Before the new MMA year starts, a look at who the best 10 in the world are – and aren’t – today, based on 2015
In 2015 the sport of MMA had a year that brought about a near revolution. Champions went from reigning to ruined, something which makes ranking today’s pound-for-pound best near impossible.
What do you do when a dominant champion gets destroyed in such fashion you don’t know if they’ll ever recover?
The best fighters in the world undoubtedly are with the UFC and with seven new champions crowned in 2015 the fabled pound-for-pound rankings have had to be completely revamped. MMA has evolved as a sport tremendously quickly and as such, the turn around of great fighters is similar.
This is why the likes of Renan Barao and Junior Dos Santos drop out of the top 10 altogether. These former champions suffered devastating losses in 2015. Dos Santos is clearly on a steep slide looking at his recent performance against Alistair Overeem. Barao is likely to be on the same downhill spiral, especially considering he is looking to move up a division now he has been forced out of the one he once ruled. In the cases of both, it is unlikely they will ever get an elite win again, meaning they simply cannot be considered among the best 10 fighters in the world today.
Another out of the list is Cain Velasquez. The Mexican heavyweight has fought once in two years and that was an emphatic loss, so he has no reason to be considered a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter on this kind of form.
Anthony Pettis’s run of wins up until his lone loss last year still leave doubts about how he can handle relentless pressure, seeing him go from number eight in this list last year to dropping out altogether.
Despite picking up wins in 2015 Johny Hendricks and Vitor Belfort are also not included because the two have simply been bypassed by fighters performing better at a similarly high level. Chris Weidman is the hardest of the bunch to leave out, especially as he looked amazing in destroying Vitor Belfort this year. Nevertheless, he was thoroughly dominated by Luke Rockhold and the others have done more than him to belong in the top 10.
However, this list will show just dethroning a champ is not enough to be considered a pound-for-pound champion. What a fighter has done before that is taken into consideration. This is why someone such as TJ Dillashaw, the UFC bantamweight champion of the world, is not in the list. Whilst he has twice destroyed someone that was last year ranked third in this list in Renan Barao, he has not had another top name win and it is still only two years since he lost a tight decision to Raphael Assuncao.
Fabricio Werdum has had an amazing last few years on his rise to being the UFC’s current heavyweight champion. Yet, wins against opponents past-their-prime such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Hunt, as well as the hardly elite Travis Browne and Roy Nelson, do not combine with a win against Cain Velasquez to make him one of the best ten best fighters on earth today.
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.
10) Robbie Lawler: UFC Middleweight Champion, 33 years old, 26-10 (20 KOs, one sub)
“Ruthless” Robbie only had one fight in 2015 but it was one that will live go down in MMA folklore. For Lawler is was not only huge because of how exciting the fight against Rory Macdonald was, it was also him emphatically beating one of the very best welterweights in the world, for the second time.
This established Lawler as the best in the division. Although Lawler will get a very stern test against Carlos Condit this weekend, it is hard to see anyone beating him in any other fashion than to steal a points decision.
Lawler has a style best described as “sprawl-and-brawl”, which he has perfected. Incredibly strong, astoundingly tough and now vastly experienced, he simply looks to keep his fights standing whilst he stalks opponents, breaking them down with heavy strikes. Lawler’s stand-up is better than brawling though. He has proven he is able to relay smooth punch combos to devastating effect, along with powerful kicks and knees. At times, Lawler has even been seen to out jab opponents too.
Robbie Lawler has never looked unbeatable but recently he has looked very hard to beat, especially in a clean fashion. He is relentless, he is fierce and he is one of the best 10 fighters in MMA today.
9) Holly Holm: UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, 34 years old, 10-0 (seven KOs, 0 subs)
Holly Holm came into the UFC with one of the most decorated striking backgrounds ever seen by any MMA fighter. Yet, up until November 2015, it wasn’t really showing in the highest level of the sport.
Then came the Ronda Rousey fight. In that one fight Holm showed she had striking way, way beyond the levels of any female athlete in the game and beyond even many men in MMA. Her footwork was impeccable against an ultra aggressive opponent. Her use of range and her accuracy were also superb. And in her left head-kick she proven she has a weapon that can end a fight at any time.
Holm fought three times in 2015 in the UFC and whilst not always dominant, she was always comfortable, never looking troubled.
Holm is yet to beat any of the rest of the top five, giving her scope to get higher up this list if she does it as comfortably as she has her last few.
All of her opponents have known about her striking and as such most have looked to implement a grappling strategy against her. So far, they have all been unable to and as such, by the end of 2015 she must be considered a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter.
