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Revealing and analyzing the first-ever set of UFC rankings

Anderson Silva predictably at the top of pound-for-pound poll


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Jose Aldo reacts after retaining his featherweight belt after winning a unanimous decision over Frankie Edgar at UFC 156 Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

The inaugural UFC rankings were appropriately released a few hours after the two major college basketball polls Monday afternoon.

When announcing plans for the media poll last week, UFC President Dana White said it was somewhat modeled after the formula college athletics has used for years.

White hoped the UFC rankings would help casual fans better connect with mixed martial arts and create discourse among already-loyal followers.

So far, so good.

Social media went abuzz after the UFC released the poll results for all eight of its weight classes and the pound-for-pound list. As one of the 28 voters who contributed rankings, I thought I’d add to the conversation and explain some of my rationale.

Find the complete list of UFC rankings below with my placement following every fighter in parentheses. I also offer a few thoughts at the bottom of every poll.

Note: Champions are not eligible for voting and automatically at the top. “NR” stands for not ranked.


1. Anderson Silva (1)

2. Jon Jones (2)

3. Georges St. Pierre (3)

4. Jose Aldo (4)

5. Benson Henderson (5)

6. Cain Velasquez (8)

7. Dominick Cruz (6)

8. Demetrious Johnson (9)

9. Frankie Edgar (NR)

10. Dan Henderson (NR)

Thoughts: Two things count as a minor surprise here — a) Gilbert Melendez didn’t make the cut and b) Edgar clung to a spot despite Saturday’s unanimous-decision loss to Jose Aldo. Former Strikeforce champion Melendez, winner of seven in a row who I voted at No. 7, hasn’t fought in the UFC yet so that could explain his exclusion. Edgar’s a phenomenal fighter who captured and kept the lightweight title for a stretch, but he’s lost three in a row now. Even though they were close fights, defeats should count for some sort of downgrade.

Henderson is a fine choice at No. 10, but I sided with interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao who has won 29 fights in a row.


Champion: Cain Velasquez

1. Junior dos Santos (1)

2. Fabricio Werdum (3)

3. Daniel Cormier (2)

4. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (4)

5. Frank Mir (5)

6. Alistair Overeem (7)

7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (10)

8. Roy Nelson (9)

9. Stefan Struve (6)

10. Shane Carwin (8)

Thoughts: Although it was five years ago, dos Santos knocked out Werdum in 81 seconds at UFC 90. There’s little doubt the undefeated Cormier would put up a better fight. But like Melendez, he’s yet to debut in the octagon so it’s hard to fault voters hesitant to give the former Olympic wrestler too much credit.

Struve has knockout losses against No. 8 Nelson and unranked Travis Browne, so I may have ranked him too high. But the 24-year-old’s recent four-fight winning streak, where he was an underdog in three of the fights, can be interpreted as reason to believe he’s improved drastically.

Light Heavyweight

Champion: Jon Jones

1. Dan Henderson (1)

2. Lyoto Machida (2)

3. Alexander Gustafsson (3)

4. Glover Teixeira (6)

5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (10)

6. Rashad Evans (4)

7. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (7)

8. Phil Davis (5)

9. Ryan Bader (8)

10. Gegard Mousasi (9)

Thoughts: The next 205-pound fighter to challenge Jones for the title is noticeably absent. That’s a positive. Chael Sonnen, who meets Jones at UFC 159, has never fought in the division during his time with the UFC. Jones vs. Sonnen is a fight with plenty of interest, but it’s not one between two of the best light heavyweights in the world.

Other than that, the light heavyweight rankings show the same tendency for over-reaction to one match that’s regularly seen in college basketball and football polls. Nogueira, fresh off stunning Evans with a unanimous-decision victory Saturday, is three spots ahead of Davis and four ahead of Bader. Both wrestlers, however, beat Nogueira rather convincingly within the past three years.

The counterpoint would be that I ranked Evans six spots ahead of Nogueira despite the victory. Well, look at their overall résumés. Evans is a former champion who's gone 12-3-1 in the UFC. Nogueira has never sniffed title contention during his 4-2 run. If Evans fought Nogueira again at the next UFC card, sports books would post him as a heavy favorite despite the loss. And most would pick him in a heartbeat.


Champion: Anderson Silva

1. Chris Weidman (1)

2. Vitor Belfort (2)

3. Michael Bisping (6)

4. Yushin Okami (5)

5. Mark Munoz (8)

6. Constantinos Philippou (7)

7. Luke Rockhold (3)

8. Hector Lombard (10)

9. Alan Belcher (NR)

10. Tim Boetsch (9)

Thoughts: My positioning of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza at No. 4 looks awfully questionable considering the Strikeforce import didn’t make the rankings. But Jacare went 7-1 in Strikeforce with the only defeat by the closest of margins to No. 7 Luke Rockhold.

The problem with middleweight is so many of the ranked fighters haven’t faced each other. That should, obviously, work itself out over time. The lone surprise here was seeing Bisping, who’s perennially labeled as underrated, at No. 3. Now 0-3 in fights where he could earn top-contender status after losing to No. 2 Vitor Belfort last month, Bisping has never impressed when facing top competition.


