Bleacher Report's U.S. vs. World MMA Match-Play Tournament
Mixed martial arts is a sport that is dominated by the United States. The world's premier MMA organization is based stateside, many of the sport's brightest stars hail from the U.S., and the country's sports development infrastructure continues to churn out highly regarded prospects.
Clearly, if you went country by country, matching up the best fighters each nation has against one another, the U.S. would demonstrate this dominance.
But what if fighters from the U.S. were matched up against a team comprised of fighters from every other country in the world? Would that dominance hold, or would the collective efforts from around the globe be too much to handle?
With major players like Brazil, Japan, Canada and the U.K. joining forces along with the remainder of the world, it looks like a pretty daunting task.
As it happens, we at Bleacher Report have conducted an exercise to see just how such a tournament would play out.
Selecting the top five U.S. and non-U.S. fighters from each men's division from flyweight to heavyweight, we've created a match-play tournament between Team United States and Team World.
Read on for notes, criteria and information about the voting panel.
A Note on the Matchups, Voting and Scoring Criteria
- Where two fighters have an upcoming scheduled fight (for example, Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger), I matched them up.
- I attempted to avoid pairing fighters who have recently fought against each other, unless a rematch has been scheduled.
- I ranked the members of each team for every division and made matchups between like ranks whenever possible—for example, the No. 1-ranked U.S. flyweight faces the No. 1-ranked world flyweight, and so on. Pairing by rank was done only where bullets Nos. 1 and 2 were not applicable.
- The rankings used for this exercise were largely of my own creation, but they were influenced by the official UFC rankings.
- Voting was conducted by a panel of 10 Bleacher Report MMA writers. For each match, the fighter with the most votes is declared the winner. Simple stuff.
- In the event of a 5-5 tie, the fight is ruled a draw.
- The exact voting score for each fight is listed next to the result in parentheses.
- A team receives a point each time one of its members is voted the winner of a match.
- In the event of a draw, neither team receives a point.
- The team with the most points through all 40 matches is declared the winning side.
Before we get to the good stuff, let's discuss the conditions that informed the matchmaking and voting processes of the exercise.
Designing the process and rules was not rocket science, but the following information sheds some light on why certain pairings were drawn up, how the voting process was executed and how the scoring works.
That just about covers it. If anything is unclear, please let me know in the comments section, and I will address it, both there and within the article itself.
The Voting Panel
Since this exercise pits the United States against the rest of the world, we assembled as international a voting panel as we could manage.
The majority of the writers at Bleacher Report identify as American, so it was not a perfect split, but it was close.
Still, if any match produces a U.S. winner that you disagree with, rest assured that difference in opinion, not national bias, is the sole reason for the discrepancy.
For transparency's sake, the following list includes the name of each voter, as well as his nationality in parentheses.
Craig Amos (CAN)
Khurram Aziz (U.K.)
Scott Harris (U.S.)
Hunter Homistek (U.S.)
Riley Kontek (U.S.)
Jordy McElroy (U.S.)
James MacDonald (U.K.)
Nathan McCarter (U.S.)
Artem Moshkovich (RUS)
Sean Smith (U.S.)
So, if you see a rogue vote somewhere along the line that blows your mind, know that one of these men is at fault. Feel free to guess who it is and harbor resentment toward them.
Alright then. It's time to raise the curtain!
We start off in the flyweight division, matching up the best 125-pounders that the U.S. has to offer against their World counterparts.
The UFC champ holds down the division's most prestigious title for the States, but we'll see if Team World can overcome him and his compatriots to steal a few points.
Demetrious Johnson (U.S.) vs. Jussier da Silva (BRA): Johnson def. da Silva (10-0)
Johnson has established himself as the best flyweight in the world, while da Silva only saved his spot on the UFC roster last time out. Both are good fighters, but this one isn’t even that close—something the blowout vote confirms.
Joseph Benavidez (U.S.) vs. John Lineker (BRA): Benavidez def. Lineker (10-0)
Lineker is a tough guy, but in terms of overall talent, picking a winner here is as easy as the 10-0 vote suggests.
