HDHU Light Heavyweight Rankings, January 2012

#MMA #Rankings @UFC @JonnyBones @SugaRashadEvans @DanHendo @PhilMrWonderful @AlexTheMauler

Failte,

The Light Heavyweight division is a good microcosm of how I see the whole of MMA at the moment – in a state of generational flux.  For years, 205lbs was considered the most stacked division with guys like Rampage Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Shogun Rua competing with Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Keith Jardine for title opportunities.  Now, most of that generation have either retired (Liddell, Couture) moved out of the UFC (Jardine) or have had their day in the sun with the title and been moved down the card on account of losing as often as winning (Rampage, Shogun, Forrest.)  This has left a new generation of stars breaking into title contention – Light Heavyweight even has a relative rookie as the champion in the shape of the insultingly young Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, with the likes of Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson and even Ryan Bader following on behind.

The state of flux comes when the younger generation who perhaps DESERVE the title shot more on account of winning more of their matches aren’t at the level yet where they draw enough to really get the shot, meaning more established fighters are given title shots with more spotty recent record (see Rampage, Machida.)  Fortunately, the UFC brass seems to recognise this and is placing these hotshots in matches where (if successful) they’ll quickly become huge stars.

Of the guys who were big stars before UFC 100, we still have Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson rightly in the title frame, but this year we should see someone like Phil Davis or Mauler Gustafsson getting a title shot (assuming either man can win their next match, against Evans or Rogerio Nogueira respectively, but both on free network TV) and Jones vs. Davis/Gustafsson for the title would surely mark the point where the generational shift is complete and any ‘veteran’ getting a shot after that point would surely be more the aberration that the main story, so to speak.  We live in interesting times…

Anyhow, it’s been an interesting few months at Light Heavyweight and while some folks on this list haven’t been active, some of them have and their results and performances have been very interesting.  This is how I see the division at the moment.

1              Jon Jones 15-1 (8-1) UFC  – Current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

As predicted, Lyoto Machida presented a singular test to Bones’ abilities – a test he passed with flying colours, responding to losing the first round by getting a takedown, busting Machida open with one of his trademark elbows and finishing the fight with a standing guillotine.  I have to admit that I’m none too fond of the way he callously dropped Machida after the referee stepped in – I’m well aware the referee told him to release the hold, but he could have shown more regard for his opponent than dropping him, to fall unconscious to the floor AFTER the match was won.
However that has no bearing on his in ring abilities and having dispatched the best muay thai artist in the division (Shogun), one of the most celebrated sprawl & brawl artists (Rampage) and the most elusive counter striker (Machida) it’s a big question as to who can unseat Jones.  It looks like it’ll be Dan Henderson (with his high level Greco-roman wrestling and Right Hand of Doom) or the winner of Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis (both top notch wrestlers with underrated stand-up) next in any case…

2              Rashad Evans 16-1-1 (3-1) UFC

Rashad hasn’t been active since his win over Tito Ortiz in August, basically waiting for his expected bout against Phil Davis to come to fruition.  It seems he’s been the #1 contender to the LHW belt forever (effectively winning that status when he decisioned Rampage in August 2010) but it turns out that waiting for Shogun wasn’t the best plan when Rashad ended getting injured TWICE and lost out on title shots (which ended up going to Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson.)  Rashad recovered by defeating Tito Ortiz and now has a bout scheduled against up & comer Phil Davis at UFC on FOX 2 with the winner set to get a title shot in the summer.  Rashad’s #1 contender slot at Shogun has turned into a former teammate grudge match against Jon Jones as Rashad was so offended by Jones accepting ‘his’ shot at Shogun followed by Jones saying he’d be happy to face Rashad for the belt (after years of Rashad saying he wouldn’t face a teammate – usually referring to Keith Jardine) that he left Jackson’s Gym where Jones was the new golden boy.  If Rashad beats Davis, he’ll be the #1 contender and get his shot…

3              Dan Henderson 29-8 (6-1) [3-0 at 205lbs] UFC

Hendo left the UFC as the de facto #1 contender to Anderson Silva’s belt, lost his first Strikeforce match to Jake Shields and moved back up to light heavyweight.  Wins over Renato Sobral and Rafael Cavalcante won him the Strikeforce 205lb strap and he followed that up with a win over Fedor Emelianenko (notionally) at Heavyweight.  His return to the UFC was in a highly entertaining and victorious effort against former champion Mauricio Rua and that win catapulted Henderson to the edge of title contention.  One of the oldest elite level mixed martial artists, Henderson wants his shot at the belt as soon as possible and has reportedly refused a bout against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira as being beneath his current interests.  This could yet pay dividends as if Jon Jones is indeed ready for another match and with Evans-Davis yet to happen, Henderson could be the logical choice for a title match which comes sooner rather than later.

4              Phil Davis 9-0 (8-0) UFC

Mr Wonderful has had an organise rise since his debut in 2008 and since his UFC debut in February 2010 he has handed Alexander Gustafsson his only loss, sent Brian Stann and Tim Boetsch down to the 185lb division and won a decision over Rogerio Nogueira to find himself right in the title mix.
A wrestler by inclination, Davis tends to win his fights by decision or submission (his two TKO wins coming from the early portion of his career where his opponents were well overmatched) and thus far has only gained one OTN bonus in his five match UFC career (for his submission of Tim Boetsch) but the fact that he’s kept winning in a division where many of the biggest stars are in sporadic form has moved him past the likes of Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader etc. to stand one win away from a title shot.  The man in his way is perhaps his equal in wrestling and is perhaps a better striker, so it’ll be interesting to see how Phil vs. Rashad goes down.

5              Alexander Gustafsson 13-1(6-1) UFC

The Mauler responded to his only career loss (to #4 Phil Davis) in his second UFC bout by going on a four fight win streak, knocking off Cyrile Diabite, James Te-Huna, Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko all within the first two rounds.  Gustafsson has earned his place at the top table and has a chance to further prove his credentials with a main event bout in his home country against Rogerio Nogueira.  A win there would see him right in title contention, perhaps next in line depending how the Jones-Henderson-Evans-Davis tangle works out.  IMHO Gustafsson is one of the most entertaining young fighters in the division and, having only gone to a decision once in his 14 fight career with a tendency to score his wins early, I’d LOVE to see him challenge Jon Jones for the title.  It may come soon…

6              Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua 20-6 (4-3) UFC

Shogun may only have a +1 record in the last few years, but his losses have come via poor judging (to Machida), in a pretty close, epic fight (to Henderson) and in decisive fashion to a rising force (against Jones.)  His loss to Jones could (charitably) be put down to ring rust but the fact that he would have lost a three round match to Henderson 30-27 is probably more worrying.
When Shogun is on, as he was against Forrest Griffin and in both Machida matches – especially the second – he is one of the most terrifying strikers in the division.  However, he has a tendency towards mental weakness and being frustrated by wrestlers which has seen him drop out of title contention.  I’m a massive Rua fan and I’d love nothing more than to see him go on a streak and reclaim the 205lb title… but it’s a long road back and I can’t see any way he’;d get a shot before mid 2013 at the soonest.

7              Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson 32-9 (3-2) UFC

Rampage did better than expected against Jon Jones, being the first to take him into the championship rounds (although arguably Stephen Bonnar and Andrea Gusmao can say the same as they survived to take Jones to a decision) but it’s hard to know where Rampage stands in the division now.  He hasn’t scored a truly decisive win since he KOd Wanderlei Silva in 2008 and his dedication to MMA has been called into question a few times.  Can he rally to make another run at the title?  I’d like to see him tangle with Shogun to see which of them gets to stay in contention – stick that on a card in Japan to draw in the old PRIDE fans…

8              Lyoto Machida 17-3 (4-3) UFC

The Dragon is perhaps the first fighter to win a round against Jon Jones, his counter striking and movement really paying off in the opening round of his UFC 140 title challenge… before Jones took him down, busted him open with an elbow and choked him out in the second.  The loss leaves Machida 1-3 in his last four, with the only win coming against Randy Couture.  Like Rampage and Shogun, it’s hard to know where Machida stands now, with a losing record in recent memory, having lost decisively to the champion…  A match against the loser of Evans vs. Davis would make sense, although there is enduring smack talk between Machida and Chael Sonnen, with Machida having mooted a move to 185lbs.  Interesting…

9              Gegard Mousasi 32-3-2 [8-1-1) [6-1-1 at 205lbs] Strikeforce / DREAM – Current DREAM Light Heavyweight Champion

Despite his less than inspiring draw against Keith Jardine, the Dreamcatcher has won four out of five bouts since losing his Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title to King Mo.  Decisive wins in Japan and a solid decision over Ovince St-Preux have raised his stock again, and with Lawal’s failed steroid test, I’d say he is probably the top lightweight outside the UFC.   Given the state of Strikeforce, it will be interesting to see where Mousasi goes from here.  A move to the UFC is a possibility, while perhaps a shot at the resurrected Strikeforce belt, probably against Feijao Cavalcante is equally likely.

10           Antonio Rogerio Nogueira 20-5 (5-2) UFC

Lil Nog sneaks into the rankings on account of Muhammad Lawal’s failed drugs test and Stanislav Nedkov’s relative inactivity.  His stoppage win over Tito Ortiz pulled him back into the top teir following decision losses to up & comers Ryan Bader & Phil Davis.  Nog now finds himself playing gatekeeper again, being set to face a more aggressive youngster in the shape of Alexander Gustafsson.  A win over Gustafsson should put Nog on the outside of the title picture, while a loss will confirm his new role as a solid main card fighter, but more of a nostalgia act/gatekeeper for the youngsters to get past on their way to the top table (both Bader & Davis found themselves in what were effectively title eliminators after beating Nog.)

Honourable Mentions

Ryan Bader 13-2 (5-2) UFC,  Rafael Cavalcante 11-3 (4-2) Strikeforce ,  Muhammad Lawal 9-1 (7-1) Strikeforce (would have ranked #6 but for his recent failed steroids test),  Vladimir Matyuschenko  26-6 (5-3) UFC,  Stanislav Nedkov 12-0 (4-0) UFC, Ovince St. Preux 11-5 (11-3) Strikeforce

That’s how I see the division stacking up ahead of next weekend’s UFC on FOX 2 card, where the Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis fight has the chance to mix things up at the top.  If Rashad wins, he’s still #2 but with a cast iron shot at Jones, while if Davis wins, he’ll leapfrog Henderson into #2 with Rashad dropping out of the top 5 on account of being on a loss.  It’s all to fight for!

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Slainte,

Chris

HDHU Heavyweight Rankings, January 2012

#MMA @UFC @junior_cigano @cainmma @Alistairovereem @thefrankmir

Failte,

It’s been a big few months for the heavyweight division since we last posted rankings.  The UFC title has changed hands, Minotauro has been submitted, Alistair Overeem has made a winning debut in the UFC and Brock Lesnar has retired, so things have been shaken up a bit.  Of course with the announcement of his retirement, I have not ranked Brock Lesnar (he would have come in at #7) but a column talking about his MMA career and impact on the sport will follow.  Without further ado, let’s have a look at the state of the heavyweight division, as I see it…

1 Junior dos Santos 14-1 (7-0) UFC – UFC Heavyweight Champion

By knocking out Cain Velasquez in just over a minute at UFC on FOX 1 to break Velasquez undefeated streak and take the UFC belt, Junior dos Santos made himself almost inarguably the top heavyweight on the planet.  With his title victory preceded by comprehensive decision wins over top ranked opposition like Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson and a series of highlight reel knockouts over top strikers like Gabriel Gonzaga and Stefan Struve the only man who can reasonably contest that accolade, Alistair Overeem looks set to be his next opponent, probably in mid-2012.  I have to say, I can’t wait for that one…

2  Alistair Overeem 36-11-0-1 (7-0) UFC

The Demolition Man is undefeated since 2007 and has only been defeated once since moving up the heavyweight division.  Indeed, to look at Overeem now it’s almost hard to believe he ever competed at 205lbs…  It has to be said that due to being outside of the UFC his standard of opposition has been questionable at times and he largely failed to compete against even the top non-UFC guys prior to 2010.  I can’t help feeling matches against the likes of Arlovski or Emelianenko would have been much more interesting and beneficial to all concerned, but perhaps Alistair was more focussed on winning the K-1 GP than his MMA career for a while… 
2010 and 2011 provided more focus and consistency from Overeem and first round knockouts of capable fighters Brett Rogers and Todd Duffee combined with a decision win over Fabricio Werdum led him back to the UFC where he TKO’d former UFC champion Brock Lesnar in the first round to announce his arrival as a major name in the US scene and earn a shot at dos Santos’ UFC belt.

3 Frank Mir 16-4 (4-2) UFC

Arguably the in-form heavyweight in the UFC who isn’t currently in the title mix, Mir is riding a 3-0 streak with his KO win over Mirko Cro Cop, dominant decision over Roy Nelson and landmark submission of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, with his only losses coming in title situations against Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar.  In my eyes, Mir has never looked better and is surely in line for a #1 contenders match, putting him one win away from a title shot at the winner of Dos Santos vs. Overeem. 

