At UFC 144 I believe we watched history in the making. Ben Henderson, in an amazing battle with Frankie Edgar, claimed the Lightweight championship after years of operating in what seemed to be a constant underdog status. People counted him out in his fight with Bocek. More people counted him out in his fight with Miller. He got some love before his fight with Clay Guida. Then coming into his title fight with Frankie Edgar, doubters again said he didn't have it in him. Well he did. He did what no one did to Frankie Edgar, and that was beat him everywhere. Takedowns? Ben got right back up, and he had some of his own. Striking? Ben outlanded Frankie and did the greater damage. He closed almost every round with him being the aggressor, and hell, he could've done that for another twenty five minutes.
"Ladies and gentlemen, after five rounds, we go to the judges' scorecards for a decision. The judges score this contest 49-46, 48-47, and 49-46, for the winner by unanimous decision, and.... NEW UFC Lightweight champion of the world, Benson 'Smooth' Henderson!"
While his performance in this fight was very impressive, that is not the point of this piece. My question is: Will Ben, along with the six other champions be dominating forces for a long time? I get the feeling that they will. I would like to look into each division and their champion, and look at what will be their challenges in the future. I will go a little more in depth with Benson, but this article isn't about just him.
(Rankings used in this post were influenced by those given on February 23, 2012)
26 years old
Current win streak: 10
Current title fight win streak: 5
Next scheduled fight: Urijah Faber
Dominick is a fighter that shows a well rounded game, and he presents an awkward style for his opponents. He doesn't hit exceptionally hard, but he has outstruck almost all of his opponents. Cruz utilizes quick footwork and head movement to create a moving target, and he also has great wrestling chops which he uses both offensively and defensively. Few people have ever taken him down, and even fewer have been able to keep him down. Currently on a streak of four defenses, he will have a rubber match with the only man to hold a win against him in Urijah Faber, a fight I think he will win like he did in their first rematch.
A look at the top five of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings, UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Urijah Faber: Faber has been the only man to beat Cruz, but he also lost a decision in their rematch.He possesses a very good wrestling game as well as improving boxing and respectable submissions. He is Cruz's opposing coach for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, and will be fighting him after the show.He possesses a very good wrestling game as well as improving boxing and respectable submissions. He is Cruz's opposing coach for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, and will be fighting him after the show.
3-Renan Barao: If I had to choose a fighter to beat Dominick Cruz, it would be Barao. He is part of Andre Pederneiras' team at Nova União, where they are quietly becoming above average wrestlers. At only 24 years old, Barao already has had 30 fights, losing his first fight and winning every fight after except for a no contest against Claudemir Souza due to an illegal soccer kick. 19 of his 28 wins have been finishes, 13 of which have been submissions. He also has very good muay thai, as seen in his fight with Brad Pickett where he rocked him with a solid knee to follow up with a submission. He has shown to have great defensive wrestling, nullifying noted wrestler Scott Jorgenson's game plan completely in their fight. He'll probably be getting another fight before any title fight, and I think that if anyone in the division can beat Cruz right now, it's him.
4-Brian Bowles: Bowles, like most of the top guys at this weight, has a very well rounded game. He has respectable stand up and good submissions, and he has only reached a decision once in his career. Despite his skills, his two losses come to #1 Dominick Cruz and #2 Urijah Faber, and I doubt he'd get the win in a rematch with either.
5-Scott Jorgenson: Jorgenson is another fighter on this list with a loss to Dominick Cruz, a decision loss at their fight at WEC 53. Jorgenson has more wins by decision than he has by finishes, but that doesn't mean he's a boring fighter. He is a great wrestler with good power for his division. His boxing is pretty decent but leaves much to be desired. He has shown that he will jump on finishes if he finds them, as seen in his highlight guillotine finish and his brutal knockout while in the guard of Ken Stone. He is a very good fighter, but I just don't see him making the leap he needs to if he wants the strap.
So long as he gets past Faber, the only real challenge here for Cruz is Renan Barao. That fight ultimately seems like a tossup to me, and only time will tell what happens in this division. Another interesting note is that Cruz holds a win over each fighter in the top 5 outside of Renan Barao.
25 years old
Current win streak: 14
Current title fight win streak: 6
Nova União standout and vicious muay thai striker, Aldo is considered one of the pound-for-pound greats. His six title fight wins come between his reigns as WEC and UFC featherweight champion. Of his six wins in title fights, three have been finishes, and two have been dominating decision victories. The lone fight in his title streak that has shown any legitimate weakness in his game was his hard fought decision win over Mark Hominick, a fight he was sick for. Aldo has shown incredible athleticism, speed, and strength, and he clearly has improved his wrestling as he made Chad Mendes look like a newbie in his KO victory over him in Rio.
