With the retirement of Georges St Pierre and Anderson Silva out for the foreseeable future, the fabled MMA pound-for-pound rankings have had their biggest shake up in years.
Whilst many elite fighters capable of reaching the level of the two aforementioned legends remain, the subject of who should be in the top 10 is still very much up for debate.
Of course, fighters can only earn the right to seriously be considered members of this elite club that so many never reach. Only through consistency, quality and bravery will a fighter ever be considered a pound-for-pound top 10 fighter. Recognised as the best MMA fighters today are fighters that have not lost for close to a decade, others that are clearing out their division and some that simply look levels above all opponents they have faced.
However, the following list may have a few omissions that will raise a few eyebrows.
Ronda Rousey has been utterly dominant in her career thus far, arguably never having lost a complete round on the route to becoming the UFC’s first female champion. However, the level of her opponents has seen her just fall short of this list, as she still has tougher fighters to face. Michael Chandler has only one very controversial loss to his name thus far in a career which has seen him run through an extremely tough Bellator lightweight division but in the most talented division in MMA there are several other fighters that can test him before he is acknowledged as a pound-for-pound top 10 fighter. Lyoto Machida has racked up wins against many elite fighters such as Rashad Evans, Gegard Mousasi and Dan Henderson to stake his claim as one of the best in the world but some subpar performances at light-heavyweight give reason to say the others in this list are more deserving.
There are more names that could be mentioned but in a list that is formed of opinion, valid arguments can always be raised. However, based on achievements and form, here are the current best pound-for-pound MMA fighters in the world today.
1) Jon Jones – Light-heavyweight, 26 years old, 20-1 (9 knockouts, 6 submissions)
There can be no doubt about Jon Jones’ position as the number one fighter in the world. In a six year career he has only ever really been thoroughly tested once (in his epic bout against Alexander Gustaffson) and this is during a run in which Jones has run through five former UFC champions, a man on a run of 20 straight wins and several other very tough opponents.
The style in which Jones is winning is also very impressive. We have seen Jon Jones out-wrestle Chael Sonnen, beat Glover Teixeira on the inside and destroy most of the rest of his opposition. He has already beaten six of the current top 10 in the UFC light-heavyweight rankings. His only loss thus far has been for disqualification, after brutally ending the fight with apparently illegal strikes.
With an abundant skillset and a focused mind wrapped up in an amazingly athletic physique, Jon Jones is easily the best in MMA today and already one of the best ever.
2) Jose Aldo – Featherweight, 27 years old, 24-1 (14 knockouts, 2 submissions)
The ferocious Brazilian has long reigned in the top three of most MMA pound-for-pound lists and that is because he simply keeps winning.
After five years (both WEC and UFC) as a champion Aldo simply knows how to win, whether it is by spectacular knockout or outpointing an opponent. Seemingly as powerful as a welterweight, Aldo has knocked out people in nearly every way possible, whilst he is also so proficient at grappling that he has as of yet never been in real trouble on the ground either. Wins against the likes of Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Kenny Florian also show Aldo has faced the best opponents possible in his division.
A move up in weight beckons and with the lightweight division stacked, any kind of title run from Aldo will seal him as one of the best of all time. For now, he is the second best fighter on earth.
3) Renan Barao – Bantamweight, 27 years old, 32-1-1 (8 knockouts, 14 submissions)
Records like the one Renan Barao possesses are rarely – if ever – seen in MMA. To go nine years without a loss is something only the very best (think Fedor Emelianenko) can do.
Renan Barao is fast reaching this level. Diverse, tenacious, and unendingly hungry, after years in the shadows it seems Barao is truly flourishing in the limelight. He has been totally dominant since joining the UFC and his two years as champion are sure to continue for a while yet.
Big tests are still set to come for Barao, with the champion that vacated the belt because of injury – Dominick Cruz – set to return this year, whilst opportunities in his own and even other divisions remain. Right now though, alongside his training partner Jose Aldo, Barao is one of the very best in the world.
4) Cain Velasquez – Heavyweight, 31 years old, 13-1 (11 knockouts)
Having come out on top in one of MMA’s best ever trilogies, Cain Velasquez has cemented himself as one of the best in the world too.
As furious in his approach as he is relentless, Velasquez fights in a manner the makes most wonder how he can ever be beaten. The Mexican pressures opponents with a blend of chopping kicks, barrages of powerful punches and world-class wrestling. The current king of ground-and-pound, Velasquez has looked formidable for all but approximately one minute of his career, when he lost in 64 seconds via KO against arch-rival Junior Dos Santos, which he of coursed avenged emphatically twice.
However, the beatings he gave the likes of Brock Lesnar, Antonio Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira prove it will not be often we see Velasquez on the wrong side of a fight. The only problem for Velasquez may be finding credible opponents in a shallow heavyweight division to take on one of the best in the world.
5) Demetrious Johnson – Flyweight, 27 years old, 19-2
As Joe Rogan is not shy of saying, ‘Might Mouse’ is probably the fastest fighter in the world today, in every possible way. From his footwork to his kicks to his takedowns, Johnson does things at blinding speed and also with impeccable technique.