4 Josh Barnett 31-5 (5-0) Strikeforce

‘The Warmaster’ may be a controversial figure, with his several failed drug tests and his newfound tendency to cut pro wrestling style promos (which I love, btw) but you can’t argue with an 8-0 win streak dating back to 2006 and the almost contemptuous ease with which he controlled, dominated and submitted Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov to advance to the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.  In that match, he’ll face one of the few men who can match him from a wrestling PoV – Daniel Cormier and it will be very interesting to see where the fight is decided.  Given that Strikeforce is now owned by the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa the winner of that match will surely be in close contention for a shot at the UFC Champion

5 Daniel Cormier 9-0 (9-0) Strikeforce

A celebrated college and Olympic calibre wrestler, Daniel Cormier was always marked for big things in MMA and his rise has been fast and impressive, especially considering that despite his wrestling pedigree seven of his nin victories have come via stoppage.  Coming to prominence in 2011 with wins over respected veteran Jeff Monson and a very impressive KO stoppage of Antonio ‘Bogfoot’ Silva in the semi-finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix (Cormier entered the tournament as an alternate for Alistair Overeem) he now has the opportunity to face another veteran of the sport, former UFC champion, Josh Barnett in the tournament final.  A win there would cement Cormier in the top five rankings and place him in consideration for the UFC title.  Of course, the fact that Cormier is quite small for a heavyweight and his larger teammate Cain Velasquez is already embedded in the UFC 265lb division might mean that a drop to Light Heavyweight could be on the cards…

6 Cain Velasquez 9-1 (5-1) UFC

I’d probably rank Cain equal to or above Barnett, Cornier and perhaps even Overeem but I have a tacit rule that you can’t be top #5 if you’re coming off a loss.  So #6 is where he goes.  Cain looked incredible in his run to the UFC title, becoming only the second man to stop Big Nog, surviving some solid shots from Cheick Kongo and outwrestling everyone he faced – including Brock Lesnar.  It’s also worth noting that a first minute KO against Junior dos Santos is nothing to be ashamed of, after all anyone can get caught at any time and when you get caught by a good shot from one of the best strikers in the division, you tend to wake up on your back, counting the pretty birdies.
Cain is supposedly taking some time out to rehab nagging injuries but I would be astonished if he doesn’t come back even scarier than before and works his way back to a title challenge before the end of 2013.

7 Fabricio Werdum 14-5 (3-1) UFC

It’s a testament to the relative weakness of the heavyweight division that I’m compelled to rank a fighter who spent the entirety of his last fight on his back, refusing to engage at #7.  Werdum is an elite level submission artist – that much is true but he seems to suffer against elite level strikers with four of his five losses coming by being unable to cope with a better striker (although his TKO wins over Brandon Vera and Gabriel Gonzaga do attest that he is capable of trading on the feet – maybe it’s a mental thing.)  Werdum is moving from Strikeforce to the UFC where he is set to face fellow celebrated grappler Roy Nelson at UFC 143.  Given Werdum’s craven performance against Overeem, I’m not ashamed to say that I hope Big Country knocks him out.

8 Cheick Kongo 17-6-2 (4-2-1) UFC

I love Cheick Kongo, but I’m the first to admit he’s not the best rounded fighter.  However, losing a decision to Cain Velasquez and a submission to Frank Mir are nothing to be ashamed of and his ability to put the only flaw on Travis Browne’s record, to survive some nasty strikes from Pat Barry and still come away with a KO win and hand Matt Mitrione his first defeat mean I’ve got no problem with ranking him in the top ten.  He faces Mark Hunt at UFC 144 which is pretty much a no win, but could lose badly match for Kongo, so hopefully a win there gets him a more top level opponent, even if he is doomed to gatekeeper status due to his relative limitations.

9 Travis Browne 12-0-1 (12-0-1) UFC

While Browne is a relative newcomer to the UFC he has acquitted himself well against some quality opposition, with his draw against Cheick Kongo and his highlight reel KO of Stefan Struve showing he can aquit himself against more experienced opposition.  He faces former Strikeforce fighter Chad Griggs at UFC 145 and the winner can expect to be facing more rarefied opposition after that.

10 Antonio Silva 16-3 (5-2) Strikeforce

In my eyes, Silva’s losses to Werdum and Cormier are more telling than his wins over fading stars (Arlovski and Emelianenko) and a journeyman light heavyweight (Mike Kyle.)  It seems to me that Silva only wins when he faces second rate (or mentally drained) fighters who he can physically out-size and he falls when he faces confident top level strikers.  The fact that he is practically the only name Strikeforce heavyweight (aside from Barnett and Cormier who are still committed to the Grand Prix) that the UFC haven’t snapped up shows that Joe Silva doesn’t have much interest in him.

Honorable Mentions

Shane Carwin 12-2 (2-2) UFC
Back to back losses (albeit to top flight opposition) and relative inactivity thanks to neck and back injuries mean I can’t rank Carwin in the top ten.  Indeed, given his injury status I’d be a bit surprised if we see him in the Octagon again.

Fedor Emelianenko 33-4-0-1 (4-3) Freelance
Three consecutive losses, to second rate heavyweights and a top notch Light Heavyweight did irreparable damage to Fedor’s aura.  A solid decision win over journeyman Jeff Monson and a first round KO of highly regarded Japanese Light Heavyweight Satoshi Ishii have steadied the ship, but it remains to be seen if Fedor has the will to return to the top of the MMA tree, if indeed his advisors would let him…

Chad Griggs 11-1 (4-0) UFC
Fast rising and in good form, Griggs gets his chance to test his mettle in the deeper waters of the UFC against fellow up & coming knockout artist Travis Browne at UFC145.  A win in that match should elevate the winner to the outer fringes of title contention and some bigger name opposition.

Jeff Monson 43-13 (15-5) Freelance
One of the hardest working fighters in MMA, Monson has fought twenty times in the last three years (an average of more than 6 matches a year) and won 75% of them.  The archtypical journeyman gatekeeper, Monson will beat anyone who isn’t good enough to really compete at the top level of the sport but will fall to genuine quality.  For all that he won’t be signed by the UFC again I feel he needs mentioned…

Roy Nelson 16-6 (3-3) UFC
Losses to Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos and even Jeff Monson are nothing to be ashamed of, but Nelson’s slovenly form and style in the most recent of those losses put his UFC career in jeopardy.  A win over Cro Cop steadied the ship, but I feel Nelson needs at the very least a good performance (and more athletic figure) against Werdum at UFC 143.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 33-7-1-1 (2-2) UFC
(It seems I’m saying this a lot, but…) Losses to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez are nothing to be ashamed of, but the way in which his guillotine attempt was reversed into a textbook kimura by Mir at UFC 140 put a huge hole in Nogueira’s reputation as the finest jiu-jitsu artist in the heavyweight division.  Nog has been finished in three of his last five matches, with the wins coming against an older, much smaller fighter (Couture) and a overmatched American, facing Nog on his home turf.
Given that Nogueira now has to take a significant amount of time out to rehab his broken arm, it’s debateable as to whether he will return to the top of the division, indeed if he returns at all.

Brendan Schaub 8-2 (6-2) UFC
A 4-0 streak between losing the TUF 10 finale to Roy Nelson and losing to Nogueira in Brazil had Schaub threatening the outré edges of UFC title contention.  Bumped down the card by his loss to the veteran he is expected to face Ben Rothwell at UFC 145.  Hopefully he’ll have been humbled a bit by that loss to Nog…

Well, that’s my view of the heavyweight division.  If you disagree, I’d love to hear about it.

Slainte,

Chris

HDHU Awards 2011

#MMA

Failte,

At the end of our first year reporting and commentating on MMA as HDHU, it only seems fitting to mention some of the fighters, personalities and promotions which have made the year so memorable  and what better way to do that, than with a sort of awards.  Sadly, we’re not at the stage where we can send out statuettes or put on a lavish ceremony and get Chael Sonnen to MC the event but the thought is there… anyways, let’s begin.

Our first award is for the Card of the Year and in a year where we had multiple UFC cards with more than one title defence, record crowds and shock results not to mention Bellator cards composed of tournament finals and title defences there was a lot to choose from.  In the end, the winning card didn’t have a title defence and instead produced great action from start to finish, surpassing expectations.  Coming in ahead of UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields and UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami was the quite excellent UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson which may benefit from being relatively recent in getting this award.  Still, it was a great card and shows that good matchups, a hot crowd and fighters who go out to throw down can be so much more fun than merely big names and title defences.

Next up comes the award for Promotional Personality Of the Year which is our way of rewarding those non-fighters who’ve entertained us this year.  Of course, this is an award almost tailor made for President of the UFC, Dana White who’s twitter and youtube presence, alongside his often controversial and verbose interviews at press conferences and one on one with the likes of Ariel Helwani remain some of the MMA news we most look out for.  In the eyes of HDHU, Dana tells it how he sees it and doesn’t sugar coat his answers.  Alongside the continuing expansion of the UFC and his repeated commitment to giving back to the fans, who else could possibly have been given this award?

As a fledgling MMA site, we aren’t too proud to admit that we get most of our news from more established, connected channels.  We’d love if that wasn’t the case, but until we get on the UFC’s press release list, can afford to attend press conferences and such around the world and have the time and brand recognition to make enquiries of promotions and fighters which get answered, we are pretty reliant on those sites and new sources which have their finger on the pulse.  As such, it’s only fair that we recognise our favourite MMA Media Source of the Year and the winner by some margin, ahead of magazines like Fighters Only and shows like Inside MMA is the website, MMAJunkie.com for their regular, speedy and professional reporting.  It’s a very exciting time for MMA to see a site which started in much the same way as our own humble channel only a handful of years ago, now has the backing of a major publication like USA Today and looks likely to launch their own magazine show on SPIKE TV in 2012.  MMAJunkie has played a massive role in the growth of the sport and we feel it only right that this contribution is acknowledged.  Good job.

While much of the acclaim and praise for MMA shows is lavished (rightly) on the fighters and to a lesser extent, the promoters we feel that the influence of gyms, training camps and sparring buddies is often quite overlooked by mainstream fans.  From the tight knit community of Glasgow’s own Dinky Ninja’s Fight Team, the better known UK based teams like Team Rough House and the Wolsflair through small yet high profile teams like Team Death Clutch and Cesar Gracie BJJ to the biggest and most celebrated camps like Xtreme Couture and AKA, the choice of camp, of trainer, of sparring partners is one of the most important that an MMA fighter can make so it’s only right that we have a Gym of the Year award.  While it’s tempting to choose a smaller team for punching above their weight or having some indie cools, we have to go with the team led by Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn our of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This team currently holds two of the seven UFC titles with Light Heavywieght champion Jon Jones and Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre training there (although in fairness, GSP’s core camp is actually Tristar in Canada) and provided BOTH winners of the recent Ultimate Fighter season 14, with Diego Brandao and Jon Dodson both training there.  For sheer strength of roster and continued winningness, we couldn’t pick anyone else – although top notch gyms like AKA and Black House deserve honourable mention.

2011 was a huge year for MMA, with the UFC running more events than ever, swallowing up the WEC and buying out Strikeforce and breaking into new markets.  At the same time, lower profile companies like Bellator were raising their game, increasing their viewer base and attracting new sponsors and media opportunities.  What better time for a fighter to make an impact, to stand out in their division and really jump away from the field and get noticed.  It os for the fighter’s who’ve done this in 2011 that we have a Breakthrough Fighter of the Year award. 

The shortlist for this award is not small, and new champions like Jon Jones, Junior dos Santos and Michael Chandler were all considered as were fighters who are new to the bright lights at the top of MMA like TUF winners Tony Ferguson, Jon Dodson and Diego Brandao.  However, we’ve actually been drawn to fighters who graduated to the UFC from the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting organisation and have made a name for themselves in one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions at 155lbs.  You could make an argument for Donald Cerrone being the breakout fighter of the year, thanks to his series of impressive wins and his elevation to the co-main event of this weeks UFC 141 but we have to go with a fighter who has beaten ‘the Cowboy’ twice back in the WEC.  Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson has had a great 2011, entering the year on a downer having lost the WEC Lightweight title to Anthony Pettis thanks to a rare off day in the cage and the ‘Showtime’ kick, he went from being the apparent #1 contender to the UFC Lightweight belt to being just another name in one of the most dog-eat-dog divisions in the sport.  However in his three UFC matches he has outworked and outwrestled some of the most well-respected competitors in the division, comprehensively outpointing Mark Bocek, ending Jim Miller’s record breaking winning streak and making Clay Guida looking like a wrestling and submission novice at UFC on FOX 1 in a real Match of the Year candidate.  Those performances have elevated him to #1 contender status and he is set to face Frankie Edgar for the UFC Lightweight belt in Japan at UFC 142.  Breakthroughs don’t come much better than that…

Now we get into some of the most tasty and controversial awards of the day, for the most impressive submission and knockouts of the year.  Let’s go for the Submission of the Year first of all, shall we?

