Pound For Pound: the origin
Some argue that with the invention of Judeo-Christianity, and the unusual notion that there is just one god, humans have become obsessed with a one great super being. However, even in earlier times, before Christendom, when multiple gods were revered for their powers, the idea of a King of the Gods was prevalent . These multi-god worshiping pagans existed under the belief that there were several gods, all sharing 'heaven' together in relative harmony, with the largest of the gods being the god no one could really fuck with. The other gods, were of course, exactly 15 pounds lighter or heavier from each other (give or take 5 pounds). These beings were largely benevolent, so the issue rarely came up, but if shit did hit the fan, the "Heavy Weight" was the god that no one could touch -- but was he the BEST? Some might say, "If no one can fuck with him, then he has to be the BEST, right?" The answer is yes, and no, and the explanation goes something like this: Ok, you are bigger than me, but, IF you were my size, I'd be the one who could fuck with you!
And the 'Pound For Pound' was born.
Pound For Pound: the definition
If weight were not a factor, which god would be the most dominant?
Pound For Pound: definitions
Before we can have a debate we have to get a few terms straight: what is a GOD, how can someone be the BEST, & how do we determine WEIGHT
Weight: Because we are not exactly sure what each fighter weighs at fight time, and even if we were, we would still have to group the fighters by their weight, I have decided to just use the existing weight groupings and to just assume that each fighter within those groupings weighs about the same (I know this isn't true but there is really no alternative): Bantam Weight (BW), Feather Weight (FW), Light Weight (LW), Welter Weight (WW), Middle Weight (MW), Light Heavy Weight (LHW), Heavy Weight (HW)
God: The absolute best within the weight class (i.e. GSP, Anderson Silva) and there can only be 7 (there are 7 weight classes)
Best: 1) The one who's skill set could best achieve god status at a different weight class OR 2) The one who has proven that they can achieve God status at multiple weight classes (they are a god and they've beaten a god)
In deciding who is the BEST, we have two options: 1) someone can prove it by being the BEST in more than one weight class, or 2) we have to debate who's skills would most likely allow them to be the best in another weight class (this is going to be the focus of the majority of the discussion, although there will be some debate on who is the BEST within a weight class).
The God of Heavy Weight: debate
The debate over who is the best HW is trivial -- it can be determined by nothing more than a quick Wiki search of the records of the divisions top ranked fighters. I do not believe that the criteria of "fight record" is the most important criteria to be used when determining a 'divisional best', but in the case of HW, the record of Fedor Emelianenko is so staggering, so far and beyond the others, that it alone can be used as justification for Fedor's reign as God of the Heavy Weights. Fedor has not only beaten a who's who of elite heavy weights, he's finished them: Brett Rogers, Andre Arlovski, Tim Sylivia. He holds notable wins over Antonio Nogueira and Mirco Cro-cop. Some might say that his recent fights have been against inferior opponents, and that they were less than dominant. While I can agree that Fedor has not fought the top tier in some time, he has certainly dominated them. According to Fight Metric (the most objective method for evaluating a fighters performance), Fedor scored extremely high in his domination of all his recent opponents.
Fedor is not the only fighter in the running for best HW, there are several others who could potentially lay claim to that title: Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasques, and even Alistair Overeem are in the running. The problem with these choices is that we don't really know enough about them yet -- they are each relatively new to the division -- and none of them have yet to fight, or consistently beat, well rounded-elite fighters. I would argue that if Overeem could beat Fedor in dominating fashion, he should shoot to the top (we might get to see that). Or, if one of the UFC HW's can clean out the division, a la Anderson Silva, then they should immediately shoot to the top (we are a long way from seeing that).
The God of Light Heavy Weight: debate
The best fighter in the LHW division is tough to discern, but I think most people would agree that it comes down to Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua. At what appeared to be the pinnacle of his career, Mauricio 'shogun' Rua was absolutely dominating the Pride Fighting Championships. There is no doubt in my mind that from 2003 to 2005, Shogun was a top P4P fighter as he absolutely wrecked the MW division of Pride. Certain things happened, he looked set back, and turned in some questionable performances against Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman. He was really off of my radar at that time. THEN the Machida fight happened, and we all got to see a Shogun Rua that we hadn't seen for years. In my mind, and according to Fight Metric, Shogun won his fight with Lyoto Machida. So, Mauricio should be 'god of the LHW's' -- right? Wrong. Lyoto has cleaned out the division, dominating every one who's stepped in his way (with the exception of Rua), and in my mind showed that he was actually a better fighter than Rua, even though I had him losing that fight. Rua won that fight with a well articulated game plan that was designed to take the fight to a five round decision and put it in the hands of the judges -- not a bad game plan when you're fighting someone of Machida's caliber -- but if you win like that, do you really deserve to be classified as the 'God of the Division'? Had Rua won that fight, I would be more than happy to call him the LHW champion, but I think I'd still have Machida as the 'God'. This confusion will soon be cleared up, and if Rua is able to deliver the same execution of a superb game plan, I will call him the LHW God -- but, at this time, I don't see it happening for Rua. Lyoto will make the necessary adjustments (I think he was just as startled to see that shogun as the rest of us) and show why he is UFC Light Heavy Weight Champion of the World and LHW God in contention for the Pound for Pound greatest fighter alive.
