I'll readily admit to stealing this idea from Scott Christ's "The Bad Left Hook 100 For 2010: Ranking the World's Best Boxers" over at Bad Left Hook. I read it and thought "You know, I really should go ahead and do the same thing for MMA" and here we are. This took a long time to put together, probably longer than it was worth given how quickly this will be forgotten in the coming wave of UFC 125 talk.
I'm just going to borrow Scott's lead in from his list (with a few adjustments) to save myself time:
The idea here is sort of a top 100 pound-for-pound as it stands right now, a snapshot in time to close out another year of
boxingMMA. And this year definitely had its highlights and its dead months and its messes and controversies and B.S. and all of that jive. But it's not meant to be taken all seriously, either. I'm sure I "underrated" your favorite fighter. "No way is Carl FrochDan Hardy that low!" or the like, and that's great and all, but honestly? For honesty's sake? I don't care if I didn't rank your favorite fighter. It's just a stupid list.
Read it, hit the comments and talk about it. That's your only job here. Just don't be a weirdo about it if you don't agree with me. And realize that the difference between #73 and #66 isn't that huge and probably isn't worth flipping out over. If you disagree with a ranking, let's have some fun and talk about it. This took far too long for you all to be quiet. It also took too long for you to be rude, so think before you comment.
Oh, and this list is my own and does not represent the rest of the staff's opinion.
Ed. Note: Nate Marquardt's omission was an oversight on my part, not an intended slight. As I don't want to go through and re-number this entire list I have added him in as "32b."
100. Mike Swick
Swick has some big wins in his career but he's 1-2 in the past 2 years and barely holding on to his position on a list like this. David Mitchell should be a winable fight for him but it's not going to boost his stock greatly by any means.
99. Clay Guida
Guida had a very nice 2010, picking up a pair of wins that didn't go to decision. He had only picked up one win that wasn't a decision since 2007 so these were a step in the right direction. His 2011 will get going in a big way with his fight with Takanori Gomi, it's absolutely a chance to make a big statement.
98. Michael McDonald
Wins over Manny Tapia and Cole Escovedo at Tachi Palace Fights in 2010 were probably enough to land him on the list, but coming into the WEC and locking up a first round submission win over Clint Godfrey (a guy Wagnney Fabiano couldn't submit) really cemented him as a top 100 fighter in my eyes. Maybe I'm alone in that thinking and I'm sure we'll find out for sure in 2011 where exactly he stands. Now, the world's most obvious joke:
97. Thiago Silva
A guy ranked in the top ten of his weight class being so low on this list has to be wrong, right? Well, Silva's two career losses came against Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, so there is no real shame there. The problem is that his best victory is Tomasz Drwal. Drwal is actually the only one of Silva's five UFC wins that is still in the UFC. In 2010 Silva fought once, the decision loss to Evans. He'll fight Brandon Vera at UFC 125 on January 1.
Kanehara had a hell of a 2009, winning the Sengoku Featherweight Grandprix (even though he lost to Hatsu Hioki in the semi-finals) and going 5-1. Sure, he lost to Marlon Sandro in his only fight so far this year, but that isn't a "bad loss." Update: This list was originally compiled prior to the Sengoku event. Kanehara's loss to Yoshiro Maeda bumped him down several spots.
95. Mark Hominick
17 months without a fight didn't hurt Hominick's 2010 campaign as he pulled off three wins in three WEC fights. He also accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in all of MMA, he won a split decision over Leonard Garcia. Like basically everyone else on the low end of the list, Hominick is one poor showing from falling off a cliff into the rocky waters of "guys I also considered."
94. Takanori Gomi
Gomi badly needed a win when he fought Tyson Griffin at UFC 125. He looked out of his league against Kenny Florian in March and other than a stoppage of Takashi Nakakura his last few years had been filled with disappointing performances. Knocking Griffin out was a big deal and keeps Gomi as a relevant fighter at 155 pounds. The PRIDE fanboy in me still has a hard time thinking about Gomi as only #95 on a list of this type but reality has certainly shifted over the past few years and now Gomi is a guy that has had trouble when put in the ring with Tony Hervey.
Yes, he's on a 7 fight win streak and there are some decent names on that list but he has been so sporadic in his activity (as much Strikeforce's fault as his own) that it hurts his case. His win over Joe Riggs was his only fight this year and it wasn't exactly inspirational. Not ending up in the UFC is going to make it really hard for Jay to continue to move up on this list as well.
92. Alessio Sakara
Sakara has rebounded from a real down period in his development to look great over the past three fights. The one thing holding him back is his past inconsistency mixed in with the fact that James Irvin looked like death in their fight so he doesn't have a lot of value in his three fight win streak. Still, Sakara vs. Maiquel Falcao should show if Alessio is going to be able to stick around the top 100 come the end of 2011.
91. Paulo Thiago
He's only 3-3 since joining the UFC and the Josh Koscheck knockout is starting to feel like a lifetime ago. Diego Sanchez wearing him out with his relentless pace at UFC 121 was not a bad loss, but it quieted the few talks of Paulo as one of the top ten at welterweight. Still, he has a few nice wins (Koscheck and Swick) and the two consecutive losses don't quite knock him out of the list.
Johnson is currently 8-1 in his young career and in 2010 went 3-1. His win over Damacio Page was very impressive and cemented him as a legitimate threat in the bantamweight division. He lost to Brad Pickett in his WEC debut but was competitive throughout the bout against a very tough opponent. Nick Pace has proven to be a legitimate fighter and Johnson handled him. While Demetrious would probably be an absolute beast at 125 pounds he's still making a clear case as a tough fight at 135.
Imanari is very good at what he does and a five fight win streak is nothing to sneeze at. I don't think I'm alone in wishing that we got to see him doing his thing in the UFC where he'd be facing stiffer competition a little more regularly but he is still fighting guys like Tomoya Miyashita who are better than a lot of people realize. As long as he stays active fans of international MMA are going to remain plenty happy.
