UFC

B/R MMA 125: Ranking the Top 15 Heavyweights in Mixed Martial Arts

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJune 9, 2014

B/R MMA 125: Ranking the Top 15 Heavyweights in Mixed Martial Arts

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With respect to skilled fighters starting at 125 pounds, the best of the best heavyweights are truly the world's baddest men. There's a reason, after all, that combat sports promoters created weight classes—and it wasn't to save the big guys from the psychological harm that comes from an embarrassing loss to a smaller man.

    In fighting, bigger is better. Not always more skilled, more diverse or more interesting. But, ultimately, better.

    Over the next two weeks, we'll be rating the 125 best fighters in the world, looking more toward the future than the past. Using statistics from Fight Metric (available for UFC fighters only) and our own subjective analysis, our team has taken the sport's top fighters and rated them on a 100-point scale. We'll cover the hummingbird-quick flyweights and the middleweights who combine strength and speed in dizzying combination.

    Click here to read the full introduction and explanation for how we scored the fighters.

    It all starts with the grizzly bears who occupy the heavyweight division. They may not be the most skilled—something we've discovered over the course of countless hours of video review—but size and strength cure many technical ills, and that, the heavyweights have in spades.

    The silhouette of the MMA heavyweight has changed quite a bit from the sport's formative era. Potbellied sluggers like Tank Abbott and Scott Ferrozzo are the past, confined to old videos or some guy's backyard. The modern Octagon is instead home to sleek athletes like Cain Velasquez and Stipe Miocic, men with much more to offer than a mere willingness to give and take punishment.

    Being big and strong is no longer enough. In short, a modern heavyweight looks an awful lot like an actual mixed martial artist. And that, friends, is called progress.

    Our team has rated the top 15 heavyweights in the world. You can read more about the criteria in the following slide, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. 

15. Andrei Arlovski

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    Age: 35   Height: 6'4"   Reach: 77"
    Record:
    21-10 (15 Knockouts, 3 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Jackson's MMA

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Andreas Kraniotakes (TKO), Fight Nights: Battle on Nyamiha
    Def. Mike Kyle (UD), WSOF 5
    Lost. Anthony Johnson (UD), WSOF 2

     

    Wrestling

    15/25

    Takedown Average: .44, Takedown Accuracy: 44%, Takedown Defense: 86%

    Andrei Arlovski will never be confused for an elite wrestler, but it's not exactly an impression he cultivates either. The Belarusian Sambo artist prefers to keep his fights standing, so we rarely see him attempt to drag his opponents to the mat.

    Conversely, his defensive wrestling is sensational due to his physical strength and exceptional sprawl. He's defended 86 percent of his opponents' takedowns throughout his career, and he's rarely held down for extended periods of time.

     

    Grappling

    14/25

    Submission Average: 1.6

    Years of Sambo training have made leglocks and armbars staples of Arlovski's game. If you take him down, it had best be with a purpose, as he can definitely make you pay a serious price. But, as noted in the wrestling section, The Pitbull prefers to avoid the ground game altogether.

    Only three of his 21 victories have come via submission. A single Achilles lock against Tim Sylvia way back at UFC 51 in February 2005 is his only finish against top-level competition.

    Of course, his offensive grappling is only half the tale. Arlovski's submission defense is exceptional, and he's never been tapped out in his professional career.

     

    Striking

    16/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.17, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.34

    Arlovski is mesmerizingly fast and powerful on his feet. When he's rocking the beard, the shaggy hair and his fangs, it's truly a terrifying picture. And his attack warrants that respect and fear. He has a nice variety of punches, kicks and knees, often in dizzying combination.

    So, he's the perfect striker, right?

    Wrong. So, so wrong.

    Arlovski's chin is among the worst in MMA, and he's been destroyed via KO in seven of his 10 career losses. Even when he is dominating a fight with his own attack, the cloud of a knockout loss hovers over him; the specter of unconsciousness is a constant threat.

    This poor defense almost negates his stellar offense, as MMA math is such that compounded positives can be erased in a flash by a single negative.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    12/25

    Arlovski's chin provides minimal resistance, yet The Pitbull makes a point to stand and bang with his opponents until somebody drops. That's probably not the smartest road to victory, but it's the only one he's built to walk.

    He knows he can knock anybody out, so he keeps fights standing. That's smart.

    Arlovski can be knocked down by a stiff breeze on a windy Chicago day—yet he keeps his fights standing. That's not smart.

    He has tasted the glorious nectar of success, winning UFC gold and writing his name in the history books. And yet he fights on, despite his body and brain screaming furiously at him not to do so. What is the cost to his long-term health?  