A look at the top five of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings,UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Hatsu Hioki: Coming off a big decision win over Bart Paleszewski, Hioki is a very impressive grappler with respectable standup. Hioki has shown in his 32 fights that his grappling is exceptional, ten of his wins coming by way of submission. Hioki has never been finished as all of his losses have been decisions. If he has any real weaknesses, it would have to be his striking game and his takedowns, which both are good, but not at the level I would expect to give Aldo any challenge. I would expect them to fight in the western hemisphere if they do fight, and that also may spell trouble for Hioki as he wasn't all too impressive in his first showing agains George Roop.
3-Dustin Poirier: Dustin is another example of a very well rounded guy in the lighter weight classes. He has an above average wrestling game and has pretty sharp striking. His ground game is where he really shines, holding five submission wins and with great ground and pound. He has shown that he can rise to the occasion, as seen in his decision win over Josh Grispi which was supposed to be a fight for him to lose when Jose Aldo had to pull out of a title fight with Josh. If anyone presents a real challenge to Aldo in the future, I'd have to think it's Dustin. He's only 23 and is ever improving. He presents a very aggressive offensive style that is hard to deal with, and he holds a strength advantage over many featherweights. That said, I doubt he'd put up much of a fight at this point in his career.
4-Chad Mendes: Chad is a great wrestler and trains with top bantamweights Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez at Team Alpha Male. He was impressive up until his fight against Aldo where he was, in one word, embarrassed. If he gets another title shot in the future, I have no reason to doubt the champion.
5-Chan Sung Jung: Nicknamed "the Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung has lived up to his nickname and has become a fan favorite in his time in the WEC and the UFC. A brawler sporting a six second knockout over dangerous striker Mark Hominick, I bumped him up in the rankings a few places to put him at #5. He has a slick ground game which goes unnoticed sometimes because people like his brawling fights. Of his twelve wins, seven have been submission victories, including the first twister used in UFC history in his rematch with Leonard Garcia. Ultimately, he doesn't serve much of a challenge to Aldo in the near future, but he's a great fighter and I had to bump him up over some other notable guys, like Erik Koch, who I'm not entirely sold on yet.
***Frankie Edgar: While it's unsure whether or not he'll be heading down in weight, I figured I'd include him here. Edgar, while he is one tough kid, got outmuscled by Bendo in his last fight. He is also very well rounded, but possesses little in the way of power punching and finishing ability. He has top notch wrestling and creates angles very well for his in and out style of boxing. That said, he is also prone to getting hit, and as we saw in the Gray Maynard fights, he is at risk of some brutal knockouts or stoppages if someone can follow up on initial strikes. I think if he fought Aldo it would look similar to Mendes vs. Aldo, but at a higher pace and over the course of two or three rounds.
Ultimately, I doubt any fighters listed above dethrone Aldo for a long time. He has just about zero peers when it comes to sheer athleticism, and his style is the perfect blend of finesse and brutality. He made #2 Chad Mendes look like a wrestling nobody for almost every second of their 4:59 minute bout. He outstruck a very game striker in Mark Hominick while sick. He looked like the guy with more experience when he fought Kenny Florian. If I had to choose a fighter on here that was most likely to beat him now, I'd say Edgar, though chances seem slim. If I had to choose one for the future, I'd say Poirier, and still, I don't really see that happening.
28 years old
Current win streak: 4
Current title fight win streak: 1
Next scheduled fight: Frankie Edgar
Now we have the focus of this "era of champions." Pretty much all other champs have proven their salt. Will Bendo do it? He sports an impressive 16-2 professional record, his only losses were a respectable decision loss to Anthony Pettis and a submission loss in his early days by anaconda choke to Rocky Johnson. Other than the latter mentioned loss, Ben has shown near superhuman abilities at getting himself out of sticky situations on the ground. He's fought dangerous ground fighters such as Shane Roller, Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner, Mark Bocek, and Jim Miller, none have submitted him. Benson utilizes a relentless pace that he keeps the whole fight, be it three or five rounds, and goes out of his way to deliver pain to his opponents. He has awkward standup but he has shown recently that he uses his jab pretty effectively and loves to throw unorthodox kicks. His relentless style mixed with excellent ground work and improving striking lead me to believe he'd be a tough matchup for anyone challenging for his belt in the near future.