Champion: Georges St. Pierre

1. Johny Hendricks (1)

2. Carlos Condit (5)

3. Nick Diaz (6)

4. Rory MacDonald (2)

5. Demian Maia (3)

6. Jake Ellenberger (9)

7. Martin Kampmann (8)

8. Josh Koscheck (4)

9. Jon Fitch (7)

10. Tarec Saffiedine (NR)

Thoughts: The judges gave the decision to Hendricks. In my opinion, though, Koscheck beat Hendricks at UFC on Fox 3 last year. Perhaps that provides some insight on why I ranked the two-time top contender four spots ahead of the consensus.

Fitch would have ranked No. 3 on my poll before Saturday’s UFC 156, where Maia completely mauled him in a unanimous-decision win. Leaping Maia all the way to No. 3 may have been a reach, but it speaks to his performance last weekend.

I may have ranked Condit lower than anyone else in the rankings at No. 5. But I would confidently pick all four of the fighters I ranked ahead of Condit against him if they fought. MacDonald, for instance, is a 2-to-1 favorite in their rematch scheduled for March.

Local Mike Pyle was my choice for No. 10, but there’s a clear drop-off for the last spot from the top nine.


Champion: Benson Henderson

1. Gilbert Melendez (1)

2. Anthony Pettis (2)

3. Gray Maynard (3)

4. Nate Diaz (4)

5. Jim Miller (6)

6. Donald Cerrone (7)

7. T.J. Grant (5)

8. Rafael dos Anjos (9)

9. Joe Lauzon (10)

10. Khabib Nurmagomedov (8)

Thoughts: This is probably the least controversial division of the first set of rankings. The top four spots were clear-cut to me. Some would extend that all the way to No. 6.

I went with Grant ahead of a couple of the established powers because he’s undefeated since dropping to 155 pounds and beat Matt Wiman at UFC on Fox 6 worse than anyone else ever has during the veteran’s career. The 28-year-old Grant has 13 victories by submission, but his improved kickboxing has overwhelmed both Wiman and Evan Dunham, two fringe top 10 fighters, within the last four months.


Champion: Jose Aldo

1. Chad Mendes (1)

2. Ricardo Lamas (2)

3. Chan Sung Jung (3)

4. Frankie Edgar (4)

5. Dennis Siver (7)

6. Cub Swanson (6)

7. Dustin Poirier (5)

8. Nik Lentz (NR)

9. Erik Koch (NR)

10. Clay Guida (9)

Thoughts: Figuring out what to do with Edgar was a tricky proposition. The loss to Aldo was his first fight ever at featherweight, so he’s never accomplished anything in the division.

But who would pick against Edgar if he faced any other 145-pound fighter in the world? Not many. I tried to negotiate these two truths by ranking Edgar below two fighters who are 3-0 in the UFC but ahead of all those who I feel would get steamrolled by the former lightweight champion. Based on the results, plenty of others had the same idea.

Unranked Elkins and Hioki got votes from me at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively. Elkins doesn’t have an exciting style, but he’s won four in a row. Hioki has dropped two in a row, but those could have easily been switched to wins with a different set of judges.


Champion: Dominick Cruz

Interim Champion: Renan Barao (automatic No. 1)

2. Michael McDonald (2)

3. Urijah Faber (3)

4. Eddie Wineland (4)

5. Brad Pickett (7)

6. Brian Bowles (8)

7. Rafael Assuncao (5)

8. Scott Jorgensen (6)

9. Mike Easton (10)

10. Ivan Menjivar (NR)

Thoughts: After the top four, this felt like a free-for-all. I’m still trying to figure out how Pickett ranks three spots above Jorgensen, who took all three rounds off “One Punch” when they met in a memorable WEC 50 bout.

Assuncao had lost three of four before coming to the UFC, but he’s gone undefeated both in the octagon and at bantamweight ever since. His easy win over highly regarded Mike Easton at UFC on Fox 5 swayed me to move him to the top of the second-half cluster.

I went with once-beaten T.J. Dillashaw, one of the brighter prospects in mixed martial arts, in the No. 9 spot.


Champion: Demetrious Johnson

1. Joseph Benavidez (1)

2. John Dodson (2)

3. Ian McCall (4)

4. John Moraga (3)

5. Jussier Da Silva (5)

6. Louis Gaudinot (7)

7. Chris Cariaso (10)

8. John Lineker (9)

9. Darren Uyenoyama (8)

10. Ulysses Gomez (NR)

Thoughts: If these rankings influence matchmaking at all, Moraga should get the next crack at Demetrious Johnson. The champion has beaten the three fighters in between him and Moraga within the past eight months.

I’m stunned Tim Elliott was one of two 125-pounders on the UFC roster to miss the rankings — the other being Phil Harris. I had Elliott at No. 6. He’s 1-1 in the UFC, but nearly beat Dodson last May.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or Follow Case on Twitter at

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