John Dodson (U.S.) vs. Shinichi Kojima (JPN): Dodson def. Kojima (10-0)
Kojima is an unknown commodity to the majority of MMA fans outside of Japan, but he is a very good fighter. He isn’t Dodson, though, and this consensus was reached because of that gap in talent, not the gap in notoriety.
John Moraga (U.S.) vs. Atsushi Yamamoto (JPN): Moraga def. Yamamoto (10-0)
Another 10-0 sweep for the the United States. Moraga clearly has the advantage in this bout.
Ian McCall (U.S.) vs. Phil Harris (U.K.): McCall def. Harris (10-0)
“Uncle Creepy” has had a rough go of it inside the Octagon, but he’s repeatedly tussled with the best and come oh-so-close time and again. Harris, while solid, is nowhere near the level of opponent McCall is familiar with.
This one wouldn't make the final bell.
Division result: U.S. wins 5-0
Total score to this point: U.S. leads World 5-0
So, it turns out that the flyweight division is dominated by the U.S. of A. Not a single vote went to the World. Yikes.
Team World fields a solid roster in this division, but looking at it, I'm not certain they'd get a single vote even if the team's top-ranked fighter was paired with the lowest-ranked fighter from Team U.S.
This is a convincing victory for the U.S.
It's also an interesting phenomenon when you consider the historical success that non-U.S. fighters have enjoyed in the lower weight classes of boxing, but that is neither here nor there.
Read on to see whether or not the larger U.S. fighters can build on the team's 5-0 lead.
The flyweight division went handily to the Yanks, but led by the surging (and hobbled) Renan Barao, the Team World bantamweights will look to make up some ground.
U.S. teammates and usual enemies Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber stand in their way, however, so the bantamweight division is no easy grounds for a comeback.
Dominick Cruz (U.S.) vs. Renan Barao (BRA): Barao def. Cruz (7-3)
This is a fight that needs to happen in real life, and soon. Hopefully both champions heal up as quickly as possible and return to the Octagon before long.
I sided with Cruz here, but I suppose he's been out so long that it's kind of hard to remember how good he really is. I remember, though. I remember...
Urijah Faber (U.S.) vs. Bibiano Fernandes (BRA): Faber def. Fernandes (10-0)
I guess our panel envisioned this fight happening inside the Octagon, where it wouldn't be a title fight. Faber is terrific in non-title fights.
If it happened in ONE FC, where Fernandes wears the crown, we might have to rethink it since Faber has lost his last five championship bouts.
Michael McDonald (U.S.) vs. Raphael Assuncao (BRA): McDonald def. Assuncao (9-1)
Assuncao has been spectacular since dropping to 135, but the power-punching of McDonald is just too much to overcome in this matchup.
But hey, at least Assuncao got some love. Technically, one love. But still, it's better than 10-0.
Eddie Wineland (U.S.) vs. Eduardo Dantas (BRA): Wineland def. Danatas (9-1)
Finally we can put to rest the ongoing debate as to whether "Eddie" or "Eduardo" is the better option for a first name. But at least Dantas has a nickname.
Wait, it's "Dudu"?
T.J. Dillashaw (U.S.) vs. Brad Pickett (U.K.): Dillashaw def. Pickett (8-2)
Dillashaw has torn it up since transitioning from The Ultimate Fighter contestant to official UFC employee. What he has accomplished is evidently convincing enough to make our voters believe he is more than ready to take his career to the next level.
Division results: U.S. wins 4-1
Total score to this point: U.S. leads World 9-1
The U.S. bantamweights weren't as dominant as their flyweight counterparts, but this was another rout.
Looking at the World bantamweight roster in a vacuum, you'd be certain they'd fare better than this. But the U.S. team is just that good.
On the whole, there is a lot of good young talent at 135. It should be an intriguing class to monitor over the coming years.
Onward now, to see whether Team World can at least make featherweight competitive.
Team World had better get its act together.