    Science increasingly tells us it's not smart to continually subject your brain to such punishment. But this is the gladiator business, and what are cage fighters if not a little bit insane?

     

    Overall

    57/100

14. Damian Grabowski

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    Age: 34   Height: 6'1"   Reach: 73"
    Record:
    19-1 (6 Knockouts, 10 Subs)
    Fight camp: 
    Lutadores Opole, FightSpirit Gym

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Kenny Garner (Sub), M-1 Challenge 44: Battle Of Kulikovo
    Def. Tadas Rimkevicius (UD), M-1 Challenge 39
    Def. Stav Economou (SD), MMA Attack 3

     

    Wrestling

    12/25

    The Polish Pitbull has lost just once in his 20-fight career, but that slip-up came against Cole Konrad, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler from the University of Minnesota. In their bout at Bellator 29, Grabowski couldn't stop Konrad's takedowns and lost a unanimous decision because of this wrestling deficiency.

    It's a trend we've seen throughout Grabowski's career. Though he's always recovered well enough to see his hand raised, he has trouble defending takedowns and is not slick in escaping from the bottom or reversing position immediately once he ends up on his back.

    Of course, most fighters are not in Konrad's class in the wrestling department, and Grabowski has defeated lesser opposition largely because of his submission wrestling background. The Polish heavyweight possesses a solid double-leg takedown and also boasts an arsenal of slick trips that he uses to get his opponents to the mat effectively.

    In this case, however, the good doesn't outweigh the bad. It's not always easy to project how a regional star will do when the level of competition goes up, but Grabowski's shoddy takedown defense remains a major concern and a huge red flag if he ever tries his hand against the best in the world.  

     

    Grappling

    15/25

    Glossing over his record, you'll find armbars, rear-naked chokes, guillotine chokes, kimuras and arm-triangle chokes. His resume shows that he is comfortable with a variety of submission attacks.

    A lucky knockout punch is a real threat in MMA, but one does not simply "luck" into a kimura. There is a baseline level of skill needed to pull off these techniques, and Grabowski clearly has it.

    His sweeps and transitions on the ground are smooth too, but, again, he's competing against questionable opposition. It's impossible to know how he would fare against the Bellator or UFC heavyweight class, but in its current context, his grappling is more than sufficient. 

     

    Striking

    15/25

    Grabowski's striking attack is wild and loopy. He gets clipped frequently in his fights as a result. He swings with reckless abandon—a heavyweight Leonard Garcia of sorts—and the outcome is not always in his favor.

    With a slightly more sophisticated approach, you could see him thriving in this area. As it stands, however, his record does not contain a single one-shot, devastating knockout from the feet, which is a product of his sloppy technique and inability to set up his shots properly.

    On a more positive note, his ground-and-pound is overwhelming, and the majority of his stoppages due to strikes occurred once he had his opponent flattened out on the mat. From there, he can go to town with hooks and hammerfists, forcing the referee to intervene.

    It's not flashy or refined, but Grabowski's striking has led him to victory on numerous occasions.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Grabowski is an experienced veteran who remains calm in the fire of combat. He's steely and methodical inside the cage, and this composure allows him to absorb some punishment while he feels out his opponent and plans his sweet revenge.

    His cardio is not phenomenal, his athleticism is not outstanding, and nothing about his game screams "once-in-a-lifetime talent," yet all he does is win. There's something to be said for that. In life, sometimes just being there at the end of the day is enough to keep you moving up the ladder. 

     

    Overall

    59/100

13. Brendan Schaub

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Age: 31   Height: 6'4"   Reach: 78"
    Record:
    10-3 (7 Knockouts, 1 Sub)
    Fight camp: 
    Grudge Training Center, Renzo Gracie Combat Team

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Matt Mitrione (Sub), UFC 165
    Def. Lavar Johnson (UD), UFC 157
    Lost. Ben Rothwell (KO), UFC 145

     

    Wrestling

    15/25

    Takedown Average: 2.60, Takedown Accuracy: 55%, Takedown Defense: 77%

    The UFC commentating crew wants you to know that Schaub is a former NFL player. That he was on the practice squad, and not a high-level starter, is information they're more likely to keep to themselves. Snark aside, those credentials, while being generally meaningless, do tell us he is a natural athlete who is able to make up for deficiencies in technique with brute strength and quickness.

    While he doesn't have the wrestling pedigree of some other top-level mixed martial artists, Schaub is proficient in this department, and he's only getting better as he moves forward in his UFC career. He utilized a wrestling-heavy attack in his last two outings, scoring one impressive submission victory and one dominant unanimous decision for his efforts. 

