Sherdog.com’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10

By Sherdog.com Staff Jan 5, 2017

To say that 2016 was a chaotic year at MMA's upper echelon would be an understatement. In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there were 10 title changes, and that doesn't even include the interim titles that former pound-for-pound king Jon Jones and new P4P entrant Max Holloway won. And speaking of Holloway's curious 145-pound interim title, Conor McGregor didn't even have to lose a bout in the Octagon in order to drop his featherweight title, which was stripped off of him by his promoter in late November.

Excluding our No. 2 entrant Daniel Cormier, who didn't actually defend his UFC title on the year, there are only two UFC champions who started 2016 with their gold and kept it: women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the queen of MMA, and naturally, the new consensus No. 1 man in the sport, flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson.

How has this list changed over the last 12 months? Well, since UFC 195 kicked off 2016 with a bang courtesy of the “Fight of the Year” between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit, half of our pound-for-pound list has been culled. Former No. 2-ranked Rafael dos Anjos? Gone and reeling from back-to-back losses. Luke Rockhold? Victim of the “Upset of the Year” courtesy of Michael Bisping's left hand. The man Rockhold took the middleweight title from, Chris Weidman? Yoel Romero handed the former champ his second straight loss with a brutal, blistering flying knee. Fabricio Werdum? Courtesy of Stipe Miocic, he ate the canvas in less than three minutes in front of over 45,000 Brazilians.

And of course, there's Jon Jones, who had been a part of our P4P list since taking the UFC light heavyweight title in March 2011 and our No. 1 since Anderson Silva's first defeat to Chris Weidman in July 2013. You never know what the future holds in this wild sport, but it doesn't seem likely we'll have a P4P ruler removed from these rankings for taking off-brand sexual-performance pills again any time soon. For better and obviously in this case, for worse, Jon Jones is one of a kind.

But in the absence of “Bones,” we welcome just the fourth man to ever top the Sherdog.com pound-for-pound top 10, Demetrious Johnson, joining Jones, Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. A constant fixture of the list since he made his P4P debut in December 2012, Johnson's four-plus consecutive years in this top 10 make him the second-longest serving P4P entrant on this roster behind featherweight ace Jose Aldo, who first appeared in November 2009, giving him over seven years and counting.

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1. Demetrious Johnson (25-2-1)

Even before Jon Jones' USADA test failure helped to handicap UFC 200 and nixed his much-anticipated rematch with Daniel Cormier, many fans and media were already starting to entertain the idea that the erratic Jones may not be in the best fighter in the sport at this moment. At UFC 197 in April, Johnson destroyed then-undefeated Olympic gold medal wrestler Henry Cejudo in less than three minutes on the undercard of Jones' interim title bout against Ovince St. Preux. As Jones struggled to shake the cage rust over 25 minutes with St. Preux, Johnson simply blew a then-unbeaten fighter out of the water, putting another high-quality W on his career agenda. So profound is “Mighty Mouse's” dominance that the UFC literally based a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” around finding him a contender. When Johnson met TUF 24 winner Tim Elliott on Dec. 3, Johnson had to free himself from a sneaky early guillotine before he really started to roll, but he swept the final four rounds with increasing dominance. The win was Johnson's 9th successful UFC title defense, leaving him just one defense short of Anderson Silva's record of 10. That bout will likely come later this year against Johnson's rival Joseph Benavidez. Admittedly, Johnson facing a man he's beat twice already is not as appealing as a new challenger, however, Benavidez remains a model of consistency with clearly the second-best most impressive flyweight resume ever and has won six straight since Johnson brutally knocked him out in their December 2013 rematch. Repetitive or not, no potential Johnson challenger is more accomplished than Benavidez and a third win over him would still be an outstanding win for “Mighty Mouse.”

2. Daniel Cormier (18-1)

Poor Daniel Cormier; last year was not especially kind to the American Kickboxing Academy team captain, who had multiple varieties of bad luck. He was originally set to rematch Jon Jones, the only man to ever defeat him, at UFC 197 in April but had to pull out due to a foot injury. When the bout was remade for UFC 200, the revelation that Jones had blown a pre-fight drug test resulted in Cormier facing a listless, disinterested Anderson Silva on short notice instead. Knowing that the Jones rematch wasn't going to happen any time soon, the UFC tried to run Cormier-Anthony Johnson back for UFC 206 this past December, only for Cormier to get injured and pull out of the bout again. Cormier has an incredibly distinguished record at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, one of the hallmarks of a P4P standout. His only career blemish is to the man that should be on top of this list, if not for his foolishness. Cormier will likely rematch Johnson later this year and another victory over “Rumble” would be a legit achievement, as Johnson has ripped off three destructive knockouts over top-10 opposition since his first meeting with Cormier. However, Cormier's legacy will largely be defined by whether or not he can secure a rematch with “Jonny Bones” and defeat him, not whether he can rack up multiple wins over Anthony Johnson. Unfortunately for Cormier, Jones is gone for a year and Cormier turns 38 in March, with years of wrestling and fighting injuries starting to pile up. Being a pound-for-pound No. 2 is a major feat, but no doubt it's not exactly the achievement Cormier wants.