8) Frankie Edgar: 34 years old, 21-4-1 (seven KOs, four subs)
Perennially regarded as a world class fighter but more out than in most people’s pound-for-pound MMA lists, it is time to give Edgar the credit he is due.
“The Answer” has only ever lost fights in close decisions. Even when he lost via unanimous judges decision (UD) – such as those against Jose Aldo or Benson Henderson – most observers gave him at least two rounds, whilst others had him winning those fights. It is also worth noting Benson Henderson is now beating contenders at welterweight.
As a former lightweight champion and featherweight title contender, Edgar is proven at championship level at two weights and there is even talk of him going down to bantamweight to fight for the title too.
Hardcore MMA fans are demanding Edgar be allowed his title shot against McGregor, having earned it in 2015, when he comfortably beat two of MMA’s elite, with a UD against Urijah Faber and destroying Chad Mendes in one round. Beating Mendes in better fashion than either Jose Aldo or Connor McGregor did shows what level Edgar is at right now.
It can no longer be denied just how good Edgar is. He is one of the best boxers in MMA and also one of the best at switching his attack from takedowns to strikes, leaving opponents unable to handle his output. He is quick, has amazing stamina and tremendous determination. Frankie Edgar is quite simply one of the 10 best MMA fighters in the world today.
7) Jose Aldo: 29 years old, 25-1 (14 KOs, two subs)
In 2014 Jose Aldo beat two world class fighters in Ricardo Lamas and Chad Mendes, sealing his position as not only the best featherweight in the world but also as one of the very best fighters in the world, hailed by many as number one pound-for-pound
Then in 2015 he fought only once, in a bout which lasted 13 seconds. The question then is, how much impact can a 13 second fight have on how we judge a fighter? Unfortunately for Aldo, the answer is quite a lot. As such, he goes from the second best fighter in the world in 2014 to the ninth in 2015.
Due to those 13 seconds we must reconsider Aldo’s punch resistance, his capacity to handle mind games and how, so deep into his reign as a champion, he will handle these questions when he next fights again.
Nevertheless, we must also put the loss into context. We can’t surmise that Aldo has lost the ability to beat opponents with the same ultra aggressive, high output, destructive style, balanced out with some of the best takedown defence in MMA and good jiu-jitsu, simply based on a 13 second fight. Thus, it is wrong to remove Aldo from the top 10 altogether, for now.
6) Luke Rockhold: UFC Middleweight Champion, 31 years old, 15-2 (four KOs, nine subs)
This year Luke Rockhold destroyed two of MMA’s elite in Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman in two performances that are nearly unmatchable in 2015 for the flawlessness.
What makes Rockhold such a great fighter is that not only is he a superb athlete, he is also a very cerebral fighter. The Californian combines raw strength (huge at the weight at 6ft 3in) with amazing agility and uses it with an exceptional understanding on when to use his different tools to win a fight. This is seen from the many times he has hurt opponents through his striking and than finished them with a submission.
Rockhold already has some stellar wins against the likes of Tim Kennedy, Michael Bisping and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, all of whom are still some of the best in the division. With his aforementioned wins this year, Rockhold showed he’s not just the best middleweight in the world, he is also one of the very best fighters in the world.
5) Connor McGregor: UFC Featherweight Champion, 27 years old, 19-2 (17 KOs, one sub)
Three fights in 2015, three knockouts. The Irish lad talks the talk and walks the walk.
His last two fights saw him stop the featherweight’s number one and two with the best two wins anyone got in MMA in 2015. Granted, the fight against Mendes left some questions to be answered about how McGregor will handle a determined wrestler since Mendes on just a few weeks notice caused him problems in this area. Yet, McGregor has an understanding of MMA that is undeniable.
McGregor figures out opponents and ruthlessly works out how to stop them. His timing and accuracy is among the best seen in MMA. The power he possesses in his left hand has shown that when it lands, the fight is usually over.
“The Notorious” Irishmen is bringing the striking game of MMA up a whole level on his own. Right now, the only people that are considered good enough to even test him right now are the likes of Edgar, possibly Aldo and just a few names at the weight above him.
If through nothing else, by brutally ending the reign of a man considered a top five pound-for-pound fighter, McGregor has proven that he is one of the best five fighters in the world by the end of 2015.
4) Daniel Cormier: UFC interim Light-heavyweight Champion, 36 years old, 17-1 (six KOs, five subs)
Should a man that is clearly not even the best in his division be so high on this list? Based on his performances, Daniel Cormier should.