    He's still a work in progress where wrestling is concerned, and the baseline numbers aren't even that bad. Expect this metric to improve as he continues to train and gain experience inside the Octagon.

     

    Grappling

    15/25

    Submission Average: 0.5  

    Like his wrestling, Schaub's submission game was very much a tabula rasa when he jumped feet first into the world of MMA. He now boasts a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has never been submitted in professional action despite facing legitimate black belts like Gabriel Gonzaga, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy Nelson.

    Of course, the latter two foes knocked Schaub out without needing to take the fight to the ground—so perhaps too much praise is premature. 

    Put simply, it's not clear what to make of his ground game at this point. Did he turn a corner against Matt Mitrione and finally translate everything from the dojo into the cage? Or is Mitrione just that bad off his back? Time will tell, but for now, I think it's fair to grade Schaub's grappling game just slightly above average.

      

    Striking

    15/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.32, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.34

    To steal from Charles Dickens, striking serves as both the best and worst aspect of Brendan Schaub's game. He lives and dies by his striking. When he's good, he's great, but when he's bad, the results are downright scary. This inconsistency has haunted him as he's attempted to climb the ladder to elite status. 

    As a former Golden Gloves boxing champ, he is good enough to beat the lower level of the UFC's heavyweight division. He's a crisp, accurate and quick boxer when he's on his game, but one solid shot will put him out in an instant, negating any positive success he may have found to that point. 

    In the heavyweight division, having a bad chin is kind of a big deal. Even a grappling specialist like Frank Mir can hit like a truck, meaning Schaub is never more than a fraction of a second away from disaster. In three career losses, he has been knocked out—cold—three times, but he's also won via TKO/KO seven times in 10 total victories.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    16/25

    Schaub is getting smarter as his fighting career progresses—of course, the opposite journey would have been next to impossible.

    Taking on powerful strikers in Matt Mitrione and Lavar Johnson in his two most recent outings, Schaub elected to control the pace with his wrestling and grappling game, earning a submission and a decision, respectively, for his efforts.

    Would a rock 'em, sock 'em affair have been more fun for the fans? Of course. But Schaub showed a veteran's composure and solid game-planning by choosing to take the path of least resistance. And that's earned him a two-fight winning streak.

    The threat of a knockout—whether it's incoming or outgoing—is always present in a Schaub fight, but he's made sure to minimize the likelihood of an incoming bomb landing flush in recent outings. That's a good sign for his future in the increasingly stacked heavyweight division.

     

    Overall

    61/100

12. Frank Mir

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 35   Height: 6'3"   Reach: 79"
    Record:
    16-9 (3 Knockouts, 9 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Jackson's MMA

    Last Three Fights

    Lost. Alistair Overeem (UD), UFC 169
    Lost. Josh Barnett (TKO), UFC 164
    Lost. Daniel Cormier (UD), UFC on Fox 7

     

    Wrestling

    13/25

    Takedown Average: 2.23, Takedown Accuracy: 45%, Takedown Defense: 54%

    Frank Mir is excellent on the ground...he's just not great at getting his opponents there in order to work his magic. 

    His wrestling has failed him throughout his professional career, forcing him to stand up with superior strikers and ultimately costing him any real chance at victory on multiple occasions. 

    Defensively, he's also a sieve, defending only about half of his opponents' shots. To be fair, Mir sometimes doesn't fight off takedowns with all his might; he actually prefers to be on the ground, even if it means being on his back. They say statistics never lie, but sometimes they stretch the truth to a breaking point.

     

    Grappling

    23/25

    Submission Average: 2.3  

    Mir is a wizard on the canvas. He snatches limbs with a combination of ruthless ferocity and smooth grace that is typically not seen in gargantuan men.

    He has earned the most wins (eight) via submission in UFC heavyweight history, he's produced the fastest tap (45 seconds) in UFC heavyweight history, and he became the first man to submit legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, doing so via kimura at UFC 140.

    Mir is also an unblinking savage in the cage. Three of his UFC submissions resulted in unconsciousness or broken bones. He's been in with some of the very best in the sport—and no one has ever beaten him at his own game.

     

    Striking

    13/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.14, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 4.01

    If you absorb 4.01 significant strikes per minute from Demetrious Johnson or Dominick Cruz, you're probably going to be all right. Against the likes of Junior dos Santos, Shane Carwin and Josh Barnett? You're likely praying that early-onset dementia doesn't force an early retirement.

    Mir has been battered in the Octagon, to put it bluntly. He's been knocked unconscious in seven of his nine losses. Even fighters who are best known for their wrestling, like Brock Lesnar, have used his head as a pinata.