In a hotly contested category we searched high and low for tapes of cool subs, comparing dozens of UFC submission of the night award winners for merit.  In the end, despite impressive competition from Diego Brandao’s armbar on Dennis Bermudez from the TUF 14 Finale, Terry Etim’s ninja guillotine of Edward Faaloloto from UFC 138 and Frank Mir’s arm-breaking kimura on Big Nog from UFC 140 (which we couldn’t actually give submission of the year to in any case, as it was ruled a TKO, given that the referee called for the bell when Nog’s arm broke, moments before he actually tapped) we had to go for something a bit more special, giving the recognition to one of our favourite fighters, Chang Sung Jung for his Twister on Leonard Garcia from UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Davis.  It’s not often you see a first-ever in a UFC match these days, and when a fighter who is best known for throwing down in zombie fashion pulls out a next-level submission you’ve never seen before – that deserves some props. 

As you’d expect, we move on to Knockout of the Year and this was a similarly difficult category to grade, comparing literally dozens of top notch Kos from Chris Leben’s KO of Wanderlei Silva, to Leben himself getting KO;d by Brian Stann, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira knocking out Brendan Schaub in Brazil, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua’s destruction of Forrest Griffin in Brazil, Anderson Silva’s front kick on Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida channelling the Karate Kid against Randy Couture, Che Mills flurry of knees to Chris Cope at UFC 138, Patricky Freire’s brutal knee on Toby Imada, Dan Henderson’s H-Bombs on Rafael Cavalcante and Fedor Emelianenko and of course, Junior dos Santos fearsome knockout of Cain Velasquez to win the UFC Heavyweight title amongst others.  In the end, given that Ross & I couldn’t decide on a top three which contained even two of the same Kos, we’ve worked out that we’re gonna have dual winners for this award. 

Thanks to the wonders of the alphabet, the first winner will be Alexis Villa for his KO of Joe Warren at Bellator 51.  When a fighter best known for competing at 125lbs knocks out your 145lb champion in the first round of a Bantamweight tournament – that’s pretty special!

Our other joint winner is Carlos Condit for his muay thai fuelled stoppage of the previously undefeated Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 129.  In getting a highlight reel finish of a fighter who’s never looked close to being stopped before, he more than earned this accolade.

Of course, the greatest knockouts and submissions would go unseen without the proper promotion in which to display them and as such, it’s only proper to mark which of the many MMA promotions has done most to showcase and develop the sport we love this year with the Promotion of the Year award.  Despite the impressive growth of the British scene with the rise of BAMMA, SFC and On Top, the renaissance of MMA in Asia with 1FC and the continued development of Bellator in the States, there was only one promotion we could really give this to – the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  Putting on more events, in more countries than ever before, offering platforms for fighters to become genuine multi-media personalities and securing the backing of a major network to fuel the next stage in their (and the sport’s) expansion as well as opening up the lighter weight classes to mainstream exposure, the UFC continues to do more to further MMA’s cause.  It would be nice if another promotion could raise their game enough to really challenge the UFC as (like in pro wrestling) I believe competition will be a good thing.  However, as it is the UFC stands head and shoulders above everyone else.  All hail!

While it’s pretty standard to recognise impressive submissions or knockouts (as we have above) I feel that we need another award for a moment in the cage which does not of itself, taken in vacuum deserve one of those awards.  There are moments in matches which have greater meaning through context than could ever be apparent to a less-involved follower of the sport who sees just another knockout, gesture or submission.  To account for these events we have the Moment of the Year award, which seeks to recognise those moments which echo deep down in fight fan’s souls – the incredible decision, the end of a career etc.

Given the year we’ve just had, there have been plenty such moments to choose from, with Lyoto Machida ending Randy Couture’s career with a Crane Kick at UFC 129, Jon Jones becoming the youngest ever UFC champion, Nick Diaz being bumped from a main event title fight due to not fulfilling media commitments, Big Nog getting a highlight reel KO in front of a home crowd, Tito Ortiz pulling out a career-extending win over Ryan Bader and lot’s more.  I have to say, the end of Randy’s career was a strong contender for this award but I’ve had to go for Frank Mir breaking Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm at UFC 140.  Mir was the favourite in this match but got rocked by Nog in the early going and Nogueira swarmed looking for a submission.  Mir showed some excellent BJJ skills and secured a kimura.  Nogueira rolled through trying to break but Mir held on, cinched it up and Nog’s arm wasn’t as strong as his will.  An incredible recovery and display of submission skills against one of the most celebrated submission artists in the game is made even more special by the fact that Mir became the first man to ever defeat Nogueira with ground skills.  That’s just HUGE.  The fact that Nogueira didn’t tap until after his arm broke and the referee called for the bell is testament to his own legendary toughness.  Standing ovation for both men, please!

As the profile of mixed martial arts grows, there is more and more opportunity and call for fighters to be able to talk their matches up.  Some purists hate this ‘pro wrestling’ aspect to MMA as it gains in popularity, but I for one love it.  While I’ve got a mountain of respect for fighters who are all business or all respect there’s a whole other part of me that loves the guys who can make me smile and/or build interest in their matches through some well argued or alternatively completely ridiculous statements.  For those guys, we have the Talker of the Year award.

While the winner may seem obvious, it’s actually been quite a well contested field with TUF coaches Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller and Michael Bisping both talking plenty of smack – although for us, Bisping won that battle hands down with his ‘arsehole’ speech – and Strikeforce heavyweight Josh Barnett entertaining the hell out of us with his ‘pro wrestling’ match and promo in the open workouts and his post match pronouncements.   That said, the winner for his continued campaign against Anderson Silva, the nation of Brazil, the Octagon girls, non-Americans, Democrats and anyone who disagrees with him or asks a silly question is the man, the myth, the legend – Chael Sonnen.  Would I vote for him, buy a house from him, or probably get on with him in real life?  Hell no, but he has mastered the art of the ‘MMA heel promo’ and I LOVE it.

Increasingly, MMA is not just about the guys and the exposure level for female fighters is gradually going up.  While they donl;t get nearly as much attention as the guys and Dana White is quite correct in saying that the talent pool is still quite small, that’s not to say that the standout Female Fighter of the Year doesn’t deserve an award as well.  It’s actually been a great year for women’s MMA with some relatively new stars like Rhonda Rousey filling the void left by the inactive Gina Carano, the likes of Marloes Coenen getting the chance to shine and Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos continuing her scary run as a bit of a division killer at 145lbs.  However, we’re going to go with Miesha Tate as our female fighter of the year as managing to take the 135lb title from Coenen in a hard fought match combined with being glamorous enough to help us get over Carano wins out over Cyborg’s eight seconds of ring time this year…

As British MMA fans, we feel it only right that we should give some spotlight to the most outstanding British Fighter of the Year and it’s been a good year for British fighters.  First, I’d like to mention Jason ‘Shotgun’ Young who has lost narrow decisions in his two UFC bouts this year, but was very impressive in both matches against genuine top ten opposition.  Next up, I’d like to give credit to the British fighters who secured good wins at UFC 138 in Birmingham, with John Maguire, Phil DeFries winning decisions and Che Mills and Terry Etim securing VERY impressive first round wins.  However, the award has to go to Michael ‘the Count’ Bisping for his destruction of Jason Miller at the TUF 14 Finale which has put him one win away from a UFC title shot.  C’mon son!

On a more reflective note, we have the Lifetime Contribution to MMA award, where we seek to recognise an individual who, be it as a fighter, coach, promoter or whatever has made a marked, long term contribution to MMA.  It seems only fitting, that given his tragic, premature death earlier this year that we recognise the contribution of Shawn Tompkins who has been one of the most influential and best loved coaches in MMA throughout his career and his part in the careers of fighters and coaches passing through the Tapout Training Centre, Xtreme Couture, Team Tompkins and of course, the LA Anaconda’s cannot be measured.  Not only for this but for his apparently sterling personality is he recognised as the heartfelt testimony of his friends and colleagues has moved those like myself who never had the pleasure to meet him.  MMA and indeed the human race as a whole lost a shining light in Shawn Tompkins, but let’s hope he’s teaching the heavenly host better striking as we speak.

Our next award is one that Shawn would probably appreciate, as a celebrated striking coach who’s own in-cage record read 0-4.  That award is the Warrior Award which is for fighters who impress us with their willingness to throw down, their fightingness, for being the kind of guy you’d want standing next to you when it all goes down, more than just a cold appreciation of their technical skills, title belts or win-loss record.  It’s an award that is given on an affection for entertaining fight style and perceived personality and as such is entirely subjective.  Basically, we get to award a fighter who we love and this year, the inaugural award goes to Thiago ‘Pitbull’ Alves for his continued habit of putting on entertaining fights, for throwing the sickest leg kicks in the game and for seeming like a really nice guy outside the cage.  He even went and won his match at UFC 138 by a first round submission. 

Now we have probably the only negative award in our bundle, almost (but not quite) the antithesis of the Warrior Award.  This award is for Villain of the Year, the fighter (or fight related individual) who we’d most like to see given a slap for just being pretty damned unlikeable, for being arrogant, for being lazy or un-entertaining in the cage and/or for just coming across like the kind of person you don’t want to be fronting up a sport you love.  While the likes of Chael Sonnen, Ed Soares, Bob Arum, Jason Miller, Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, Michael Bisping, Jon Dodson, Brett Rogers, Miguel Torres, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber have all been in contention for this award for very, very different reasons the winner HAS to be Nick Diaz who complained mightily about not getting paid enough for fighting, threatened to leave MMA for boxing then got an opportunity at the UFC 170lb belt only to stuff it up by not fulfilling his media commitments, then annoyed GSP so much that he ended up wheedling his way back into a #1 contenders position (beating up BJ Penn helped) and followed up by accusing GSP of ducking him and faking injuries…  I just don’t like the guy, and the way he complains about not getting big money, then seems to resent the additional promotional work which come with the big money just strikes me as the most massive hypocrisy.  

In contrast, we have our Hero of the Year award, which goes out to the fighter who we feel to be the best advert for MMA at the moment in terms of in ring achievement, out of cage personality and general aura of awesomeness.  The fighter we have chosen to reward this year is the brand new UFC Heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos on account of his incredible in-ring achievements and just as much – his genuinely likeable personality.  In the cage, JDS is one of the most feared strikers in the business with a frightening tendency to knock people out (just as Mirko Cro Cop and Cain Velasquez) but out of the cage he comes across as the most affable, grateful and humble fighters in the business.  The genuine affection between himself and his training partners, his respectful nature in interviews, his ready smile and tendency to laugh allied to the fact that he is one of the few coaches to go through a TUF season without coming across as an angry, confrontational maniac all earned him this award.  Proof that you don’t have to be an asshole to be a top quality fighter.

Getting towards the spicy end of our little awards blog and it’s time to look at which was the best Fight of the Year.  In a year with no shortage of top fights, this was quite a hard fought category, with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua vs. Dan Henderson at UFC 139 and Michael Chandler’s Bellator Lightweight title winning effort against Eddie Alvarez the same night both serious late contenders.  However, for sheer drama, surprise and memorable ending we have to go back to our first main event of the year – Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard at UFC 125 for our winner.  The match had everything, an undefeated challenger coming in to face a champion that he had previously defeated, with the champion being a massive underdog.  The first round which saw Edgar very close to being finished was then pegged back by one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history before Maynard got his wind back and the pair split the last two rounds to earn a 47-47 draw on the majority of the judges scorecards (and my own.)  Incredible, awe-inspiring stuff from both guys and simply the best way to kick off one of the most memorable years in MMA history.

We’re nearly done and our last award is the biggie, our equivalent of MTV VMA for Song of the Year, the Academy Award for Best Performance in a Leading Role etc. It’s time to name our Fighter of the Year. 

As you’d expect there are no shortage of contenders, with perennial contenders Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre extending their already record breaking runs at the top of their division, Frankie Edgar equalling the record for most defences of the UFC Lightweight title, Jose Aldo and Dominick VRuz beating all comers at 145lb and 135lb respectively while we have new champions at Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight.  Outside the UFC, Gilbert Melendez continues to press his case as the #1 Lightweight in the world, Michael Chandler announces his arrival as a big name in the sport and Josh Barnett mounts a spectacular comeback at heavyweight, mirroring the rise of Daniel Cormier.

However, we have to go with the new UFC Light Heavyweight champion, the youngest champion in UFC history – Jon Jones as our fighter of the year.  Starting the year as one of the UFC’s brightest prospects Jones was paired against follow undefeated up & comer Ryan Bader and won the match with apparent ease.  This win, combined with Rashad Evans dropping out of his schedule title challenge against Shogun Rua allowed Jones to step into his place and lay a quite remarkable beating on Rua, ripping the 205lb title belt from him to become the youngest UFC champion so far.  Jones followed up with dominant performances against former champions Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Lyoto Machida to end the year with a 4-0 record, including a title win and two defences – which also makes him the most successful Light Heavyweight champion since Chuck Liddell.  No-one else has done so much this year and Bones takes his place as the standout Mixed Martial Artist of 2011.