I wish to look a little more in depth with him, so here's a look at the top ten of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings, I include Gilbert Melendez here but no other non- UFC fighters), not including him at number 1:
2-Frankie Edgar: A relatively weak hitter and wrestling aficionado averaging around seventeen minutes per fight, few people would expect Frankie Edgar to put on great fights. Despite his combination of skills that usually form a "boring fighter" Edgar has been known to put on some of the best fights in the UFC. His series of three fights with Maynard ultimately provided fans with two of the greatest fights we've seen and let Edgar keep his lightweight strap. Though he was largely doubted, and rightfully so, he was able to put up two title defenses and a draw to top guys. Although I would like for Edgar to go down to featherweight for his own personal safety, there's no denying that he's still one of the top lightweights around. He put up a good fight against Ben Henderson but came up short in just about every department and lost the decision. I think he has what it takes to get back up to a title shot and give Bendo a good fight, but with Benson's recent rate of improvement, I doubt Ben lets their next clash be as close when it occurs.
3-Jim Miller: A grappling whiz and respectable boxer, Jim Miller is undoubtably one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC's roster. Although he is a slick submission artist, he has shown that he can fight well in a gritty battle. He can take some brutal punishment as we saw in his fights with Ben Henderson and Melvin Guillard, the latter of which he was able to win. Although he has a loss to the #1 and #2 in the division, I don't doubt him in a rematch with Edgar. With Ben, we'll see. He has a fight coming up with Nate Diaz for what will probably result in number 1 contendership for the victor.
4-Gilbert Melendez: I'd favor putting him lower on the list, but I am taking influence from the Sbnation rankings, so I had to rank him a little higher. He sports a very in your face style and is good wherever the fight takes place. He sports a total of twelve wins due to stoppage, all from strikes. He is the current Strikeforce lightweight champion and a move to the UFC has been speculated. While he's very well rounded and holds a good deal of skills and experience, there's no one area I'd really call him "elite" at. I think he'd be a tough fight for anyone in the top of the division, but I just won't really think much of him until I see him tested against UFC competition.
5-Nate Diaz: Nate is a cardio machine who throws seemingly endless barrages of punches and has proven nearly impossible to finish, his only loss not by decision was a submission loss to Hermes Franca. While his wrestling has never actually been anything of note, he has finally started to work on making improvements to it. Beyond that, his boxing is very pressure based and he puts together combinations that don't stop. While some have called the Diaz style of boxing "pitter-patter punching" it has proven that accumulated damage works just as well as technical power strikes. His jiu-jitsu is also well above average and he holds a brown belt under Cesar Gracie, a trainer noted for being stingy with belt promotions. His skillset is top-notch, but if he earns a title shot anytime soon, I don't know if I see that he has it in him to take the title from Ben.
6-Gray Maynard: A huge lightweight and powerful wrestler, Gray has floated around the top of the division for a while now and even went to war twice with Frankie for the title. Gray only has a single loss on his record, a TKO loss to Frankie Edgar in their title rematch. He holds wins over top notch competition like Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, and Frankie Edgar. While many fighters in the lightweight division are ever-improving, Maynard has never really evolved past being a wrestler with powerful punches. He rarely uses kicks, he has no submissions to his name, and his only two finishes are against less than stellar opposition. With all of the title shots he's already gotten, I doubt he makes it into the title picture without a few more good wins to his name.
7-Anthony Pettis: Pettis' game can be described in one word: dynamic. It may be an overused adjective in fighting, but he truly fits the bill. Pettis mixes traditional tae kwon do techniques with some capoeira style kicks and personal flare in his more creative techniques, most notably his "showtime kick" which he utilized in his fight with Ben Henderson to claim the championship of the WEC. Along with his intriguing standup game, Pettis also is very threatening on the ground. He has an equal number of submissions and TKOs and has submitted noted grapplers like Shane Roller and knocked out the always tough Joe Lauzon with a beautiful head kick. Anthony holds a win over Ben, but he has recently had trouble because of under par wrestling. He has worked diligently at it and is a complete fighter and one of the top challenges for Henderson in the near future.
8-Clay Guida: Perhaps one of the most hot and cold fighters when it comes to excitement, Guida has been known to put on some of the best and worst shows in MMA today. His fights with Ben Henderson and Diego Sanchez were instant classics, while snoozers like his fight with Anthony Pettis have also given him a bad image among some fans. He is very experienced, with 41 pro fights to his name, 29 of them victories. Of his 29 victories, 19 have been finishes, some over pretty important fighters in the lightweight division, like Takanori Gomi and Rafael Dos Anjos. Although he sports a fairly well rounded skillset; with passable boxing, excellent takedowns, and a large array of submissions, Clay has shown that he just can't keep up with the top of the division, dropping fights to Ben Henderson, Kenny Florian, and Gilbert Melendez. Although he has made big improvements, I just don't see him being a force in the title picture in this division.