    The submission whiz possesses serious knockout power of his own, but he is slow and his attack is elementary, which means that any decent striker can avoid his attacks and fire back with a counter. At will.

    It's probably best if we just focus on the submissions, OK?

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    14/25

    Frank Mir is a genuinely intelligent, articulate dude, so it's baffling that his fight IQ is so lacking at times. He spent much of his prime years training in Las Vegas with his father. He eschewed the all-star camps like Jackson-Winkeljohn until late in his career—by then it may have been too late.

    If he can't get the fight to the mat and work his submission game, he rarely has a Plan B queued up and ready to go, which means that he becomes a human punching bag for as long as his noggin holds up to the punishment.

    His chin has failed him on multiple occasions, and his cardio is lackluster at best. At this stage in his career, if Mir can't get you to the mat and lock in a submission, he's done. He's become a one-trick pony—and at this point it's a trick every opponent has seen far too many times.

     

    Overall

    63/100

11. Vitaly Minakov

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    Age: 29   Height: 6'2"   Reach: 78"
    Record:
    14-0 (8 Knockouts, 4 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Jackson's MMA, RusFighters Sport Club (USA)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Cheick Kongo (UD), Bellator 115
    Def. Alexander Volkov (TKO), Bellator 108
    Def. Ryan Martinez (TKO), Bellator 97

     

    Wrestling

    13/25

    Vitaly Minakov, a Russian sambist and judoka, does not wrestle in the traditional sense, eschewing standard Greco-Roman and freestyle techniques. But that doesn't make his takedowns any less effective inside the Bellator cage against Bellator-level competition.

    He uses a variety of trips and throws to drag his opponents to the mat, and once grounded, he owns an advantage over every heavyweight in Bellator. Sometimes, like in his fight with Alexander Volkov, these takedown attempts fail and his opponent lands on top of him, but Minakov is excellent at scrambling and regaining top position when this occurs.  

    Of course, despite that success, Cheick Kongo, a French kickboxer who is not known at all for his takedowns, took Minakov to the ground on several occasions during their heavyweight title fight at Bellator 115, exposing a weakness in Minakov's takedown defense.

     

    Grappling

    15/25

    As one would expect from a multiple-time Sambo world champion, Minakov often searches for leglocks and armbars inside the cage. He's been too busy knocking dudes out in Bellator to showcase his grappling skills fully, but he's earned four submissions in his 14-fight career.

    Against Kongo, Minakov played footsies on multiple occasions, but he was unable to finish with a leglock or heel hook throughout the five-round fight.

    Likewise, we've never seen him in serious danger of being submitted, partly because his positioning on the ground is methodical and partly because heavyweights generally are not lauded for their submission prowess.

    Minakov is no Frank Mir on the ground, but he's certainly no Lavar Johnson either.

     

    Striking

    17/25

    Striking Accuracy: 54%

    Minakov established himself as the No. 1 Bellator heavyweight with his one-shot knockout power, and his cinder-block hands serve as his most lethal weapons inside the cage. Eight of his 14 victories have come via KO/TKO.

    Whether standing or on the ground, he possesses the type of one-shot power that can immediately change a fight, and this fact has earned him the Bellator heavyweight strap.

    His striking game is fairly well-rounded, containing a nice mix of punches, knees, elbows and kicks. There's really nothing Minakov can't do on his feet—except defend himself.

    His defense is a little porous at times, and he isn't superquick or athletic when he attacks. That's fine for lower-tier heavyweights. But it may cost him dearly if he ever moves into the elite class.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    18/25

    It seems like every Russian mixed martial artist possesses incredible Fight IQ, doesn't it?

    Minakov is no different. He's stoic inside the cage, calmly stalking his prey and approaching the fight game as if it were a difficult math equation. Piece by piece, step by step, he dissects his foe, and more times than not, he puts a box around his answer before the final bell.

    On top of this, his cardio, for a 6'2", 250-pound man, is sensational. He went five hard rounds against Kongo and was not significantly deflated by Round 5.

    Being the king of Bellator, however, is kind of like winning the NIT tournament in college basketball. Sure, you've won a tournament, and that's a good thing, but everybody wants to know what you can do against the best of the best. In mixed martial arts, the best of the best fight in the Octagon. 

     

    Overall

    63/100

10. Roy Nelson

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 37   Height: 6'0"   Reach: 73"
    Record:
    20-9 (13 Knockouts, 5 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Fights out of Las Vegas


    Last Three Fights

    Def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (KO), UFC Fight Night 39
    Lost. Daniel Cormier (UD), UFC 166
    Lost. Stipe Miocic (UD), UFC 161

     

    Wrestling

    16/25

    Takedown Average: 0.50, Takedown Accuracy: 18%, Takedown Defense: 57%

    Roy Nelson does not wrestle willingly.