88. Hector Lombard
Hector hasn't lost in his last 21 fights (one draw mixed in there). So why would he be ranked so low? Well, in those 21 fights the most impressive wins are Alexander Shlemenko, Jay Silva, Kalib Starnes, Jared Hess and James Te-Huna. That's not exactly the kind of resume that proves out a guy as one of the best in the world. He certainly has the physical skills and he looks like a monster against the guys he is fighting, but I can't really bump a guy higher based on what he's done.
1-2 since the start of 2009 and the one win (against Alan Belcher) is a fight that many feel Akiyama lost. Three straight Fight of the Night awards are going to help his case for sticking around the UFC, but not really help his case as a great fighter. Akiyama needs to pick up some big wins and he needs to do it soon.
86. Mike Pyle
Pyle's domination of highly thought of prospect John Hathaway did a lot to erase the TKO loss to Jake Ellenberger at the start of the year. In the middle he picked up a good win over Jesse Lennox. It's hard to say how much time Pyle has left competing at this level. He's 35 and at some point age catches up to a guy. But for right now he has a great win to hang his hat on.
85. Chris Leben
Chris Leben going 3-0 this year was not something many people expected. But he beat Jay Silva, then came through against Aaron Simpson with a dramatic come from behind win and then took a fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama mere weeks later and won the fight off his back with a triangle choke. His drunk driving arrest was an unfortunate stain on an otherwise incredible year for a guy many were willing to write off after losing to Jake Rosholt. He'll take on Brian Stann on January 1 and we'll see if his career rebound continues.
84. Chad Mendes
Mendes has the ability to control the hell out of his opponents and he did his thing very well four times this year in the WEC. He just hasn't had to do it against someone at the top end of the division. He may well be one of the better fighters in the world down the road, but we just don't know yet. Mendes also needs to show a little more ability and willingness to use his ability to dominate positionally to work for the finish.
83. Damacio Page
Page suffers from a lack of a lot of "recent" fights. He was out for over a year due to injury and then returned to get beat by Demetrious Johnson by guillotine choke. His wins over Scott Jorgensen, Marcos Galvao and Will Campuzano are still legitimate and impressive. If getting back to action gets him back on track Page has the kind of ferocity that could move him back up this list at the end of 2011.
It's been a long fall for Barnett. He has picked up wins in the past few years over Gilbert Yvel, Pedro Rizzo and Jeff Monson but those aren't exactly top dogs at heavyweight. You have to go back to his win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in September of 2006 for a win against true top competition. He's still good enough to be ranked and he isn't picking up losses. But he's not exactly proven that he is still a top guy.
81. Diego Sanchez
If MMA had a weight class structure more like boxing there would probably be a weight around 163 pounds that Diego could thrive in. He didn't look "right" at lightweight and he isn't really dominant at welterweight but he's still good enough to use his pace to wear out guys like Paulo Thiago (who Diego beat at UFC 121). Many feel his loss to John Hathaway was the product of a bad off night by Diego more than Hathaway being the better overall fighter. Still, it was not a pretty performance and it cost Diego some spots.
80. Muhammed Lawal
Maybe it's cruel to rank a guy who was a champion this year so low, but he only has one win over a top level guy in his career and that was Gegard Mousasi. He looked lost against Feijao in his last fight before getting stopped. That plus the fact that he was making his way to the title with wins over horribly faded Mark Kerr and a blown-up Mike Whitehead. It all adds up to where I've got him ranked. His wrestling base and constant study of the mixed martial arts game should keep him around lists like this for a few years though.
79. Randy Couture
Couture is operating as basically the anti-Josh Barnett right now. Rather than a once top fighter who is now slumming it because of personal choices he is a once top fighter who is taking interesting fights and keeping his career moving along until he feels that it's time to stop. While the two men who helped make the 205 pound division MMA's marquee weight class (Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell) have faded into near nothingness, Couture is still out there plugging away and putting together win streaks. Sure his 2010 was just dominating Mark Coleman and James Toney but the important thing is that he is doing exactly what he is supposed to do to these guys. Coleman and Toney should get run over by Couture, and the fact that he isn't having trouble with them at any point is a good thing. He'll probably never have another incredible moment of shocking the MMA world, but he's still one of the best in the world. Not bad for an old man.
78. Roy Nelson
I'm sure some will take exception to me ranking Nelson below Brendan Schaub, a man Roy knocked out. But, big picture, this is a guy who lost three of his last five fights. Even assuming he won the Monson fight (he should have) he's still put together a less impressive recent resume than Schaub. I also think Schaub is on the upswing while Nelson is pretty much going to be this exact guy going forward. That isn't a horrible thing, and being that guy means being good enough to trouble many legitimate heavyweights but Nelson isn't likely to ever be top dog at 206+.
76. Brad Pickett
Brad Pickett has won nine of his last ten fights and has found much more success than I predicted when he came over to the WEC. Wins over Demetrious Johnson and Ivan Menjivar in 2010 are no joke. Pickett isn't quite at the level where he can hang with a Scott Jorgensen but if he continues to grow as a fighter while working with American Top Team he may soon be able to get his game up to that level.
75. Dan Hardy
Some people will say this is too low for Hardy, others will say it's too high. The problem with Dan is that getting dominated two fights in a row really takes a lot of the steam out of your standing in a list like this. Plus those wins over guys like Marcus Davis and Mike Swick don't look as impressive as they used to, which isn't revisionism so much as it is assigning value in a pound-for-pound setting. Dan's 2010 was brutal and it's hard to argue that he won a single minute of the almost 30 he spent in the cage.
As I said when talking about Roy Nelson, Schaub is on the upswing in his career. The way that he handled Chase Gormley and Chris Tuchscherer and then the impressive display of striking against Gabriel Gonzaga showed tremendous growth for Brendan since his time on The Ultimate Fighter. It was an exciting 2010 for the 27 year old and in 2011 we'll see if he can make the jump to the top tier of the UFC's heavyweight division.