That’s it, I think we’ve covered all the bases.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and we’d like to thank you for checking out HDHU in 2011, we hope you’ll stick with us on the way to bigger and better things in 2012.

Slainte,

Chris & Ross

HDHU Flyweight (125lb) & Pound for Pound Rankings, December 2011

#MMA @ufc #rankings

Failte,

With the UFC seemingly on the cusp of adding a Flyweight division and fighters who usually ply their trade at 125lbs getting some exposure on the most recent series of the Ultimate Fighter, now is the best possible time to do our first ever Flyweight rankings.  For added value, and to make up for the fact that I didn’t post last week on account of being on holiday, I’ve even provided our up to date Pound for Pound rankings after the Flyweights.  Let’s get down to it…

A word on notation:

#             Fighter Name    Fight Record       Current Promotion          (record in last 3 years)

HDHU Flyweight Rankings, December 2011

1              Ian McCall 11-2 TPF(4-1)

The current Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight champion, McCall is the de facto #1 flyweight in the world thanks to his wins over the likes of Darrell Montagu and Jussier da Silva.  While he has lost to Dominick Cruz and Charlie Valencia in the WEC at 135lbs, he remains unbeaten at 125lbs.  He was due to defend his title against Josh Rave last week but pulled out of TPF 11 through injury.  With a Flyweight division supposedly soon to be added to the UFC, McCall must be on Zuffa’s radar…

2              Jussier da Silva 11-1 TPF/Shooto (5-1)

The reigning Shooto South American champion at 123lbs (their version of Flyweight), da Silva has notable wins over the likes of Mamoru Yamaguchi, Shinichi Kojima and Michael Willian Costa.  His only loss has been to McCall and he even defeated Kojima while he was the Shooto champion proper in a non-title bout. 

3              Yasuhiro Urushitani 19-4-6 Shooto (4-0)

The reigning Shooto 123lb champion, currently enjoying a 5-0 streak including wins over Yuki Shoujou, Mamoru Yamaguchi and John Dodson.

4              Shinichi Kojima 12-4-5 Shooto (3-1-1)

Vacated Shooto 123lb title following a non-title loss to Jussier da Silva.  Places #4 on account of his current 2-0 streak and the fact that he has had the better of Mamoru Yamaguchi (2 wins and a draw) in their three fight feud.

5              Mamoru Yamaguchi 26-6-3 Shooto / TPF (6-1)

A top contender who has drawn with Kojima, split wins with Urushitani and holds wins over the likes of Jesse Taitano and Yuko Shoujou.  Never far from title contention in Shooto and surely another name on the Zuffa radar…

6              John Dodson 12-5 UFC  (5-1)

Dodson has never been finished, although you could argue that he never quite mixed with the big dogs in Shooto ot TPF.  Having been extremely impressive on the Ultimate Fighter, finishing all his fights en route to becoming the first Bantamweight Ultimate Fighter despite being easily the smallest guy in the house, Dodson will surely be a cornerstone of the UFC Flyweight division as and when it starts up.

7              Darrell Montagu 9-2 TPF (7-2)

Montagu is one of the top US-based Flyweights and had been riding a 6-0 streak before losing to Ian McCall in the most significant TPF bout yet for their Flyweight title. Being a home-bred fighter and having evident quality will surely make Montagu one of Zuffa’s key acquisitions as they look to build a 125lb division.

8           Louis Gaudinot 5-2 UFC (5-2)

Gaudinot rode a 4-0 win streak at Flyweight into the Ultimate Fighter, even disposing of top Scottish Bantamweight Paul McVeigh to get into the house.  Despite losing to the much larger Dustin Pague in the tournament and to Johnny Bedford in the final, Gaudinot’s heart and skill have never been questioned – merely his height, reach and mass.  Given the 125 division is supposed to be coming to the UFC soon, the exposure Louis earned in the house can only mean new opportunities for him in the UFC or failing that at the top end of TPF cards…

9              Jose Maria Tome 28-2 Octagon / Centurion (8-0-1)

This man is riding a 15 fight unbeaten streak since losing to Jussier da Silva in 2008 and his 28 wins include 17 first round finishes.  How he is not at the top of Shooto or TPF cards astonishes me, and I’d expect him to be getting a phone call from Zuffa some time soon…

10           Alexandre Pantoja 9-2 WFC/Shooto (7-1)

Rode a 5-0 streak into a loss against Jussier da Silva and has gone 2-0 since including a win over Willian Costa.  Surely aiming at a big match in Shooto sometime soon.

Honourable Mentions
Michael Willian Costa 7-4 Shooto (3-3)
Fumihiro Kitahara 9-2-1 Shooto (6-2-1)
Yuki Shojo 11-6-2 Shooto (3-2)
Mitsuhisa Sunabe 18-7-4 Pancrase (5-2-1)
Ryosuke Tanuma 6-2-1 Zst (4-1-1)

HDHU Pound for Pound Rankings, December 2011

P4P rankings are always quite contentious and to explain my personal criteria, I prefer to reward fighters who have been extremely impressive in their ‘home’ division (of course favouring champions who have been considered as ‘clearing out’ their division) but also those who have success in other (higher) weight classes or who habitually fight (and beat) larger fighters on account of being undersized for their division.  As is always the case, I prefer to reward fighters who fight to win and tend to finish their fights.  With all that said, let’s get into it…

1              Anderson Silva 31-3 UFC (6-0)

The Spider continues to break records for consecutive wins and title defences in the UFC and has finished his last few challengers in highlight reel fashion, including a non-title bout up at 205lbs where he defeated a markedly larger opponent in the shape of Forrest Griffin.  The Middleweight division has thrown up a new batch of challengers and Anderson has 2012 defences booked against the winner of Chael Sonnen vs. Mark Munoz followed by the winner of Michael Bisping vs. Demian Maia.

2              Frankie Edgar 14-1 UFC (5-0-1)

Frankie’s back to back decision wins over sometime welterweight BJ Penn combined with his eventual TKO over nemesis Gray Maynard who is a large lightweight is especially impressive when you consider the Edgar barely cuts weight to fight at 155lbs and could easily be a featherweight fighter.  This size disparity earns him the #2 billing in these rankings.

3              Georges St. Pierre 23-2 UFC (5-0)

GSP has become the picture of what a modern mixed martial artist should be, but his failure to finish his last few challengers despite their apparent lack of ability to harm him has led to a fair few critics.  The fact that GSP has since backed out of two consecutive title fights, against Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz with injuries, necessitating the resurrection of an interim title while he recuperates will only increase the dissent.  GSP could well drop down these rankings through entropy while he is out injured, but a successful return and even better a finish against the winner of Diaz vs. Condit would shoot him back up to the top.

4              Jon Jones 14-1 UFC (7-1)

Jones is listed this highly more on inference as to what he COULD do as he has largely battered his way to the Light heavyweight title through being significantly larger than his opponents – his reach advantage is a particular factor when you consider his wrestling and striking dominance.  Jones has never looked in trouble in his UFC career and made seasoned, elite level opponents like Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson look like children.  A further win over Lyoto Machida this weekend will make his third victory over a former (or reigning) champion in a row…

5              Dan Henderson 29-8 UFC (6-1)

Hendo is ranked in my top #5 on account of his cross divisional success.  He rode a 3-0 streak at Middleweight in the UFC before a contractual dispute led him to Strikeforce.  Losing via decision to Jake Shields was proved to be an aberration when followed by three successive finishes, winning the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title and beating living legend Fedor Emelianenko in a heavyweight bout in the process.  His return bout to the UFC was a victorious one, narrowly defeating Shogun Rua in a MOTY contender which places Hendo relatively close to a title shot…

6              Dominick Cruz 19-1 UFC (8-0)

The Dominator might not finish matches, but his elusive style has earned him wins over everything the Bantamweight division could throw at him and even a revenge win over the only man to defeat him – the significantly larger Urijah Faber.  Now set to be a TUF coach, Cruz will get plenty exposure leading up to his rubber match with Faber next spring.

7              Junior dos Santos 14-1 UFC (7-0)          

Most people don’t rate heavyweights in their P4P list, but I feel JDS inclusion is merited as he has defeated significantly larger fighters in his last two bouts en route to becoming the UFC Heavyweight champion.  He gives us a marked amount of mass when placed against Cain Velasquez, let alone the likes of Shane Carwin or Brock Lesnar.  He also tends to finish fights, with his decision wins over Roy Nelson and Carwin very much the exceptions rather than the rule.

8              Jose Aldo 20-1 UFC (8-0)

Aldo has dominated the WEC/UFC featherweight division, but seems to have lost some of his decisiveness in recent bouts against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian, failing to finish both men and spending the fifth round against Hominick on his back.  I feel that Aldo may soon be compelled to move up to 155lbs as I think the cut to featherweight is affecting his speed and cardio.  The fact that he’s a big, and increasingly less decisive 145lb fighter is the reason he has been ranked lower than you’ll see in most sites.

9              Ian McCall 11-2 TPF (4-1)

The de facto #1 Flyweight in the world deserves your respect and some more attention.  Unbeaten at his natural weight and his only loss in the past few years has been to a larger fighter who is the current UFC Bantamweight champion, which arguably makes him as good at (or better) than the likes of Urijah Faber on a P4P basis.

10           Mauricio Rua UFC 20-6 (4-3)

Shogun’s record doesn’t look that great but when you consider most folks figure he beat Lyoto Machida the first time round and some feel he earned a draw against Dan Henderson a  5-1-1 record against the elite level of opposition he has faced isn’t too inaccurate a reflection of his performances over the last few years.  His only decisive loss came to Jon jones who was a MUCH larger fighter on the night and that loss is balanced by impressive wins over larger fighters in the shape of Mark Coleman and Forrest Griffin.  Shogun is a top level fighter who fights to win and has dropped narrow matches to absolutely top level opposition and I think he merits inclusion in the rankings.

Well, that’s my Flyweight and Pound for Pound rankings.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, either here or on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/HeadDownHandsUp

Slainte,

Chris

HDHU: Why MMA Rankings are like Conkers

#MMA @ufc @BellatorMMA #rankings

Failte,

I had a thought (always a danerous way to open a blog) walking into work today.  MMA rankings are like conkers.  Bear with me…

For those who’ve never played conkers (I’m thinking of city kids, non-British folks, anyone under the age of a bout 28) it’s a game played in autumn when the seed pods of the horse chestnut tree (conkers) fall to the ground.  I remember several years at school keeping an eye on the horse chestnut trees in the vicinity waiting for the conkers to fall and then spending a whole lot of time picking up ones that looked especially large and/or hard.

You prepare the conkers for battle by drilling a hole through them and suspending them from a string, inserted through said hole.  Bouts are contested between conkers with each participant taking turns to suspend their conker and let the opponent take a shot at them.  Naturally, the first conker to break is the loser.

Some folks swear by seeping their conkers in vinegar to toughen them up, some folks take the outright illegal approach of varnishing them or coating them in glue.  However, such cheating isn’t really important to my train of thought…

Conkers are ranked by their kills, so a 20er would have 20 victories, a 50er would have 50 victories etc.  However, a victorious conker also adds the victories of it’s vanquished foe to it’s record, so a 10er which beats a 20er is now a 30er and so on.  Furthermore, in the heady heights of childish acclaim, the 50er who reached that level by taking out a 20er and a 30er in it’s first two bouts would be regarded as more notable and memorable than the 50er who gained it’s ranking through 50 wins over virgin nuts.

It is this which puts me in mind of MMA – specifically the current Bantamweight title picture where Urijah Faber’s 1-0 streak is preferred to Renan Bararo’s 20+ streak in getting a title shot at Dominick Cruz – as a fighter with a lengthy win streak against guys which mainstream fans have never heard of is not nearly held in the same acclaim as someone with one or two wins over ‘known’ opposition.

Of course, unlike conkers, MMA fighters retain their prestige after eating their first loss (depending on the manner of the loss, who it was to and how many times it is repeated) which muddies the water a little bit, but in any case the maxim that big wins count more than lots of wins holds pretty true.

For example, Brock Lesnar could become #1 contender to the heavyweight title with only one win by ‘stealing’ Alistair Overeem’s lengthy win streak (and conversely a ’big win’ over Lesnar will do more to convince many UFC fans of Overeem’s qualifications than his laundry list of wins over relative nobodies) and many similar examples of a few big wins counting more than lengthier streaks over less celebrated opposition (Chael Sonnen’s 1-0 vs. the streaks of Mark Munoz & Michael Bisping, Lyoto Machida being #1 contender despite being 1-2 in his last 3 ahead of Phil Davis who is unbeaten) prevail throughout the UFC.

Think of it this way, if you were an MMA fighter, would you prefer to have a hundred fight win streak on the regional scene or five wins against the very biggest stars?

Aside from that, in conkers it is a certainty that attrition and the eventual discovery of a tougher nut will result in your 100er getting beaten, and MMA is no different.  As such, the attempt to accrue a lengthy win streak by fighting lesser competition is a flawed one which will soon be exposed by an unheralded newcomer and as such the only way to truly rank greatness is by choosing to compete against and mostly (although not always, because that’s just impossible) win against the best opponents possible.

