1.) Jon Jones - Jones has yet to be in any danger in his career, He possesses unparalleled athleticism. People thought Machida's style was unbeatable; we were wrong. When Jones (legit) loses it will be the upset of the year.
2.)Rashad Evans - Sat out 15 months in order to fight for the title, but once Jones needed extra time to rehab his thumb, Evans suddenly couldn't wait any longer to fight. Who's ducking whom, homey? If he loses to Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans will officially go down as the worst decision maker in the history of man.loses his first fight, it will be the upset of the year in whichever year it happens. If it happens, that is.
3.) Mauricio Rua - Hard to believe he's both the aging veteran and the forgotten man of the division. Once the most feared man in the sport, he's still elite, but will need to come up with something new if he's ever going to topple Jones. I am so stoked for the rematch with Griffin next month,
4.) Quinton Jackson - Capable of being one of the most dynamic fighters in the world, Rampage seems resigned to finishing out his career as a one-dimensional power puncher. And that's a shame, because he might have the tools to give Jon Jones the biggest test of his career.
5.) Lyoto Machida - The 'Machida Era' may not have lived up to its potential, but that doesn't mean there isn't more greatness in store for Machida. I don't think he can beat Jones, but at least he has a style that will make Jones have to think his way to victory. That or Jones will rush in, take him down, and splatter his brains onto the canvas.
6.) Forrest Griffin - Griffin is the biggest enigma in this division, at least in my eyes. He seems both warm and surly; huge but lacking power; smart but preferring to brawl. I think I like the guy, and his style, but I'm never 100% sure about that. I can say that his fight with Shogun is the August fight I am anticipating the most.
7.) Dan Henderson - Honestly, I think Henderson is better than Jackson, but Jackson did beat him heads up at UFC 75. Both guys are fantastic wrestlers who rely on their insane punching power, but that style has served Henderson better than it has served Jackson recently.
8.) Phil Davis - The next big thing? Rashad Evans. Davis comes to the sport with great wrestling credentials, but has worked on his submission grappling more than his boxing, endearing himself to me more than had he gone the typical wrestle-boxer route (see Bader, Ryan).
9.) Gegard Mousasi - He's about as good as it gets in this division standing, but if you can't defend a takedown, there's always a glass ceiling that you won't break through.
10.) Tito Ortiz - Couple weeks ago, I sure as hell didn't think Ortiz would be in my top 25. Or top 100. But here he is. One victory every five years and he's in the top 10. But I have to say, his win over Ryan Bader was the best moment of 2011, and I've been nothing but critical of Ortiz for several years now. Anyone who couldn't feel good for the guy in the moments after he submitted Bader , he will try to defeat n.2 to become the n.1 contender.
11.) Rich Franklin - I never know what to make of Rich Franklin. His reign as UFC MW champion is less impressive than people seem to remember. He's 2-2 at 195 lbs. (aka, Franklinweight). He's 2-2 since returning to LHW at UFC 88. He hasn't won two fights in a row since beating Travis Lutter and Matt Hamill in 2008. But I still consider him an all-time great. Why is that? I'm legitimately curious.
12.) Antonio Rogerio Nogueira - A guy whose current career arc kind of rivals Franklin's. Might not be as good historically as we perceive him to be. He's not likely to ever sniff a title shot, but he's a big enough name( thanks to his brother) to be booked into big fights.
13.) Rafael Cavalcante - And now we're into the area where everyone is as good as everyone else. How good is Feijao? Damned if I know. His best win is over King Mo, whose best win is over Mousasi, whose best win (at 205) is over Babalu Sobral who isn't a top 25 guy. So subjectively, I just think Feijao is better than the next tier of UFC guys on this list.
14.) Muhammed Lawal - A serious prospect, King Mo unquestionably has top 10 talent and a serious wrestling pedigree. Sometimes it's hard to get past the flash and self-promotion to really realize. Hasn't fought since getting KO'd by Feijao last year. His fight in September against Roger Gracie will be his first since that loss, and since damaging his knee.
15.) Vladimir Matyushenko - After winning two uninspiring decisions over mediocre fighters upon returning to the UFC in 2009, and then getting lambasted by Jon Jones, the Janitor turned a lot of heads with convincing back to back finishes over Alexandre Ferreira and Jason Brilz..
16.) Alexander Gustafsson - I think Matyushenko is going to be in for a world of hurt when he fights Gustafsson, but Gustafsson doesn't have the resume to warrant being ranked ahead of Matyushenko. Yet. Gustafsson is a serious talent who will be in the top five of the division two years from now.
17.) Matt Hamill - I don't think there's a chance in hell that Matt Hamill will ever climb higher on this list. He's a good fighter, but nothing special. He beats the guys he's supposed to, and has a fantastic backstory, but he's peaked. He's had a career to be proud of to this point, for sure.
18.) Ryan Bader - Bader is going to go down as the guy who let Tito Ortiz back into the conversation (which I think is about 1 step behind being 'in the mix,' but is a step ahead of being 'in line'). There's no shame in getting beaten by Jon Jones, and there's no shame in getting caught with a short right like he was against Ortiz. But a two losses in a row means Bader's one more loss away from having a meeting with Mark Pavelich, and there ain't no UFC fighter who ever wants to have that meeting.
19.) Roger Gracie - If you believe in tiers in rankings, Gracie is the last of a group, starting at #12 with Feijao, because there's a steep drop of fin the division between Gracie and the next group below him. Gracie has been nothing but dominant in his brief professional career, and a fight with the relatively inexperienced King Mo Lawal in September is perfect matchmaking. My heart broke a little when this fight got moved from the July 30 card .
20.) Stephan Bonnar : Yikes!!