Fedor Emelianenko's stunning loss to Fabricio Werdum didn't just change the landscape in the heavyweight division. It meant more to MMA than just the inevitable crowning of Brock Lesnar as the world's top heavyweight fighter. Fedor also gave up his five year claim to the fictional championship as the top fighter on Earth. That's more important to many fans, media members, and even the fighters themselves, than the linear heavyweight championship, top pound for pound, or any other mythical title that exists in the world of sport.
Fedor wasn't just the best heavyweight. He was indisputably the best fighter in the world. Period. There is always one, a single man who has catapulted himself above his peers to a place of historical significance, the realm of the immortals. Starting with Royce Gracie, the chain of custody has flowed from America to Japan to Brazil and back, finally landing in the hands of mother Russia's own Emelianenko. That's a story for another time, more specifically for tomorrow. Today, let's stay grounded solidly in the present. If Fedor is no longer the best fighter on the planet-who is?
It would make sense for this mythical title to change hands by a victory in the cage, not by fiat. In this case, no matter how big the win over Emelianenko was, it just isn't appropriate. Fabricio Werdum is a great grappler (as Bloody Elbow told you prior to the fight) but he simply isn't the best fighter in his division, let alone the world. He was able to do what had never been done and when opportunity knocked he slammed open the door and grabbed it by the collar. He deserves respect for seizing the moment-but not even his own mother would tell you he's the best in the world.
Who is? We'll discuss the major candidates after the jump.
We could spend a bunch of time building up and dismantling the candidacy of several stellar fighters-but I'm not getting paid by the word so let's cut to the chase. There are two real contenders for the mythical championship and both do their work in the legendary UFC Octagon. They are similar only in their excellence-their fighting styles in the cage couldn't be more different. The best fighter in the world is either Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva. No one else can approach either man's unparalleled abilities or record of success. So let's take a closer look at each man before making this momentous call.
UFC Record: 11-0
Combined Record of UFC Opponents: 186-57 (.765)
Fun Fact: His six title defenses are the most in UFC history.
Strengths: Silva has dominated competition in a four year run on top of the UFC's middleweight division. His undefeated record speaks for itself and it's a record compiled against the very best fighters the UFC could locate in his weight class. Silva has been so good, he's had to move up a weight class to find stiffer competition, and even at 205 pounds a former world champion wasn't able to give him a fight.
Weakness: There is still a lingering question about how well Silva will perform against a standout wrestler, the bane of many similar strikers historically. His fight next month against Chael Sonnen will answers these questions once and for all.
Miscellaneous: Silva has been criticized by almost everyone in the sport for several bizarre performances that saw the champion do more dancing than fighting. Ever since a lackluster performance against Patrick Cote at UFC 90, paying customers have had no idea which Anderson Silva will show up any given night. Will it be the Silva who destroyed Forrest Griffin? Or the Silva who shimmied and screamed for 25 minutes against Demian Maia?
Georges St. Pierre:
UFC Record: 15-2
Combined Record of UFC Opponents: 284-75 (.791)
Fun Fact: Two time welterweight champion
Strengths: St. Pierre is the greatest grappler in the game. No one, not even All American wrestlers like Josh Koscheck or Matt Hughes, has been able to stop St. Pierre from taking them to the mat on a whim. And, once he gets you there, St. Pierre is fully capable of finishing the fight with a variety of submission holds.
Weaknesses: Matt Serra's stunning upset at UFC 69 forever altered St. Pierre's style. He seems tentative standing, like he's constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like the best answers in a job interview, this weakness may actually be a strength. Anytime a ground fighter can convince himself that his best chances are down on the floor, success seems to follow.
Miscellaneous: Georges is the sport's first break out star. Under the management of Shari Spencer, St. Pierre has broken new ground in the mainstream. His good lucks, charm, and class have helped the sport make important in roads in the broader world of athletics.
To me, this all turns on the miscellany. St. Pierre represents the sport well. I'm proud to embrace him as one of our own. When you look at both men's track record of success, this is the may distinguishing factor. Do we want the best fighter in the sport to be a temperamental wack job who decides on a whim he just doesn't feel like fighting on any given night? Or would we rather see MMA defined by a hard working and modest man who believes winning follows hard work and perseverance? I know who I'm going to war with. What about you?
Update: My thoughts on what it means to be the mythical top fighter in the sport.
The top fighter in the game is something more than that. It’s a status symbol, a designation as the top guy in the industry. It means you are the big dog, but isn’t the same as saying you are the toughest man on the planet. For example, when Frank Shamrock had the crown, I don’t think anyone would have picked him over Mark Kerr. But he was still the best fighter in the industry.
It's all about aura and the perception you are the top fighter in the game. Someone who is reasonably considered the number one fighter in the sport with a strong showing in any measurable category of achievement. Star power, skill, success in the cage/ring. It all factors in. Presence. How fans perceive them. The total package.