuries and more than a year of sitting on the sideline created a window for a fighter to finally break into the elusive club and join the ranks of the best in the world and maybe the best of all-time.

Jon Jones was that man. With his dominant eight-fight winning streak over a who’s who in the Light Heavyweight division, Jones has not only passed by his teammate St-Pierre in the rankings but can make the argument for deserving Silva’s long-time spot at number one.

While the top three spots were all no-brainers, fight fans (especially Arizona fight fans) will see an interesting comparison at the number five and number six spots. While cracking the top 10 is a tremendous honor, ask any fighter and they’d much rather be in the top five. These spots are reserved for the elite, the best of the best and with that in mind it’s difficult to choose between two of Arizona’s native sons.

Both UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and UFC Lightweight champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson are coming off victories that saw them look about as dominant as a fighter can be without finishing their opponents. They are two of the most gifted athletes in the cage and the most humble men outside of it. They’re both in a league of their own.

But unless “Bendo” can grow about four inches and add about 100 pounds of muscle, we’ll have no way of knowing who the better fighter is. They are the two most evenly matched fighters on the list and have exhibited very few signs of weakness to go along with the best cardio in the business. Instead of ranking them five and six I’d change it to 5-a and 5-b.

Another name that stands out is former UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. He appears in the top 10 despite his current three-fight losing streak. This list has him as number ninth-best fighter in the world but the fifth-best fighter in his own division. With Edgar’s losses to lightweight champion Benson Henderson and featherweight Champion Jose Aldo all coming down to the wire, I understand the reasoning behind it, but I believe his spot belongs to UFC interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barão. The Brazilian is coming off an impressive win over fan favorite Urijiah Faber and is riding an incredible 29-fight winning streak, the longest current streak in MMA.

While the names of his opponents have paled in comparison to Edgar, Barão has done more than enough to break into the top ten fighters of the world. Especially since the UFC bantamweight champion Cruz has been sidelined for more than a year with an ACL injury.

Cruz himself found himself in the top 10 despite his long layoff from the sport. Since his only professional loss in 2007 to his longtime rival Faber at 145 pounds, Cruz has decimated every opponent he’s faced since making the move to 135 pounds. It will be interesting to see how far he can rise in the rankings because he has won with greater ease than featherweight champion Aldo, who many believe is a few wins away from joining Silva, Jones and St-Pierre at the top of this list. If he can come back strong from the injury, it won’t be long before Tucson’s favorite fighting son solidifies himself as the greatest bantamweight of all-time.

Arizona State alum Dan Henderson rounds out the list as the only other non-champion besides Frankie Edgar to place in the top ten.

The Valley is the most represented area in the entire world on UFC’s inaugural pound-for-pound list, with four fighters having ties to Arizona. That’s more than Brazil and Canada, the “Meccas of MMA” in the eyes of UFC president Dana White.

Another note would be that since there has not yet been a women’s fight in the UFC, women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was left off list. Rousey will defend her belt against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 on February 23rd in Anaheim, California.

Check back for my thoughts on the rankings in each division, starting with the little guys and working all the way up to the heavyweights. Updates to the rankings will be provided the day after every major UFC event whether it’s a pay-per-view or card on Fox, FX or Fuel TV.


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Breaking down the UFC’s new fighter rankings