With guys like Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung, featherweight has to be a strength for Team World, right?
Ricardo Lamas (U.S.) vs. Jose Aldo (BRA): Aldo def. Lamas (10-0)
Honestly, there probably is no featherweight out there who would have produced a different result. Or even a different score.
Frankie Edgar (U.S.) vs. Chan Sung Jung (KOR): Edgar def. Jung (9-1)
Edgar is only 1-3 over his last four outings, but our panel (myself included) is decidedly backing him against a terrific fighter in Jung. That says a lot, both about Edgar and the competition he's faced of late.
Chad Mendes (U.S.) vs. Dennis Siver (GER): Mendes def. Siver (10-0)
Mendes has always been a terrific wrestler, but he's now developing his striking to match. He is a threat to the division's elite and would likely take out Siver in convincing fashion.
In our vote of which fighter looked more like an ideal James Bond villain, Siver swept the vote. So this is kind of a tie, in that sense.
Pat Curran (U.S.) vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (RUS): Curran def. Khasbulaev (10-0)
In this all-Bellator matchup, the champ has the edge. Khasbulaev has been on some kind of run lately, but he hasn’t convinced any one of our voters that he is ready to topple the king.
Cub Swanson (U.S.) vs. Conor McGregor (IRL): Swanson def. McGregor (7-3)
McGregor garnered a lot of support for his UFC debut performance but not enough for our panel to pick him over Swanson. The American has been on an impressive run lately, accomplishing things McGregor has barely set out to do thus far.
Division results: U.S. wins 4-1
Total score to this point: U.S. leads World 13-2
Yet another clear edge to the Stars and Stripes here at featherweight.
The tip of the Team World spear is damn sharp with Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung, but Team U.S. was able to stifle half of that dynamic duo (thanks to Frankie Edgar) and take care of the final three matchups.
Will this slaughter continue into the lightweight division?
It's high time that Team World makes up some ground. Unfortunately, the U.S. roster for the division is looking good.
Still, there is a lot of talent both ways. We'll see what the World can manage, beginning with a pairing between a Canadian and an American that was supposed to happen soon, if not for an injury.
Benson Henderson (U.S.) vs. T.J. Grant (CAN): Henderson def. Grant (8-2)
When this fight was still supposed to happen, I got all excited, ready to make an underdog pick. Unfortunately, Grant injured himself only to see his opportunity—and mine—fly out the window.
As it turns out, my opinion isn't shared by many of my colleagues, and Henderson takes this one 8-2. But we can all probably agree that he only wins by controversial split decision, right?
Gilbert Melendez (U.S.) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS): Melendez def. Nurmagomedov (8-2)
This one would be interesting to do again a couple of years from now, since Nurmagomedov hasn't yet reached his prime at 24.
But Russia is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2014 so, you know...you win some, you lose some.
Anthony Pettis (U.S.) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (BRA): Pettis def. dos Anjos (10-0)
"Showtime" earns a perfect 10 against dos Anjos in this theoretical pairing. The Brazilian has grown into a dangerous fighter over the last couple of years, but evidently no one believes he is ready for a challenge like Pettis.
Michael Chandler (U.S.) vs. Mark Bocek (CAN): Chandler def. Bocek (10-0)
Chandler, the Bellator champ, sweeps the vote against Bocek. That says a lot, considering how tough an opponent Bocek is.
The American is just that good.
Josh Thomson (U.S.) vs. Ross Pearson (U.K.): Thomson def. Pearson (9-1)
Thomson wasn’t able to garner all of the votes, but he still wins this easily. His recent UFC debut was convincing, and our panel sees him as the clear favorite over the resurgent Pearson.
Division results: U.S. wins 5-0
Total score to this point: U.S. leads World 18-2
This is just getting ridiculous, no?
The U.S. continues to pour it on, dominating the lightweight class as thoroughly as it has any other class to this point.
That the tournament has yielded such one-sided results in the lower weight classes comes as a surprise to me, since I never identified that trend on my own.
Let's move on to welterweight.
