It’s been a while since our last pound-for-pound update, and that span has been busy for some on this list, but frustrating for others.
While UFC champs Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz remained sidelined with injuries, middleweight ace Anderson Silva continued to pull away from the pack with a win over Chael Sonnen that furthered the argument for “The Spider” as the world’s best. Jon Jones notched another “W” as well in his long-awaited date with Rashad Evans, but an even greater opportunity looms in the form of ex-Pride champ Dan Henderson.
Further down the scale, it was a mixture of elation and frustration for Gilbert Melendez, who retained his Strikeforce lightweight title in May, but remains the big fish in Zuffa’s small pond. Over in the Octagon, Benson Henderson kept his UFC lightweight belt with a split nod in his rematch with Frankie Edgar, who, despite two straight losses to “Bendo,” put on a showing strong enough to keep him in these rankings.
Finally, No. 1 heavyweight Junior dos Santos enters the list on the strength of his May knockout of former champ Frank Mir. The win added another to the hard-hitting Brazilian’s growing list of knockout victims, which also includes Fabricio Werdum, Gabriel Gonzaga and the man he’ll rematch in December, Cain Velasquez.
1. Anderson Silva (32-4)The world’s top middleweight silenced Chael Sonnen once and for all in July, producing another violent and dramatic finish with a second-round TKO of his trash-talking challenger. With his 10th consecutive defense of the UFC 185-pound title and 15th straight Octagon win overall, the question has resurfaced: What does “The Spider” have left to accomplish? Unbeaten up-and-comer Chris Weidman has been vocal about getting the next dance with Silva, while many observers are clamoring for a super-fight against Jon Jones. Meanwhile, Silva’s manager, Ed Soares, recently stated that the fight Silva really wants is a long-discussed bout with welterweight ruler -- and, not coincidentally, the man right below him on this list -- Georges St. Pierre.
2. Georges St. Pierre (22-2)After a knee injury took St. Pierre out of UFC title defenses against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz in the second half of 2011, the 30-year-old French Canadian was forced to undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL. But while King Georges sits mending on the sidelines, his subjects are planning a revolt. When GSP returns in November, he’ll have interim champ Condit to deal with, not to mention emerging contenders like Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann. However, the circumstance of having to face a long line of well-accomplished, outstanding challengers is precisely what got St. Pierre to this lofty perch in the first place.
3. Jon Jones (16-1)As UFC light heavyweight champion, Jones has been sterling, taking apart the likes of Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and training partner-turned-nemesis Rashad Evans. Outside the Octagon, things haven’t been quite so smooth: in late July, Jones had his driving license suspended in connection with a May arrest for driving while intoxicated. Now looking to put that bad spot behind him -- and armed with a newly inked Nike sponsorship -- Jones has a date with another legend, former two-division Pride champ Dan Henderson, at UFC 151.
4. Jose Aldo (21-1)If there’s one complaint to be leveled against Jose Aldo, it’s that he’s looked almost too good during his Zuffa stint thus far. The young Brazilian has wiped out all contenders to his UFC and WEC titles -- including Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian and, most recently, the previously unbeaten Chad Mendes -- leaving few viable challengers. Injuries have also been a concern for “Scarface,” but with his knee healing up, Aldo is expected to defend on home soil in October against 23-year-old prospect Erik Koch.
5. Dan Henderson (29-8)Henderson has been stacking plaques for most of his 15-year MMA career. One-night vale tudo tournaments, a one-night UFC tournament win, the Rings King of Kings tournament title, and two Pride championships are all in tow for “Hendo,” in a career that boasts major wins from middleweight to heavyweight. However, the one major credential that has escaped the all-time great is a UFC title. Henderson will have a chance to change that come Sept. 1, when he’ll meet young gun Jon Jones in a light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 151.
6. Dominick Cruz (19-1)A funny thing happened on the way to Cruz’s third encounter with Urijah Faber... well, not that funny. During training for the July bout, Cruz suffered a torn ACL and was forced to undergo knee surgery, one from which he is still rehabbing. With their top 135-pounder sitting on the shelf, the UFC opted to crown an interim champion on July 21, and Faber fell to Renan Barao. When Cruz returns in 2013, it will likely be against Brazilian phenom Barao, with the winner emerging as the world’s true No. 1 bantamweight.
7. Benson Henderson (17-2)Though even closer than their first encounter, Henderson’s Aug. 11 rematch with Frankie Edgar yielded the same result: Henderson exiting the cage with the UFC lightweight title around his waist. While still recognized as one of MMA’s most exciting talents, the 28-year-old’s reputation may have lost a little luster due to the controversial nature of the split win. Henderson will have a chance to repair any damage in no time, as he’s already scheduled to take on another all-action 155er, Nate Diaz, in a December title tilt.
8. Frankie Edgar (14-3-1)Since snatching the UFC lightweight title from B.J. Penn in April 2010, Edgar has proven to be an even tougher opponent in rematches than in the first go-round. The undersized New Jerseyan once again showed improvement Aug. 11 in his second consecutive bout against Ben Henderson, and while the majority of media and fans felt Edgar did enough to win back the belt, two of three judges did not concur. Since the loss, Edgar has said that a move to 145 pounds is a possibility, though he’s still hungry for another chance at the 155-pound throne.
9. Gilbert Melendez (21-2)Melendez scratched out another five-round win over Josh Thomson in their May rubber match, further cementing the Cesar Gracie pupil’s status as Strikeforce’s premier 155-pounder. While “El Nino” seems primed for big fights against the UFC elite, Zuffa’s deal with Showtime will keep him confined to Strikeforce’s hexagon for the foreseeable future. Melendez’s next title defense will come Sept. 29 against dogged vet Pat Healy, who rides a five-fight winning streak after a narrow July win over Mizuto Hirota.
10. Junior dos Santos (15-1)The Brazilian big man currently seated at the head of the heavyweight table tacked another major win onto his résumé with his 10th straight win, a May dismantling of Frank Mir. Dos Santos also became the first man to successfully defend the UFC heavyweight title since Brock Lesnar in 2010. While “Cigano” is itching for a fight with suspended contender Alistair Overeem, dos Santos will first have to rematch the man from whom he snatched the belt, Cain Velasquez, on Dec. 29.
With the entry of Junior dos Santos, previously 10th-ranked Carlos Condit falls outside the pound-for-pound top 10.