That, my friends is why MMA rankings are like conkers.

Slainte,

Chris

p.s. there will be serious kudos to whoever can come up with the ‘conkers’ style record of any MMA fighter.  That could make some really amusing reading.

HDHU Bantamweight (135lb) Rankings

#MMA @ufc @BellatorMMA

Failte,

As is customary, here are our rankings for the 135lb division.  I feel the need to explain some of my annotations, seeing as the threads where I established these aren’t on Tumblr, specifically the record in brackets after a fighter’s promotion.  This is their record in the last 3 years as I base my rankings very much on a ‘what have you done lately’ basis and I refused to rank a fighter with an equal or losing record in the last 3 years in my top ten.  Harsh, but fair.

At the bottom of this thread, I’m touting for some feedback contributions towards our year-end awards – get it done and you may win… my gratitude.

Let’s get into it…

1              Dominick Cruz 19-1 UFC © (8-0)  

The Dominator has perfected his ‘awkward’ style to a lengthy win streak, defeating the cream of the UFC/WEC 135lb division en route to winning and retaining the bantamweight title and even avenging his sole career defeat to Urijah Faber at the first UFC PPV to be headlined by one of the new WEC-converted titles.  Cruz hasn’t won too many fans with his laundry list of decision victories (although the matches are far from boring) and his bluff demeanour, but I have to say I saw him as the good guy in his bout with Faber…

2              Joseph Benavidez 15-2 UFC (7-2)

It seems that Joseph Benavidez has the beating of any 135lber not named Dominick Cruz, but unfortunately two losses to the now-champion means that despite his impressive 3-0 streak with wins over Eddie Wineland, Ian Loveland and Waggney Fabiano, Benavidez isn’t in the title picture and to add insult to injury the fact that Benavidez best friend and camp-mate Urijah Faber has brought his higher profile down to bantamweight (and it’s clear that the UFC brass is more interested in a Cruz-Faber trilogy than giving a chance to anyone else) really restricts his possibilities in the division.  Best case for Joseph is that Cruz drops the title to someone like Renan Barao while Faber eats some more losses – which would leave him in pole position for another title shot.  If Cruz retains the belt, or Faber wins it at some point (and given that Cruz-Faber III seems locked in) I can see Benavidez being very tempted to drop to the mooted 125lb division…

3              Renan Barao 27-1-1 UFC (11-0)

Barao is riding what must be the most impressive streak in all of MMA, 28 matches unbeaten (having lost his first ever match and clearly disliked the experience) and is impressively 4-0 under the Zuffa banner with wins over Anthony Leone, Chris Cariaso, Cole Escovedo and most impressively and recently a first round submission win over Brad Pickett.  If I was picking my #1 contender at this time, I’d make it Barao but it seems that Urijah Faber’s dimples win him a title shot with only a 1-0 streak…

4              Scott Jorgensen 13-4 UFC (8-2)

Young Guns is riding a super-impressive 7-1 in his last eight matches with wins over Jeff Curran, Ken Stone, Takeya Mizugaki, Brad Pickett the lone loss coming to Cruz (this is starting to be a theme in this dvision) and like so many guys, would be right in the title hunt if it wasn’t for the enduring champion and the fact that an apparently more credible (yet in my eyes, less deserving) challenger can get rematches after only one more win.  Scotty deserves to be in the mix, but seems almost overlooked.  Seeing as the Cruz-Faber trilogy seems destined to play out, I’d be quite interested to see Jorgensen vs. Benavidez in the meantime…

5              Urijah Faber 26-5 UFC (3-1 at 135lbs, 5-4)

Following the loss of his featherweight crown and two-time failure to reclaim it, Faber dropped to 135lbs and racked up a brace of impressive wins over Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland.  Coming up against a former challenger to his 145lb title, now the established 135lb champ, Faber fell short via decision.  I have to say, Faber’s arrogance bugged me in the promotion for this match, while it seemed to me that Cruz had a reasonable axe to grind.  In any case, the fact that Faber is easily the biggest box office in the division led him straight to a #1 contenders match with Brian Bowles and he became the first man to stop the former champion, resulting in him quickly being confirmed as the new #1 contender with a trilogy fight against Cruz to be booked for sometime in 2012.  Some folks have suggested that a stint as TUF coaches would be good for the two men, and I’m minded to agree, if only because I’m sure Faber will come out of that as the villain…

6              Demetrious Johnson 9-2 UFC (8-2)

Mighty Mouse gives up size, reach and weight to pretty much everyone in the division, but still managed a 4-0 streak including wins over Miguel Torres, KID Yamamoto, Damacio Page & Nick Pace in between losses to Brad Pickett and Dominick Cruz.  Coming up short (sorry) in his recent title challenge, Johnson has to set about getting back in a winning way, either for another shot at Cruz (or his successor) or the anticipated beginning of the 125lb division, where he would arguably  be a larger sized fighter.  

7              Brian Bowles 10-2 UFC (4-2)

Brian Bowles scored one of the biggest upset wins in MMA history by ripping the WEC Bantamweight title from Miguel Torres, only to drop it to Dominick Cruz in his first defence.  Since then, wins over Damacio Page and Takeya Mizugaki had taken him back into contention before losing to Faber ended his title hopes in the meantime.  An unassuming personality may hold Bowles back from stardom, but his tendency to be in entertaining fights and often finish them SHOULD make up for that.  He needs a fair streak to get back into title contention, given his losses to the current champ and now the #1 contender.

8              Miguel Torres 39-4 UFC (5-3)

Once upon a time, it looked like Miguel Torres would hold the 135lb title as long as he wanted.  However, a shock KO loss to Brian Bowles has been followed by some spotty form with losses to Jo Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson stealing his momentum as he tries to head back towards a title shot.  An impressive display in his most recent bout against Nick Pace perhaps sees him turning a corner, rather than fading back into gatekeeper territory.

9              Michael McDonald 14-1 UFC (9-1)

Mayday is one of the form fighters in the UFC, as well as being one of the youngest at only 20 years old.  A stunning KO win over Alex Soto at UFC 139 follows up wins over Chris Cariaso, Manny Tapia and the avenging of his only loss, to Cole Escovedo.  McDonald has shown he can win by grinding decision, by submission and by highlight reel KO and is surely knocking on the door of contention…

10           Alexis Villa 11-0 Bellator (9-0, 2-0 at 135lbs)

Villa shot to prominence this year as a nominally 125lb fighter who knocked out the Bellator 145lb champion in their bantamweight tournament.  He then followed that up by getting a decision win over Marcos Galvao and still-unbeaten he faces Eduardo Dantas with the prize being a shot a Zach Makovsky’s title.  TBH, that KO of Warren merited inclusion all by itself…

 Honourable Mentions

 Eduardo Dantas 12-2 Bellator (7-1)

Dantas has beaten Ed West & Wilson Reis to reach the finals of the current Bellator tourney (Villa gets ranked because he’s beaten more impressive opposition) with his only loss in the last few years being to Masakatsu Ueda.

Zach Makovsky 14-2 Bellator © (10-1)

Makovsky may be the Bellator champion, but the original 135lb tournament wasn’t the strongest and he’s still awaiting his first title defence or even bout against someone in contention for the top ten rankings.  Soon he’ll have to face the winner of Villa vs. Dantas, and a win would give him (and that Bellator belt) some real credibility. 

Takeya Mizugaki 15-6 UFC (5-4)

Since joining the WEC and being thrown directly into a title match with the then-dominant Miguel Torres, Mizugaki has gone reliably win-loss-win-loss and can be pretty much regarded as a gatekeeper, beating also-rans like Cole Escovedo, Roberto Duran, Rani Yahya and Jeff Curran but losing to title contenders like Bowles, Faber & Jorgensen.  Needs to put on a streak and beat someone in the top ten if he wants to remain relevant.

Brad Pickett 20-6 UFC (5-2)

Britain’s best fighter in the lighter weight classes (although I’m interested to see how Ross Pearson does at 145lbs) has been absent with injury in recent times, missing out on a match with Miguel Torres, where the winner was sure to get a title shot (the spot was filled by Demetrious Johnson, who beat Torres and went on to face Dominick Cruz – the fact that Pickett has already beaten Johnson just adding insult to injury) and surely a year’s worth of cage rust can’t have helped in his first round loss to Renan Barao.  That win over Johnson and others against the likes of Ivan Menjivar show that Pickett is not to be discounted and I’m sure that now he’s back in the saddle and continuing to train with ATT we’ll see One Punch climbing the rankings again soon enough.  

Masakatsu Ueda 14-1-2 Shooto / AFC (6-1)

Japan’s premier 135lb fighter beat Royler Gracie at LIGHTWEIGHT in his most recent match and holds recent victories over the likes of Akitoshi Tamira and Eduardo Dantas.  His sole career loss to the inconsistent Shuichiro Katsumura can be regarded as an aberration.  In my eyes, it’s also aberrant that Ueda is not competing in DREAM or the UFC – surely that has to change…

Eddie Wineland 18-8 UFC (5-3)

Currently riding a 0-2 streak following back to back losses to the Team Alpha Male duo of Faber and Benavidez, Wineland had been riding a 4-0 streak before that, with wins over Ken Stone, Will Campuzano, George Roop and Manny Tapia.  A talented and game fighter who was once upon a time the WEC champion, he may have been passed by as far as the upper echelons of the division are concerned – but I’d never bet against him making an impressive comeback. 

Note: DREAM Bantamweight tournament – DREAM held a Japan Grand Prix in the Bantamweight division earlier in the year, won by Hideo Tokoro, however he was knocked out of their full-on World Grand Prix at the ¼ final stage in September.  The remaining contenders in that Grand Prix are Rodolfo Marquez, Masakazu Imanari, Bibiano Fernandes and Antonio Banuelos.  The eventual winner will almost demand inclusion in the next batch of these rankings.

The 135lb division is a strange one, as while Bellator and the Japanese promotions do feature fights in the weight class, the competition is spotty and it seems hard for even successful fighters to get any real momentum.  As far as the UFC is concerned, Bantamweight is a ‘development’ division, with the stars of the WEC version (Torres, Faber) competing with youngsters like Michael McDonald to see who will lead the division forward.  Never lacking in action, this division perhaps lacks airtime and it could be said that Dominick Cruz does not possess the personality to make the division compelling (explaining why the UFC brass seem so keen for the California Kid to get another crack at his new nemesis, rather than risk the belt being passed from an abrasive American to a fighter who doesn’t even speak English – I think Renan Barao is the most logical contender) and that could pose a problem.

Of course, DREAM are midway through a GP, Bellator’s title will have the legitimacy of a first defence before long and there is muttering that Faber & Cruz will be the coaches on the next season of TUF with the graduates from the current season adding some new attention to the division (I can’t wait to see the likes of Jon Dodson in the UFC.)  Aside from all that, this division is relatively new on the biggest stage and has been handicapped by not having the option of established lightweight stars dropping down and it takes time for the broader UFC fan-base to get familiar with a whole new division.  That said, in my eyes the sheer quality of this division will win out in the end and it’s an exciting time to be a 135lb fighter…

Slainte,

Chris

PS - Were looking for your nominations for our end of year awards - who do you think is the fighter of the year, what was the best card, the most stunning knockout and sickest sub?  Let us know in the comments here or on our facebook page www.facebook.com/HeadDownHandsUp

HDHU Awards 2011 - Nominations

#MMA @UFC @BellatorMMA Check it out, cast your votes!

Failte,

We’re thinking about putting together a wee year-end Awards column, but we thought it might be cool to ask for your thoughts on who should get commended for their performances in the last 12 months.  What we’re really looking for is you to cast your vote for…

Fight of the Year
Fighter of the Year
Knockout of the Year
Submission of the Year
Card of the Year
Rise of the Year
Comeback of the Year
Hero of the Year
Villain of the Year
Promotion of the Year

Below are some reminders, suggestions for contenders for some of the above – we’d really appreciate your input, either in the comments here or at our Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HeadDownHandsUp) page.