73. Chris Lytle
Lytle has done an amazing job of re-establishing himself as a relevant welterweight after a very inconsistent career. He's currently on a four fight win streak which ties the longest winning streak of his career. Going through Kevin Burns, Brian Foster, Matt Brown and Matt Serra in consecutive fights is pretty damn impressive. Now Lytle has a chance to possibly move toward a title shot when he faces Carlos Condit at UFC 127.
72. Wanderlei Silva
Silva only fought once in 2010, getting a win over Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut. The move to 185 may prove to be a great move in the long term but for right now in a list like this Wanderlei is still 2-5 in his last seven fights (against very good competition) and that makes it hard to really put him any higher.
71. Takeya Mizugaki
Mizugaki is 5-3 in the last three years with the three losses coming to three of the best bantamweights on the planet (Miguel Torres in April 2009, Scott Jorgensen in December 2009 and Urijah Faber in November 2010). He's proven to be a very solid fighter who can compete with anyone but he's not on that "top tier" at 135 pounds.
70. Anthony Pettis
I know we're all high on Pettis' performance at the final WEC but he ended his time there as the big fish in the small pond. He's extremely talented and getting better every time out but we need to see him against the UFC's lightweight division to know who he truly is at this point. It was also only a year ago when Bart Palaszewski beat him by decision. We'll see if he can hang with the best pretty quickly as he gets a crack at the Gray Maynard/Frankie Edgar winner.
69. Michael Bisping
Bisping is likely a guy who will probably always be between #6 and #10 in the middleweight division. His technique is good (other than weird defensive failings) and he can outwork most guys that aren't elite at 185. But he's always going to have trouble with the top guys who don't have to worry too much about his power and thus can do whatever they have gameplanned for more times than not. He's 6-2 since dropping to middleweight with the two losses coming to legit fighters but he has also earned some very good wins in the division and while I'm sure the general dislike of him as a person will draw a lot of ire for my having him ranked so high, I think it's a completely fair ranking.
68. Sean Sherk
Sherk has long been a fixture in the top ten of the lightweight division and he's still hanging around there. He's had to deal with several periods of inactivity over the past few years. His last four fights show a guy that is probably going to have trouble maintaining that top ten spot for much longer. There's no shame in losing to B.J. Penn, but adding a loss to Frankie Edgar (another "not bad" loss) and a split decision win that most people felt he lost to Evan Dunham makes for a guy who is clearly on the decline.
67. Joe Warren
Warren's carrer in mixed martial arts is a young one. But he's managed to pick up wins over Kid Yamamoto, Chase Beebe, Patricio Pitbull and Joe Soto in under two years. His wrestling game is top notch and, while he has work to do on submission defense and striking, he is very likely to become one of the top featherweights in the world if he continues on this path. Coming in at #68 kind of ruins that whole "Baddest Man on the Planet" thing, but he's still really damn good.
66. Phil Davis
Davis has tremendous upside but it's important that everyone remember he is still young, still developing and still working toward establishing who he will be in the UFC. His 2010 saw him pick up four wins in his first four fights in the UFC. He also improved greatly as a finisher against higher end competition. His performance at UFC 109 against Brian Stann left a lot to be desired in terms of going for the finish. He was in dominant position for most of the bout but didn't move toward closing the deal. His anaconda choke win over Alexander Gustafsson and his "Mr. Wonderful" submission over Tim Boetsch showed that he can and will lock up an opponent and finish the fight.
65. Masakatsu Ueda
Ueda lost for the first time as a professional in 2010, dropping a bout to Shuichiro Katsumura via the very awesome "ninja choke." But his rebounding with a win over Akitoshi Tamura helped re-establish his place as one of the best bantamweights in the world.
64. Ronaldo Souza
2010 was a very good year for Jacare as he captured the Strikeforce middleweight crown by beating Tim Kennedy. Also on the year he picked up a win over Joey Villasenor. The only real blemish on his recent record is the loss to an upkick by Gegard Mousasi.
63. Rafael Cavalcante
Cavalcante capped his year with a stunning Strikeforce light heavyweight title win over Muhammed Lawal but that can only carry you so far when you beat Aaron Rosa and Antwain Britt to get the title shot. And that loss to Mike Kyle is still ugly and recent enough to hurt his overall standing. A good 2010 will go a long way toward erasing the Kyle fight from the memory of MMA fans.
62. Paul Daley
Daley may be 8-2 in his last ten fights but the fact remains that he struggles greatly with guys with a good top control game. Kampmann was far too willing to engage him in the stand-up which led to his downfall but when someone like Jake Shields or Josh Koscheck fights Daley, he is immediately out of his element and in a great deal of trouble. There's no shame in not being able to beat the top end of the division but I can't not hold such a gaping hole in his game against him. Daley is great fun to watch and tremendous on his feet but he is probably always going to be outclassed by a certain type of fighter. Josh Koscheck really exposed that earlier this year, but five fights in one year is still pretty damn impressive.
61. Evan Dunham
By all rights Dunham should be ending 2010 with an undefeated 12-0 record. He went 2-1 on the year with the sole loss coming via controversial split decision against Sean Sherk. Also on the year he picked up a high profile win over Tyson Griffin. The thing that is holding him back in the rankings is that he has three split decisions in his last four fights. Not that judging results should factor in too much with these kind of rankings, but it speaks to how "clear" of a case Dunham is making in his fights. He's extremely talented and the next few years will show exactly what heights he can reach but fir right now there's no shame in where he's at.
60. Gegard Mousasi
Look, this is going to happen a few more times on the list so let's get this out of the way. In an "end of the year snapshot" it is possible for guys to be ranked higher than people who beat them. Mousasi lost to Lawal this year, yes. But over the past three years Mousasi has wins over Mizuno, Sokoudjou, Babalu, Jacare, Manhoef and Kang. That is a much better recent resume than Lawal who has beaten nowhere near that level of competition.