Other fighters in the running include: Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson, Anderson Silva, and Gegard Mousasi. There are serious problems with each and every one of these fighters relative to their LHW dominance -- and therefore, no further discussion is required.
The God of Middle Weight: no debate necessary
Dan Henderson is #2, but there is really no significant debate that he should be considered #1.
The God of Welter Weight: no debate
Although there is no debate as to whether or not GSP is the God of the Welter Weights, I believe that of all the divisional greats, GSP's game lacks a plausible transition to other weight classes. He relies solely on being the larger and/or better wrestler, and if he did not have a size/wrestling advantage, he would fall to a top tier fighter. I find his lack of finishing ability disturbing as well as his inability to improvise with various skills. In my mind, GSP is the prototype 'Divisional God' who lacks a certain something to be considered the P4P BEST.
Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, and Dan Hardy are all in the mix, but it is clear that none of these guys can beat GSP while GSP is at his best. The dark horse, the WW I'm most excited to see fight, is Paulo Thiago. If he were to convincingly dethrone GSP, he would immediately be in the running for P4P Best -- but for now, that ain't the case.
The God of Light Weight: debate
To put it bluntly -- BJ Penn is still the God of the LW division. If Edgar is able to win again, I think there will be more room for a rational debate, but as for Penn/Edgar I, BJ won on my card (and Fight Metric). The fight was very revealing as to the path to victory against BJ Penn. Much like the Rua/Machida fight, Edgar was clearly going for a close decision style win over BJ. If this happens again, especially if Edgar is the one who does it, I think BJ could relinquish his title as LW God. I don't see Edgar doing it again though -- the wiser BJ should prevail in the rematch.
BJ Penn, out of all the current P4P contenders, has come closest to actually defeating a divisional best while also being one. When he beat Hughes to become the WW champion, he could have been (and actually was) considered the best WW & LW in the world -- obviously that would have made him the Greatest P4P Fighter as well. But that was then, and this is now, and we know for a fact that GSP had his way with Penn -- he will certainly not achieve his old status of P4P Best anytime soon.
Someone worth talking about, however, is Kenny Florian. His last performance against Takanori Gomi showed that he is a brand new fighter. He has always had as varied a tool chest as BJ Penn, and with his improved boxing and ability to improvise & game plan, I have no qualms what-so-ever about putting Florian as a close #2 in the LW division. Unlike with Edgar, Maynard, Melendez, or Aoki -- if Florian is able to pull off an upset against BJ, even if only by a small margin, I would happily declare Florian LW God and P4P contender.
The God of Feather Weight: debate
This question will be answered shortly. It's between Jose Aldo & Uriah Faber. "But what about Mike Brown, you idiot," some might say. I simply respond by saying, 'Mike Brown can not beat Faber again!' The first fight was won fair and square -- Faber did something stupid and Brown capitalized, being the outstanding fighter he is. The second time, Faber actually looked better -- without the broken hand, Faber would clearly have won. In a third, fourth, or even fifth fight, Faber is gonna take it. It's just my opinion but I'm pretty sure that the betting odds would agree with me. At any rate, Aldo beat Brown, and if Aldo can beat Faber, then he will be the indisputable FW God.
What makes the FW division so fun is that all the best guys are in the WEC. There can be no real doubt as to who the best FW in the world is by next year. If Urijah wins, then he will have to fight Brown again.
Bibiano Fernandez? Not really.
The God of Bantam Weight: debate
We can be more sure that Dominick Cruz is the BW God after his not yet scheduled rematch with Brian Bowles. For now all we can really do is point to his resume and the fact that he is the current WEC champion of a division in which all the best fighters are in the WEC. Could Miguel Torres come back and take back the crown? Yes, although he would have to completely retool his game. Could Joseph Benavidez do the same? Why not? However, Dominick Cruz is the current God, the least experienced god, the least tested God, but a God none the less. Don't be surprised if his reign is usurped early -- remember what we all thought of Torres not too long ago?
The Pound For Pound Best: Debate
If you've made it this far, the last thing I want to do is waste your time. Rather than give you some kind of long winded, barely coherent, metaphysical explanation as to why either Dominick Cruz or Jose Aldo is the Greatest P4P Fighter in the world, I'm simply going to say that it isn't one of them. It can't be one of them. We haven't seen enough from either of them to say that they are the P4P Best.
