Anderson Silva has reclaimed his position as the sport’s top pound-for-pound talent. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
It is an unyielding, undying debate in MMA: who is this sport’s top fighter?
Until either Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre loses, or the pair step into the Octagon to square off, the argument will rage on. But, at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, something went down that got Sherdog.com’s pound-for-pound pundits thinking.
After Fedor Emelianenko enjoyed the initial top spot in the Sherdog.com pound-for-pound rankings, Anderson Silva claimed it in October 2007, and held that spot for 38 months. Last December, Georges St. Pierre thrashed yet another Top 10 welterweight foe in Josh Koscheck, and it seemed that the sheer quality of names on his resume was an overwhelming consideration for him as the sport’s alpha dog.
However, in the months since, Silva has again started to show the consistent, violent virtuosity which marked his early reign as UFC middleweight champion. Twice in 2011 so far has Silva taken elite fighters -- Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami -- and thrashed them in a fashion as equally embarrassing and humbling as it is magnificent and incredible to watch. Silva has resoundingly answered the criticisms of onlookers this year, and with another sensational display in Rio de Janeiro, “The Spider” tops this list once more.
Meanwhile, Silva’s countryman Mauricio Rua turned in a brutal performance of his own in Rio, pasting fellow former UFC champion Forrest Griffin in under two minutes. The win solidifies Rua’s place in the star-studded 205-pound division and on this very list, which is primed for plenty of activity in the last quarter of 2011.
1. Anderson Silva (31-4)
The Spider spun another gem on Aug. 27, avenging his 2006 disqualification loss to Yushin Okami in vicious fashion and leaving little doubt as to who is the finest fighter operating in mixed martial arts today. Before a raucous Rio de Janeiro crowd, the Brazilian champ once again displayed the technical wizardry and violent, precise striking which has allowed him to defend his UFC middleweight title a record nine times while racking up a remarkable 14-0 mark inside the Octagon. With few challenges left in the 185-pound division -- save, perhaps, rematches with Chael Sonnen or Dan Henderson -- a showdown with welterweight ace Georges St. Pierre or another move up to 205 pounds seems all but inevitable for Silva.
2. Georges St. Pierre (22-2)
St. Pierre has been cleaning out the elites of the welterweight division with startling, unprecedented efficiency. Over the last four years, St. Pierre has dominated the most impressive schedule of opponents in MMA, making other pound-for-pounders look ordinary. However, as a result of his dominance as well his style, constantly critiqued for its conservatism, onlookers demanded a new-look opponent for GSP. Dana White complied with fans' wishes, signing former Strikeforce champ Nick Diaz to a new UFC contract, paving the way for a major St. Pierre-Diaz showdown at UFC 137 on Oct. 29.
3. Jose Aldo (19-1)
Few fighters have the dynamism that Aldo possesses, a trait that saw him rocket to the top of the 145-pound division. However, Aldo’s ongoing neck issues have slowed the Brazilian’s roll. First, Aldo’s health stalled discussions of a bout against unbeaten wrestling standout Chad Mendes. It has also delayed his bout with former UFC lightweight challenger Kenny Florian, now expected to take place Oct. 8 at UFC 136. Should Aldo emerge victorious, he will return to a quickly expanding pool of opponents, as more fine featherweights emerge and more accomplished lightweights make the cut to 145.
4. Frankie Edgar (13-1-1)
In spite of taking a pair of wins over an all-time great in B.J. Penn, many still view the UFC lightweight champion with skepticism. January’s bout with Gray Maynard was Edgar’s chance to cement his place in the MMA world; however, the disastrous opening period meant Edgar’s heart, not his skills, had to take center stage. An Edgar back injury has postponed a third match with Maynard until Oct. 8. Should he win, “The Answer” will have no shortage of challengers, as the UFC lightweight division is seemingly overflowing with contenders such as Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida and Benson Henderson, to name just a few.
5. Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 1 NC)
The UFC welterweight division’s other dominant wrestler remains on the shelf, but not for long. Fitch and B.J. Penn were set for a July rematch after fighting to a draw in February, but injuries to both men -- and shoulder surgery for Fitch -- prevented the return bout. The 33-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product stated in June that he will resume training in September, in anticipation of a possible fight at November’s UFC 139 in Fitch’s adopted hometown of San Jose, Calif.
6. Jon Jones (13-1)
After some confusion, it’s been settled: the UFC’s youngest champ will defend his 205-pound title this fall, just not against Rashad Evans. Following a remarkable and brutal win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in March, former training partners Jones and Evans were slated for an August tilt. That bout was scratched after 23-year-old “Bones” was sidelined with a recurring hand injury. As it turns out, Jones’ hand didn’t require surgery, but with Evans already booked for an August clash with Phil Davis, the young star has been booked for a Sept. 24 meeting with ex-champ Quinton Jackson.
7. Jake Shields (26-5-1)
Shields fell one round short of becoming UFC welterweight champion in April, his loss to Georges St. Pierre ending a six-and-a-half year unbeaten streak where Shields took serious scalps at 170 and 185 pounds. The Cesar Gracie product will have the chance to put another great welterweight on his docket later this year. When the UFC returns to Louisiana for “Battle on the Bayou,” Shields will take main event duty against hot up-and-coming prospect Jake Ellenberger in a fight that could further solidify Shields' stature in one of the two divisions in which he's excelled.
8. Gilbert Melendez (19-2)
Melendez has looked absolutely sensational in taking out high-level lightweights in recent memory, including the likes of Josh Thomson, Shinya Aoki, and most recently, Tatsuya Kawajiri. However, the real question for the Strikeforce lightweight champion is whether or not that pipeline of achieved, outstanding lightweights will continue as Zuffa's stewardship over Strikeforce continues. Next on deck for Melendez figures to be Jorge Masvidal, however, the landscape beyond “Gamebred” is uncertain.
9. Dominick Cruz (18-1)
At UFC 132 on July 2, Cruz erased the lone loss of his MMA career, earning a unanimous decision over former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber. The victory was Cruz’s ninth straight, as “The Dominator” has now taken W’s over Faber, his teammate Joseph Benavidez twice, former champion Brian Bowles and Scott Jorgensen. The victory solidified Cruz as the top bantamweight in the sport, and by a fair margin. Cruz’s developing resume could get even stronger on Oct. 1, when he is set to defend his strap against surging “Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson.
10. Mauricio Rua (20-5)
Like his top-ranked countryman, Rua avenged a craw-sticking loss at UFC 134. While it was not a championship bout, the former Pride star’s victory felt even more meaningful. Not only did Rua take back the embarrassing upset dealt to him in his UFC debut by Forrest Griffin, he rebounded from the first knockout loss of his career, a savage March throttling at the hands of young superstar Jon Jones. Indeed, the brutal, Pride-era Shogun was on display Aug. 27, as Rua knocked out Griffin quicker than any opponent since 2005. With another of his Octagon losses now avenged, Rua is on a clear path back to contendership.