Slainte,

Chris

Fight of the Year

- Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard @ UFC 125

-Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle @ UFC 127

- Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann @  UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann

-Edson Barboza vs. Anthony Njokuani @ UFC 128

- Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber @ UFC 132

- Edson Barboza vs. Ross Pearson @ UFC 134

- Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida @ UFC on Fox

- Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua @ UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson

- Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler @ Bellator LVIII

 Knockout of the Year

- MELVIN GUILLARD vs. Evan Dunham @ UFC Fight For The Troops 2

- ANDERSON SILVA vs.  Vitor Belfort @ UFC 126

- MARK HUNT vs. Chris Tuscherer @  UFC 127

- LYOTO MACHIDA vs. Randy Couture @ UFC 129

- TRAVIS BROWNE vs. Stefan Struve @ UFC 130

- CHEICK KONGO vs. Pat Barry @ UFC Live: Kongo vs. Barry

- CARLOS CONDIT vs. Dong Hyun Kim @ UFC 132

- CHRIS LEBEN vs. Wanderlei Silva @ UFC 132

- VITOR BELFORT vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama @ UFC 133

- ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA vs. Brendan Schaub @ UFC 134

- JAKE ELLENBERGER vs. Jake Shields @ UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger

- FRANKIE EDGAR vs. GrayMaynard @ UFC 136

- CHE MILLS vs. Chris Cope @ UFC 138

- JUNIOR DOS SANTOS vs. Cain Velasquez @ UFC on FOX

- PATRICKY FREIRE vs. Toby Imada @ BellatorXXXIX

- PAT CURRAN vs. Marlon Sandro @ Bellator XLVIII

- ALEXIS VILLA vs. Joe Warren @ Bellator LI

- DOUGLAS LIMA vs. Chris Lozano @Bellator LIII

- DAN HENDERSON vs. Rafael Cavalcante @ Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson

- DAN HENDERSON vs. Fedor Emelianenko @ Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Hendo

Submission of the Year

-CLAY GUIDA vs. Takanori Gomi @ UFC 125

- CHANG SUNG JUNG vs. Leonard Garcia @ UFC Fight Night: Nogueira-Davis

-PABLO GARZA vs. Yves Jabouin @ UFC 129

- TITO ORTIZ vs. Ryan Bader @ UFC 132

-NATE DIAZ vs. Takanori Gomi @ UFC 135

- JOE LAUZON vs. Melvin Guillard @ UFC 136

- TERRY ETIM vs. Edward Faaloloto @ UFC 138

- BEN SAUNDERS vs. Luis Santos @ Bellator LIII

- NICK DIAZ vs. Evangelista Santos @ Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg

-SHINYA AOKI vs. Lyle Beerbohm @ Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley

-JOSH BARNETT vs. Brett Rogers @ Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum

Card of the Year

- UFC 129: St.Pierre vs. Shields

- UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber

- UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami (UFC Rio)

- UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson 

HDHU Featherweight (145lb) Rankings

#MMA @ufc @BellatorMMA

Failte,

As promised, here are your featherweight rankings.  This division has seen some big announcements and big matches in the last few months and the picture at the top of the division in the UFC is getting clear (with Jose Aldo set to defend against Chad Mendes with the winner of Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirer getting the next shot) while Bellator sees a most uncharacteristic log jam of tournament-winning contenders lining up for a crack at Joe Warren’s title.   

It’s been a tough year for the 145lb with fights that would once have been default main events in the WEC being relegated to co-main event status and even fighters who might have been considered for co-main events in the blue cage having to make do with slots on Facebook-streamed prelims. 

That said, some awesome action in Bellator, a season of TUF and that extra level of exposure earned by the fighters who have made their way onto the main broadcasts and highlight reels have really made it an important one for the lighter weight divisions.  Encouragingly, one of the themes of these rankings is the emergence of younger stars over those who have held the top 5 spots for some years, with some veterans dropping out of my top ten as the likes of Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirer and Erik Koch make their mark

Enjoy! 

1 Jose Aldo 20-1 UFC (9-0)

Jose Aldo is the easy pick for #1 as he is the UFC champion, now with four successful defences of that belt, is regularly ranked in the top #5 of the pound for pound rankings and is the man who Anderson Silva says he would be scared to fight, if they were in the same division.  High praise indeed!  However, Aldo has not been as impressive in 2011 as he was in 2010, scoring definite yet less than inspiring wins over Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian.  Indeed, the success Hominick had in the last round against him, when despite a massive haematoma he took Aldo down and laid a beating in shows that Aldo is perhaps susceptible to a determined wrestler with ground and pound skills, even though he seemed to have the solution to such a fighter in his wins over Faber & Brown.  It could be that Aldo is outgrowing the division and the weight cut to 145lb is starting to slow him.  With a series of serious contenders from Chad Mendes, Hatsu Hioki, Dustin Poirer and Erik Koch lining up for cracks at the title, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Aldo moving division sooner rather than later…

2 Chad Mendes 11-0 UFC (10-0)

The new UFC #1 contender gets elevated to the second spot in my rankings due to being unbeaten, impressing in the Octagon and perhaps having the ideal skill-set to wrest the 145lb title from Jose Aldo.  His wins over Rani Yahya, Michuhiro Omigawa, Javier Vasquez, Cub Swanson and Erik Koch might not have been the most thrilling, but they have been professional and in many case, almost comfortable.  Of course, the champion offers a wholly different challenge and it’ll be interesting to see if he evolves to match Aldo, if he drags Jose into his preferred ground war or if Aldo’s kicks and quickness proves too much.

3 Hatsu Hioki 25-4-2 UFC (9-1)

There have been quite a few folks who have responded to Hioki’s lacklustre, split decision win over George Roop in his UFC debut by declaring him to not be a top fighter and just another over-hyped fighter coming in from Japan, not up to the elite competition in the UFC. I think that’s a little unfair, as unlike many Japanese-based, belt-holding stars, fighting in a US cage for the first time (off the top of my head, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Norifumi Yamamoto, Jorge Santiago…) Hioki pulled out the win, and I’d expect him to impress more next time out.  Hioki has impressed in his pre-UFC fights, against some credible opposition, beating Marlon Sandro for the Sengoku Featherweight title and only losing to Michuhiro Omigawa in recent years, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  All that said, everything for Hioki rests on his next fight – win and he’s right in the title hunt, lose and he could be a long time getting back into contention.

4 Dustin Poirer 11-1 UFC (11-1, 3-0 at Featherweight)

Arguably the dark horse in the UFC 145lb division, Poirer debuted at featherweight in January as a stand-in for Aldo when the champ couldn’t make his scheduled title defence against Josh Grispi at UFC 125.  The divisional newcomer proceeded to beat the #1 contender, announcing his arrival in no uncertain terms.  Having followed that up with a close decision victory of Jason Young and a VERY impressive performance en route to his second round submission win over Pablo Garza at UFC on FOX, Poirer has already been given his next assignment – to face fellow in-form up & comer Erik Koch at UFC 142.  In my eyes, the winner of that bout has to get a shot at the winner of Aldo – Mendes…

5 Erik Koch 13-1 UFC (7-1)

Koch is on a 4-0 streak since his solitary career loss to Chad Mendes and has impressed in beating the likes of Jonathan Brookins and Raphael Assuncao.  His form has been rewarded with a #1 contenders match In all but name against Dustin Poirer at UFC 142.  That match should be plenty exciting and the winner will be well placed to become the new young face of the 145lb division.  Of course, assuming Koch beats Poirer and Mendes beats Aldo, it could lead to Erik getting a chance to revenge his only career loss.  Tasty.

6 Pat Curran 16-4 Bellator (12-4, 3-0 at Featherweight)

Curran is riding a 7-1 record since the start of 2010, with the only blemish coming via a close decision loss to Eddie Alvarez in his shot at the Bellator 155lb title.  Curran has won the last two Bellator tournament’s he has entered (in 2010 at lightweight and earlier this year at featherweight) beating notables like Marlon Sandro, Toby Imada and Roger Huerta along the way.  He has now skipped past Patricio Freire (due to Friere being injured) and will soon face Joe Warren for the Bellator 145lb title. 

7 Bibiano Fernandes 9-3 DREAM (6-1)

In my eyes Bibiano is one of the most talented fighters, not currently under contract to Zuffa, with only Pat Curran and Joe Warren even remotely as interesting an acquisition in this weight class.  His record of 6-1 over the past few years includes wins over Warren, Hiroyuki Takaya and Joachim Hansen and is only blighted by losing his DREAM title to Takaya.  Surely the rubber match between those two is an obvious booking choice for DREAM (although logic and J-MMA don’t always go hand in hand) but as I’ve said, you have to expect Zuffa to be watching his contract with interest.

8 Joe Warren 7-2 Bellator (7-2, 6-1 at Featherweight) 

Despite impressive wins over the likes of Joe Soto and Patricio Freire (and less impressive victories over the likes of Marcos Galvao) the reigning Bellator 145lb champion’s claim to be ‘the baddest man on the planet’ has been pierced, firstly by his loss to Bibiano Fernandes in Japan (which is nothing to be ashamed of) and more recently and more harmfully by his lacklustre showing against Galvao (in a catchweight ‘superfight’) and his KO loss to Alexis Villa in the bantamweight tournament.  When your 145lb champ competes at 135lbs and gets knocked out by someone who usually competes at 125lbs, it doesn’t exactly impart a whole lot of momentum…  In any case, Warren is back from his catchweight and bantamweight adventures with (strangely enough for Bellator) challengers lining up to face him for the featherweight strap.  First up is Pat Curran and if Warren gets past him, he’ll have a highly motivated Patricio Friere looking to avenge his only career loss.  If Warren gets through those two bouts with his title intact, his travails outwith the weight class will be soon forgotten…

9 Michihiro Omigawa UFC 13-10-1 (9-3-1)

Omigawa’s win over Jason Young at UFC 138 breaks a 2-fight losing streak (to Chad Mendes & Darren Elkins) and lifts him back into the top ten in my estimation.  The fact that I feel his loss to Elkins should have been a win but for some very dubious judging only reinforces my belief that he is a top ten player.  Wins over Hatsu Hioki and Marlon Sandro show his quality and I think a rematch with Hioki inside the Octagon would be an interesting way to determine which of these guys gets a step closer to a title shot.  Isn’t there an event in Japan soon?

10 Diego Nunes 16-2 UFC (5-2)  

Wins over the likes of Mike Brown and Raphael Assuncao had Nunes within one win of a title shot, but he lost out to divisional newcomer, Kenny Florian.  Nunes needs to get back on the horse and back in the win column if he wants to make a run at a title shot any time soon. 

Honourable Mentions 

Mike Brown 25-8 UFC (6-4)

Brown had looked to the be the Featherweight king for some time when he twice defeated former long-term champion Urijah Faber.  However a loss to Joe Aldo has been followed by a tragic loss of form with Diego Nunes, Rani Yahya and Manny Gamburyan taking wins of Brown since then, with only wins over Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan to balance out.  I’d never discount a competitor of Brown’s stature but it’s looking increasingly like his time as a top ten fighter is past…

Darren Elkins 13-2 UFC (7-2, 2-0 at FW)

Elkins is excluded from the top ten purely because I feel his record at featherweight should read 1-1 as I feel Omigawa won their match.  That said, anyone who can go toe to toe with Omigawa, beat Zhang Tie Quan and also holds a win (albeit at lightweight) against Pat Curran needs to be considered.

Patricio Freire 17-1 Bellator (9-1)

Friere has won both Bellator 145lb tournaments in which he has taken part, and the prize each time has been the same – a crack at Joe Warren’s title.  Injury has forced Pitbull to wait in line behind the following season’s champion, Pat Curran for a crack at Warren and it remains to be seen whether it will be Curran he faces or if he will get the chance to avenge his only career loss on the Baddest Man in the World.  Either way, Freire has a big match to prepare for and having the ellator strap around his waist would surely lift him into the top ten.

Manny Gamburyan 11-6 UFC (3-3, 3-2 at FW)

A one time title challenger, Gamburyan followed up his losing title effort with another loss, this time at the hands of Tyson Griffin.  The wins over Mike Brown, Leonard Garcia and John Franchi which put him there are starting to seem a little distant and Manny needs wins and good performances to get back into the top ten, let alone title contention. 

Pablo Garza 11-2 (9-2, 2-1 at Featherweight)

Garza had impressed since dropping to featherweight, gaining KO and submission bonuses in impressive wins over Yves Jabouin and Fredson Paixao.  However, he ran into a brick wall in the shape of Dustin Poirer at UFC on FOX who beat him up standing in the first then subbed him in the second.  Garza has the tools to rally and come back and given the fractured state of the division, two wins could see him back in contention.

 Josh Grispi 14-3 UFC (2-2)

 Wins over LC Davis, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver and Mark Hominick had made Josh Gripi the #1 contender, but when he was scheduled to face Jose Aldo for the belt at UFC 125, Aldo pulled out injured.  Grispi was given Dustin Poirer as a late replacement and proceeded to lose.  Since then, he’s also lost to the inconsistent George Roop, placing himself a long way from a title shot…

Mark Hominick 20-9 UFC (4-1)

Hominick benefitted from Grispi’s loss, stepping into his shoes as Jose Aldo’s first challenger in the UFC.  Despite taking a beating in that match, his heart and impressive rally to win at least the final round won him many fans.  With wins over George Roop, Leonard Garcia, Yves Jabouin and Bryan Carraway still fresh in the memory (more so than his losses to Hatsu Hioki and Rani Yahya) Hominick should only need a win or two to get back into title contention.  His next bout, against the ever-entertaining Chang Sung Jung is a good place to start…

Marlon Sandro 19-3 Bellator (7-3)

Marlon Sandro is usually ranked in the top five of these rankings, but despite his evident skills I feel he is a gatekeeper in the division.  Sure, he wins more than he loses but he tends to lose when it matters, dropping title matches (to Hatsu Hioki) and Bellator tournament finals (to Pat Curran.)  If Sandro could put together a streak of wins against top opposition, I’d have no problem in ranking him.