9-Donald Cerrone: The final member of the WEC trifecta, Donald Cerrone is a very well rounded fighter with excellent submissions and great kickboxing. While the lightweights of the WEC were already widely critiqued as not being "UFC level" Donald was definitely the least touted of their top three fighters. He had two wins in the UFC over less than impressive competition, and was again looked past as a legitimate contender. Then he followed up these wins with impressive finishes over highly touted lightweights Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver. His impressive record of 17-4 with one no contest shows that he has had plenty of fight experience. He has thirteen submission wins but only one by TKO which came in his fight with Charles Oliveira, but he has rocked plenty of opponents to finish with a submission. Although he had a tough setback against Nate Diaz in his last fight, Cerrone has shown that he can hang with top opposition in his first fight with Ben Henderson in the WEC, which turned into an all out war and fight of the year. Donald has a tough fight scheduled with Jeremy Stephens coming up at UFC on Fuel 3.
10-Joe Lauzon: A terrific jiu jitsu fighter, Joe has had a career studded with big wins and bigger losses. He holds an impressive sixteen submission wins, some of which come over impressive fighters, Melvin Guillard and Jeremy Stephens to name a few. He has been a big underdog before, like in his fights with Jens Pulver and Melvin Guillard, but he came out on top in both, and in impressive fashion. That said, he has also been in big name fights where he was supposed to have a fair chance of winning and flat out choked. Fights with Kenny Florian, George Sotiropoulos, and Anthony Pettis have shown us time and time again that he just doesn't really have the mental game or overall skillset to reach the very top of the division.
Now that we've looked at the top of the division, I can definitely see a long title reign for Ben Henderson if he plays his cards right. While each fighter presents a new style matchup for Ben, I don't see anything that can really push him beyond his boundaries. He is a better overall fighter than Edgar, and he is much stronger. He's already put on a very dominant performance against Jim Miller, and has great submission defense to stop Miller's strongest area, and he can use that against other top guys with great submissions like Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone. He handles pressure fighters very well, and I think he is more well rounded than Nate Diaz, more athletic than Melendez, and more tenacious than Guida. His excellent wrestling would prove problematic for fighters like Gray Maynard, who himself relies on wrestling more than anything else, and against fighters like Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis who have shown wrestling deficiencies in their past. Ultimately, with his great athleticism, powerful and improving striking, and overpowering grappling, he provides a tough matchup for all challengers in the near future.
30 years old
Current win streak: 9
Current title fight win streak: 8
Next scheduled fight: Carlos Condit (?)
Georges St. Pierre is, and has been for a long time, been regarded as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. The question with Georges is not "is he dominant?" it is "can he stay dominant?" Georges, while showing almost no weaknesses in his fights, has been heavily critiqued by MMA fans. He has been described as a boring point fighter, and while I don't necessarily agree with that notion, I can see why one would say that. Decision wins coming over five of his last six opponents, he certainly hasn't shown the killer instinct that got him the nickname "Rush". Now his reign is being questioned by a recent knee injury preventing him from fighting, and people doubt him for when he comes back. Will his knee be as useful as it was before? Is he going to be able to fight with the same explosiveness as before? My response: yes, I think he will. His rehab has been going smoothly and he has prided himself on the healthiest of lifestyles. Not only that, but he is probably the most adaptive fighter we've ever had the pleasure to see fight, and I think that if it does cause some problems, he works around it and finds a way to remain at the very top of the welterweight division.
Again, his division is looking much deeper, so here we'll have a look at the top ten of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings,UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Carlos Condit: Current interim welterweight champion, Carlos is by far one of the most well rounded fighters in the UFC. He has very powerful punches and a wide array of kicks and knees. His footwork is very good and he is known to be a finisher. He is very experienced, with 33 pro fights, and 28 wins to his name. Among his wins, you can see that he is a very well versed finisher, winning by submission and (T)KO thirteen times apiece. Although he has shown weakness in wrestling, he is still a top notch fighter and has the chops to give GSP a great comeback fight if he chooses to wait for GSP's return.
3-Jake Ellenberger: A powerful fighter with solid wrestling and devastating hands, Ellenberger has risen up the ranks as one of the new age of welterweight fighters taking the division by storm. He holds solid wins in his fights with Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields, and put up an amazing fight in a highly competitive split decision loss to current interim champ, Carlos Condit. He has devastating striking, but I'm not sold on his grappling, and if he rises up to get a shot at GSP, I doubt he takes home the belt.