Is this where Team World finally makes its stand?
With Georges St-Pierre leading a crack team of 170-pounders, it may finally signify the end of U.S. dominance.
But of course, with guys like Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger and Nick Diaz (yes, he's still eligible!), the Team U.S. welterweights are no easy prey.
Johny Hendricks (U.S.) vs. Georges St-Pierre (CAN): St-Pierre def. Hendricks (10-0)
Hendricks has carved his way through half of the UFC welterweight division to get a shot at St-Pierre's title, but we Bleacher Report guys are united in the belief that he will fail miserably.
Want some motivation, Johny? Print this slide, cut out your section and tape it to the ceiling above your bed. No charge.
Jake Ellenberger (U.S.) vs. Rory MacDonald (CAN): MacDonald def. Ellenberger (10-0)
You probably thought that this would be a whole lot closer, didn't you? I certainly did. But as it turns out, not a single one of our voters sees Ellenberger pulling out a victory.
At least the American will have the chance to prove us wrong this Saturday at UFC on Fox 8, when he and MacDonald square off in the flesh.
Nick Diaz (U.S.) vs. Demian Maia (BRA): Maia def. Diaz (8-2)
Maia started out as a grappler. He then tried to be a boxer. Now he fights like he is just trying to mug his opponent. I’m not even sure if Diaz would have enough space to flip Maia the bird.
Carlos Condit vs. Martin Kampmann (DEN): Condit def. Kampmann (10-0)
Real life: 1-0 Kampmann.
Our vote: 10-0 Condit.
Funny how that works.
Robbie Lawler (U.S.) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (BEL): Saffiedine def. Lawler (9-1)
Lawler crushed Josh Koscheck in his return to the UFC, but he could only muster a single vote when paired with Saffiedine, a guy with a hard-to-spell name from a small country who has yet to enter the UFC Octagon.
We are so indie.
Division results: World wins 4-1
Total score to this point: U.S. leads World 19-6
Team World gets its first divisional win on the strength of a dangerous three-continent attack. While there is a good deal of talent for the Americans at 170, it wasn't enough to overcome UFC champion Georges St-Pierre and his cronies.
I guess there is some merit to the assertion that fighting is an international sport after all, though the score is still one-sided.
Read on to see whether the World can keep the comeback going in the 185-pound division.
Team World is finally beginning to make a competition out of this tournament. It fields a strong middleweight corps as well, so things could start to get interesting.
Of course, the U.S. now has the division's UFC champion, which never hurts.
Chris Weidman (U.S.) vs. Anderson Silva (BRA): Weidman def. Silva (7-3)
Fans have looked for any reason under the sun to explain why Weidman beat Silva at UFC 162, save that Weidman won because he is the better fighter. It could never be that simple, could it?
Well, it seems that at least seven members of the Bleacher Report staff are convinced, including Hunter Homistek, who provides his two cents:
Chris Weidman will not score another knockout against Anderson Silva, but he will finish him again—this time via submission.
Weidman's advantages in this fight are well-documented, so I will not belabor the point. We're talking about an elite grappler who is constantly getting better everywhere versus an aging legend who relies on reflexes and precision—qualities that deteriorate with age.
Fire up the Star Spangled Banner, Johnny. Our boy Chris is bringing it home—again.
Mark Munoz (U.S.) vs. Michael Bisping (U.K.): Bisping def. Munoz (7-3)
As impressive as Munoz was in his recent fight against Tim Boetsch, the agility, technique and speed of Bisping may prove too much for him to handle.
Good news for our three dissenters: They’ll have the chance to be proved right when Munoz and Bisping compete in the UFC Fight Night 29 main event this October.
Luke Rockhold (U.S.) vs. Yushin Okami (JPN): Rockhold and Okami draw (5-5)
Only one way to settle this: Rock, paper, scissors.
Advantage to Okami when he realizes Rockhold only ever chooses rock.
Tim Boetsch (U.S.) vs. Vitor Belfort (BRA): Belfort def. Boetsch (10-0)
In case you were wondering, we did grant Belfort a TRT exemption for this tournament.
