[Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez are two of the best mixed martial artists in the world. But judging by each fighter's absence from some "Top 10" pound-for-pound MMA rankings, the promotion they fight for might matter more than their division dominance.]
Now that UFC 132 has come and gone, it's that time of year again — time to update the MMA world rankings, divisional and pound-for-pound. Much remains unchanged. However, Dominick Cruz and his status among the world's best indirectly prompts an interesting question about the "Top 10" pound-for-pound MMA fighters.
At MMA Fighting, Michael David Smith recently released his new P4P rankings, and commenters were quick to note something seemingly unfair — the list only includes fighters currently signed with the UFC.
1. Anderson Silva (1)
2. Georges St. Pierre (2)
3. Jon Jones (3)
4. Jose Aldo (4)
5. Dominick Cruz (5)
6. Frank Edgar (6)
7. Gray Maynard (7)
8. Cain Velasquez (8)
9. Junior dos Santos (NR)
10. Shogun Rua (9)
[Note: Editorial text omitted for brevity.]
In general, I usually don't agree with Smith on his rankings. He tends to let personal judgements override actual fight results and judges' decisions, which is one reason why he ranks Lyoto Machida ahead of Rampage Jackson despite the former's recent loss to the latter at UFC 123. (More strangely, MDS also ranks Vitor Belfort as the #3 in the middleweight division.) In this case, it's the inclusion of Junior Dos Santos and a continued showing for Shogun Rua. In my mind, JDS hasn't quite broken the list with his lacking resume (Shane Carwin remains his highest profile win), while Shogun Rua is 1-2 in his last three fights.
Still, commenters have noted several other fighters worth of inclusion in the list at various places, but two names frequently pop up more than others: Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez.
By all means, Gilbert Melendez should be in every pound-for-pound MMA list — despite his residence in a talent pool that's admittedly as shallow as the rest of Strikeforce's roster, it's still populated with a handful of dangerous fighters. He holds recent wins over Shinya Aoki, Josh Thompson, and Tatsuya Kawajiri. And most importantly, Melendez boasts an impressive 19-2 record, with his only two losses avenged.
Additionally, Eddie Alvarez shouldn't be discounted because he sticks to Bellator like an old man to his favorite lounging chair. His recent wins have also come against solid competition in Pat Curran, Roger Huerta, and Katsunori Kikuno. Although he's a few notches above the rest of the roster, Eddie Alvarez is nonetheless a world beater.
However, as quickly as these names pop up, they're shot down by one ringing statement — neither fighter competes in the UFC, so they're clearly not facing competition that warrants pound-for-pound status.
What's strange is that this statement actually makes a lot of sense.
While the UFC faced notable competition from a variety of other fight promotions not more than two years ago, the landscape has changed. Bantamweights and featherweights are now part of the UFC family due to the WEC merger. Strikeforce is owned by Zuffa, where Dana White and Joe Silva can freely poach the most lucrative talent away from the rest of the pack. Now, the UFC is finally what Dana White always boasted it to be, the MMA equivalent of the NFL or the NBA. Only top-tier fighters work in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and with such a disparity in talent between them and everyone else, perhaps the pound-for-pound MMA rankings might as well be a UFC-exclusive club.
Out of the 10 slots in the MMA pound-for-pound rankings, MMA Playground, Heavy.com, Yahoo Sports, and Sherdog each currently devote nine of them to UFC fighters. Even Fight Matrix's own "Division Dominance" list includes nothing but UFC fighters. And should all those fighters lose their next bouts, they will likely be replaced in the rankings by other UFC fighters.
Do the days still exist where a rogue fighter can beat any and every other mixed martial artist outside the UFC, yet crack the "Top 10" pound-for-pound rankings? Probably not. But it would be an interesting thing to see.
[McKinley Noble is a staff editor at GamePro and an MMA conspiracy theorist. Follow his Twitter account for crazy talk, 1990s movie references, and general weirdness. Or you could just stalk him on Google.]