59. Manny Gamburyan
Gamburyan was chased from the UFC lightweight division after finishing as runner-up on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Losses to Rob Emerson and Thiago Tavares forced Manny to drop to featherweight. He found solid success beating John Franchi and Leonard Garcia before pulling off an upset knockout of Mike Brown. Featherweight is clearly where Manny is supposed to be but he ran into the buzzsaw that is Jose Aldo at WEC 51 and was knocked out in the second round.
58. Antonio Silva
Silva lost for only the second time in his career to close out 2009 (vs. Fabricio Werdum) but rebounded with a pair of wins in Strikeforce this year. First he outboxed Andrei Arlovski for three rounds and then he survived a scary first round against light heavyweight Mike Kyle before unleashing a beating for the TKO in the second round. Some bigger fights for Silva are in order at this point but he's an established heavyweight threat and in on a good run right now.
The top end of the division appears to have passed "Big Nog" by at this point but he proved that his boxing is still solid and his ground game remains awesome in bouncing Randy Couture all over the place in 2009. Nogueira ran into Cain Velasquez in his only fight this year and was knocked out for the second time in his career, but more importantly the second time in three fights. There are still a few fights left in his battle worn body, but Nogueira is not what he once was.
56. Robbie Lawler
Lawler is good enough to compete with the middleweights that Strikeforce has to fight him but he still has some ways to go to become a real top 185 pounder. His bout with Renato Sobral showed that it's probably not a good idea to fight above the middleweight limit but he closed out the year with a beautiful knockout of a faded Matt Lindland. His bout with Jacare in January will show exactly how much better he's gotten at dealing with a controlling grappler since Jake Shields guillotined him.
55. Alistair Overeem
Were this a list based purely on potential I could throw Overeem a lot higher than this. I'm a big fan of Overeem but I have to be honest, the guy's best MMA win in the past four years is Brett Rogers. His K-1 accomplishments don't really factor in other than to help boost him up as someone we know to be an excellent striker. He will fight Todd Duffee at Dynamite!! which will help his recent MMA resume out a little bit, but beating a guy that Mike Russow knocked out isn't exactly a huge boost to his overall resume. Overeem needs a fight with Fedor, Werdum or even Antonio Silva in 2011 to tell us where he really is.
54. Miguel Torres
Torres went 2-2 in the last two years and both of the losses were ugly. His tendency to fight so wide open led to Brian Bowles knocking him out and then he simply got outclassed by Joseph Benavidez in March of this year. Before those losses Torres was pushed probably a little more than he should have been by Takeya Mizugaki. Picking up a rear naked choke win over Charlie Valencia in September was a nice first step back to the top for Miguel but he's got a long way to go still.
53. Rich Franklin
Rich is really good at light heavyweight. Much better than he is at middleweight at this point in his career. His willingness to take bouts against guys like Vitor Belfort at catchweights hurts him in the long run in that he doesn't get into a groove and make his mark in any one division. Starting in 2008 Franklin has beat Travis Lutter, Matt Hamill, Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell while dropping a close decision to Dan Henderson and getting knocked out by Vitor Belfort. Franklin has also gotten a stoppage in each win with the exception of Silva. He's not thought of in the same way as he was when he was middleweight champion but Rich at 205 is still a force. The fact that he's never lost a clear fight in the UFC at 205 pounds (the Henderson fight was an extremely close split decision) proves that.
The smaller Nogueira brother did not have a very good 2010 campaign. In May, Jason Brilz gave him everything he could handle and Lil Nog was just able to squeek out a split decision victory over a fighter that few considered a threat coming in. Then, at UFC 119, Ryan Bader was able to outwork Nogueira and take home the win. At his peak it was hard to imagine him having so much trouble with such limited fighters (Bader is very good but not exactly a well-rounded beast). If you go back to the start of 2008 Nogueira has a good amount of wins but some of them (Cane) have lost their luster. Nogueira remains extremely talented and I would never write him off but he really needs a good 2011 campaign. His March fight with Tito Ortiz should get things moving in the right direction.
51. Dan Henderson
I feel like I might be ranking Hendo a little bit low here. I also feel like I might be ranking Hendo a little bit high here. So I'm going to assume that I'm ranking him in pretty much the right place. It's hard to imagine a fighter that people were so quick to write off after such a good career. Henderson left the UFC and got beat by Jake Shields so suddenly his career was pretty much worthless. In 2007 Henderson knocked out Wanderlei Silva to take his PRIDE title then lost to Rampage Jackson in the UFC. Then came the Anderson Silva loss before Henderson started to build up steam again by beating Palhares, Franklin and Bisping. Then he drops the Shields fight in Strikeforce and beats Babalu. That's not a guy who is done as a relevant fighter, that's just a guy that is having trouble with the very top end of the fight world.
50. Scott Jorgensen
Before Jorgensen ran into the seemingly unhittable Dominick Cruz he was on a nice roll. He avenged his last loss to Antonio Banuelos and had picked up several other wins including solid W's over Brad Pickett and Takeya Mizugaki. The Cruz fight was an ugly one for Scott as he just couldn't get on track and was picked apart. It is far from a sign that Jorgensen isn't a relevant fighter in the bantamweight division but he does get into wars in fights that he should be able to clearly win. It's entertaining for the fans but at some point Scott will need to be willing to play a little bit more defense.
The road was easy early on in his UFC life as he got rolling with wins over names like Roman Mitichyan and Jason Dent. But 2010 was a fantastic year for Sotiropoulos. He kicked it off by beating former title challenger Joe Stevenson, then decisioned Kurt Pellegrino before submitting Joe Lauzon in November. This was a year that saw George go from unranked to top ten with three great wins. At 33 years old the UFC is going to have to start moving him along quickly over the next year but he presents some interesting problems to the majority of the 155 pound division.
