MMA's 10 best pound-for-pound fighters
Mark it down: Thirty-eight months.
That's how long Anderson Silva's reign atop the Sherdog.com pound-for-pound rankings lasted. In October 2007, "The Spider" usurped the throne from Fedor Emelianenko, a result of the Russian's sagging competition and Silva's crushing middleweight dominance, punctuated by his second violent stoppage win over former UFC champion Rich Franklin.
Now, Georges St. Pierre takes the mantle in a similar situation.
It has been a curious 2010 campaign for Silva, who turned in a polarizing performance against Demian Maia in April that made many question his dedication to the sport. In August, while hampered by a rib injury, he pulled out a miraculous and thrilling victory over rival Chael Sonnen in the fifth round of their middleweight classic. But even in victory, the dominance he exhibited over the previous four years was called into question.
The year has been kinder to St. Pierre. Although he, like Silva, is not immune to criticism -- St. Pierre's cautious, tactical approach and four decision wins in his last five outings have drawn considerable rancor -- Canada's MMA hero continues to thrash elite foes with startling efficiency in one of MMA's deepest weight classes. St. Pierre hasn't even been at risk of losing a round in more than three years, since his first fight with Josh Koscheck in August 2007. When they rematched at UFC 124 on Dec. 11, St. Pierre destroyed Koscheck, almost with his jab alone, and perhaps cemented his status as the greatest welterweight ever.
Heading into 2011, the major question isn't whether it's St. Pierre or Silva who ranks No. 1, but simply whether or not we'll ever see them in the Octagon together in a once-in-a-lifetime matchup.
1. GEORGES ST. PIERRE (21-2)
UFC welterweight champion
St. Pierre's welterweight title reign has earned him some flak for being conservative and taking a safety-first approach, for failing to show the shocking dynamism that marked, for instance, his second encounter with Matt Hughes. However, in the 3½ years since his major misstep against Matt Serra, St. Pierre has positively crushed every opponent in his way, whether or not the judges were needed. He has beaten three fighters -- Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves -- who have appeared on this very list in that time span. Better still, he has done it while pitching a shutout against those fighters. St. Pierre's level of consummate domination in a great welterweight division is shocking, if not thrilling. Wilder still, he has a chance to expand on that résumé heading into 2011, as his next welterweight defense will come against another pound-for-pound entrant on this list, Jake Shields.
2. ANDERSON SILVA (27-4)
UFC middleweight champion
Undeniably the UFC's greatest middleweight and arguably its most dominant champion of all time, Silva has notched an unprecedented seven consecutive defenses of his 185-pound crown. In his latest, at UFC 117, "The Spider" pulled out an almost inconceivable come-from-behind win, submitting Chael Sonnen with a triangle armbar after being dominated by the wrestler for 4½ rounds. On the mend from a rib injury, which he carried into that bout, the Brazilian already has two challengers queued up for his return. On Feb. 5, Silva will meet countryman Vitor Belfort at UFC 126. Should that defense prove successful, he would next face Yushin Okami in a rematch of their infamous 2006 bout, which the Japanese fighter won by disqualification.
3. JOSÉ ALDO (18-1)
UFC featherweight champion
Aldo has quickly cemented himself as the sport's premier featherweight. He would have had the chance to consolidate that rep further Jan. 1 at UFC 125, where he was scheduled to take on fast-rising prospect Josh Grispi. However, an ongoing back injury forced Aldo out of the fight and into rehab. When he returns in the second quarter of 2011, Aldo may return to a richer, more opportunistic 145-pound class in which to build his résumé, as the division's young prospects continue to emerge and more established 155-pounders now eye the lighter division after its import into the UFC.
4. FRANKIE EDGAR (13-1)
UFC lightweight champion
On Aug. 28 in Boston, Edgar proved that no matter the controversy surrounding his April UFC title win against B.J. Penn, he is definitely the sport's top lightweight. For five rounds, Edgar was the superior fighter, ahead of "The Prodigy" every step of the way, both standing and on the ground. But despite two massive wins, fans are unlikely to be too taken with Edgar's accomplishments until he gets through his next challenger, Gray Maynard. The only man to beat Edgar, Maynard outpointed "The Answer" in April 2008.
5. JON FITCH (23-3, 1 NC)
Although not one to cause a stir with outrageous interviews or his in-cage performance, Fitch has proved a polarizing figure because of his wrestling-based, results-oriented style of fighting. The former Purdue Boilermaker's résumé speaks for itself, however: 13 wins and only one defeat inside the UFC's incredibly deep, super-competitive 170-pound division. The American Kickboxing Academy standout's path won't get any easier in February as he faces former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.
6. MAURICIO RUA (19-4)
UFC light heavyweight champion
Rua is long removed from his extraordinary banner year in 2005, when he stampeded over four top-10 fighters in a matter of months. Yet with a crushing knockout of Lyoto Machida in May, "Shogun" is on the road to rebuilding his résumé. Having overcome yet another injury -- his ongoing nemesis -- Rua is scheduled to make his first UFC light heavyweight title defense March 19 at UFC 128. Better still, it will come against former champion Rashad Evans -- another entrant on this list -- in a bout of high relevance and merit. It would be another major addition to Rua's hit list.
7. JAKE SHIELDS (26-4-1)
Over the last five years, Shields has taken out elite opposition in two weight classes, emerging as a top-five fighter at both 170 and 185 pounds. Despite an often-straightforward, nuts-and-bolts style of top-position grappling, Shields has emerged as one of the sport's most accomplished competitors in recent memory. And he will have the chance to improve his already outstanding track record in an even more dramatic way: With Georges St. Pierre's Dec. 11 triumph over Josh Koscheck, Shields is now set for a showdown with the UFC welterweight champion in 2011, offering him a chance at 170-pound immortality.
8. RASHAD EVANS (15-1-1)
UFC light heavyweight
A star in one of the historically richest divisions in MMA, Evans is a great light heavyweight -- but not the greatest. He'll have the chance to rectify that situation and regain the UFC 205-pound title March 19 at UFC 128 in Newark, N.J., when he gets to finally take on Mauricio Rua for 205-pound supremacy. Quite simply, with or without a title on the line, anytime there's a chance to beat another pound-for-pound entrant, it's a high-stakes affair with legacy-making upside.
9. GILBERT MELENDEZ (18-2)
Strikeforce lightweight champion
Melendez was holding out hope for a New Year's Eve rematch with Shinya Aoki, Japan's preeminent lightweight who Melendez dominated from bell-to-bell in the Strikeforce cage last April. With an Aoki bout for Dec. 31 failing to materialize, Melendez has no clear direction heading into 2011, though Strikeforce still has a respectable contingent of lightweight opponents. But Melendez, not unlike teammate Nick Diaz, has already started eyeing scale-shifting superfights, recently calling out welterweight thriller Paul Daley and angling for a potential 165-pound catchweight bout against the standout welterweight next year.
10. Dominick Cruz (17-1)
UFC bantamweight champion
Cruz's Dec. 16 performance against tough, rock-solid challenger Scott Jorgensen was simply masterful. Cruz knocked off his third consensus top-five bantamweight of 2010, showing a more evolved version of his hyperactive combination punching and fantastic takedowns. But Cruz's biggest test -- and his biggest chance to gain ground on the pound-for-pound list -- will come in 2011 if a bout with former featherweight ruler Urijah Faber materializes. The bout represents not only Cruz's biggest test to date but, given the division's relocation to the UFC and Faber's star power, the biggest 135-pound bout MMA has seen thus far.
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