    Since 2007 (which dates back to his days with the IFL), he has recorded just four takedowns in a professional fight. His most recent came against Mirko Filipovic at UFC 137. While his statistics show that he has attempted some takedowns over recent years, he has rarely committed to a shot, instead feinting a single into a right hand.  

    Nelson's takedown defense is better than his 57 percent success rate would suggest. Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic both struggled to get him to the mat, and even when he was finally grounded, he was relatively quick to get up. He trains regularly with a formidable wrestler in Muhammed Lawal, and it shows.

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    Submission Average: 0.2

    Roy Nelson is an elite grappler. You may have never seen it with your own eyes, but you've certainly heard it. Every time Big Country walks toward the cage, announcer Joe Rogan is quick to lay out his credentials. He's a world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu player who has rolled with the best in the world and has beaten a lot of them.

    Is it true? It may have been at one time. But he has been content to stand and bang for so long it's unclear how badly these skills may have atrophied. The only time that fans have really seen him on the ground was against overmatched strikers Kimbo Slice and James McSweeney on The Ultimate Fighter.

    Still, some underlying grappling skills have emerged from his cocoon of violence. From top position he is still quite good at using his weight to stay atop fighters to set up potent ground-and-pound. Defensively, he can get up quickly, all the better to deliver his big right hand. Better than that, against Cormier, he showed off a solid butterfly guard, doing well to challenge one of MMA's stickiest wrestlers.

     

    Striking

    18/25

    Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.23, Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 5.02

    Nelson's whole UFC career feels like a highlight reel, courtesy of his devastating right hand. All of his UFC wins have come via knockout, and all but one have been in the first round.

    Unfortunately, his arsenal consists entirely of that right hand to the noggin. He is not going to soften opponents up with body punches or land any hard leg kicks. Such a diverse attack seems beyond him. He is going to try and knock somebody's head off with his right hand, plain and simple.

    When he can get it done, it's a thing of beauty. But when he can't, which has happened against Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos, Cormier and Miocic, it can lead to a long, brutal beatdown. Once his opponent has figured out his timing, Nelson is all but helpless, essentially an overweight punching bag with a beard.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    16/25

    Roy Nelson's chin is worth telling your grandchildren about one day. Few in MMA have absorbed the amount of damage that he has in the course of his career, and it has likely already shaved years off his life. Outside that, however, there are no positives to point out.

    Nelson rarely enters the cage with a game plan outside of hoping an overhand right lands hard. While he has a particularly good overhand right, he's incapable of making adjustments when he cannot land it.

    Last but not least is an iffy gas tank. When Nelson is allowed to rear back and pick his shots, as was the case against Cro Cop, he is capable of fighting effectively from bell to bell. When he is forced into a faster pace or winds up on the bad end of too many exchanges, he wilts quickly. 

     

    Overall

    66/100

9. Antonio Silva

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 34   Height: 6'4"   Reach: 82"
    Record:
    18-5 (13 Knockouts, 3 Subs)
    Fight camp: 
    Team Nogueira, American Top Team

    Last Three Fights

    No-contest. Mark Hunt (failed post-fight drug test), UFC Fight Night 33
    Lost. Cain Velasquez (TKO), UFC 160
    Def. Alistair Overeem (KO), UFC 156

     

    Wrestling

    16/25

    Takedown Average: 0.98, Takedown Accuracy: 33%, Takedown Defense: 65%

    Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is good but not great in every area of MMA, including wrestling. His skill comes to the fore mostly defensively.

    On the attack, to say that he lacks takedowns would be a profound understatement. He hasn't truly brought an opponent to the ground since Fedor Emelianenko, and even then, half his attempts were stuffed by a man over whom he owned a 50-pound size advantage. 

    His takedown defense is certainly better than his offense, but it is by no means ironclad. We've seen great (Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez) and fair (Fabricio Werdum) wrestlers take him down with relative ease, which shows that he's still not ready to compete with the very best wrestlers in the division.

     

    Grappling

    18/25

    Submission Average: 1.0

    While Silva cannot take fighters down with any level of consistency, he's actually quite dangerous in top position when he does manage to drag someone to the mat. He owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but it is his devastating ground-and-pound that makes him a serious threat to opponents on the ground.

    His raw physical strength and grappling skills allow him to hold opponents down with little difficulty. From there, he can pour on strikes that will inevitably lead to a knockout or submission if unchecked for any length of time.

