Commentary

Fight fans on the fence as to who is the best inside the cage

Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko both made claims to being the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on Saturday, but who was more impressive? Franklin McNeil explores.

Originally Published: July 22, 2008
By Franklin McNeil | Special to ESPN.com

For a few minutes Saturday, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva's position as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in mixed martial arts seemed secure. He needed a little more than a minute to knock out light heavyweight James Irvin in Las Vegas.

But shortly thereafter a fight took place in Anaheim, Calif., and things got murky atop the pound-for-pound landscape. Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko delivered an eye-popping performance during the finale of what many consider MMA's grandest card ever (Affliction: Banned) on American soil.

Emelianenko pummeled, then submitted former UFC champ Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds. The brevity in which Emelianenko ousted Sylvia served notice that the pound-for-pound debate is far from over.

In fact, it might just be getting started.

After Silva and Emelianenko posted their impressive wins, comments from fight fans eager to express why their man was the top pound-for-pound MMA fighter started pouring in.

Many of the positions -- pro and con -- were persuasive, but they did not impact fans whose minds had already been made up. A large segment of fans, however, remain on the fence.

For members of this group, the most recent efforts by Emelianenko and Silva only made deciding who is No. 1 more difficult.

If only Emelianenko and Silva could settle this debate in a cage or ring … but considering the size difference between the men, that isn't going to happen.

The debate could be settled within a year, now that Emelianenko is likely to appear in several more Affliction cards and against top-rated competition. In the meantime, here are a few areas to consider when pondering the Silva vs. Emelianenko debate:

The week's best performance

Silva: The middleweight champion had no intention of fighting at 205 pounds, but seized the opportunity when it was presented to him by UFC president Dana White. His opponent, Irvin, was a slugger with limited overall skills. The only threat he posed to Silva was power punching. But Silva never gave him a chance to unleash the hard stuff. Silva played the role of aggressor and dropped Irvin with a hard right hand. He then proceeded to pound him out. It was an impressive showing, to say the least, and all 2,100 inside the sold-out Palms were on their feet cheering.

[+] EnlargeFedor Emelianenko
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comFedor Emelianenko's presence at Affliction made it a must-see event.
Emelianenko: Affliction's debut card would have been a must-see without the top heavyweight as its main attraction. But Emelianenko's presence made it a can't-miss event. He is the sole reason 13,988 fans packed the Honda Center, and Emelianenko did not disappoint. For a man whose only criticism the past few years has been lack of quality opposition, Emelianenko wasted no time getting to work against one of this planet's best heavyweights. His quick dismantling of Sylvia was a masterpiece -- Mike Tyson-like -- and had everyone on their feet with jaws ajar. Emelianenko made his presence in America felt and it will last a long time. He very well might have begun to change the way MMA is viewed in this country.

Advantage: Emelianenko

What have you done lately?

[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva and James Irvin
Jon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesPut an opponent in front of Anderson Silva, left, and chances are, he'll take him down.
Silva: In the past year and a half, Silva has faced a who's who of middleweights and walked through each of them. Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson are all tremendous talents, but not one lasted more than two rounds with Silva. These wins are what propelled Silva to the top of many pound-for-pound lists, and beating Irvin in such convincing fashion will make it tough to remove him from that position.

Emelianenko: After beating Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic by unanimous decision in August 2005, Emelianenko seemed to run out of quality opponents. He has had just six fights since facing Filipovic, two of which took place last year. And one of those fights came against middleweight Matt Lindland. The lack of quality opposition and inactivity is what caused Emelianenko to fall from the top spot of many pound-for-pound lists. But a year from now this isn't likely to be an issue. Emelianenko will have more than enough top-level heavyweights eyeing him in Affliction.

Advantage: Silva

There is an aura

Silva: When it comes to being gentlemanly, Silva is in a class by himself. The champ is as friendly as a human being can be. He lights up a room with his smile, which lets fans know he is approachable. Silva not only loves being a mixed martial artist, he loves putting on great performances for his fans. After disposing of Irvin, he expressed excitement seeing the smiles on fans' faces. This warmth, coupled with an exciting fight style, makes Silva one of the most attractive mixed martial artists in the sport.

Emelianenko: The moment Emelianenko walked into the arena Saturday night, fans who had never laid eyes on him knew they were in the presence of greatness. There was no smile, no looking around, just an impenetrable focus on the task at hand -- destroying Sylvia. Only heavyweights have such an impact, and Emelianenko is by far the best of the bunch (this includes boxing champ Wladimir Klitschko). He finished the job quickly, and fans loved every second of it. Emelianenko has an aura that is unmatched in combat sports. America finally got a taste of what it had been missing all these years and is eager for more.

Advantage: Emelianenko

Let's conclude

Silva has world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai skills. He is also a talented enough boxer to get the attention of Roy Jones Jr. But Emelianenko is the world's best overall fighter in its most important division: heavyweight.

Two years ago, there wasn't a debate as to the No. 1 pound-for-pound mixed martial artist. It was Emelianenko. But his inactivity and questionable opposition opened the door to other great fighters.

Silva seized that opportunity. His body of work the past two years is the reason he now sits atop some of the most respected pound-for-pound lists. A couple of those lists had Emelianenko slipping to No. 4 heading into Saturday night's action.

In the next few days, a slew of pound-for-pound lists will be unveiled, and after his most recent outing, Emelianenko is sure to leapfrog to No. 1 on several. But not all pollsters will place him in the top spot; Silva's performance against Irvin will prove difficult to brush aside.

Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.