48. Tatsuya Kawajiri
When you look at the last five years of Kawajiri's career and go through the names of opponents he lost to, it's pretty clear that he's been just below that absolute top level of the 155 pound division for years now. Those losses came to Takanori Gomi (in his prime), Gilbert Melendez, Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki. In between there have been good streaks of wins over solid fighters. His only fight to date in 2010 was a leglock loss to Aoki but he will face Josh Thomson at Dynamite!!
47. Jim Miller
We've hit a bit of a lightweight grouping here where guys are all neck and neck for that "best of the second tier" spot. Jim Miller's career record is 19-2 and he picked up four wins in 2010. Duane Ludwig, Mark Bocek, Gleison Tibau and Charles Oliveira all presented different challenges for Miller and he handled them all. The Oliveira fight was interesting as it was a young prospect that is aggressive in all aspects of the game and Miller just remained calm in waiting for a mistake and then locking up a kneebar. Miller's two career losses came to Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar and I'm sure he'd love a chance to avenge a loss to either man for the UFC lightweight title sometime in 2011.
46. Martin Kampmann
Kampmann is talented in many aspects of the fight game, even if his kickboxing skills have been overrated by many for a long time. He managed to look better than most expected against Jake Shields at UFC 121 but wasn't able to pull out the win. He did pick up two wins prior to that this year though when he beat a pair of grapplers in Paulo Thiago and Jacob Volkmann. Those two fights helped him bounce back from a TKO loss to Paul Daley to end 2009. 2011 is the year that Kampmann will have to find some consistency or risk getting passed up by any number of people in the deep, talented UFC welterweight division.
45. Frank Mir
Mir is in a weird spot where he has been a part of the heavyweight title picture for a long time but it's also been made clear that he's not really going to be able to compete with what the top end of the division brings to the table. Mir has wilted under pressure from Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin and I don't imagine it'd be much better against a guy like Cain Velasquez who is physical but also blazingly fast for a heavyweight. Aside from the KO loss to Carwin early in the year Mir also beat Mirko Cro Cop in a very lackluster fight. I just can't justify Mir any higher than I have him right now.
44. Josh Grispi
Grispi is one of the guys who should benefit most from the extra attention being a part of the UFC will bring. He's 14-1 with only one fight ever going to decision. Since signing with Zuffa Grispi has handled Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver and LC Davis in under seven minutes...combined. He only fought once in 2009 and once in 2010 which slowed him down quite a bit and kind of leads to some people forgetting about him. On January 1 he'll have his first ever UFC fight against Dustin Poirier.
43. Jorge Santiago
Santiago's fights with Kazuo Misaki are the kind of thing that make me love MMA even if they also make me concerned for the long-term health of the men involved. Aside from winning the Misaki rematch (which was my fight of the year) this year, Santiago also avenged his 2009 loss to Mamed Khalidov with a five round decision victory. In the past two years Santiago has only fought Misaki and Khalidov (twice each). Some more varied opposition (and some higher end fights) would do a lot to really push Santiago to the next level. This isn't the same version of Jorge that lost to Alan Belcher and Chris Leben in 2006.
42. Nick Diaz
Strikeforce just can't provide a good enough competition level for a guy of Diaz's skills. Nick has gotten so much better over the past few years. His striking is unusual but highly effective and he's just breaking guys down with it. This year he stopped Marius Zaromskis with strikes, submitted Hayato Sakurai and avenged his only loss in his past ten bouts by winning a decision over K.J. Noons in a great fight. Signing a contract to stick with Strikeforce was a little disappointing but there are still legitimate fights in the promotion for him, but not many that can move him up lists like these.
41. Brian Bowles
Brian Bowles was on the edge of being a top ten pound-for-pound fighter after knocking out Miguel Torres and taking his bantamweight championship. He'd picked up wins over plenty of other very solid fighters in going 8-0 to start his career. Then he ran into the bizarre puzzle that is Dominick Cruz and got was stopped after the second round. Bowles didn't fight again in 2010 due to an injury but will return to action in March against Damacio Page.
40. Vitor Belfort
Belfort is on a five fight win streak with four of the wins coming by KO. What really holds him back is that, other than Rich Franklin, the wins just aren't that impressive and even the Franklin fight was contested at a catchweight. Injuries and various other situations kept Vitor out of action for all of 2010. In the past three years Vitor has the Franklin KO (impressive), the Lindland KO (years past his prime, even Lindland has knocked Lindland out at this point) and a KO of Terry Martin (who has been KO'ed 6 times in 5 years). It's not that Belfort isn't good or that his skills aren't up to par, just that he hasn't had the opportunity for bigger wins in a while. Of course, that changes with his shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight crown in February.
39. Carlos Condit
Condit is as good as he has ever been and his knockout of Dan Hardy at UFC 120 was a great moment for the 26 year old. Add that to the Rory McDonald win and 2010 was a very good year for Condit, one good enough to help erase a (still not bad) 2009 that saw Carlos drop a split decision to Martin Kampmann and win a split decision over Jake Ellenberger. At UFC 127 Condit fights Chris Lytle. Winning that fight may put Condit into the position of being an interesting new challenger for Georges St. Pierre in 2011 or 2012.
38. Shane Carwin
Shane Carwin will be 36 before he returns to action. His 2010 saw him win the interim heavyweight title by destroying Frank Mir at UFC 111 but lose to Brock Lesnar when his cardio couldn't hold up against Brock Lesnar at UFC 116. Carwin remains fairly high on the list due to his being 12-1 in his career and being as dangerous as anyone in the sport for the first five minutes of a fight. But his cardio concerns are a very big issue and time off and age aren't going to help sitution.
37. Jon Jones
Let's go back to something I said about Phil Davis:
Davis has tremendous upside but it's important that everyone remember he is still young, still developing and still working toward establishing who he will be in the UFC.
