Mid-Year Grades for Top 25 Pound-for-Pound MMA Fighters

Scott HarrisMMA Lead WriterJuly 25, 2013

Mid-Year Grades for Top 25 Pound-for-Pound MMA Fighters

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    Here we are at the halfway pole of the Gregorian calendar. As such, nature demands of us that we grade the top 25 MMA fighters.

    To do so, we're going to use the top-25 list formulated by Bleacher Report's own Sean Smith in December of last year. Let me repeat: this is a list as it appeared LAST DECEMBER. So please...no silly comments about why Anderson Silva is still ranked No. 1 and so on. 

    Moving on, why did we use this particular list. Well, we used it because it gives a good snapshot of the best fighters at the beginning of the year. I think it's interesting to take a look back as we do the grades. How different is the top-25 list just eight months later?

    Also, this list is a full 25 fighters long. No namby-pamby top-15 garbage for me, thanks very much.

    If you want to haggle over the rankings, the inherent flaws of pound-for-pound lists, the inherent flaws in the term "pound-for-pound" and other exciting but not wholly relevant topics, feel free to keep that stuff to yourself if possible. On the other hand, if you have issues with the grades, feel free to shout them out. That's the real point here. The grades, not the shouting. 

25. Clay Guida: C-

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0

    Case in point right off the bat: Is it anywhere near conceivable Clay Guida would be even a semi-reasonable inclusion on this list today? See, isn't this great?

    Right. So yes, not a banner campaign thus far for Mr. Clay Guida, as fans continue to stream off of his bandwagon like it's Game 6 at American Airlines Arena. Ka-POW.

    Not even a horseshoe mustache could stem the tide. Once one of the UFC's most popular figures, Guida has done a heel turn in the eyes of a lot of the faithful. Yes, he ground out a win over Hatsu Hioki. But he did it in that same old tentative style he has favored of late, and it did nothing to wipe away the image of him dancing away from Gray Maynard in 2012 for five freakin' rounds.

    Still, Guida is undefeated at featherweight. Here's hoping he regains his form and his popularity with a solid run at 145.

     

24. Nate Diaz: F

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    With the faintly possible exception of that Grand Experiment at welterweight, 2013 has to be the worst run of Nathan Diaz's pro fight career.

    Following on December's not-especially-close title loss to Benson Henderson, Diaz caught a Josh Thomson head kick to run his losing streak to two (and suffer the first TKO loss on his record). Then, in May, Diaz used a gay slur on Twitter and was subsequently fined and suspended by the UFC. He's still suspended right now, actually. Not what you want.

23. Lyoto Machida: C-

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    Against Dan Henderson in February, Lyoto Machida did everything he could to avoid the H-Bomb. Or engagement of any kind, for that matter.

    Machida stayed on his famous back foot throughout, but the statistics show he landed just enough to take a split decision.

    The whole thing was as satisfying as room-temperature O'Doul's. Yes, Machida was fighting more conservatively than usual because of Henderson's deadly overhand right. But he might be well-served to show a slightly stronger pulse when he steps in with Phil Davis at UFC 163. I'm not holding my breath.

     

22. Mauricio Rua: I

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-0 

    Mauricio "Shogun" Rua gets the incomplete grade because he has been inactive throughout 2013 for reasons that are entirely outside of his control. Namely, at UFC 161, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and then Chael Sonnen fell through as opponents because of injury and visa issues, respectively. Any grade but an "incomplete" would be unfair.

21. Gray Maynard: D

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    Man. THANK YOU. Thank you, Gray Maynard, for finally giving me something interesting to talk about on this slideshow.

    Unfortunately for Maynard, that interesting something in question was a first-round TKO loss to T.J. Grant, who vaulted over Maynard for the lightweight title shot. Unfortunately for Grant, Anthony Pettis later vaulted over him. But that's another story.

20. Gilbert Melendez: B

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    Though he lost a very close decision to champ Benson Henderson in his UFC debut, Gilbert Melendez still acquitted himself well and put to rest all the speculation (well, most of it, anyway) that the Strikeforce champion was overrated and not ready for top competition. 

    Though Henderson outlanded the challenger, Melendez tagged Bendo more than once during boxing exchanges. One could argue that Melendez hurt Bendo more so than vice versa.

    Even if he didn't, though, Melendez is as good as advertised. Here's hoping he wins his way back to another title shot.

19. Rashad Evans: D

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-1 

    Pound-for-pound best list? How about pound-for-pound boringest? How about that, smart guy.

    In February, Rashad Evans fought what, for my money, was the worst fight of his career in a decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

    Evans, who spent much of fight week extolling his desire to drop to middleweight and fight Anderson Silva, failed on all but one of his takedown shots and appeared highly concerned about the very concept of throwing a punch in Lil Nog's direction. Lil Nog capitalized (though he wasn't exactly Chuck Liddell in there himself) and won a major upset.

    Evans notched a decision win over Dan Henderson later in the year, but that, too, was a lackluster effort. It's not helping Evans that he's the most visible fighter in the Blackzilians camp, which hasn't taken the sport by quite as powerful of a storm as many (including maybe the Blackzilians) expected.