Tim Kennedy (U.S.) vs. Ronaldo Souza (BRA): Souza def. Kennedy (10-0)
Though matchups were intended to minimize rematches as much as possible, this one slipped through the cracks. Souza vs. Kennedy happened in 2010, and none of us sees the result coming out any differently this time around.
Division results: World wins 3-1-1
Total results to this point: U.S. leads World 20-9-1
Team World continues the comeback, despite its ace—Anderson Silva—falling to Chris Weidman, just as he did earlier this month.
Luckily for the World, a couple of Silva's fellow Brazilians were able to thump their American counterparts, while Japan's Yushin Okami held serve against Luke Rockhold.
As a general observation, middleweight is the thinnest weight class for the United States. Most of the division's top guys come from elsewhere, but perhaps Team U.S. will get back on track at 205.
Light Heavyweight Matchups
Team World is making a run now, but the U.S. still holds a monstrous edge in the total score. That makes it crunch time. The World has to do some damage right here.
Well, that will be tough. Because, you know, Jon Jones. And those other guys too. But mostly Jon Jones.
Jon Jones (U.S.) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (SWE): Jones def. Gustafsson (9-1)
Don't look at me, I wasn't the one who picked Gustafsson.
Neither was Hunter Homistek, who explains why this is an easy selection...for most of us.
Jon Jones is better than Alexander Gustafsson everywhere this fight goes. Making matters worse, Jones' greatest strength (his wrestling) aligns with Gustafsson's greatest weakness, ensuring that this will be a beatdown of grand proportions. The American takes it, and he takes it easily.
Rashad Evans (U.S.) vs. Glover Teixeira (BRA): Teixeira def. Evans (8-2)
All of us actually think Evans takes this. We were just way too scared that Teixeira would learn about the result, so we fudged the scoring a little.
Dan Henderson (U.S.) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (BRA): Henderson and Nogueira tie (5-5)
Nogueira holds a victory over Henderson from way back in 2005, but a lot has changed since then.
The pick probably would have been a clean sweep for Hendo if we had voted a year ago. Since then, however, Nogueira has come up in the world, while Henderson has come down.
Apparently they are now equals. Rock, paper, scissors again.
Phil Davis (U.S.) vs. Lyoto Machida (BRA): Machida def. Davis (9-1)
Hunter Homistek explains the rationale behind picking "The Dragon" to win this one:
Phil Davis is not on Lyoto Machida's level. Against elite light heavyweight Rashad Evans, Davis fell flat, and his latest fight against Vinny Magalhaes showed nothing that leads me to think he can hang with somebody of Machida's caliber.
While Davis is the better pure wrestler in this fight, Machida's own grappling skills are severely underrated, as he has shown in ragdolling opponents like Thiago Silva and Rameau Sokoudjou. Machida is too elusive (yeah, I said it), too technical, too well-rounded and too seasoned for Davis.
As it happens, the two fighters will meet later this summer.
Chael Sonnen (U.S.) vs. Mauricio Rua (BRA): Sonnen def. Rua (7-3)
Rua hasn't aged particularly well as a mixed martial artist. That's the price of multiple knee surgeries and a penchant for getting into wars. He's still fighting at a fairly high level, but Sonnen's wrestling is likely to give him problems in this matchup.
That's why I picked Sonnen to win, and I don't doubt that Rua's decline combined with the stylistic challenges he'll face is what prompted the majority of voters to side with the American.
Rua and Sonnen will do it for real later this summer.
Light Heavyweight Results
Division result: Tie 2-2-1
Score to this point: U.S. leads World 22-11-2
Jon Jones scoring a point for the U.S. was almost a gimme, but he was given plenty of support from his countrymen.
Both sides field a strong roster at 205, and there are a number of ways that those matchups could have been shuffled while maintaining the overall competitiveness.
For interest's sake, the World outscored the U.S. in total votes 26-24.
Next up, the heavyweights.