4-Johny Hendricks: Similar to Ellenberger one spot above him, Johny has shown to have great wrestling and powerful striking. He had been regarded highly as a great prospect for a while now, but his twelve second knockout victory over Jon Fitch catapulted him through the rankings as he upset the long-time #2 in the division. He has a tough fight coming up against Fitch's teammate, Josh Koscheck, at the next UFC on FOX event, and I see him taking it in an entertaining fight.
5-Nick Diaz: I'm going to start this off with this: I am no fan of Nick Diaz. I'm not a fan of his attitude, though I do realize he has clear mental instability. In his last fight he had a decision loss to Carlos Condit for the interim strap, which he lost in a competitive fight. He showed here that he had no desire to adapt until the very last round, and that his corner was full of yes men, much like some his overzealous, belligerent fans. Outside of that loss, he has looked impressive in dominant wins over BJ Penn, Paul Daley, and Evangelista Santos. While he has great grappling, he has shown that he just isn't up to par in the wrestling department, and in a division dominated by great wrestlers, I don't think he can stay at the top for long unless he continues to have taylor made matchups for him.
6-Jon Fitch: Boring fighter, got embarrassed by GSP. Got KO'd in twelve seconds by Johny Hendricks. He won't be champion.
7-Josh Koscheck: Koscheck is a fighter that looked like he was going to progress immensely, then just plateaued. He relies heavily on his right hand standing, and doesn't bring much to the table outside of that. He's an explosive wrestler with decent ground and pound but doesn't have an expansive submission game. Kos has lost two decisive decisions to GSP and failed to impress against Mike Pierce in his last fight. He has solid wins over Anthony Johnson, Diego Sanchez and Paul Daley, but when you look at his record, it's noticeably barren of real top welterweights. I doubt the UFC gives him any fights that can lead to a title fight in the future and even if he does get a third fight with GSP, I doubt it ends differently than the first two times.
8-Mike Pierce: I really went against the SBnation rankings here, but I had to. Pierce gave Josh Koscheck a very tough fight, but lost in a controversial decision that I and many others dispute. Although he doesn't have any real wins over top tier opposition, he gave tough fights to the #4 and #7 on my list, and I just couldn't see a case for putting anyone else above him. He has very good wrestling that he uses offensively and defensively and has effective striking and good movement. I don't see him as much of a challenger for the title in the future, but he is better than many fighters in the top heavy welterweight division.
9-Martin Kampmann: Kampmann has always hung around as a name fighter in the welterweight division. He's suffered two tough losses in a row that were in highly controversial decisions. He followed those up with a pretty close fight with Rick Story and a largely unimpressive victory over Thiago Alves. Kampmann seems hot and cold, but he has some very good skills, with solid submissions and standup. He has an equal number of (T)KO finishes and submission finishes, and has shown to have a lot of heart. His wins over Carlos Condit and against Thiago Alves are by far his biggest wins, but he didn't really impress too much in either one. He's probably never going to string together the wins he needs for a title shot, but if he does get one he just doesn't seem to have the mental strength to take it home.
10-Rory MacDonald: Rory is probably the fighter with the brightest future in the welterweight division right now. He has finished all but one of his wins, with the lone decision victory coming over Nate Diaz in a classic beatdown that sent Diaz back down to the lightweight division. Rory is young and has a very well rounded skillset, with five wins by (T)KO and six by submission. His only career loss is one I will call an impressive one, where he gave Car los Condit one of the toughest fights of his career, but was finished with seven seconds left in the fight with a stoppage that was met with some claims of it being unjust. Rory has a fight coming up soon with Che Mills at UFC 145, a fight most people expect him to dominate. If he does get past Che, he deserves a step up in competition and may find himself a fight or two away from a title shot.
Here we have one of the strangest changes in landscape we've seen in any division. It certainly provides many new challenges to GSP. In fact, only two of the last eight fighters he's competed against for the title are still even in the top ten of the division, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Also, those same two fighters are the only in the top ten that he's ever fought, but he beat both convincingly. He has tough challenges ahead of him and there is reason to worry if he can't come back in the same condition as before. Ultimately, each fighter here presents a different challenge for GSP, though I doubt he ever even has to fight some of them.
36 years old
Current win streak: 15
Current title fight win streak: 10
Next opponent: Chael Sonnen
Perhaps the greatest fighter ever to walk this earth, Anderson Silva has been an overwhelming force in the middleweight division. He has a whopping fifteen fight win streak, which includes wins over big names like Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin. His style is calculated and cunning, and he usually just embarrasses all comers. There have been few times the champ has even seen trouble, but the one man to single handedly give him his toughest UFC fight yet, Chael Sonnen, will be back fighting him again in Brazil. It is a fight many want to see, and nobody really knows for sure what will happen, some believe Anderson wins impressively, others believe Chael takes the belt. Only time will tell.