    Evans avoids a failing grade for notching a W. But he still appears to be well away from his championship form.

18. Dan Henderson: D-

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-2 

    Dan Henderson's a great champion of the sport and everything, but he's old. And his fights are not exciting or relevant to the 205-pound title picture. A plodding loss to Lyoto Machida was followed by a plodding loss to Rashad Evans. If the 42-year-old Hendo is concerned about the pacing of his fights, he's free to do something about it—at least in theory.

     

17. Urijah Faber: A+

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 2-0 

    OK, now we're talking. The first half of the year wasn't all fading stars and split decisions. Urijah Faber may have gotten his third wind in 2013. Chokeout wins over two strong grapplers in Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgensen showed Faber still has the strength, the all-world submission wrestling and the will to be a force at 135 pounds. 

    Making it all the sweeter is his place at the vanguard of a resurgence by the training camp he founded, Team Alpha Male. More on that in a little bit.

16. Ian McCall: D+

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    It's been ignominious for "Uncle Creepy" so far in the UFC. Brash flyweight Ian McCall entered the Octagon in 2012 on a four-fight win streak, with his last defeat coming to one Dominick Cruz.

    A majority draw and then a loss to Demetrious Johnson set the stage for 2013. McCall was expected by some to rebound, but, instead, hit a buzz saw in Joseph Benavidez.

    He'll be seeking that elusive first UFC win when he faces Iliarde Santos Aug. 3 at UFC 163.  

15. John Dodson: C+

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    For some reason, John Dodson insists on being strange and annoying when the cameras are rolling. When the spotlight is lower, he seems like a thoroughly nice dude. Go figure.

    In his title fight with Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Fox 6, Dodson brought the champ to one knee with an early punch. Ultimately, though, Dodson's power was not a substantial factor, with the smart, fast and deeply gas-tanked Johnson wearing Dodson down and scoring takedowns and a striking advantage.

    But Dodson is still pretty fast himself, and he might be the most powerful and purely athletic fighter in the flyweight division. It will be interesting to see what he does next.

14. Josh Koscheck: D-

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    Here on what appears to be the downslope of his career, it's hard to find anyone who has a lot of sympathy for Josh Koscheck, one of the most genuinely heelish heels in UFC history.

    But it's hard not to feel a little something for the welterweight mainstay. In February, Robbie Lawler shut off Kosheck's lights in the first round. Then, an injury forced Kos out of his UFC 163 bout with Demian Maia. (Though honestly, that might have been a blessing in disguise for Koscheck. He was dead in the water for that one.) 

    Does the 35-year-old Koscheck have another run of excellence, or at least goodness, left in him? If 2013 up to this point is any indication, no, he doesn't.

13. Carlos Condit: B-

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    Kind of a tough one to score. Carlos Condit is one of the toughest outs in the UFC right now, but the downside there is that he keeps getting paired up with guys who specialize in getting those tough outs.

    In 2013, that guy was Johny Hendricks. During their scintillating fight at UFC 158, Hendricks took Condit to the mat over and over, but for each takedown, Condit found a way to threaten Hendricks from the guard or quickly get back to his feet.

    When the action was standing, Condit was his classically aggressive self, throwing and landing far more strikes (significant and otherwise) than his opponent while absorbing some of the heaviest leather Hendricks could offer.

    The takedown disparity (12-15 for Hendricks, nothing for Condit) made the difference. But Condit again proved his mettle in a loss. It gives one confidence that his rematch with Martin Kampmann later this summer will be as exciting as advertised, no matter the outcome.

12. Joseph Benavidez: A

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 2-0 

    Remember in the Urijah Faber slide when I mentioned Team Alpha Male's resurgence? That's a pretty well-worn narrative in hardcore circles at this point, but it bears repeating. Faber did his part, but so did camp mate Joseph Benavidez.

    And how. Benavidez—who many pre-coronated as the UFC's inaugural flyweight champ—lost some luster after losing in 2012 to Demetrious Johnson. But he got a lot of it back in 2013 with an excellent decision win over Ian McCall and later with an outclassing TKO of the streaking Darren Uyenoyama. We'll see what he does in September against jiu-jitsu ace Jussier Formiga.  

11. Johny Hendricks: A

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    That aforementioned win over Condit removed all other mathematical possibilities. Unless Georges St-Pierre moved up to middleweight, he would have to fight Johny Hendricks next.

    And fight they will (barring something unforeseen) in November at UFC 167. That will be a good fight. I'm not going to lie: I personally have more interest now that another heavy-hitting wrestler you may have heard of—a Mr. Christopher Weidman—knocked out a seemingly invincible champ. 

    If any welterweight can beat GSP, it's Hendricks. And he has unequivocally earned it. It's not news, but it bears repeating: In his last four fights, Hendricks has defeated Jon Fitch by knockout, Josh Koscheck by decision, Martin Kampmann by knockout and Carlos Condit by decision. Pretty good.

10. Renan Barao: A

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    In February, Renan Barao defended his interim bantamweight strap for the first time. And he did it in style, fending off a stiff challenge from young buck Michael "I Keep Forgettin" McDonald. 