Daniel Cormier is an old-school style UFC fighter. A hard-nosed, ultra stubborn wrestler, that will grind to victory. Cormier is a great dirty boxer, dangerous in the clinch, has a solid submission game and of course, world class, Olympic level wrestling.
In 2015 he gave Jon Jones a good fight before beating Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustaffson. In one year he took on the best three possible fighters in his division. The loss against Jones, although clear, was not emphatic. He was not destroyed and won one if not two rounds. That was his only ever loss and he got over it in the best possible way.
Simply, Cormier has reached a level where only one man in the world would be given a chance to beat him. Even if he moved back up to heavyweight, where he has already beaten world class opponents, Cormier would be favoured to beat probably everyone. Thus, he deserves to be hailed as the fourth best fighter in the world today.
3) Rafael Dos Anjos: UFC Lightweight Champion, 31 years old, 25-7 (five KOs, eight subs)
Two of the most dangerous strikers, riding their very best form were both emphatically beaten in 2015 by one man. That man is Rafael Dos Anjos.
First in March he dominated someone that is arguably the most talented man in MMA in Anthony Pettis. He beat him to the punch for five rounds and sustained a level of pressure and aggression that Pettis was unable to handle. Then he took on Donald Cerrone in December. Cerrone was riding an eight fight winning streak and Dos Anjos savagely stopped him in just 66 seconds.
Clearly, through hard work and finding a style which suits his abilities, Dos Anjos has become a monster at lightweight, also beating the likes of Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson. Dos Anjos came into the UFC hailed largely as a jiu-jitsu expert. Now he has worked on his game to such an extent he is dominating strikers on their feet.
Beating the murderers row of contenders at lightweight will require Dos Anjos to maintain the level of performance he showed in these fights, something that will be extremely tough. For now though, based on recent form, we can legitimately call him one of the best 10 fighters in the world.
2) Demetrious Johnson: UFC Flyweight Champion, 29 years old, 23-2-1 (four KOs, nine subs)
“Mighty Mouse” has arguably been in the top five fighters in MMA for three years now.
Through perfect technique, an intelligent approach and a ruthless drive to win, Johnson has become a dominant champion. Since the creation of the flyweight division in the UFC, Jonshon has fended off all manner of styles comfortably and shown he can win in a number of ways; one punch knockout, submissions, tactical points decisions.
He showed this in 2015 with two title defences, firstly gaining the latest stoppage in UFC history with a submission against Kyoji Horiguchi (with just one second left in the fight) and then beating John Dodson, the man many view as the clear next best flyweight in the world. The Dodson win in September was the second time Johnson has beaten him.
Now four years into his reign as the only ever UFC Flyweight champion, Johnson has literally cleared out his division. Yet, testament to his approach to fighting as a whole, Johnson smartly wants to actually prove he’s the most dominant champion in UFC history by beating the record of 10 title defences set by Anderson Silva.
Johnson is currently on seven title defences and by proving such a dominant champion, he is easily one of the top two fighters in the world today.
1) Jon Jones: UFC Light-heavyweight Champion, 28 years old, 21-1 (nine KOs, six subs)
It is one year this month that Jon Jones had his last fight, beating Daniel Cormier by UD. In all that time, that win is still good enough to keep Jones as the number one best fighter on the planet, bar none.
Cormier came into the fight undefeated, clearly driven to give Jones the fight of his life. The thought was Cormier could out-dog Jones, grind him down with wrestling. Yet Jones never succumbed to the pressure. In the end, we actually saw Jones start to out wrestle Cormier – one of the most decorated wrestlers in UFC history.
That was typical of Jones. We have seen him stop Muay Thai master Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on the feet, we saw him trade bombs with famed brawler Glover Teixeira, and basically do what he wants with many of MMA’s top level light-heavyweights. Whilst Alexander Gustaffson took him close a couple of years ago, very few people would give the Swede much chance to dethrone Jones now.
He has proven he has a great chin and champion heart. He has a great submission game, plus strikes that slash and chop opponents up both on the ground and standing. His reach is just half an inch shorter than that of boxing’s 6ft 9in heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. There is simply no area where you think any other fighter on the planet could have an advantage over him.
No fighter has ever beaten him. His only loss is via disqualification and even that was unjustified. It seems no one is his equal. When he was arrested in April the UFC stripped him of his UFC Light-heavyweight title belt. Whatever his title status is, Jon “Bones” Jones remains the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.
Check out last year’s list here – https://jazztheory.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/mma-the-pound-for-pound-top-10/