A look at the top five of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings, UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Chael Sonnen: Chael is probably one of the strongest fighters to ever fight at middleweight. He uses a grinding wrestling style with high volume punches from the top to batter and bruise opponents. He gave Anderson Silva what is definitely his toughest fight in the UFC to date, but he came up short with just over a minute left when Anderson got a great triangle armbar and tapped him out. This shows a chink in Chael's armor that has shown itself before, as he has lost seven of his fights by submission, some of which he gave up in a similar fashion. He is coming off an underwhelming performance against Michael Bisping but will be getting a rematch with Silva in his next fight, probably in Brazil.
3-Vitor Belfort: A true veteran of the sport and rival of Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort is one of the last person anyone would want to come at them with strikes. He is known to be a very quick fighter, with excellent punching technique and good power. He has fought and beaten big names in the sport such as Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva, and Rich Franklin. He also has fought Anderson in the past, but all the fight did for him was get him on Anderson's permanent highlight reel when he was knocked out with a front kick just short of two minutes into the fight. He will be coaching The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, which will lead into a rather useless rematch between him and opposing coach Wanderlei Silva. He is expected to mop the floor with Wanderlei, and after that his future in the division seems uncertain.
4-Mark Munoz: Munoz, like Chael Sonnen, is known to be a powerful wrestler. However, where Chael is content throwing light punches from the top, Munoz throws haymakers and each one has bad intents. He is currently on a four fight win streak, with wins over tough middleweights Demian Maia, Chris Leben, C.B. Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson. His only two losses come against two strong opponents in Yushin Okami to whom he lost a split decision, and to Matt Hamill by head kick knockout, both of which have no shame in them at all. He was supposed to meet Chael Sonnen at UFC on FOX 2, but unfortunately had to pull out due to injury. He still doesn't have a fight scheduled which puts him in an awkward postition with most top guys already having fights scheduled. Maybe a fight with Tim Boetsch or Chris Weidman?
5-Chris Weidman: When Yushin Okami dropped out of my top five after his loss to Tim Boetsch, it was a tight race between Chris Weidman and Michael Bisping, but I ultimately chose to put Weidman in because I like him more and he has a more recent win over a top ten opponent. Weidman trains out of the Serra/Longo gym and is known for his great MMA wrestling and his strong submission game. He also sports a respectable standup game, with good power and use of the jab. He has accumulated skills in jiu-jitsu in a very short period of time, which is very impressive and shows he has a strong learning ability. With an ever improving standup game and a threatening, dominant submission game, Weidman may be the man to upstage Silva, and maybe even finish him.
Middleweight is probably, outside of the lighter weight classes, one of the weakest divisions in MMA. Maybe just because Anderson reigns so dominantly and the division still has some very elite fighters in the top few spots, it causes people underneath them to just not look as good. There seems to be somewhat of a middleweight renaissance occurring right now, with fighters like Chris Weidman leading the charge. Only time will tell what happens, but age and a long fight career will catch up with Silva one day, and maybe that day is near. But if Anderson gets past Chael, I don't see any significant threats to his title for a while, as the most imposing to me, Weidman, is probably two or three fights off from a title shot. It's hard to tell.
24 years old
Current win streak: 6
Current title fight win streak: 3
Next scheduled fight: Rashad Evans
When you look at Jon Jones, you may very well be looking at the future face of MMA. Despite a strong dislike among a very vocal part of the MMA community, there is something that everyone can agree on, even those that hate him most: this man is a phenom. He started his professional career in April of 2008 and within just under three years he became the undisputed best in a staple division for the UFC. Last year he had what is largely considered one of, if not the best single year in MMA history. He rattled off four big wins, all finishes, three of them title bouts. He defeated Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Bader, took the title from Shogun in a vicious TKO win, submitted Rampage who had only been submitted once before, and gave Lyoto Machida his first submission loss.