Yes, Jones has incredible upside and he is destroying people but this is still a ranking based almost more on potential than it is on career accomplishments. Honestly, I've probably got Jones too high here, but it's not like this list is all that important so here he is.
2010 saw Jones destroy Brandon Vera in a fight that I felt would push Jones much more than it did and then do the expected and destroy Vladimir Matyushenko. His fight with Ryan Bader in 2011 is going to push the winner to new heights and in many ways is one of the most important fights on the horizon for the sport.
36. Ryan Bader
Bader and Jones were destined to be next to each other on this list. Both men are very talented but have a lot to prove still before they can get moved any higher up a list filled with the best fighters in the world. I gave Bader the nod as to the one spot higher ranking based on his having the bigger win in defeating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira this year. In addition, Bader picked up a knockout over over Keith Jardine in February.
35. Urijah Faber
Faber was a top ten pound-for-pound guy for years but the past three have seen him go 4-3. Mike Brown knocked him out and then won the rematch over a gutsy Faber who fought through a pair of broken hands and then Jose Aldo put on a brutally effective display of leg kicks in dominating Faber and chasing him to the bantamweight division. He still mixed wins over Jens Pulver, Raphael Assuncao and Takeya Mizugaki in with the losses which keep him around as a very good fighter but far from the top ten P4P guy he used to be.
34. Kenny Florian
Florian dominated Takanori Gomi in March and while that doesn't mean what it once did, it was still impressive to see Kenny outstrike the Japanese slugger. In August Kenny ran into the controlling wrestling game of Gray Maynard and was so ineffective that it led to Dana White calling Kenny a choker in the important fights. He remains a well rounded fighter but he's 2-2 over the past two years (not that there is shame in losing to Maynard and B.J. Penn) with the two wins coming over Gomi and Clay Guida. No shame in anything there, but Kenny is a guy in need of a marquee win soon.
33. Forrest Griffin
Injuries left Forrest on the shelf for 2010 after an iffy 2009. Forrest got embarrassed by Anderson Silva at UFC 101 and taking a beating like that dropped his stock in the eyes of many. He won his last fight by split decision over Tito Ortiz, I still am not sure how one judge saw Ortiz winning two rounds of that fight but Griffin should have run through Ortiz in much more impressive form. Still, wins over Quinton Jackson and Shogun Rua remind us that Griffin is extremely good when he is at his best. He can't coast on wins from years ago forever and has a chance to get a very big win when he faces Rich Franklin at UFC 126 in February.
32. Demian Maia
Maia has faced every other current top 5 fighter in the middleweight division except for Yushin Okami (and…you know, himself) and went 1-2. Maia's win over Chael Sonnen remains impressive, his loss to Anderson Silva remains expected and his loss to Marquardt remains ugly. Still, Maia is supremely talented and able to compete with almost anyone in the world and has been doing so for years now.
32b. Nate Marquardt
Marquardt and Maia are in a very similar spot. The top tier of middleweights appears to be Okami/Sonnen/Silva as they've had the most success against the other top guys. Marquardt and Maia are right behind as guys who have picked up a win over one of the guys, but other than the single favorable style match-up in the top five they're not going to run through the rest of the top.
31. Marlon Sandro
Rewritten (and re-ranked) after the Sengoku loss to Hatsu Hioki. Sandro had the chance to be ranked much higher than he ended up but the Hioki loss bumped him down quite a bit. Sandro went 5-2 in the past two years with the two losses coming to absolute studs in Hioki and Michihiro Omigawa. He has absolutely destroyed people with his punching over that time as well. Including knock outs of Nick Denis in 19 seconds, Tomonari Kanomata in 9 seconds and Masanori Kanehara in 38 seconds. I feel like we're still trying to see exactly who Sandro is when competing against the best. One year from today we should know for sure who Sandro is at this level.
10-1 since 2008 is pretty damn impressive. Then you look at who he has been fighting and it remains really damn impressive. A pair of recent wins over Takeshi Inoue and Masanori Kanehara are enough to boost Hioki far up this list, but a dominant win over Marlon Sandro bumped him up even more (he was at #53 prior to the win).
Fernandes hasn't lost since 2007 and his wins over Warren, Imanari, Takaya and Hansen are all legit wins that he should be thrilled to have. He doesn't have a ton of finishes on his record and the Takaya and Hansen wins were by split decision. It'll be nice to see if he can start to pick up some wins with more clarity in his next trips to the ring. Fernandes rematches Hiroyuki Takaya at Dynamite!!
28. Mike Brown
Brown's 2010 saw him rebound from his domination at the hands of Jose Aldo with a rear naked choke win over Anthony Morrison but then run into the power punches of Manny Gamburyan in April. Brown rebounded yet again with a quick and impressive domination of Cole Province in September and will now take on Diego Nunes on January 1. Brown looked unmotivated and just "odd" when coming in to fight Gamburyan and it cost him. He can't afford another slip up like that if he wants to get another shot at the featherweight title.
27. Junior dos Santos
Junior dos Santos has been wrecking people since coming to the UFC in 2008. He knocked out Fabricio Werdum by exploiting a technical mistake that Werdum had always made (ducking into his punches), he knocked out Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop got busted up by Cigano, same with Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga. Roy Nelson was able to drag Junior to a decision but it was a clear win for dos Santos. The one thing that we need to see Junior do is take on someone who has a good wrestling game and see how his game off his back is. Unfortunately, Cain Velasquez is hurt so the planned fight between the two will not take place for a while longer and we'll continue waiting to see what happens when Junior has to deal with some wrestling.
26. Eddie Alvarez
Alvarez only fought UFC washouts this year but he was masterful in handling both Josh Neer and Roger Huerta in Bellator. He's still coasting a lot on what he did in 2008 but other than the quick submission loss to Shinya Aoki he hasn't slipped up in a way that proved that he isn't one of the most talented lightweights in the world. Eddie really needs the Gilbert Melendez fight at this point and he needs it in a promotion that can broadcast it to American viewers. Name exposure is very important, as is getting wins over the best available fighters.