    Barao weathered some heavy early strikes from McDonald, including a wobbler late in the first round and came on later in the fight, not only hitting takedowns, but expanding his control once the action hit the ground.

    As McDonald flagged late, Barao started to hit Muay Thai combinations as well. A big takedown in the fourth led to Barao gaining McDonald's back. Sensing blood, Barao aggressively sought a submission, found an arm triangle choke and forced the tap.

    It's been a long time since anyone has seriously challenged Barao. It's been many years. Whenever lineal champ Dominick Cruz returns to the cage and they unify this title, I know where I'm putting my chips.

     

9. Demetrious Johnson: A

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    The gas tank, the speed and quickness, the footwork and head movement, the well-rounded game, the strategic understanding of himself and his opponent.

    I'm not saying Demetrious Johnson is unbeatable, but his tool box is overflowing with tools. He actually had to go out and buy a second, larger box. True story. He went and got one of those red metal ones where all the shelves come out when you open it.

    A torn labrum derailed him for a bit, but he's back on track now and ready to headline another national TV card this Saturday when he makes his second title defense, this one against the violent John Moraga.

     

8. Frankie Edgar: A-

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-1 

    Every MMA pundit turns into Jerry Seinfeld's mother when discussing Frankie Edgar. How can you not like him?

    He lost a close, but (to my mind) clear, decision to featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Then, he finally got a win (and fought a non-title fight) against Charles Oliveira earlier this month at UFC 162. 

    In evidence for both fights were Edgar's classic sandpiper boxing attack and otherworldly endurance. He's the king of New Jersey, man. 

7. Benson Henderson: A

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    With apologies to Chris Weidman and Johny Hendricks, if Benson Henderson keeps going this way, he might be 2013's fighter of the year.

    No, he's not a knockout artist. Yes, his fight with Gilbert Melendez (along with pretty much all his other fights) was close. But he is such a great, great fighter.

    Whenever someone says the phrase "execute a game plan," with no specific context, I think of Henderson. He adjusts to whatever his opponent does. Melendez regularly stuffed Bendo's takedown shots—no matter. He stayed with those leg kicks and worked combinations. Just an outstanding and heady competitor.  

    It's clear the UFC likes him as a face of the promotion as well, what with him headlining all those Fox cards. Yes, the future looks pretty good for Bendo. Except for that whole Anthony Pettis and T.J. Grant are Awesome Thing. If the past is any predictor, he'll be fine.

6. Junior dos Santos: A

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    Division: Heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    In 2012, Junior dos Santos lost his title to Cain Velasquez. In 2013, he got back on the good foot with a massive, jump-out-of-your-seat head-kick KO on Mark Hunt. One of the sport's nicest (and most marketable) guys earned his rubber match with Velasquez. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: These two guys are going to fight like 17 times. 

5. Dominick Cruz: C-

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-0 

    As Dominick Cruz himself would probably concede, if you're not moving forward, you're probably moving back. How else to explain Cruz's name coming up less and less in all these pound-for-pound rankings and discussions? Well, that, and the fact that it looks like he'd lose to Renan Barao.

    Either way, Cruz's at-a-minimum-two-year injury layoff is not helping his fight career (even if it is helping his career in the broadcast booth, where he is terrific). And Barao will be a pretty rugged welcome wagon whenever he gets back.

     

4. Jon Jones: A+

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    He handled Chael Sonnen pretty thoroughly in his only bout, so far, in 2013. That was a joke, almost literally. How will he do against Alexander Gustafsson? Thing is, I don't think Gustafsson will do much better than Sonnen.

    There's a reason Jones is at the top of most P4P lists these days. It's probably because there's no one he can't beat, and beat spectacularly. With one notable exception: Cain Velasquez, who bizarrely isn't on this list. Please direct all hate comments to Sean Smith. 

3. Jose Aldo: A-

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    He put on a great fight with Frankie Edgar. But it went to a decision. Come on, Jose! You're slippin, breh. A-minus. Live with that.

2. Georges St-Pierre: A

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 1-0 

    Georges St-Pierre has taken a bit of a let's-get-this-over-with sort of attitude to pretty much every thing he's done in public this year. Maybe, the Nick Diaz fight was a manifestation of that, or maybe it was the cause.

    Regardless, GSP dominated Diaz in March for his eighth consecutive title defense. Hendricks might be his toughest test to date, but until an actual challenge actually materializes, he will remain the second-best fighter in MMA, regardless of the approval ratings on his style. 

1. Anderson Silva: F

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    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion: UFC
    Record in 2013: 0-1 

    You know it's true, Anderson Silva. Don't even give me that look.

    I'm not going to beat the dead horse any more than necessary. But Anderson Silva didn't just lose a fight in 2013. He didn't just get knocked out. He didn't just get knocked out while clowning his opponent. He did it all from a higher pedestal than any other fighter has been on before.

    It all just seemed so...wasteful. And he was losing the fight before the knockout happened, too. Don't forget that.

    Is he still the GOAT? Yes, he is. Will he win the rematch with Weidman? I think so. But has this year been a failure for Silva to this point? Yes. Unequivocally. Yes.