Frank Edgar's dedication to his boxing paid off against Gray Maynard in spades at UFC 136. | Photo: Dave Mandel
On Oct. 8, Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo each affirmed their places among MMA’s finest, though in decidedly different fashions.
For Edgar, it was another battle back from the brink of consciousness, another display of superhuman grit and determination to hang on to his UFC lightweight title. Despite once more being blasted in the opening round by challenger Gray Maynard, Edgar took the driver’s seat in rounds two through four, before eventually handing Maynard his first defeat and first knockout.
Aldo’s retention of his UFC featherweight strap came in a far less dramatic, but no less decisive manner. While he couldn’t stop ex-lightweight contender Kenny Florian in 25 minutes, Aldo proved who the better man was, outworking the larger fighter even as Florian looked to impose a slowed-down game plan.
Following a two-week lull, MMA will be thrust into its most intense scheduling of 2011, as a matter of seven weeks will see five of these pound-for-pound entrants in action, as well as many more fighters on the cusp of the sport's rarefied air.
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. Next on tap for Silva seems to be a rematch with constant agitator Chael Sonnen, though exactly when and where the bout will take place is yet unknown.
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, but that matchup fell apart when Diaz failed to fulfill his promotional duties. Instead, St. Pierre will meet another hard-hitting finisher, Carlos Condit, at UFC 137 on Oct. 29.
3. Jon Jones (14-1)
Making good on the hype bestowed upon him, 24-year-old “Bones” retained his UFC 205-pound title and put on yet another impressive display on Sept. 24, disposing of ex-champ Quinton Jackson via fourth-round submission. Jones will face another stiff challenge in his next defense, though not the one he thought: With ex-teammate and top contender Rashad Evans sidelined due to injury, Jones has been slotted against another former titleholder, Lyoto Machida, for December’s UFC 140.
4. Frankie Edgar (14-1-1)
The UFC’s lightweight champion concluded his trilogy with Gray Maynard in dramatic fashion on Oct. 8, recovering heroically from another first-round pummeling to knock out “The Bully” in round four. With Maynard and B.J. Penn now firmly in his rear-view mirror, New Jersey’s own Rocky Balboa can turn his attention to a 155-pound division loaded with contenders, including Clay Guida, Ben Henderson and, likely in 2012, Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez. Regardless of who and where, Edgar has cemented himself as a fixture of this list with enormous potential to grow his pound-for-pound agenda given his place in the super-stacked lightweight division.
5. Jose Aldo (20-1)
While some pundits forecast that Kenny Florian’s size and strength could prove too much for the young Brazilian, Aldo’s Oct. 8 title defense went off largely without a hitch. The world’s top featherweight worked in close quarters and long range to outpoint the former lightweight contender across five rounds. Aldo took out a perennial top 10 force at 155 pounds and two-time UFC lightweight title challenger with a firm, dominant hand -- easily his most important MMA win to date. Next up for Aldo appears to be undefeated collegiate wrestling convert Chad Mendes, though there will be no shortage of contenders as the 145-pound ranks continue to flourish in the Octagon, especially with many hardcore fans already eyeing a bout with Japanese standout Hatsu Hioki.
6. Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 1 NC)
The welterweight division’s other dominant wrestler is finally back in business, having undergone shoulder surgery in May which forced him from a planned rematch with B.J. Penn. Perennial contender Fitch resumed training in September and now has a date for his return: Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, where he will face fellow collegiate wrestling standout Johny Hendricks. It's more of the same for Fitch: with no realistic title rematch in sight for Fitch, the AKA standout will simply take on tough, outstanding competition in an elite weight class -- one of the true marks of a pound-for-pound entrant.
7. Dominick Cruz (19-1)
Cruz took a different approach to overcoming his latest obstacle, but the result was the same. Rather than rely solely on his well-known boxing tactics, “The Dominator” clinched, took down and controlled Demetrious Johnson en route to yet another five-round defense of his UFC bantamweight title. Cruz did not emerge unscathed, however, suffering a hand injury which will require surgery. Upon return, however, Cruz should find himself replete with challengers, such as familiar faces Urijah Faber and Brian Bowles, as well as the likes of emerging challengers like Brad Pickett, Renan “Barao” and Nick Pace.
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. Another dangerous challenger, Jorge Masvidal, is lined up to vie for Melendez’s Strikeforce title on Dec. 17. The only unknown is whether “El Nino” will make the jump to the UFC before that fight can take place. If and when Melendez does end up in the UFC, it could give him not only a chance at UFC lightweight gold, but the chance for a positively huge lightweight clash with Frankie Edgar that would crown an undisputed lightweight ruler in the MMA landscape.
9. Mauricio Rua (20-5)
Rua not only avenged a nagging loss at UFC 134, he did so viciously. Showing flashes of his Pride-era brutality, the Brazilian took out Forrest Griffin in Rio de Janeiro and took back the upset dealt to him in his UFC debut. Now back on track for title contention, Rua will next have to deal with the returning Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 139 on Nov. 19. The surging Henderson's recent accomplishments wouldn't be out of place on this very list with three divisions of success, and a W would represent a particular outstanding feather in the cap for the Brazilian.
10. Jake Shields (26-6-1)
Shields’ knockout loss at the hands (and knee) of Jake Ellenberger in September was shocking for its speed and violence, but also for its rarity. It had been more than 10 years since Shields was finished in a fight, during which time he defeated such potent punchers as Dan Henderson, Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler and Paul Daley. The next step remains unknown for Shields, who has now lost back-to-back bouts for the first time in his career.