3. Conor McGregor (21-3)

Sherdog.com's 2016 “Fighter of the Year,” Conor McGregor remains a testament to what we seek to reward with this list. He may never fight at 145 pounds again, but the Irishman's featherweight exploits since joining the UFC in April 2013 remain outstanding, going 7-0 at 145 in the Octagon, having knocked out the greatest featherweight ever in a mere 13 seconds, and even beat now-interim champ and new pound-for-pound entrant Max Holloway with an injured knee. McGregor's position is mitigated by his March loss to Nate Diaz at welterweight; if not for that, he may have Demetrious Johnson's spot here. However, McGregor prevailed over Diaz in a thrilling rematch and then parlayed it into a lightweight title shot at UFC 205, where he completely destroyed another one of our pound-for-pounders, Eddie Alvarez, to become the first-ever simultaneous two-division UFC champion. This list rewards great fighters who beat other great fighters, who actively seek out those elite challenges regardless of weight and are able to prevail in style; simply put, that's McGregor. While the UFC stripped him of his 145-pound crown, “The Notorious” one now lords over lightweight, the best division in MMA, and is staring down the barrel of challengers like Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, which are the sorts of wins that could eventually put “Mystic Mac” on top of this list sooner rather than later.

4. Jose Aldo (26-2)

Getting lamped by Conor McGregor in 13 seconds at UFC 194 ensured that 2015 ended on a bitter note for Jose Aldo, and in 2016, he fought only once and beat a man he'd already defeated three and a half years prior. That doesn't sound that impressive, but Aldo's performance in his rematch with Frankie Edgar was masterful, more consummate and dominant than his February 2013 win over “The Answer.” On top of that, the first Aldo-Edgar encounter was Edgar's UFC featherweight debut; in the rematch, Edgar entered with five straight blowout wins over great opposition and even worked his way back on this P4P list. On top of that, Aldo even got his UFC featherweight title back, after he was promoted from interim to undisputed champion when the UFC stripped Conor McGregor in November. Now, Aldo will prepare to face the new-new interim champ at 145, Max Holloway. A win over the surging Hawaiian would certainly constitute one of the very best in Aldo's distinguished career, with Holloway having rattled off 10 straight victories in impressive fashion.

5 Tyron Woodley (16-3-1)

A pair of victories over Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum -- in 2014 and 2015, mind you -- earned Tyron Woodley a UFC welterweight title shot after 18 months on the sideline. With a thunderous right hand, Woodley evaporated Robbie Lawler, who since returning to the UFC in February 2013, had completely re-defined his career, his place in MMA history, and put together one of the very best records in the sport. In his first title defense, Woodley ended up fighting to a 25-minute majority draw with Stephen Thompson and while it's hardly as meritorious as a victory, Woodley dominated for stretches of the bout against “Wonderboy,” who had won seven straight in the UFC welterweight shark tank, including blowouts of Jake Ellenberger, Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Robert Whittaker. Woodley, 34, dreams of getting a Conor McGregor-style big money bout but first, will likely need to rematch Thompson. The welterweight division remains, year after year, one of MMA's very best and if Woodley can get the W over karate exponent this time around and reign, he would be doing so against some of the best fighters in the whole sport. This is the kind of dynamic that made Matt Hughes, then Georges St. Pierre, then, yes, Robbie Lawler too, into all-time great fighters.

6 Robbie Lawler (27-11, 1 NC)

As we begin 2017, it's hard to get a handle on where Robbie Lawler is at. Prior to his February 2013 UFC return, Lawler was already an achieved welterweight and an even more achieved middleweight. But, since he returned to the Octagon that night in Anaheim, Calif., and blew away Josh Koscheck in less than four minutes, Lawler redefined his career and had one of the most exceptional runs in MMA history over three years and nine fights. However, since he was brutally clobbered by Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 in July, Lawler has become an afterthought for many. When he signed on to fight Donald Cerrone at UFC 205 in New York, MMA fans salivated, but Lawler ultimately decided he wanted more time to prepare following his knockout loss to Woodley. No one could hold this against Lawler: with 2016 now in the books, “Ruthless” has authored three straight unanimous (or near unanimous) “Fight of the Year” winners and we're only 12 months removed from his thrilling split-decision win over Carlos Condit. That said, the fact that Lawler signed on to face a fighter like “Cowboy” in his return bout in the first place suggests that the 34-year-old is still keenly interested in taking on challenging, dangerous and elite opponents. And, at the end of the day, in the last three years or so, Lawler has major wins over Condit, Rory MacDonald twice, Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown and Johny Hendricks (when Hendricks could make weight and beat elite opponents).