Competing above his optimum weight for some time, the UFC adding the flyweight division was just the break Johnson needed. His only loss in the last four years was against Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight title. Since that loss Johnson has gone from strength-to-strength and looked absolutely superb in his last three fights against very tough opposition in John Dodson, John Moraga and Joseph Benavidez.
Johnson is steadily clearing through his division. At just 5’3 the flyweight is the best division for the diminutive American, meaning his reign could just be a long one.
6) Junior Dos Santos – Heavyweight, 30 years old, 16-3 (12 knockouts, 2 submissions)
Rarely will you ever find a pound-for-pound list that contains a man that has been beaten to a bloody pulp in two of his last three fights. However, the case of Junior Dos Santos is a rare one.
Never has there been such a gap between the top two and the rest of the division in MMA. Yes, Cain Velasquez clearly marked himself out as the number one by pulverising the Brazilian over five rounds – twice. Yet other than Velasquez, most would agree it is doubtful if any other heavyweight on the planet could beat Dos Santos.
Consider the fact that ‘Cigano’ has already beaten the next contender for the heavyweight title in Fabricio Werdum, whilst he has also beaten two former UFC heavyweight champions and Mark Hunt, Roy Nelson and Mirko Cro-Cop. The standard of opponent has usually been of the highest quality, whilst his manner of victory is usually spectacular knockout.
With his agility, accuracy and one-punch knockout power, in the real essence of the meaning of pound-for-pound, Dos Santos is one of the best MMA fighters in the world today.
7) Johny Hendricks – Welterweight, 30 years old, 16-2 (8 knockouts, 1 submission)
As the man that – unofficially – dethroned Georges St Pierre, the potential for ‘Big Rigg’ to remain and even go up in this list is huge.
Currently, Hendricks has proven himself one of the best in the world through his ability to either knockout opponents with single punches so powerful they send people flying across the cage, or simply to out-grind and out-work opponents.
For every stunning knockout – see wins against Jon Fitch, Martin Kampmann or Amir Sadollah – there are also the gritty, tight decision wins (against the likes of Mike Pierce, TJ Grant and Josh Koscheck). Some of these decision wins could arguably have gone against Hendricks but in his recent outing against Robbie Lawler, Hendricks showed he is learning how to more comfortably seal victories when he is unable to render his opponent unconscious.
In the long run, the tight wins will look just as impressive as the knockouts, as they are what make a champion. Seeing how or if Hendricks can keep this up will dictate where he finds himself on this list in what will be an exciting future for the American.
8) Anthony Pettis – Lightweight, 27 years old, 17-2 (8 knockouts, 6 submissions)
Arguably one of the most multi-talented fighters in the world today, Pettis is so diverse he can win in any number of ways.
Famous for the amazing ‘super-kick’ he pulled off against Benson Henderson (if you haven’t seen it, you probably should not be reading this), Pettis has shown the ability to regularly pull off moves that most would not even dare try; cartwheel kicks, off-the-cage knees and more.
Thus far it seems the only way to beat Pettis is to simply neutralise him, because no one has been successful at trying to emphatically out-perform him. Maybe the best Muay-Thai fighter in the lightweight division, Pettis is also a real finisher in grappling exchanges, able to capitalise on any mistake to finish the fight.
A unique talent in MMA, Pettis is undoubtedly one of the best fighters in the world.
9) Chris Weidman – Middleweight, 29 years old, 11-0 (5 knockouts, 3 submissions)
It seems that Weidman has gone from one of the best prospects in MMA to one of the certified best in the world in the blink of an eye.
And that is not without reason, for knocking out Anderson Silva is a very valid reason for Weidman making the jump from highly touted to undoubted in just two fights. Following his win via left-hook, Weidman then notoriously won via TKO after checking a kick from Silva that broke the Brazilian’s leg. Lucky as it may have been, it was still a deliberate move in a fight that the New York resident was already winning.
In just 11 fights Weidman has show many aspects to his game. He has heavy hands as shown against Silva, the ability to throw unorthodox strikes (see the elbow finisher against Mark Munoz), submission skills and even the capacity to neutralise an opponents skill (as he did against Demian Maia, forcing the jiu-jitsu expert into a kickboxing match).
Weidman is just coming into his own but has already proven he is one of the best in the world.
10) Vitor Belfort – Middleweight, 37 years old, 24-10 (17 knockouts, 3 submissions)
One of the grandmasters of MMA is still going strong and with some of his best performances ever recently, it is only right ‘The Phenom’ is in this list.
In the last seven years Belfort has only lost to Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, which is nothing to be ashamed of. In the meantime, he has stopped the likes of Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Anthony Johnson in brilliant fashion. The fact that all of these fighters are still ranked in the top ten in their divisions shows just how good Belfort has been.
Looking at his career, Belfort has only lost to the elite of MMA and usually at a higher weight, showing he has always been in the mix with the very best in the sport.
Now, with the middleweight division more open than ever, Belfort has a real chance to seal his legacy. Already a former heavy and light-heavyweight UFC champion, the Brazilian could become the first ever three weight UFC champion in history should he get the title shot he has been promised.
Slightly tarnished because of his use of TRT (testosterone replacement therapy), it is unfair to put all his wins down to use of this enhancing drug. Now that TRT has become illegal we can truly gauge just where Belfort belongs in the MMA pound-for-pound rankings. For now, he just makes it in as one of the best 10 fighters in the world.