A look at the top five of his weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings, UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Rashad Evans: Evans is an Ultimate Fighter winner, a former college wrestler, and former light heavyweight champion. He boasts a lot of speed at light heavyweight, being that he is much smaller than most at the weight class, despite having fought at heavyweight earlier. He has powerful striking but tends to rely more on just his hands and not too many kicks, knockout of Sean Salmon notwithstanding. His MMA wrestling is well above average, blending strikes and takedowns very well, and his top game is pretty effective. He doesn't have much of a submission game, but he has never been submitted before and is pretty resilient. Despite his strengths, Rashad does have a significant weakness, his chin. He's been knocked down in most of his fights that I can remember, and Lyoto Machida afflicted him with the infamous stanky leg in their showdown for the light heavyweight title. Rashad has only two blemishes on his record, one being the aforementioned stanky leg loss to Machida, the other being a draw with Tito Ortiz at UFC 73 which would have been a decision loss for Rashad had Ortiz not been deducted a point for fence grabbing. Rashad went on to defeat Ortiz in their rematch by TKO in the second round. While Rashad has proven to be a good talent, I doubt he comes out on top in his clash with Jones this April.
3-Dan Henderson: At the ripe old age of 41 years old, Hendo is the oldest fighter on the UFC's roster. The crazy thing with him is that he's actually improved with age. Maybe he isn't a cardio machine or a speedy fighter, but man can he hit a guy. Not only that, but he is excellent, and sometimes underrated, in his ability to cut off the cage. He doesn't let his opponents get room to move, and waits patiently to unload his fists on their face. Hendo is coming of a win in the fight of the year against Mauricio Rua in a competitive, close decision. He would've gotten a title shot had Rashad not been able to fight Jones next. Being that Rashad is in fact getting the shot, Hendo will be on the shelf for a while unless he decides to take a fight. At this point in his career, I'd think this is his last shot, and although he does have some vicious power, that's the only advantage I see for him in a fight with Jones.
4-Mauricio Rua: Shogun is a great Muay Thai fighter best known for his success in PRIDE. Although he's been proven to be an upper echelon guy at light heavyweight, constant knee injuries have put a damper on his UFC career. He had a very tough fight with Dan Henderson that could've gone either way, but he ultimately lost a decision. Shogun has shown to have good power and is still pretty young, but each time he fights he looks less healthy than the last time. He's had great performances but was also pretty much embarrassed by Jones in their fight for the title. While I think that Shogun would beat many of the guys at the top of the division, I just don't see him being on top again like he used to.
5-Lyoto Machida: Machida, like everyone else in the top five outside of Dan Henderson, is a former UFC light heavyweight champion. His unique karate style gives a tough match up for many top guys, and he is also well versed at grappling and submissions. Although he looked very promising coming up and when he took the title, his first defense was a very disputed decision loss to Shogun Rua. Since losing the title to Rua in their rematch, Machida has dropped a decision to Rampage Jackson, knocked out Randy Couture, and was choked out by Jon Jones in their title fight. That puts him in a strange position similar to Shogun's, still being top tier but probably pretty far from a title shot.
Here we see what I will call the most top heavy division in the UFC. You have a dominant guy like Jones in there that has finally stopped the constant light heavyweight title swap, but few people to challenge him after his next opponent. It's not like guys like Machida and Shogun aren't good either, they're levels above many other guys in the division, but they've both been hit with hard times and both have lost to the current champ. Sure there are up and comers like Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson, but what do you rank them? After naming the top five or six in this division, you start to get a little fuzzy, which is why I think Jones will be dominant. He is ruling a division where he'll get recycled challengers and rushed contenders.
Heavyweight-Junior Dos Santos:
27 years old
Current win streak: 9
Current title fight win streak: 1
Next scheduled fight: Alistair Overeem
A quick, explosive power puncher, Junior Dos Santos has taken the heavyweight division by storm. He has speed uncanny for a man his size and uses it well in footwork to set up his devastating punches. He has taken some of the best fighters at heavyweight and made them look foolish for stepping in with him. In addition to great striking, he possesses great takedown defense and pretty good grappling skills. He is dangerous in all areas of the fight, as he has shown to have some of the most brutal ground and pound in the game, although we usually see it after he puts a guy down. He defeated the unbeaten Cain Velasquez in a fight that disappointed some people because it ended too quickly. He is probably one of the best, if not the best, standup fighters in the division. We will get to see in his next fight who truly can make that claim when he takes on Alistair Overeem in his first title defense. He has a pretty busy schedule coming up as well, because heavyweight is experiencing it's own renaissance of sorts, especially with Strikeforce heavyweights being taken in.
