Demetrious Johnson or Renan Barao: Who Is the Better Pound-for-Pound Fighter?

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

December 14, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Demetrious Johnson celebrates after defeating Joseph Benavidez during the flyweight championship bout of the UFC on FOX 9 at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The pound-for-pound debates continue on, and they will never cease. Why? Because there is no definitive way of knowing the answer to the question of who is the best fighter regardless of weight class.

That does not stop us from wondering, debating and breaking it down, however. That is why we will take a look at two of the most entertaining and technically proficient fighters in the UFC today: Demetrious Johnson and Renan Barao.

Who is the better fighter?

First, we should understand what pound-for-pound really means.

On its most basic level, pound-for-pound applies to the best technical fighter regardless of weight class—who would win if they were able to fight each other on ability alone.

However, it goes deeper than that. If flyweight champion Johnson were to go up to heavyweight against champion Cain Velasquez, he would still be overmatched even at the same weight. Measurables such as height and reach would still come into play.

To answer the question, we must assume that all those attributes are equalincluding speed. It is about technical ability alone.

This is why I protest Jon Jones being the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC today. Technically speaking, he is still growing as a fighter. His greatest asset is knowing how to use his physical gifts.

His ability to utilize his length has been phenomenal, but what happened when he finally faced a fighter of similar physical gifts? Alexander Gustafsson pushed him to the brink.

Johnson and Barao have showcased incredible well-rounded skill inside the Octagon. They have been able to stake their claim as potentially being the best in the world.

Johnson's Stats vs. Barao's Stats
Johnson's Stats vs. Barao's

Their FightMetric stats, shown side by side, are close. Barao has more significant strikes landed per minute (SLpM), but his accuracy is lower. Johnson absorbs less significant strikes per minute (SApM), but his defense is a percentage point behind Barao.

Barao is the more noted striker of the two. He has better kicks and a more diverse arsenal, but Johnson's technique is near impeccable. He is one of the best wrestlers in MMA today due to how well he blends his wrestling with his striking, but Barao is one of the best at defending takedowns at 96 percent.

This is a case of splitting hairs.

It is hard to overlook Barao's incredible run. He is unbeaten in his last 33 bouts with 32 wins. Johnson has lost two of his last 12 bouts, but both were close fights in a higher weight classification.

The two 27-year-old fighters would make for an amazing matchup if all things were equal. Who would you take?

If I were forced to choose, I would side with Johnson.

The lone reason is that he has shown the ability to meld all of his skills together at the highest of levels.

"Mighty Mouse" blends his striking and wrestling together better than anyone, has shown knockout power and also boasts submission acumen. Barao has incredible striking and a proficient submission game, but his takedowns are not as crisp.

That is the difference.

Johnson outstrikes the best strikers in his division and outwrestles the best wrestlers. Barao does also but to a lesser extent.

There is no wrong answer. If one prefers Barao's stellar performances to Johnson's, there is little argument to be had. They are the cream of the crop in MMA today. Their technical abilities are second to none. These two champions represent the apex of the sport.

Who do you think is the better pound-for-pound fighter between them? Debate it in the comment section below.

Barao is ranked No. 3 in the pound-for-pound rankings, while Johnson is right behind him at No. 5. Both champions are awaiting their next challenger, as no title fights have been made.


Statistics courtesy of