First it was Urijah Faber who was supposed to lord over the featherweight division. Then it was Mike Thomas Brown. Now Jose Aldo has run roughshod over both of them, and he appears to be in position to reign with impunity at 145 pounds.
With a brutally dominant showing at WEC 48 in Sacramento, Aldo took out the sport's most recognizable featherweight on the promotion's biggest card to date. To be sure, there were many new fans who thought they were tuning in to another UFC card last Saturday night, only to see Aldo batter Faber in thoroughly impressive fashion.
Meanwhile, WEC 48 also marked the emergence of the man who will likely be Aldo's next challenger, Manny Gamburyan. The coming-out party for the powerful Armenian came at the expense of former featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown. Less than halfway into the first round of their April 24 encounter, "The Anvil" landed a short right hook that put Brown on the deck. Gamburyan then swarmed to finish, earning himself a likely crack at Aldo and erasing Brown's entry on this list.
1. Anderson Silva (26-4)
Nearly three weeks removed and with Strikeforce's in-cage brawl in Nashville now being MMA's primary flak magnet, Silva has managed to escape further criticism stemming from his UFC 112 performance against Demian Maia. We also know what's next for "The Spider," as Dana White was quick to announce that the middleweight kingpin would be back in action in August, defending his title against trashtalking political candidate Chael Sonnen. Though it is a far cry from the fight with Georges St. Pierre that was teased prior to the Maia debacle, it is a bout that will assuredly draw its fair share of hype courtesy of Sonnen's gift of gab.
2. Georges St. Pierre (20-2)
It is the kind of nitpicking that can only result when a fighter is as dominant as St. Pierre. After another complete performance at UFC 111, with his UFC welterweight title up for grabs, one would anticipate that GSP’s crushing of Dan Hardy would have impressed onlookers. Instead, in spite of particularly vicious armbar and kimura attempts that contorted the arm of “The Outlaw,” MMA’s welterweight king has been disparaged as a safety-first top-position wrestler who is content to do just enough to win fights. Critiques aside, the constant stream of elite challengers will not stop for St. Pierre, whether they come from the ever-deep 170-pound division or courtesy of a move to 185 pounds.
3. Fedor Emelianenko (31-1, 1 NC)
Emelianenko was supposed to embark on his next conquest for Strikeforce in April, this after he had wiped out Brett Rogers in thrilling fashion in the promotion’s November CBS debut. However, a contract impasse between Strikeforce and M-1, Emelianenko’s representation, put the breaks on his appearance. Now his next bout looks more likely for June or July. In some ways, the delay may be a blessing in disguise. It will not buy Strikeforce a world of time, but if Emelianenko had fought and knocked off Fabricio Werdum as anticipated, it would have left the Russian with one last obvious foil -- Alistair Overeem -- as we entered the summer. Now the obvious end of Strikeforce’s short heavyweight gallery is further off.
4. Lyoto Machida (16-0)
After ripping through Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans in consecutive bouts in 2009, Machida had already ignited complaints about the inability of other light heavyweights to challenge him before he even defended the UFC title. His October bout with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vividly showed once again the folly of proclaiming any MMA fighter unbeatable, as Machida’s unanimous decision victory became the most debated and unpopular decision of the year. With the Rua rematch slated for May 8 at UFC 113 and a growing number of highly gifted 205-pound prospects in MMA, Machida’s road to dominating the light heavyweight division has quickly become a much taller task than previously anticipated.
5. Jose Aldo (17-1)
Aldo entered his April 24 showdown with Urijah Faber as a favorite, but many expected "The California Kid" to offer the Brazilian dynamo a real test and force him to fight in a way he hadn't in the WEC so far. Instead, Aldo crushed and demoralized Faber in front of his fans in Sacramento. For five lopsided rounds, Aldo smashed Faber with low kicks, hobbling him into helplessness in the cage. With the win, Aldo now appears to be untouchable in the featherweight division, despite only having two outstanding wins -- Mike Thomas Brown and Faber -- on his docket. With the perception of his dominance reinforced, Aldo figures to be a considerable favorite over likely next challenger Manny Gamburyan whenever they meet later this year.
6. Jon Fitch (22-3, 1 NC)
With a straightforward and prosaic fighting style, Fitch is not as close to another crack at the UFC welterweight title as he would like to be. However, the former Purdue University wrestling captain still sports a staggering 12-1 record in the UFC, and in one of MMA’s greatest divisions. Even if his dream fight is a rematch with Georges St. Pierre, the high-stakes bout for Fitch in the interim will be his rematch with Thiago Alves. After two previous delays, a fight between the former title challengers is slated for UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on June 12, with the winner locking up second fiddle status in the ever-deep welterweight division.
7. Frankie Edgar (12-1)
At UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Edgar scored the most significant win of 2010 so far by dethroning lightweight kingpin B.J. Penn and taking the UFC 155-pound title. Though it was not exactly a popular decision, Edgar took all three judges’ scorecards on the back of his aggressive combination punching and stellar movement. However, the new surprise champion will have to replicate his feat in order to earn unanimous consideration as the sport's top lightweight, as the wheels are in motion for an August rematch between he and Penn in Boston.
8. B.J. Penn (15-6-1)
From one controversy to another, Penn lost his UFC lightweight title and MMA's 155-pound mantle on April 12 with his shocking upset to Frankie Edgar. While debate still rages over the bout's outcome, Penn has started his book tour to promote his eye-opening biography. The book has drawn the particular ire of UFC boss Dana White for its anecdotes of the Hilo native's past dealings with the company. Brouhahas notwithstanding, "The Prodigy" will get his chance for redemption and to regain top status at 155 pounds in August, when he figures to rematch Edgar at UFC 118 in Boston.
9. Jake Shields (25-4-1)
There was a time just a few short years ago when Shields was reviled for being one of MMA's most loathsome fighters to watch. However, over the last five years, the Cesar Gracie product has transformed from a drab, peripheral contender to one of the sport's elite. With his dominant April 17 upset over Dan Henderson, the Strikeforce middleweight champion now boasts a 14-bout winning streak and top-five credentials in two separate divisions. The serious question surrounding Shields now is simply whether he will remain a Strikeforce commodity or if his future lies in the Octagon against a deeper roster of competition.
10. Thiago Alves (16-6)
Alves’ place in the MMA world reminds us of why context is important. In his last bout, he struggled to win a single minute of 25 against welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre. However, apart from his loss to St. Pierre, Alves has smashed outstanding welterweights left, right and center. Arguably he had a better 2008 campaign -- weight issues against Matt Hughes aside -- than any other fighter in the sport. However, as of late, he's been beset by medical setbacks that have twice canceled his slated high-stakes rematch with Jon Fitch. Clean MRI pending, the fight has been scheduled for a third time at UFC 115 on June 12.
*With his April 24 loss to Manny Gamburyan, previously 7th-ranked Mike Thomas Brown falls outside of the pound-for-pound top 10.