Hiroyuki Takaya  16-9-1 DREAM (7-4)

The current DREAM Featherweight champion is one of the most inconsistent performers in MMA, having traded wins with former champion Bibiano Fernandes and having wins over the likes of Kazuyuki Miyata, Chase Beebe & Joachim Hansen balanced by losses to Roberto Peralta and Michuhiro Omigawa.  That said, some consistency and a few defences of that DREAM belt will see him in the top ten.

So that’s how I see the division stacking up as of right now.  There are a lot of top guys in a losing habit at the moment and a lot of younger guys accelerating past them with win streaks.  With a lot of interesting matches coming up, it’ll be interesting to see how the division shakes out..

As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts.

Slainte,

Chris


HDHU UFC on FOX Preview

#MMA @ufc @ufconfox

Failte,

This is one of the biggest weekends in all of mixed martial arts history.  In terms of what this means for exposure to MMA, this is right up there with Wrestlemania I for pro wrestling, the rebranding of the Premier League / Champions League for football (that’s soccer to our Occidental readers) and the main event, Heavyweight championship contest between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos could, indeed should be immediately elevated to one of the biggest, most important MMA bouts of all time, alongside Fedor vs. Nogueira, Shamrock vs. Ortiz, any one of the many Couture vs. Liddell vs. Ortiz (mix and match) bouts or Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson…

There is an odd one out there, but the target for UFC on FOX simply has to be to get more viewers than the EliteXC card, headlined by Slice vs. Thompson which drew an average viewership of 4.3 MILLION viewers and remains the most watched MMA card in history.  Of course, CBS really threw themselves behind that card (although by all reports, FOX are laying on thick as well) and Kimbo Slice and featured attraction, Gina Carano brought some extra viewers on account of their non-MMA related (youtube bum fighting and being an attractive girl, respectively) fame.  Bottom line is that EliteXC: Primetime was an experiment, but one couched as a freak show.  UFC on FOX is all serious, credible and as real as it gets… let’s hope that quality gets the numbers it deserves.

From a purely sporting PoV, the main event for UFC on Fox is one of the UFC’s three biggest ‘gimmes’ at this point (alongside GSP-Diaz and Silva-Sonnen II) and it has to be said, they simply couldn’t keep Velasquez and dos Santos apart any longer. 

It could be said that from a promotional point of view, neither participant in the main event is ideal, as they are both very respectful and not the best talkers (Cain Velasquez is very soft spoken, while Junior dos Santos’ English isn’t the best) in any case.  Neither of these men are going to sell a fight based on quips, rivalries and ‘heat’ in the way that the likes of Chael Sonnen, Frank Mir or Nick Diaz might.

However, both of these fighters are undefeated in the UFC (Velasquez is flat out unbeaten) and in the past few years they have beaten some of the biggest names in the heavyweight division’s history, with Velasquez beating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar & Cheick Kongo (most impressively, finishing both Nogueira & Lesnar in the first round) while dos Santos has beaten Fabricio Werdum, Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic, Gabriel Gonzaga and Shane Carwin.  Put simply, this match is a massive, yet fresh contest between the consensus #1 and #2 heavyweight fighters in the world. 

Indeed, the fact that both fighters are respectful, spoft spoken and eminently credible only adds to the selling point for this event, which is trying to finally, definitively break MMA into the mainstream.  Neither of these guys are going to bring the bad press that comes with being mouthy, with adopting a ‘thug’ persona or having a dubious history as a strip club bouncer who got famous beating up folks at weenie roasts.  This is no freakshow. 

This is two intelligent, likeable, hard working, accomplished athletes at the peak of their powers, going toe to toe to see who is #1, to win the richest prize in the sport, the UFC Heavyweight championship.

This event should highlight everything which is good about MMA, and given that the first event NEEDED a title match, I can think of no champion/consensus #1 contender pairing which offers as much credibility, interest and… respectability as this one.  The fact that despite an appreciation that lighter weight classes can be technically more refined, the heavyweight division in any comobat sport will always have a special appeal is just a bonus.

I think I’ve laid that on thick enough - this Saturday could see MMA break into the mainstream, step on boxing’s increasingly scrawny neck and finally shoosh all the neghative vibes coming from Titan Towers.  Sure, it’s the UFC which is doing it, but they are dragging the whole sport behind them.  MMA is coming, like a dreadnought at full steam - get on board, or get out of the way!

Let’s look at the card…

Preliminary Card (Facebook)

The Facebook card is pretty unremarkable, largely consisting of matches between guys coming off losses, moving divisions (because of losses) against up & comers.  I don’t really have anything insightful to say about any of these matches apart from to say that I’d really like to see KID Yamamoto get back into a winning way, having dropped to 1-3 in his last four bouts.  For the sake of completeness, here is the full card which will air on Facebook…

Aaron Rosa vs. Matt Lucas (Light Heavyweight Bout)
Mike Pierce vs. Paul Bradley (Welterweight Bout)
Alex Caceres vs. Cole Escovedo (Featherweight Bout)
Mackens Semerzier vs. Robert Peralta (Featherweight Bout)
Norifumi ‘KID’ Yamamoto vs. Darren Uyenoyama (Bantamweight Bout)
DaMarques Johnson vs. Clay Harvison (Welterweight Bout)
Cub Swanson vs. Ricardo Lamas (Featherweight Bout)

Preliminary Card (Fox Deportes)

The matches on the televised preliminary card are a fair bit more interesting…

Featherweight Bout -
Dustin Poirer (10-1, 3-0 streak, 2-0 at 145lbs) vs. Pablo Garza (11-1, 2-0 streak, at 145lbs)
Poirer made his UFC (and 145lb) debut as a late replacement for champion, Jose Aldo who had been scheduled to defend his belt against Josh Grispi at UFC 125.  Poirer defeated the #1 contender by unanimous decision to insert himself into the top echelon of the division.  He followed that up with a solid, if uninspiring win over Jason ‘Shotgun’ Young in June…
Garza made his UFC debut in December last year and immediately impressed with a first round KO of Fredson Paixao via flying knee, earning him KO of the Night honours.  His second UFC bout, against Yves Jabouin earned him another bonus, this time for submission of the night in another first round win.
These two are jostling for position, with the winner going to be VERY close to a title shot at the winner of Aldo vs. Mendes, so this match hasd real meaning.  It’s also likely to be very entertaining, as only 5 of these two’s combined 23 matches have gone to a decision.  As ever with the Featherweights, DO NOT BLINK.

Lightweight Bout -
Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson (14-2, 2-0 streak) vs. Clay ‘the Carpenter’ Guida (29-11, 4-0 streak)
Ben Henderson was so close to enterting the UFC as the WEC champion and de facto #1 contender, until he got suckered into playing Anthony Pettis at his own striking game and got himself on the wrong end of 2010’s highlight reel moment.  However, coming into the UFC bereft of that pressure seems to have worked as he has been in stunning form, earning wins against Mark Bocek and even more impressively Jim Miller and those performances (especially knocking off at-the-time #3 Miller) have elevated him into the title picture.
Clay Guida has been in the same place.  One win from a title shot before his thrilling loss to Diego Sanchez, Guida lost his next fight also by getting suckered into trading with a more refined striker (Kenny Florian.)  Since then, Guida has used his best skills (wrestling and submissions) to grind out three sucessive sub wins over Shannon Gugerty, rafael dos Anjos and Takanori Gomi before facing off with Anthony Pettis in what was meant to be almost an #1 contenders match.  Not making the same mistake as Henderson, he took Pettis down and stifled him to earn a decision (although I might have given the decision to Pettis as his BJJ from his back was awesome and despite being on top, Guida was defending subs, rather than laying in damage for much of the match.)
The winner of this match has been promised a title shot at Frankie Edgar’s 155lb title and aside from that importance, it should be a great match between two well matched competitors.  Both of these guys have cardio to burn, top notch wrestling, excellent submission skills and are unafraid to trade in the standup.  
This one is almost too close to call but I’m favouring Benson to take it…

UFC on FOX Main Event

UFC Heavyweight Championship
Cain Velasquez (c)
(9-0) vs. Junior dos Santos (13-1, 8-0 streak)

Two-time All American wrestler Cain Velasquez has won all but one of his matches by (T)KO, but his prime skill is his wrestling.  This allows Velasquez to control where a match takes place, even to the point where much larger heavyweights such as Ben Rothwell and Brock Lesnar have been unable to stop him controlling them.  Velasquez became only the second man to finish Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and the first to TKO Lesnar, while also surviving the strongest punches that Cheick Kongo could dish out en route to taking the title.  The signature moment of Velasquez rise simply has to be the look of utter confusion on Brock lesnar’s face as Velasquez shrugged off his takedown, reversed control and started punching him in the face.  I genuinely believe that Velasquez WRESTLING rather than striking is what defeated Brock - Lesnar simply could not process the fact that he got the takedown and then he was on the defensive in time to develop a meanigful reaction to Velasquez finishing flurry.

Dos Santos on the other hand is the more celebrated striker, despite winning only the same number of bouts via KO, with a few submissions and decisions added into his slioghtly longer resume.  His first round finishes of Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga and his verbal submission win over Mirko Cro Cop have been followed by less explosive, but more calculated decision wins over Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin.

In theory, dos Santos holds a minor advantage in the standup and Velasquez holds a larger advantage in terms of wrestling (especially given that Shane Carwin had some success against JDS in the last round of their match when he stopped trying to trade and started trying for takedowns.) 

As for their submission game, we’ve not really seen much from either man in that regard, with JDS’ only real submission win being in 2006 and Velasquez seeming to prefer setting up strikes to subs.  However, both men come from camps with top notch BJJ coaches, with dos Santos trained by the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who has only ever been complimentary about Cigano’s submission skills.  Velasquez trains at AKA, where head man Dave Camarillo is regarded as one of the best BJJ coaches in the business - so IF the match goes to ground, we can expect both guys to be very good, but as to who is better?  We’ll see…

If I have to make a prediction here, I’d go for Velasquez as I feel his superior wrestling will be the difference and JDS tends to adopt a very flat, upright boxers stance which is just BEGGING to be taken down.  Of course, if I can see that, I’m sure his coaches at Team Black House have as well…

In any case, this is the most anticipated heavyweight bout in a long time, being shown on the widest platform of any MMA bout ever, between two of the most worthy competitors imaginable.

I can’t wait…

Slainte,

Chris




   

HDHU Lightweight Rankings November 2011

#MMA #155 @ufc

Slainte,

The lightweight division is a strange one to rank for a few reasons.  For one thing, the UFC division has been on hold for almost a year while the Edgar-Maynard issue resolved itself at the top, and this has caused a lot of fighters who were on streaks to fight each other or fight guys who are similarly rated but not on as impressive streaks (rather than stay inactive waiting for a title shot that may or may not come) and has generally caused pretty much everyone competing at a significant level to take a loss somewhere along the line.  Aside from the fractious, competitive traffic jam which is the UFC division – a situation made worse by the influx of top notch fighters from the WEC – is the fact that even with the WEC roster folded into the UFC, 155lbs is one of the weight divisions where the likes of Bellator, Strikeforce and the Japanese promotions can boast comparable talent to the UFC, albeit not in the same depth.