    Off his back, however, his success depends on how experienced (or inexperienced) his foe happens to be. In the distant past, he's demonstrated some solid sweeps, but more recently, he has had little answer for the ground games of Velasquez, Cormier and Werdum.

     

    Striking

    18/25

    Significant Strikes Landed: 2.96, Significant Strikes Absorbed: 2.84

    Silva has some of the hardest punches in MMA. He has had them for a long time and likely will until retirement. His lack of technical savvy and hand speed, however, prevents him from delivering them with any real frequency or success against sophisticated strikers.

    From 2005 to 2010, he was a wild-swinging headhunter, which led to nine of his first 13 victories being spectacular knockouts. By the time he joined Strikeforce, however, a strange sort of tentativeness set in, and that lingering reluctance has only grown with time. When he waits and, perhaps, overanalyzes what his opponent will do (as was the case with Cormier), the results tend to be disastrous.

    That passivity has led to more losses than his lack of subtlety during exchanges—but seemed all but absent in his recent slugfest against Mark Hunt. Although he ate heavy leather, his fearlessness was a positive omen for what may be coming as Bigfoot finally comes into his own.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Silva has all the weapons to succeed at the highest levels but doesn't always seem quite prepared to deliver them on target. Mentally, he's not to be trusted. However, there's no doubting his physical ability.

    He has the strength, skill and aggression to beat anyone on a given night. In a division of one-round wonders, Silva also has fairly underrated cardio for a heavyweight. He put that on full display against Hunt, as he was throwing heat until the very end.

     

    Overall

    69/100

8. Mark Hunt

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Age: 40   Height: 5'10"   Reach: 74"
    Record:
    9-8 (6 Knockouts)
    Fight camp: 
    Team Nogueira, American Top Team

    Last Three Fights

    No-contest. Antonio Silva (Silva failed post-fight drug test), UFC Fight Night 33
    Lost. Junior dos Santos (KO), UFC 160
    Def. Stefan Struve (TKO), UFC on Fuel TV 8

     

    Wrestling

    15/25

    Takedown Average 0.79, Takedown Accuracy: 52%, Takedown Defense: 70%

    Early in his mixed martial arts career, defending the takedown was literally the difference between winning and losing for Hunt, a champion kickboxer with little experience on the mat. If he got taken to the mat, the fight was in danger of ending. Period. 

    As you can see from the FightMetric statistics, things aren't nearly so dire anymore. He has developed a potent defense against all but the best shots and is such a good counterpuncher that coming close enough to attempt a shot or throw is quite a tricky task. He even scored two takedowns of his own in an instant classic against Antonio Silva last December. 

     

    Grappling

    12/25

    Submission Average: 0.4

    One of the most shocking moments in the history of Japan's Pride Fighting Championship came in Hunt's 2006 bout with the great Fedor Emelianenko. With 4:42 remaining in the first 10-minute round, Hunt, a 4-1 underdog, defied the odds and expectations by nearly finishing the champion with an Americana armlock.

    He failed. 

    That, in a nutshell, describes his submission game. Even his best moment is a near miss.

    Defensively, things have been even worse. Seven of Hunt's eight career losses have come by way of submission, including setbacks against complete nonentities like Sean McCorkle. Though he hasn't lost a fight by submission since 2010, there's no reason to believe this does not remain a serious weakness in his otherwise solid armor.

     

    Striking

    22/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.53, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.44

    Hunt's game is built around power. Some guys have it; most don't. With Hunt, there's no question. Two-thirds of his nine wins have come by knockout, including a memorable left hook against a supersized Stefan Struve so definitive that Hunt simply walked away from his prone opponent rather than jump atop him to end the fight.

    Hunt will never be mistaken for a stylish boxer, but that doesn't mean his game lacks subtlety. In his latest incarnation, the New Zealand-based fighter waits for his opponent to commit and only then looks to punish him with a wicked cross-counter right hand or his famous left hook.

    The two techniques, as simple as they are, work well in concert, with Hunt's fearsome right hand tricking opponents into moving within range of his even deadlier left. To the untrained eye, his fights can often resemble a Pier Six brawl—but there is a method to this particular madness.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    20/25

    The Hunt we see in the Octagon today barely resembles the fighter who won the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2001. In those days he was pure aggression, charging forward in order to land his powerful overhand right or his surprisingly fast right uppercut.

    That Hunt was so confident in his chin that he would often drop his hands, luring more skilled opponents into trading power shots with him. That was a decision that rarely went well for Hunt's foes.

    Today, Hunt sits back and waits for opponents to come to him. The name of the game, at least in the MMA cage, is patience. He has it in spades, biding his time until he can slip the right hand over a lazy jab or nail a fighter who is sloppily retreating straight backward with his vicious left hook.