25. Michihiro Omigawa
The drop to featherweight was better to Omigawa that anyone reasonably expected. Omigawa went from a 4-6 lightweight to an 8-2-1 featherweight with wins over Nam Phan, Marlon Sandro, Hatsu Hioki, Micah Miller and Cole Escovedo in just over two years. With the UFC absorbing the WEC and the lighter weight classes Omigawa returns to the promotion in 2011 when he'll face Chad Mendes at UFC 126. It will be interesting to see how he handles the return to the cage and having to deal with someone like Mendes who will be more than happy to work to just hold him down and wait for the judges to give him the win.
24. Josh Koscheck
3-2 in the past two years. The losses came in brutal fashion as Kos forgot that his striking isn't world class and took one on the chin from Paulo Thiago and then Georges St. Pierre butchered him with little more than jabs for five rounds (not that GSP was unimpressive, it's that all it took was jabs to handle Koscheck's winging punches). In between the two losses were dominant wins over Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson and Paul Daley. Koscheck is one of the best welterweights in the world but he has shortcomings that will always leave him open to a loss every 12-18 months. The first step to moving up in the game is going to be to learn to improvise mid-fight when what he is already doing isn't working, and also avoiding thinking of himself as a better striker than he really is. Sometimes sticking to the basics is what's best for a fighter.
23. Joseph Benavidez
In the past two years Benavidez has picked up two losses to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. But during that time he also has picked up wins over Rani Yahya (currently ranked #11), Miguel Torres (#5) and Wagnney Fabiano (#9). That's a hell of a resume even if he has proven that he can't beat the #1 guy in the weight class. It's a shame he isn't thought of quite as highly as he should be.
22. Shinya Aoki
Aoki was exposed by Gilbert Melendez. Not as a bad fighter, but as a guy who would have a ton of trouble with what the best lightweights in the world do best. Still, Aoki is one of those magical fighters that manages to do what he does even though his opponents know exactly what is coming. Wins over Eddie Alvarez, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Mizuto Hirota are all recent enough and impressive enough that no one should write Aoki off, even if it is pretty clear that we're never going to see him in the UFC going toe-to-toe with the best in the world fight after fight.
21. Brock Lesnar
We can argue all day about the merits of Brock Lesnar's resume or how good he truly is. I think this is a fair spot for a guy to be who beat some damn impressive competition given his experience level. He's also a guy who in 2010 got beat up pretty badly in his two trips to the Octagon. He managed to win one of those fights when Shane Carwin couldn't close the deal and gassed badly but in the other he got torched by Cain Velasquez. There's no shame in having a hell of a hard time with two very good heavyweights but those fights should have served to bring everyone back to reality a little on where Lesnar is in his career development.
20. Lyoto Machida
After not dropping one of his first 16 fights against names like Shogun, Evans, Silva, Ortiz, Penn and Franklin, Machida went 0-2 in 2010. The Shogun rematch was an ugly moment for Machida as he looked hesitant and got blasted in the first round. The fight with Rampage Jackson seemed, on paper, to be a good fight for Lyoto. But, similar to the Shogun fight, Machida spent far too much of the fight looking afraid to engage and gave away the first two rounds before turning it on in the third and almost finishing Rampage. Either Machida regains his will and starts to use his defensive footwork to create offensive openings rather than to keep from getting hit or he continues to slide down the rankings.
19. Yushin Okami
Okami went 3-0 in 2010 and capped his year off with a win over Nate Marquardt in November. The fight determined the man to face the winner of Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort. Okami has waited years for his shot due to injuries and the occasional loss but he will finally get a chance to show if he is the top middleweight in the sport.
18. Quinton Jackson
Rampage got a much needed marquee win at the close of the year over Lyoto Machida. It was a patient, skilled performance which saw a solid ability to cut off the cage. Machida's timidness helped Jackson out in the bout and the third round got ugly for him but it was a legitimate win and put him back into contention. He also lost to Rashad Evans but that was a horrible fight to take after a long layoff as the speed of Evans was not going to allow Rampage to get his feet back in the way you'd like. 2011 should bring more big fights and if Jackson can continue to work with discipline like he showed against Machida it should help re-establish him as a true contender at the top of the 205 pound division.
17. Thiago Alves
In a four year period the only men that have beaten Alves are Jon Fitch and Georges St. Pierre. Every other fighter to step into the cage with Alves has been dominated making him 9-0 against everyone that isn't one of the two best welterweights walking the planet. He finally looked to have his weight under control when he stepped in against John Howard at UFC 124 and looked as sharp as he ever has during the course of the bout. Alves likely won't ever beat GSP or Fitch but he's a force at 170 pounds.
16. B.J. Penn
For years B.J. Penn has been a fixture in the pound-for-pound top ten. As the year ends Penn is now not the dominant fighter in any weight class. Frankie Edgar beat him twice this year (once controversially, once clearly) but Penn did close out the year in style with a quick knockout of long-time rival Matt Hughes. The move up to welterweight puts him in shark infested waters that will probably not be easier to navigate than lightweight but still presents interesting and fresh fights. The first of those new fights will be a main event spot against #2 welterweight Jon Fitch in February.
I'm not being revisionist by taking away the validity of Fedor's wins over guys like Sylvia and Arlovski. I'm simply pointing out that his recent resume is not as strong as some of the other top heavyweights. His loss to Fabricio Werdum wasn't a fluke but it did happen very quickly and I'm not sure that I think it's something I'd pick Werdum to duplicate should they fight again. His last fight before the Werdum loss was much tougher than it should have been against Brett Rogers, but Fedor won and drama is kind of "the Fedor way." He can't afford to keep going through these huge spells of inactivity though and anything other than fights against Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum or even Antonio Silva would have to be considered a waste of time at this point.