Remember the criteria: 1) The one who's skill set could best achieve god status at a different weight class OR 2) The one who has proven that they can achieve God status at multiple weight classes (they are a god and they've beaten a god)
If BJ Penn would have beaten GSP, he would be the best P4P fighter in the world, but he didn't, and most people (apart from the state of Hawaii) weren't convinced that he could take out a peaking GSP. Although BJ Penn is the only divisional best to claim that he was, at one time, the P4P best, the fight world has changed significantly since 2003. BJ hates making the cut to 155, he has been debating a permanent move to 170 for some time now, and he will in all likely hood never be a WW champion again. BJ does have the most complete game in all of MMA, but he lacks a significantly superior ability in any one discipline to really be as dominant as a P4P Best should be. The other LW's each possess a skill that rivals one of BJ's and BJ hasn't shown an ability to put all of his skills together in a way that would have prevented his recent loss to Frankie Edgar, for example. I think BJ is out of the running at this point in time.
GSP has excellent wrestling. In fact, GSP uses this wrestling to maintain superior position throughout a fight. However, the superior positioning, more times than not, is only used to grind out decisions (as lopsided as they may be). He doesn't really have the skill to finish as often as he should, and I believe that this one dimensional game would hurt him in a fight against Anderson Silva. The weight advantage aside, how would GSP approach a fight against Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida? My guess is that he would try to do what he does best, what he does in any fight -- use a long, stiff jab to set up other strikes and a take-down. Can that strategy work against a guy like Anderson Silva? The answer is: not likely when you consider that Anderson has a long, powerful jab of his own, as well as unparalleled lateral movement. GSP is getting better every time we see him -- once his submission game matures and we are able to see him fight someone with exceptional mobility -- he may become the P4P best in the world.
Anderson Silva comes closest to actually being able to beat a divisional best right now. I'd hate to see him cut down to fight GSP at 170 because I fear that it might take something out of him. I have no problem imagining what a fight between him and GSP would look like and I think it would probably look similar to what we saw when he fought Hendo. I do think that GSP is a better wrestler than Hendo, but I also think that Silva has learned from that experience and is now better than he was. That might partially be the reason we are seeing him so tentative against one-dimensional grapplers (i.e. leites, maia). As far as Silva beating someone like GSP, I think that would happen. I'd go farther than that -- I think Silva would beat Machida. I know we will never see that happen (he is my brother and I will not fight him), but if it did I think that Silva's speed might be slightly better than Machida's. It might look a lot like the Machida/Rua fight with Silva using his length to score points. We might be able to go even further -- what about Silva vs. Fedor? A striker as talented as Silva would give a guy like Fedor fits. How can you time Silva? How could Fedor possibly get that fight to the mat. I actually think that Silva might have an easier time against Fedor than he would against Machida.
Machida, on the other hand, would also match up well against Fedor, although not as well as Anderson. Machida is very hard to time, but if anybody could do it, it's Fedor. Also, Fedor could easily slip a punch and shoot in for a take down. With Fedor on top, Machida would be done. Never the less, Anderson would be a better choice than Machida for P4P Best.
Fedor is the most interesting character here because he challenges the idea of weight classes as being an accurate indication of what a fighter weighs relative to an opponent. Fedor fights in a weight class that is larger than 3 regular weight classes put together, and he is dominating in this enormous weight class. Fedor himself weighs about 235 lbs, but lets look at his last few opponents: Brett Roger (265 lbs), Andre Arlofski (245 lbs), Tim Sylvia (287 lbs), Hong Man Choi (319 lbs), Mark Hunt (280 lbs) -- Fedor has dominated them all. The only problem I have with giving the P4P Title to Fedor outright (for successful completion of criteria #2), is that the 265+ weight class is not really a legitimate weight class. It would be hard to refer to any of the names I've mentioned as being 'Gods of the Super Heavy Weight Class'. If there were, however, a God at 265+, it would have to be Fedor, and for that reason I think Fedor should be considered the P4P best.
Fedor is on shakey ground. All it takes is one loss for everything to change. I do not believe that Fedor is as robust a fighter as Anderson Silva, in the sense that he dominates his opponents the same way Anderson does. I just think that if your talking about how well a fighter can do at different weights, which is what a pound for pound best is, then you really have to give it to Fedor. I believe that the hulks that Fedor has beaten are very thin talent wise, but I'm not entirely convinced that a guy like Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin could handle Fedor either, and these are guys who are substantially bigger and stronger than him.
When you look at the two criteria: 1) who, theoretically, could dominate multiple weight classes; and 2) who actually has dominated multiple weight classes. Criteria #1 goes to Anderson Silva -- his style, and skill set seems to just be miles ahead of everyone else. Criteria #2 goes to Fedor Emelianenko -- he has dominated such a wide range of weight and if the 265+ weight class is to be considered a legitimate weight class, then Fedor would have to be the God of that weight class. Actual performance should always outweigh theoretical performance, and for that reason...
The MMA Pound For Pound Champion of the World is Fedor Vladimirovich Emelianenko!!