    The results have been positive. Hunt won four in a row before running into a buzzsaw named Junior dos Santos, and the more moderate pace has allowed him to compete hard from bell to bell. Even at age 40, he is still a dangerous opponent for any heavyweight who lacks the heart or gas tank to compete for the entire fight.

     

    Overall

    69/100

7. Josh Barnett

10 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 36   Height: 6'3"   Reach: 78"
    Record:
    33-7 (10 Knockouts, 18 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    CSW


    Last Three Fights

    Lost. Travis Browne (KO), UFC 168
    Def. Frank Mir (TKO), UFC 164
    Def. Nandor Guelmino (Sub), Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine

     

    Wrestling

    18/25

    Takedown Average: 1.47, Takedown Accuracy: 57%, Takedown Defense: 54%

    Josh Barnett's incredible staying power in the heavyweight division is rooted in his timeless, well-honed wrestling and grappling game. Few fighters are as good at controlling where the fight takes place as Barnett, and he is a master of pulling lesser-skilled fighters into deep waters and drowning them quickly. He has potent takedowns and is incredibly good at working opponents over against the cage. 

    His fights with Daniel Cormier and Travis Browne, however, raised the question of how he stacks up against truly elite competition in the takedown department. The Geronimo dos Santoses and Nandor Guelminos of the world have always been easy pickings for Barnett, but he has twice now been beaten soundly by legitimate top-10 fighters whom he was unable to get to the ground.

     

    Grappling

    20/25

    Submission Average: 1.6

    Hand in hand with Barnett's wrestling is his excellent grappling. If The Warmaster can get an opponent down, the opponent is going to have a great deal of difficulty getting back up without help from a referee or doctor. Barnett is also excellent defensively and is very skilled at working his way out from underneath an opponent and exploding back to his feet.

    Much of his success is the product of a slightly different look and feel. A product of both Erik Paulson and the late, great Billy Robinson, Barnett is one of the few fighters who relies on traditional American catch wrestling instead of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

    The result is something special to behold. He's one of the best in the business at threatening submissions in order to advance his ground position. Watching him latch onto a kimura to move from half-guard to side control is a thing of beauty.

     

    Striking

    16/25

    Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.79, Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.94

    One of the first grapplers to really dive into the striking game, Barnett's early experiments trading blows didn't always end well. In 2001 he lost a fan-favorite slugfest with kickboxer Pedro Rizzo. But Barnett continued working on his game. By the time the two met again in 2008, it was the grappler who delivered the one-punch KO.

    Of course, no one would describe him as an elite striker. He's certainly competent, but striking alone isn't his forte—except up against the fence. Barnett owns some very savvy clinch striking.

    As with his ground game, he is excellent at tangling up and torquing an opponent's limbs in order to generate space and, in turn, power. This was on full display against Frank Mir, as he hand-fought the fellow veteran to set up destructive uppercuts and pressured his shoulder to set up knees to the body and head.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Seventeen years into his MMA career, Barnett knows every trick in the book. He has been in the sport far longer than seems healthy for the human body, and the fact that he has remained a top heavyweight for nearly his entire career time speaks volumes about how good he truly is.

    His chin is solid, his cardio is deceptively good for a less-than-chiseled 36-year-old, and he knows how to win with the tools he has. But as he's absorbed knowledge and skill, his body has also absorbed punishment. He's not the fighter he was 10 years ago—that's troublesome for an older, less athletic fighter as the Dan Severns give way to the Cain Velasquezes. 

     

    Overall

    71/100

6. Stipe Miocic

11 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 31   Height: 6'4"   Reach: 80"
    Record:
    12-1 (8 Knockouts, 1 Sub)
    Fight camp:
    Strong Style Fight Team

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Fabio Maldonado (TKO), TUF: Brazil 3 Finale 
    Def. Gabriel Gonzaga (UD), UFC on Fox 10 
    Def. Roy Nelson (UD), UFC 161

     

    Wrestling

    19/25

    Takedown Average: 2.15, Takedown Accuracy: 42%, Takedown Defense: 77%

    Fans haven't seen it in a while, but Stipe Miocic is actually a very formidable wrestler. He was a high-ranked NCAA Division I wrestler way back in 2003 for Cleveland State. An NCAA qualifier in his first and only year, he hung up his singlet to pursue a career in baseball instead.

    Early in his UFC career, he looked the part of a ground-and-pound specialist, taking down small, less athletic heavyweights with ease and working them over on the ground.

