The very definition of the phrase “pound-for-pound” in combat sports typically attracts more debate than the actual lists themselves.
The phrase can take on any number of meanings depending on your interpretation or point of view.
Originally, the term was used to describe former welterweight and middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
It meant that Robinson was a better quality fighter than those fighting at lower and higher weight classes.
The most important factor to keep in mind is that the essence of pound-for-pound is relative, not absolute.
Absolute is comparing the fighters against one another if they fought in the same weight class. This is a common mistake.
Relative, on the other hand, appropriately cuts across the various weight classes.
The first step is to compare the fighter to the rest of his division. You must consider a number of factors including his overall skill set, recent fights, notable wins, notable losses, the quality of his opponents, the quality of his MMA organization, and his level of dominance within his division.
Only after the evaluation process is completed can you attempt to slot one pound-for-pound candidate in one weight class in reference to another candidate in another weight class.
It is quite a complex train of thought and it is no wonder that the phrase leads to so many different meanings and subsequent debates.
Without further ado, here is a list of the current ten best pound-for-pound mixed martial arts fighters in the world.
1. Fedor Emelianenko (Affliction)
Overall Record: 30 – 1, 1 no contest
The man. The myth. The legend. Nobody has dominated a weight class for this long against this level of competition.
His latest formidable challenger Andrei Arlovski turned into yet another name on his long list of victims. Arlovski ended up face first on the canvas after a vicious overhand right that knocked him temporarily unconscious.
In a sport where a split second lapse in judgment or failure of technique can lead to a quick defeat, Fedor’s lone blemish was due to a cut he sustained in a 2000 match against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.
Due to the fact that it was a tournament style format and one fighter had to advance, it was ruled a TKO victory for Kohsaka. Fedor has not lost ever since.
2. Anderson Silva (UFC)
Overall Record: 24 – 4
A recent victory over Thales Leites ran his UFC record winning streak to nine, however, it was seen as a lackluster performance by most fans and media outlets. There were similar sentiments about his previous fight with Patrick Cote as well.
At this point Silva appears to be unchallenged and unmotivated. His trademark killer instinct, feared by many in the past, appears to have been temporarily put on hold.
As a result, the UFC management dug into their bag of tricks and pulled out former champion Forrest Griffin as his next opponent for UFC 101, which will take place at light heavyweight. Silva can quickly erase any memory of his previous two fights with an impressive victory over Griffin.
3. Georges St. Pierre (UFC)
Overall Record: 18 – 2
St. Pierre is knocking on the door of the No. 2 position coming off an impressive and thorough destruction of B.J. Penn at UFC 94.
“GSP” is the prototype for the modern day fighter; strong, athletic, and well-rounded in all areas of MMA.
A win over Thiago Alves at UFC 100 could potentially set up a “super fight” with Anderson Silva, which has been at the top of a lot of wish lists for some time now.
4. Miguel Angel Torres (WEC)
Overall Record: 37 – 1
The current WEC champion has rattled off 17 consecutive victories against some of the toughest 135 pound fighters in the world.
Torres attacks his opponents with a unique blend of world class Muay Thai striking and black belt level Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Stand up with him and he’ll use a flurry of punches, knees, and kicks to slowly pick you apart or take him down and he’ll try to submit you any number of ways.
A move up to 145 pounds to face Mike Thomas Brown or Urijah Faber could be a possibility if he continues to stream roll through the bantamweight division going forward.
5. Rashad Evans (UFC)
Overall Record: 13 – 0 – 1
Evans, who was once known simply as a wrestler with raw skills, has developed into a well-rounded and dangerous fighter under the tutelage of Greg Jackson and company in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He won his first championship belt with a TKO victory over Forrest Griffin in December 2008, but as the saying goes, you’re not a true champion until you defend your belt.
He’s now faced with the unenviable task of figuring out the puzzle that is Lyoto Machida on May 23.
6. B. J. Penn (UFC)
Overall Record: 13 – 5 – 1
Penn is coming off a humbling loss at 170 pounds to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94 in one of the most publicized fights in MMA history.
With retirement now on hold he’s back to defend his UFC lightweight belt, which is his bread and butter weight class. He’s arguably the greatest lightweight fighter of all time.
His opponent at UFC 101 will be a very talented fighter in Kenny Florian who, ironically, has done some training with St. Pierre’s camp in Canada for the upcoming fight.
7. Gegard Mousasi (DREAM)
Overall Record: 27 – 2 – 1
Still relatively unknown to most mainstream MMA fans in North America, Mousasi is a superstar quietly in the making.
2008 was his coming out party winning the DREAM middleweight grand prix with victories over Denis Kang, Dong Sik Yoon, Melvin Manhoef, and Ronaldo Souza in consecutive matches to take the crown.
“The Young Vagabond” is as well-rounded of a fighter as there is in MMA today and he’s only 23 years old. Keep an eye on him from this point forward. The sky’s the limit.
8. Thiago Alves (UFC)
Overall Record: 16 – 3
“The Pitbull” is currently on a seven fight winning streak and has not lost since 2006.
His 2008 resume was arguably the best in all of MMA. He posted consecutive knockouts of Karo Parisyan and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. He then capped it off with a unanimous decision victory over Josh Koscheck to lay claim to the No. 1 contender spot.
He’ll face his toughest opponent yet when he takes on current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 100 with the 170 pound belt on the line.
Alves’ combination of devastating Muay Thai striking, strength, and takedown defense could pose major problems for St. Pierre stylistically. Don’t be shocked if he is able to pull off the upset.
9. Lyoto Machida (UFC)
Overall Record: 14 – 0
Machida may very well have the most difficult style to try to dissect in all of MMA. He is a precision counter striker who is incredibly elusive. He is rarely out of position and he simply does not make mistakes.
Fourteen different fighters have not been able to figure him out so far. That includes the likes of B.J. Penn, Rich Franklin, Thiago Silva, and Tito Ortiz.
On deck is the opportunity to reach the light heavyweight pinnacle with a title fight scheduled against current champion Rashad Evans at UFC 98.
10. Mike Thomas Brown (WEC)
Overall Record: 21 – 4
Brown has officially burst onto the scene. With nine consecutive victories since 2005, including wins over Jeff Curran, Urijah Faber, and Leonard Garcia he has gone from virtual unknown to the best featherweight fighter in the world in a short span of time.
Brown, who is big and powerful at the 145 pound limit, is now peaking under the tutelage of Howard Davis and Ricardo Liborio at the famed American Top Team camp in Coconut Creek, Florida.
Still underrated and underappreciated by fans and media alike, Brown will look to once again silence a few critics in his upcoming rematch with Urijah Faber at WEC 41.
Forrest Griffin (UFC), Quinton Jackson (UFC), Shinya Aoki (DREAM), Frank Mir (UFC), Eddie Alvarez (Bellator), Urijah Faber (WEC), Josh Barnett (Affliction), Jake Shields (Strikeforce), Jon Fitch (UFC), and Dan Henderson (UFC).