So, the U.S. has this in the bag now, but there is something to be said for playing for pride.
The World heavyweights will do what they can to keep this respectable, while the U.S. will look to run up the score.
Cain Velasquez (U.S.) vs. Junior dos Santos (BRA): Velasquez def. dos Santos (9-1)
The Velasquez vs. Dos Santos rubber match is set for the fall. Each guy has one dominant victory over the other, and both have looked great since they last fought.
Velasquez and dos Santos are by far the best heavyweights currently competing, but our voting margin suggests that there is a significant gap between them.
We'll see about that at UFC 166.
Daniel Cormier (U.S.) vs. Fabricio Werdum (BRA): Cormier def. Werdum (9-1)
Werdum has looked outstanding of late, but Cormier nearly sweeps the vote.
The American’s UFC debut wasn’t thrilling, but it was a testament to how much control he exercises over his opponents, taking them out of their element and making them uncomfortable.
I’m convinced Cormier would take this bout, but it almost seems a shame that Werdum only got one measly vote.
Frank Mir (U.S.) vs. Antonio Silva (BRA): Mir def. Silva (7-3)
Mir has settled in nicely as a non-title threat yet high-level gatekeeper in the UFC’s heavyweight division. I see Silva joining him there, but a notch below.
Mir is like the penultimate boss of a video game, while Silva is the boss of the third-to-last level.
Of course, the second-to-last boss would beat the third-to-last.
Travis Browne (U.S.) vs. Alistair Overeem (NED): Overeem def. Browne (6-4)
I stopped viewing Overeem as a viable heavyweight contender awhile back, but he continues to fool a group of lost souls, which just so happens to make up the majority of our voters. So, the Centaur wins here.
Roy Nelson (U.S.) vs. Mark Hunt (NZL): Nelson def. Hunt (8-2)
I voted for Hunt, so I don't really feel like explaining the (flawed) logic behind this pick. Someone less capable than myself will have to explain.
Enter Hunter Homistek:
Every fight fan on the planet wants to see Roy Nelson battle Mark Hunt. Two power hitters, two storied chins and two stubborn, slug-first fighting styles should lead to a brawl for the ages, but I fear this fight is awfully one-sided in favor of the American.
Nelson possesses a distinct advantage once the fight hits the mat, and he would easily submit Hunt within a round or two should he play to his strengths.
While Hunt has shown a decent ground game in the past against legends like Fedor Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva, the fact remains that the New Zealander has dropped six of his eight losses by submission, a point which Nelson would exploit.
Division results: U.S. wins 4-1
Alistair Overeem scores a point for Team World, but it is not nearly enough to catch the U.S.
Not that it needed to extend the lead, mind you. Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Frank Mir and Roy Nelson just wanted to ensure that Team U.S. ended the tournament on a high note.
On to the final results.
Final Results: Team U.S. Def. Team World (26-12-2)
Final result: U.S. wins 26-12-2
By virtue of dominating the lower weight classes, the U.S. jumped out to an insurmountable lead. Team World at least made it interesting by taking some of the middle weight classes, but it was already academic by the time we got to welterweight.
Flyweight: U.S. def. World (5-0)
Bantamweight: U.S. def. World (4-1)
Featherweight: U.S. def. World (4-1)
Lightweight: U.S. def. World (5-0)
Welterweight: World def. U.S. (4-1)
Middleweight: World def. U.S. (3-1-1)
Light heavyweight: U.S. and World tie (2-2-1)
Heavyweight: U.S. def. World (4-1)
So, the U.S. demonstrates a clear advantage in individual wins and wins by division, taking five of eight, but what about the popular vote?
Yes, there too...
Overall Votes: U.S. def. World (259-141)
There was never any doubt that MMA is a U.S.-dominated sport, but such success against the entire world is impressive and somewhat surprising.
If I were to conclude logically, I would point to the wrestling infrastructure that is in place in the U.S. and explain how that helps to develop mixed martial artists.
Instead, I'll go the route more recognized in MMA and leave you with the following assessment: USA! USA! USA!