14. Fabricio Werdum
Pop quiz, hot shot. Who is the only heavyweight on this list other than Brock Lesnar to hold wins over three other heavyweights also appearing here? Werdum has wins in his career over Antonio Silva, Alistair Overrem (admittedly before Overeem was routinely competing as a heavyweight) and, most importantly, Fedor Emelianenko. I have no clue if Werdum can beat Fedor in a rematch or handle this version of Overeem but for right now he's earned a spot (in my eyes) in the top 15.
13. Chael Sonnen
Sonnen's 2009 loss to Demian Maia was not a good moment. But he rebounded with three solid wins, including beating Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt to earn a shot at Anderson Silva. Sonnen then dominated almost five complete rounds before he found himself caught in a last minute triangle armbar that forced him to tap out. Beating Okami and Marquardt and pushing Anderson Silva to the brink earns Sonnen a spot just outside the top ten. It's unfortunate that the Silva fight was tainted by Sonnen's positive test but I'm not willing to discount what he did without knowing exactly how much of it was helped by the testosterone.
12. Gray Maynard
Maynard is undefeated and is the only man to hold a win over the current UFC lightweight champion (Frankie Edgar for those of you that would take the time to read this but somehow not know who hold the title). In addition to Edgar he also holds a win over two other men who appear on this list in Kenny Florian and Jim Miller. On January 1 he'll get the chance to prove that he can beat the new and improved version of Edgar and become the new man at lightweight.
11. Gilbert Melendez
In the last two years Melendez has avenged his only career losses by beating Josh Thomson and Mitsuhiro Ishida as well as picking up a dominant win over a man who was considered the #2 lightweight in the world at the time in Shinya Aoki. Melendez has the years in the sport and the victories to justify his current place as one of the two or three best 155 pounders in the sport.
10. Dominick Cruz
Cruz has developed into one of the most undesirable men in the sport to face. His in-and-out style and pace is something that fighters aren't going to be able to accurately have duplicated for them in camp. Watching him against Brian Bowles, Joseph Benavidez and Scott Jorgensen this year was a thing of frustrating beauty. It's not always exciting for the fans but he presents a puzzle that it is going to take a tremendous fighter to figure out. Urijah Faber may be the man to do it since he has beaten Cruz before. But this is not the same man that Faber fought then and is now a top ten fighter.
9. Jake Shields
There's no way around it, Jake Shields' UFC debut against Martin Kampmann did not go as planned. The back injury story got very overlooked though and I have it on very good authority that Shields was out of action for much more of his camp than was let on. Even with the poor performance, Shields is a guy that hasn't lost in five years and found success at multiple weight classes. He dominated Dan Henderson after a rocky first round and screwed up Strikeforce's plans before jumping ship to the UFC. He can't fight like he did against Kampmann in the UFC and get away with it but he has gotten his spot by picking up wins and keeping active.
Rashad Evans' only career loss was in 2009 to Lyoto Machida and that was just a style nightmare for Rashad. He came back from that in 2010 with a solid win over Thiago Silva before beating rival Quinton Jackson. There are plenty of good fights out there for Rashad and I wouldn't count him out of any of them until he gives me a reason to.
7. Cain Velasquez
The biggest knock on Velasquez coming into 2010 by dummies like me was that he didn't seem to have big power in his strikes. Well, 2010 shut us up. Cain knocked out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and knocked Brock Lesnar around the ring with strikes ending both fights in the first round. His combination of speed, cardio, wrestling and striking is amazing for the heavyweight division and it's really hard to see him getting knocked off the top of the heavyweight mountain any time soon.
6. Mauricio Rua
Shogun only got one fight in this year but it was a beautiful one as he knocked out Lyoto Machida to avenge what many felt was a bad decision in their 2009 meeting. In his time with the UFC he had the loss to Forrest Griffin and tied in a few wins over faded stars in Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell. He looks much improved and healed up from injuries than he did against Griffin and Coleman and in 2011 will have the chance to be the first man since Chuck Liddell to manage more than one successful defense of the UFC light heavyweight championship.
5. Jon Fitch
13-1 in the UFC. You just don't get to beat Fitch unless you're Georges St. Pierre. In 2010 he dominated Ben Saunders and a heavy Thiago Alves. Some people also think he is boring so I tried to make his description match.
4. Frankie Edgar
Edgar beat B.J. Penn twice in 2010, that alone is impressive. Then you really break down his skills and record and realize that this is a hell of a fighter. He has the chance to avenge his only career loss when he meets Gray Maynard at UFC 125. If he can do that there aren't going to be many styles that I can see troubling arguably the world's best "wrestleboxer."
3. Jose Aldo
Then champion Mike Brown? Stopped. Long time champion Urijah Faber? Beaten down over five rounds. Top three featherweight Manny Gamburyan? Knocked out. Jose Aldo? Extremely good.
2. Anderson Silva
12 consecutive UFC wins is just insane. So is 7 consecutive title defenses. Then again, so is the dominance that he has shown when willing to go up to light heavyweight. He beat Maia and had the amazing comeback win against Chael Sonnen in 2010 to continue one of the most amazing runs the sport has ever seen. His skill is what makes fights like the Maia and Leites fights so frustrating but all the guy does is win and he has done so for so long that it is truly astonishing.
1. Georges St. Pierre
While St. Pierre had the slip-up against Matt Serra he has cleared out the division like no one else in the sport, even Anderson Silva. GSP has developed such a well rounded game that fights against the world's best are just boring on paper. Do me a favor and really think about this question. When is the last time that GSP lost not just a round, but a single minute of a fight? That's why he sits at #1 in the world on my list.
So there it is. 100 fighters ranked in an order that will no doubt piss off many of you. I hope you enjoyed and actually read the damn thing. Now, I'm off to rest before I go cross-eyed.