Here's a top five of Junior's weight class (according to my rankings, heavily influenced by the USA Today/Sbnation rankings,UFC fighters only), not including him at number 1:
2-Alistair Overeem: The Reem. Ubereem. The Demolition Man. Alistair is a man of many names, all of them show just how incredible of a fighter he is. He was a champion kickboxer in K-1 and also dominated in MMA promotions outside the UFC for years. Overeem possesses a physique that is truly imposing, due to a diet consisting of horse meat and protein shakes. He uses his size to his advantage, he uses kicks at distance and is punishing in the clinch. He has great throws and is known for a great guillotine that has won him eight professional fights. One thing to note with him, though, is that between his kickboxing and MMA careers, he has been finished with strikes ten times. That is pretty big, and seven of those losses due to strikes come in his MMA career. He has shown to sometimes not have the best defense in MMA, without the thick K-1 gloves to provide more protection to his suspect chin. In his fight with Dos Santos, I fully expect this flaw in his game to show itself and leave him under a waving ref within three rounds.
3-Cain Velasquez: Cain is a great wrestler with great wrestling credentials, as well as powerful fists and a strong killer instinct. He utilizes his speed against bigger heavyweights to overwhelm them, as seen in his fight with Brock Lesnar. He was pretty dominant in the division up until getting clobbered by Dos Santos a while back, but I definitely see him getting a comeback. He is still an elite heavyweight, and in his upcoming fight with Frank Mir, if he pulls out a win, that brings him one step closer to a rematch with Dos Santos. Even if he does get the rematch though, I just don't see him being able to change the result against Dos Santos, and I'd expect him to be overwhelmed early by the only heavyweight faster than him.
4-Frank Mir: Always floating around the top of the heavyweight division, Frank Mir is undoubtably one of the finest grapplers in this division. His wrestling may not be great, but he knows how to impose his game on opponents, be it clinch takedowns or making them come to him, he bypasses his wrestling disadvantage by being smart. There lies the problem. He's smart, but not always. He seems to now think that it's okay to be content to stand and bang with the killer elite at heavyweight. To add to that, the man does not have a good chin. He gets rocked too much to put it at risk. He almost lost by TKO to the 2012 version of Big Nog. We can talk about how good Nog was back in the day, but it's pretty embarrassing to even get rocked by him at this point (I'm looking at you, Brendan Schaub). Despite his mental farts, Mir is still dangerous and has shown improvements to many facets of his game and has put on a considerable amount of bulk. Mir faces a terrifying stylistic matchup for him in Cain Velasquez next, but after that fight it's hard to say what he does from there.
5-Fabricio Werdum: Werdum is an interesting success story at heavyweight. While pretty underwhelming in his first UFC stint, he has come back in a big way. Before going deeper, it's important to note that Junior Dos Santos put an end to his first stint with a bang, knocking Werdum out in the first round. After the loss to Dos Santos, Werdum followed up and went to Strikeforce, going on to defeat notable fighters Mike Kyle and Antonio Silva, putting together a nice win streak. That was nothing compared to his next achievement. Only about one minute into the first round of their main event fight at Strikeforce/M-1 Global: Fedor vs. Werdum, Werdum did what no one did to Fedor for over nine years. He defeated Fedor. Not only that, he submitted him. Although this was a huge performance and very important for his career, he followed it with an embarrassing loss to Alistair Overeem in a fight where he constantly avoided engagement on the feet and opted to flop to his back. After this, he came over to the UFC and beat the sense out of Roy Nelson, to a point where Nelson actually thought he won. Werdum showed big improvements in that fight, in his striking and his clinch work. He doesn't have an opponent scheduled yet, but I'd guess he'll be fighting another upper echelon heavyweight in the near future.
Like many of the other divisions, heavyweight is pretty shallow beyond the top five. Sure there are some top tier guys I didn't include here, like Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier, and Shane Carwin. There are also some breakthrough stars like Travis Browne and dare I say, Mark Hunt. But none of these men really stick out that much. The top five who I listed are about the only people I can honestly see in the title picture for a pretty long time, but maybe I'll be proven wrong. Dos Santos has the skillset to defeat any of the fighters in the top five, and I think he'll reign for a long time.
Did Ben Henderson seal the deal on an era of dominant champions? Will he and the other belt holders be able to hold on to what they've earned? I believe so. The fighters atop each weight class have worked tirelessly to get to the position they're in, and each one still improves with each fight. None of these champs are 'flukes,' they all have the skillsets and work ethic that allowed them to reach the top. Many of them are unrivaled, or are close to that point.
From what I've shown above, it is clear to see that some divisions aren't stacked like they used to be. Right now, lightweight and welterweight are the only two that come to mind. While that doesn't necessarily ensure dominance in those 'weaker' divisions, it certainly helps. I'm not necessarily sure if every division being dominated by one guy in each is an idea I enjoy. Maybe it will get boring, I don't know. But for right now, I have little reason to doubt a single UFC champion, and that is why I wrote this piece. What lies ahead in the future may be way off from what I'm saying, but hey, I'm just saying.