Who is going to stop Jose Aldo?
Urijah Faber couldn’t, Kenny Florian couldn’t, and now we can cross Frankie Edgar’s name off the list, as well. At UFC 156, Aldo retained his title and maintained his stranglehold on the featherweight division by outlasting the former lightweight ace in a fun five-round affair. Although Edgar came on strong in the championship rounds, Aldo showed resilience along with precision striking that left its mark on Edgar’s face and legs. Fortunately, unlike middleweight counterpart Anderson Silva, Aldo is still relatively early in his career and his division has a wealth of talent -- Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas, to name but two -- for him to contend with.
With his third straight loss, longtime pound-for-pounder Edgar falls from the rankings, making way for top 10 newcomer Joseph Benavidez. Having built his impressive resume in the WEC bantamweight division, Benavidez has now become one of the UFC’s premier flyweights, announcing his arrival last spring with a clobbering of Japanese champion Yasuhiro Urushitani. Despite failing in his bid to become Zuffa’s inaugural 125-pound titleholder, a Feb. 2 win over Ian McCall has put Benavidez right back where he needs to be: in prime position for a rematch with the man who beat him, current flyweight boss Demetrious Johnson.
1. Anderson Silva (33-4)
Nearly four months after his dismantling of an overmatched Stephan Bonnar, we are not much closer to knowing when the world’s top fighter will return to the cage. Silva was already expected to take a large part of 2013 off, a matter complicated further by the recent losses of potential opponents Michael Bisping and Rashad Evans. Still, there are a few possibilities remaining for the man who has all but cleaned out the UFC’s 185-pound division, and the top choice at present seems to be unbeaten wrestler Chris Weidman, who UFC President Dana White recently said could be next for “The Spider.”
2. Georges St. Pierre (23-2)
The welterweight division’s French Canadian king finally came off the shelf in November after a frustrating 18-month layoff. Showing no signs of the knee injury that had kept him from the cage, GSP got right back to his old ways, sweeping interim champion Carlos Condit in a five-round affair to unify the UFC’s 170-pound belts. For a moment, Zuffa seemed dead-set on getting St. Pierre and fellow pound-for-pound luminary Silva together for a mega-fight; instead, GSP’s next bout will be a long-anticipated fight against former Strikeforce titlist Nick Diaz at UFC 158.
3. Jon Jones (17-1)
The light heavyweight king has answered all challenges during a dominant title reign, most recently taking out Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 in September. Once his coaching stint opposite Chael Sonnen on “The Ultimate Fighter 17” runs its course on FX, “Bones” will defend his strap against the outspoken wrestler in the UFC 159 main event on April 27. If Jones vanquishes Sonnen as expected, it figures to be an interesting second half of 2013 for the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts member, with a wide array of potential opponents looming, including lucrative cross-divisional bouts against the likes of Daniel Cormier or Anderson Silva.
4. Jose Aldo (22-1)
Aldo’s 2012 was hampered by injuries, both to the featherweight ace and his potential opponents, but Nova Uniao’s top pupil got 2013 off to a good start at UFC 156. In one of his toughest matchups to date, Aldo was taken the distance by former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who made his 145-pound debut a memorable one by keeping the pressure on the Brazilian in the championship rounds. Ultimately, Aldo retained his title by unanimous decision, keeping his Octagon record flawless and moving his winning streak to 15 in a row. Provided he can stay healthy, there will be plenty to keep Aldo busy in the coming year, including potential matchups with Anthony Pettis and Chan Sung Jung.
5. Benson Henderson (18-2)
After claiming and defending the UFC lightweight title in a pair of hotly contested wins over Frankie Edgar, Henderson left little doubt in his latest defense. Before an audience of millions on network TV, Henderson grounded, pounded and ultimately took a unanimous decision over top contender Nate Diaz. Henderson’s recent run at 155 pounds has given him one of the strongest records in all of MMA, but there is no time for “Smooth” to rest on his laurels. Next up: a long-anticipated showdown against Strikeforce lightweight champion -- and fellow pound-for-pound rankings resident -- Gilbert Melendez in the UFC on Fox 7 headliner.
6. Dan Henderson (29-8)
Henderson’s unceremonious knee injury at least temporarily put the brakes on his improbable three-division run past the age of 40. Despite White’s recent statements about a slow recovery, the former Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce titleholder insists he is healthy and on schedule for a February return. Henderson may have lost his crack at Jones to occasional training partner Sonnen, but the Olympian still believes he is on target for a high-stakes Feb. 23 date against former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
7. Gilbert Melendez (21-2)
Melendez’s on-again, off-again Strikeforce lightweight title defense against Pat Healy was rescheduled for the company’s final show on Jan. 12. One problem: Melendez’s knee injury still was not healed, forcing him off the show. However, we now get what the world really craves: Melendez against top 10, elite lightweights on a fight-in, fight-out basis. The Cesar Gracie product makes his Octagon debut in April against reigning 155-pound champion Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 7. It has been a long time coming.
8. Cain Velasquez (11-1)
In a division historically thin on high-level talent, it is easier to earn consideration as an all-time great. That is not to say Velasquez has had a easy run in his nearly five-year UFC stint, which has seen him dispose of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva. What’s more, on Dec. 29, the wrestler from Arizona State University avenged the only blemish on his record by laying waste to Junior dos Santos in a 25-minute rout.
9. Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1)
As we begin to wonder what various pound-for-pound greats might look like fighting a weight class above the one they dominate, Johnson is becoming one of the few truly successful fighters to actually fulfill the “drop a weight class and dominate” expectation. Johnson remained unbeaten at flyweight and established himself as a champion with staying power at UFC on Fox 6. In front of a national television audience, “Mighty Mouse” survived the knockout power of John Dodson early, then had plenty left in reserve for the championship rounds to close out a unanimous decision victory in his first 125-pound title defense.
10. Joseph Benavidez (17-3)
For years, while he toiled and overachieved at 135 pounds, MMA fans and pundits said that Benavidez had the potential to be the best flyweight fighter in the world. With the 125-pound class now installed in the UFC, the 28-year-old Team Alpha Male representative is doing his best to prove them right. Despite falling to Demetrious Johnson in a close September five-rounder for the UFC flyweight belt, Benavidez is already back in title contention after outworking former divisional ruler Ian McCall in a unanimous decision at UFC 156.
With his Feb. 2 loss to Jose Aldo, previously seventh-ranked Frankie Edgar exits the top 10.