In any case, I’ve tried to rank them out as fairly as I can, and while the #1 pick was easy beyond words, the guys beneath him bunch up pretty tightly.  Take a look and please, tell me what you think…

1          Frankie Edgar 14-1-1 UFC (5-0-1)

The Answer is not only the reigning UFC champion, but he effectively kicked BJ Penn out of the 155lb division with two impressive decision victories over the Prodigy and has since become the first person to defeat, indeed to FINISH Gray Maynard thus avenging the only loss of his career.  All of this is especially impressive when you consider that Frankie Edgar is a small lightweight in a division increasingly populated by guys who could probably make the 170lb division and this factor recently caused Dana White to say he is probably the #2 pound for pound fighter in the world (of course, behind Anderson Silva) and I can’t really disagree.  The next question for Frankie to answer is ‘who’s next’ and given the state of the division, with streaks being broken left and right, I’d put a little money on it either being the winner of Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida OR Gilbert Melendez if he should defeat Jorge Masvidal, given that the barrier between the UFC and Strikeforce is clearly merely one of convenience…

2          Gilbert Melendez 19-2 Strikeforce (5-0)

Since his 2008 loss to Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez has gone on a 5-0 streak, knocking off the cream of the Japanese lightweight scene with wins over Mitsohiro Ishida, Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri as well as getting his win back from Thomson and making the Strikeforce 155lb title his own personal property.  The fact that he has remained unbeaten while facing eminently credible opposition and looking largely unflustered in the process earns him the #2 ranking ahead of UFC fighters who have dropped losses.  His next challenge comes from divisional journeyman Jorge Masvidal on December 17th and given the ongoing asset stripping of Strikeforce, you have to expect the UFC to snap him up after that match and a win could well see him plugged straight into a title match with Frankie Edgar, following the path followed by his Cesar Gracie BJJ teammates Jake Shields and Nick Diaz…

3          Ben Henderson 14-2 UFC (7-1)

Smooth Ben has probably been the man to benefit most from the traffic jam in the UFC division following the WEC merger.  He entered the UFC as the guy who lost to the Showtime Kick (a highlight which is already skewing memories as the way it’s talked of, you’d think Ben lost via KO when in fact Pettis took the decision) but proceeded to comprehensively outwrestle and outwork Mark Bocek and then do the same thing to Jim Miller.  That might only be a 2-0 streak in the UFC but Benson is 7-1 in his last eight and that run includes two   That win over Miller (who was widely regarded as next in line for a shot thanks to his 7-0 streak) boosted Henderson right into the title mix and a win over Clay Guida on the undercard of UFC on FOX would surely earn him a title shot (especially given the recent losses of Melvin Guillard and Dennis Siver.)  In my eyes, Benson is at once one of the most frightening jiu-jitsu practitioners in the division AND one of the most capable wrestlers.  He’s also got cardio to burn and is not afraid of a stand-up fight, so I’d LOVE to see Edgar vs. Henderson in the new year…

4          Clay Guida 29-11 UFC (5-2)

I love the Carpenter, or at least I used to.  The caveman who gave us a fight of the year contender in his (losing) effort against Diego Sanchez a few years ago bears only a passing resemblance to the Guida who surely stands one win away from a title shot at this time.  The thing is, Guida was always a fighter who won if their matches were dull (because he tended to win by using his core skill which is grinding, stifling wrestling) and lost if their matches were interesting (because if he got sucked into a stand up war, Guida tended to be all enthusiasm and no accuracy, which resulted in him being beaten by more refined strikers like Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.)  Under the tutelage of Greg Jackson, Guida has been relying on his always impressive wrestling and cardio to find openings for submission and grind out decisions.  This was never more obvious than in his dull-as-dishwater but tactically perfect win over celebrated striker Anthony Pettis this summer – two years ago, Guida would have lost that fight by choosing to stand and trade with Showtime.  Aside from the fact that the winner will be the de facto #1 contender in a UFC division which hasn’t had a new challenger in over a year, his bout against Henderson is interesting in that Benson may well be his equal (or possibly better) in terms of wrestling, cardio and submissions meaning this fight could easily be decided in the stand up.  Toss a coin….
 

5          Shinya Aoiki 29-5-1Dream (11-2)

Tobikan Judan has only been defeated by Gilbert Melendez at lightweight in recent years in a classic case of a submission wrestler being shut down by a careful wrestler.  However, Aoki should not be written off on account of that result, as his wins over Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri attest.  More recently he has submitted three perfectly capable American fighters this year alone, with Lyle Beerbohm, Ric Clementi and Rob McCullough all falling before his ‘mastery of flying techniques.’  I’m ranking Aoki above Eddie Alvarez because he has a win over Alvarez and above Gray Maynard and Jim Miller because Aoki has momentum and they’ve recently lost all of theirs – although I’d fancy all three of those men to beat him at this point.  Hopefully Aoki can get himself a UFC or Bellator contract at some point (seeing as money is draining out of Japanese MMA at a frightening rate of knots) and we can find out…

6          Eddie Alvarez 22-2 Bellator (7-1)

Alvarez COULD be the best lightweight fighter outside of the UFC but unfortunately gets ranked below Melendez and Aoki as he has lost to Aoki who has lost to Melendez (MMA Math is alive and well in my rankings.)  Nevertheless, he is one of Bellator’s top cards, along with Joe Warren, Ben Askren and Hector Lombard and has generally impressed in defeating the likes of Toby Imada and Roger Huerta.  A spotty performance against Pat Curran took some of his gloss off and he’d better have his head screwed on when he defends his title against undefeated tournament winner Michael Chandler at Bellator 58 in a few weeks.  Like Melendez and to a lesser extent, Aoki – Alvarez is one of those fighters who is ALMOST great, and needs a successful run in the UFC against top opposition to really put his career over the edge.

7          Gray Maynard 10-1-1-1 UFC (4-1-1)

I always disliked Gray Maynard, the wrestler pat excellence who bullied smaller, more interesting fighters into defeat.  He started to change my opinion when he roundly defeated Kenny Florian and following his match at UFC125 I was right on the edge of being a fan, following that blistering first round and late-fight surge.  The build up to his UFC 136 rematch with Edgar actually made me a fan of him as the footage of him & Edgar rewatching the first fight showed me Edgar to be a little caught up in his ‘New Jersey’ persona, surrounded by unlikeable douche-bags shouting at the huge TV screen, while Maynard watched alone on a small screen in his kitchen and gave honest, insightful comments which contrasted greatly with Frankie playing up to his crowd.  That’s not to say I dislike Frankie Edgar, but Gray’s straightforwardness really impressed me.
In any case, rankings are about in-ring matters and Gray is 0-1-1 in his last two matches, so I can’t in all conscience rank him higher.  However, he has shown the ability to bully any lightweight apart from the current version of Frankie Edgar and has shown increasingly potent stand-up skills in his last three matches (even though there is a case for him failing to finish Edgar being a serious flaw in his game) so I could well see Gray bullying his way back to a title shot… after Edgar’s reign is over.  A bout against the loser of Guida-Henderson, a rematch against Jim Miller, Dennis Siver or Melvin Guillard would make sense at the moment.

8          Jim Miller 20-3 UFC (8-2)

Sparta, New York’s favourite son is probably the guy who lost out most due to the traffic jam in the UFC lightweight division.  Riding a seven fight win streak following a loss to Gray Maynard, he ran into a wall called Ben Henderson, just when a title shot seemed like being on the line.  However, a loss to someone like Henderson is no disgrace and those impressive victories over the likes of Gleison Tibau, Mark Bocek, Kamal Shalorus and Charles Oliveria can not be forgotten.  Miller needs to regain his momentum to be aiming at a title shot (although he’s probably looking at 2013 at best for that) as he’s been skipped by the likes of Henderson, Guida and maybe even Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon thanks to that one loss.  A win in a rematch against Gray Maynard or against one of the other high ranked fighters coming off a loss like Dennis Siver or Melvin Guillard would be a good way to start.

9          Donald Cerrone 17-3-1 UFC (9-3)

After losing in THREE WEC title matches against Jamie Varner and Ben Henderson, Cerrone has embarked on a terrifying six fight win streak including UFC wins over Paul Kelly, Vagner Rocha and most recently, Dennis Siver.  Cerrone is arguably one of the most aggressive strikers and fearsome submissions artists in the division, loves finishing fights and is seemingly incapable of being in a dull match.  That streak combined with his willingness to put on a show and highly promotable persona have been rewarded with a bout against Nate Diaz in the co-main event of UFC 141 (which is a far more interesting bout than his proposed drop to 145lbs to ‘shut up’ Nam Phan.)  The winner of that bout would be right in the title hunt and I wouldn’t be at all surprised (or disappointed) to see ‘Cowboy’ headlining a UFC pay per view towards the tail end of 2012.

10         Edson Barboza 9-0 UFC (9-0)

Part of me hates ranking this well regarded Brazilian striker as I’m one of those who thinks that Ross Pearson won their match at UFC:Rio.  That said, I’m a huge Pearson fan, so I may be biased.  In any case, I’m ranking Edson at #10 because he’s unbeaten and anyone who can go toe to toe with Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson for half an hour and come out largely unscathed and with two wins deserves respect.  That achievement itself boosts him past guys who have suffered a few losses in recent years or haven’t faced the same calibre of opposition, although I could easily accept any of the guys named below in the Honourable Mentions in this #10 spot. I’d love to see Barbosa face off with someone like Anthony Pettis or Joe Lauzon next to see if he deserves the ranking…  STOP PRESS:  Barbosa has since been booked against Terry Etim at UFC142, which should be an awesome match.


Honourable Mentions:
There are quite a few guys who come close to the top ten or who occurred to me when I was researching these rankings who’s records don’t really hold up for inclusion, and I’ll deal with them here…

Michael Chandler 8-0 Bellator (8-0)

Winner of the most recent Bellator 155lb tournament, (beating the heavily favoured Patricky Freire in the final) Chandler faces established champion Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 58 on November 19th.  A win over Alvarez could easily see Alvarez crack my top ten.

Nate Diaz 14-7 UFC (4-5, 2-3 at 155lbs)

A brace of losses at 170lbs compelled the younger Diaz to return to the 155lb division and he kick started his campaign with an impressive demolition of Takanori Gomi.  His improved focus has clearly impressed Joe Silva who has placed Nate in the co-main event of UFC 141 against Donald Cerrone.  If that one doesn’t have ‘fight of the night’ stamped through it like a stick of rock, I don’t know what does.  If Diaz knocks off Cerrone, who has been on a tear, he’ll immediately insert himself as a player of note in the title picture, perhaps another win or two from a shot, but undeniably relevant…

Rafael dos Anjos 15-5 UFC (4-3)

With wins over the likes of Terry Etim and George Sotiropoulos, it seemed that Rafael Dos Anjos was on rails to a title shot.  Unfortunately, the new, clinical version of Clay Guida got in the way and killed Rafael’s momentum.  He’s since back in a winning way and with a record of 4-1 in his last five fights, he’s not far off the top ten…

Terry Etim 15-3 UFC (4-1)     

Liverpool’s Terry Etim rebounded from dropping his second and third UFC matches by going on a four fight win streak which was ended by Rafael dos Anjos.  Etim then spent over a year injured but returned in to submit Edward Faaloloto in only 17 seconds at UFC 138.  The momentousness of that performance sets him up with a meeting against Edson Barbosa with a spot in the top ten on the line.

Melvin Guillard 29-9-2-1 UFC (6-2)

One of the most explosive strikers in the division, Guillard possibly bought a little too much into his own hype, resulting in his shock loss to Joe Lauzon.  He’d been on a tear before that, beating Shane Roller, Evan Dunham and Gleison Tibau so can’t be written out of relevancy due to one loss.  Given his emotional reaction to his loss to Lauzon, as shown on Dana White’s video blog, the main question with Guilliard needs to be how he mentally handles the loss – if he gets focussed and comes back harder, better, faster, stronger he will be a VERY scary man indeed.

Joe Lauzon 21-6 UFC (4-2)

Lauzon was expected to be steamrollered by Melvin Guillard, just a speed-bump on the Young Assassin’s road to a title shot.  Lauzon didn’t agree and even managed to drop the more celebrated striker.  At a stroke, the forgotten man is relevant in the division again and the future is ripe with possibility…

Jorge Masvidal 22-6 Strikeforce (7-3, 4-1 at 155lbs)

Masvidal has shifted divisions and companies looking for fights, but he is 4-1 at 155lbs in the past few years and looked downright scary in his win over KJ Noons.  He has been rewarded with a title shot against Gilbert Melendez on December 17th and while Melendez is the clear favourite, he’d look past Masvidal at his peril…

Anthony Pettis 12-2 UFC (7-2)

On December 31st 2010, Anthony Pettis was the WEC champion and #1 contender to the UFC belt thanks to his win over Ben Henderson (himself now one win away from a UFC title shot) and the ‘Showtime Kick.’  A day later, he was required to step back into the mix as a rematch was needed between Edgar and Maynard.  Pettis ended up facing Clay Guida in that match and lost a decision to Guida’s stifling wrestling, even though many observers would have awarded him the match on account of him being far more active offensively (Pettis showed some very impressive BJJ off his back, to the point where Guida spent much of the match defending subs while on top) but we all know that takedowns and maintaining top position will be scored above almost anything else… sigh.
In any case, Pettis got back in a winning way against Jeremy Stephens and his wins over the likes of Ben Henderson and Shane Roller show he’s a threat to anyone in the division.  This is not the last we’ve heard of Showtime…

Dennis Siver 19-8 UFC (7-2)

Innovative striker Dennis Siver is one of those fighters who seems to build momentum right to the point where they are being talked of as potential title challengers, then lose.  His wins over George Sotiropoulos and Matt Wiman showed his quality but his losses to Ross Pearson and most recently, Donald Cerrone (who dismissed Siver as a on-trick-pony on account of his spinning back kick) have shown his frailties.  It remains to be seen if Siver can muster another run towards the top of the card or is doomed to gatekeeper status…

George Sotiropoulos 14-4 UFC (5-2)

A while ago, it seemed like G-Sot was on rails to a title shot with wins over Joe Lauzon, Kurt Pellegrino and Joe Stevenson but back to back losses to Dennis Siver and Rafael dos Anjos killed G-Sot’s momentum and have sent the 10th Planet standout back to the drawing board.

As you can see the 155lb division is one of the most hotly contested in the sport, with few of the most well regarded fighters managing to put a streak of any better than three or four wins together.  Above you can see guys at the top of their powers, guys who are still waiting to test themselves against truly elite opposition, guys who have fallen short one step from the top of the mountain and all points in between.  Given the fractious and debatable nature of such a competitive division, I wouldn’t be surprised if your rankings varied wildly from mine.  If that’s the case, please let us know your rankings and let’s get some debate going!

Next week, I shall throw out my rankings for the featherweight division…

Slainte,

Chris

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MMA news, opinion & rankings by fight fans, for fight fans.