The world of MMA is all about what you’ve done for me lately. Nobody cares if you were a champ five years ago or knocked somebody out in 2003. Take Tim Sylvia, the big guy was once considered the best heavyweight in the world and now he’s got his tail between his legs trying to pity himself back into Dana White’s good graces. MMA success is ephemeral, it’s fleeting, it’s like trying to throw a rear naked on a puff of dust. The last few months have seen GSP’s stock drop, Condit’s and Benavidez’s soar and Benson Henderson trade places with Frankie Edgar. Yeah, the fight game is a tricky sucker. Nothing is ever what it appears and nobody stays on top for more than a brief instant. Except for Anderson Silva. Here’s the ten most wanted fighters in the world right now.
There is, of course, an inherent flaw in an interim belt when the person wearing it doesn’t even defend it, as is the case with Condit, who will bypass game challengers like Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann in order to wait for Georges St-Pierre. Which is fine, really, as long as you acknowledge that the belt Condit carries around is just a shiny signifier of the No. 1 contender and not anything substantial. For now, he creeps into the Top 10 as a paper champion. Come November, the Natural Born Killer can prove to the world that GSP’s belt is the one that doesn’t matter.
Over the past three years Melendez has done everything he’s been asked to. Rematch Josh Thompson for the Strikeforce title? Done deal. Take on surging upstart Jorge Masvidal? No problem. Annihilate human pretzel maker Shinya Aoki? Easy. Really, El Nino has been the world’s most dominant lightweight as of late, a powerhouse at 155 with rock steady wrestling and striking to boot. The only problem is he doesn’t fight in the UFC, and in today’s MMA landscape where parity is limited and the sport’s greatest talents all compete under one united banner, that’s a pretty big problem to have.
For a while there it seemed like Bendo’s legacy would be as the man whose face got kicked off by a flying Anthony Pettis. Then he jumped to the UFC and started blowing through opponents like a grumpy tornado. The man known as Smooth says he wants to defend his title more than Anderson Silva, former champ Frankie Edgar says that’s not happening. Call it an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object if you want, but on August 11 something’s got to give.
7.) Joseph Benavidez (16-2) – UFC Flyweight
For years people have been saying that once the UFC got a flyweight division Joe B-Wan would be the cream of the crop. Well that time has come and gone, and guess what? They were right. The Lilliputian dynamo has used the UFC’s mini flyweight tournament merely as a stepping stone to the belt, punching a tiny fist through the front of Yasuhiro Urushitani’s face and making it clear that he’s the baddest man on the planet not tall enough to ride on a rollercoaster. Remember, Benavidez’s only two losses have come against current UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, and one was by split decision. Even at 5-foot-4, that’s awfully hard to overlook.
It only took one punch for dos Santos to become UFC champ, and it only took one defense for him to bring a sense of calm to a division that has been less stable than Charles Barkley on a balance beam. In the history of the UFC no heavyweight has defended his title more than twice, which means that along with Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar and Tim Sylvia are the company’s most successful champions. That’s not exactly a record that makes chills run down your spine, but dos Santos hopes to remedy that. All he has to do is topple once-beaten Cain Velasquez and then beat up on a man with the testosterone levels of an enraged T-Rex. Impossible? For Cigano it’s just another day at the office.
5.) Dominick Cruz (19-1) – UFC Bantamweight Champion
There isn’t a weaker division in the world than 135, but Cruz has ruled over it with such iron-willed command you’d think “the Dominator” handle was more of an official title than a nickname. His long frame and torrid, angular speed has him firmly entrenched atop the bantamweight heap, which at this point is Renan Barao, Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles and a dozen or so individuals shrouded in anonymity and suffering from severe height deficiencies. Cruz’s next battle will be recovering from an ACL tear. Then the war starts when he meets interim champ Barao in a unification bout upon his return.
Aldo wears that nasty scar on his face like a memoriam to Freddy Krueger, which is fitting because he fights like your worst nightmare. His spindly limbs thrust and churn forward at blinding speed and hit home with all the raw power of a lightning bolt, but the worse news for ground savvy wrestlers is that he’s basically impossible to take down. Just ask Chad Mendes, who flopped around with futility for four minutes before getting kneed into another dimension. It looks like the young and mostly unproven Erik Koch is dead set in Scarface’s sights, and after that there might be a fight of the millennium on deck with a particularly undead Korean fighter.
3.) Georges St-Pierre (22-2) UFC Welterweight Champion
Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to GSP in the past year. His knee is in shambles, Carlos Condit stole his belt and guys like Jose Aldo and Jon Jones have upset the long held balance of his and Anderson Silva’s pound for pound dichotomy. Rush is hoping fortune shifts in his favor by November, when he makes his long overdue return to lock horns with incumbent champ Condit. Then, after GSP has his vengeance, it would serve the decision king well to ask Santa Claus for a finish.
Just when you think Jones is gaining ground on the top pound for pound spot, Anderson Silva goes and knees Chael Sonnen’s mouth closed. No matter how incredibly dominant Jones is or how impossibly active he stays, he’ll probably never catch the Spider until he either loses or retires. For Jones, 24, that’s all gravy. Silva can take his one huge superfight a year while Jones continues to knock out MMA legends at a breakneck pace. Next is the immortal Dan Henderson on September 1. After that? Jonny Bones plans to do a little spring cleaning on the rest of the division.
1.) Anderson Silva (32-4) UFC Middleweight Champion
At this point Silva is only further distancing himself from the rest of the planet. There is no doubt that when it comes to beating people up, he’s the best there’s ever been. Not after what he did to nemesis and walking catchphrase Chael Sonnen. Not after what he’s done for the past six years. At 37, his legacy is firmly established and he’s really only trudging forward because when you haven’t lost since 2006, why the heck not? The Spider’s management has shot down any and every middleweight contender, the insane Nick Diaz and a possible clash with Jon Jones. So what’s left? Maybe Rashad Evans. Maybe GSP. Maybe Godzilla. Whoever it is, they better plan ahead and have the hospital prep a room.
About the Author
Written by Erik Schmidt
I was born into a rich sports tradition in Chicago and graduated with a degree in super fandom from Marquette University. As the sports editor and columnist for the award-winning student newspaper the Marquette Tribune, I interviewed current NBA players Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and talked LeBron and the lockout with ESPN's Chris Broussard during a televised roundtable discussion. I firmly believe that Derrick Rose is the best player in the NBA, the Cubs are honest to God cursed and that Jay Cutler has never smiled. The world's greatest sport is MMA, and though I don't have any real fighting experience, I once received 10 stitches in a bar fight. Enjoy my work, and best wishes.