7. Stipe Miocic (16-2)

The heavyweight division being what it is, it is often hard for MMA's big men to crack this list. Moreover, it's even harder for those heavyweights to remain among the pound-for-pound elite; not everyone can be Fedor Emelianenko. Witness the man knocked that knocked Emelianenko off of his perch, Fabricio Werdum, who is at the very worst one of the five best heavyweights ever, but wound up on the business end of Stipe Miocic's hands in front of 45,000 Brazilian fans in Curitiba. Over the last 16 months or so, Miocic has beat down Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt and most recently at UFC 203 in September, spectacularly knocked out Alistair Overeem in front of a partisan Cleveland crowd in his first UFC title defense. That run ain't too shabby. In 20 years, no heavyweight has successfully defended the UFC heavyweight title more than twice in a single reign. The 34-year-old Miocic is hitting his stride in his seventh year as a pro, so he may have a chance, however, he'll still have to contend with the likes of Werdum, Cain Velasquez if he can get healthy, and a potentially resurgent Junior dos Santos, the last man to defeat Miocic, earning a five-round unanimous decision two years ago. Any of those names would significantly bolster Miocic's current and historical heavyweight credentials, but again, we know how the heavyweight division goes.

8. Max Holloway (17-3)

The last three years have been instrumental in the development of the 145-pound division. For years, Jose Aldo lorded over the featherweight class with impunity and during his reign, outside of Chad Mendes, he struggled to find truly accomplished and outstanding title challengers; keep in mind, Frankie Edgar's first crack at Aldo was his UFC debut at 145. This has changed dramatically and Max Holloway is both proof of featherweight's breakout, as well as a benefactor: Holloway's last five opponents -- Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis -- are all top 10-featherweights and Holloway has looked increasingly dominant, on top of his thrilling, offensive style. Holloway's 10 consecutive victories are also the sixth-longest streak in UFC history. Holloway just turned 25 years old last December and now headed into a likely UFC title unification clash with fellow pound-for-pounder Jose Aldo, Holloway has already established himself among MMA's finest in this moment, but he will soon have the chance to leap into its most rarefied air if he can make it 11 wins in a row when he meets “Scarface.”

9.

Michael Bisping (30-7) Even with Michael Bisping authoring two of the biggest upsets of 2016 by conquering the greatest middleweight ever Anderson Silva and then taking the UFC title from Luke Rockhold on short notice, it didn't seem likely the current No. 1 middleweight would emerge as any kind of pound-for-pound threat. Yet, with so many elite fighters falling by the wayside and Bisping managing to hang onto his title against undeserving-but-exciting title challenger Dan Henderson, here he is. Bisping might not have the recent ledger that some other P4P contemporaries have, but it may not be as soft as some anti-Bispingites may want to depict: Bisping's win over Silva will likely be the last time in history that a win over “The Spider” matters and his knockout win over Rockhold, who has a truly exceptional record and was a top-five entrant on this list when it happened, is a truly meritorious achievement. Bisping turns 38 in February and has been fighting nearly 14 years, so with intenisfying conversations about when “The Count” will hang up his gloves, his days here may be numbered. Nonetheless, Bisping's next challenge figures to be Yoel Romero, who has recently put the likes of former champ Chris Weidman and “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza on his record. If Bisping could retain his UFC strap against the Olympic silver medalist, it would represent the second best win of his career after Rockhold and offer him some surprisingly stability in these rankings, at least temporarily.

10. Donald Cerrone (32-7, 1 NC)

Unlike most folks on this list, Donald Cerrone has never won a UFC title and he's not particularly close to a second chance at one. Nonetheless, after years of creeping just on the periphery of this list, “Cowboy” joins the mix and it's not hard to see why. While “pound-for-pound” might be an idea that MMA folks like to argue over its particulars, Cerrone is the fighting embodiment of what the concept is all about. Yes, in his first UFC title challenge in December 2015, he was destroyed in just 66 seconds by then-lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos. However, outside of that loss, Cerrone has gone 12-1 in just over three years and has finished nine of those opponents, with wins over Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza, Matt Brown, Evan Dunham, Benson Henderson and Rick Story. More than that, Cerrone is staking his P4P claim by beating elite opposition in MMA's two greatest weight classes, 155 and 170. Outside of some truly extraordinary circumstances, a fighter that is an established top-five lightweight and now a top-10 welterweight -- one who fights and beats three to five quality opponents a year -- is certainly one of the sport's best and most accomplished.

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