    He has gotten away from that style of late and has generally avoided the ground against legitimate submission threats like Gabriel Gonzaga and Stefan Struve. There is no doubt, however, that Miocic owns wrestling skills on par with almost anybody in the division. 

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    Submission Average: 0.0

    Miocic, when he chooses to use it, has the wrestling chops he needs to succeed. That success, however, doesn't come in the submission game.

    He may be capable of wrestling an opponent to the mat, but he does not use it to set up submissions. Ever. He has attempted a grand total of zero submissions in his UFC career, and the one submission on his record came when Bobby Brents tapped to leg kicks in the NAAFS promotion.

    Instead, Miocic uses his solid grappling the way another Ohio-based wrestler, Mark Coleman, did. For a smart wrestler, this only makes sense. Why work on developing a submission offense when you can ground and pound an opponent to a pulp?

     

    Striking

    19/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 5.18, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 3.19

    Miocic's strikes landed per minute is an impressive stat, especially when one considers that his fights rarely end quickly. With his genuine athleticism, he is able to outpace basically any heavyweight who isn't a comparable physical specimen and wear them down as the fight goes on.

    Once he has an opponent heaving for breath, the end is approaching. Miocic can land destructive, high-volume combinations with scary precision.

    His striking game, however, isn't as diverse and dynamic as the very best in the world. He relies almost exclusively on quick, accurate punches from distance or efficient ground-and-pound from top position.

    He lacks any serious kicking game and doesn't have especially fearsome tools in the clinch (outside of his takedown). Unlike many wrestling specialists, he's yet to develop the knees and elbows that can make the over/under position a nightmare.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    19/25

    Miocic is an athlete. Not athletic relative to other fighters in MMA, mind you; he is an athlete compared to almost anyone.

    He is strong, he is fast, and he has cardio. While he lacks a particularly great camp, he has the smarts to stay out of trouble and keep the fight where he is at his best.

    Miocic is still relatively untested. There's a learning curve at the top of the division, and he may have a setback or two before breaking through. But the outlook for his career is very bright.

     

    Overall

    73/100

5. Travis Browne

12 of 16

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Age: 31   Height: 6'7"   Reach: 80"
    Record:
    16-2-1 (12 Knockouts, 2 Subs)
    Fight camp:
     Jackson's MMA, Alliance MMA

    Last Three Fights

    Lost. Fabricio Werdum (UD), UFC on Fox 11
    Def. Josh Barnett (KO), UFC 168
    Def. Alistair Overeem (KO), UFC Fight Night 26

     

    Wrestling

    17/25

    Takedown Average: 1.38, Takedown Accuracy: 70%, Takedown Defense: 85%

    Browne didn't enter the MMA universe's collective consciousness until he posted three genuinely scary knockouts in a row over Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett. That kind of raw power is sure to turn heads and create buzz.

    What many don't remember, however, is that his early success in the UFC came by way of his wrestling and grappling prowess. Against weaker opponents like Chad Griggs, Cheick Kongo and Rob Broughton, Browne demonstrated decent takedowns and a serviceable top game.  

    For comparison's sake, through his first five UFC fights, he successfully completed seven takedowns but has completed zero since. Of late, he has largely found success with his striking, including what may quite possibly be the best takedown deterrent in MMA: the Browne elbow.

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.4

    Again, the last fighter Browne took down in the Octagon was Chad Griggs. He doesn't do much grappling anymore, and he doesn't need to. In the past, he was able to use his massive frame to successfully rough up weaker opponents on the ground. But that was years ago.

    In all likelihood, he still has a fair degree of skill on the mat, and he was able to survive five rounds with Fabricio Werdum. But at this stage of his career, it would be truly shocking to see him actively try and beat someone with his grappling. It's a defensive skill at this point. Nothing more, nothing less.

     

    Striking

    20/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.76, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 3.67

    Don't let that stat line fool you. While Browne has absorbed far more strikes over the course of his UFC career than he's dished out, that merely serves as a testament to his ability to do with one shot what other fighters, even heavyweights, are incapable of doing with 10.

    We saw his raw power early in his UFC career when he floored Stefan Struve with one superman punch. In the years since, he has developed a toolbox that includes punches, kicks, knees and elbows, all of which are capable of ending a fight on the spot.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    19/25

    While Browne has some fearsome striking, his all-around toughness is perhaps his greatest strength. His win over Overeem, which saw him survive a deluge of punches and knees, only to compose himself and deliver a devastating front-kick knockout, is among MMA's greatest comeback wins ever.

    On top of that, he has demonstrated legitimate cage savvy. While many fighters over the years have become drunk on their own knockout power and paid the price for it, Browne has remained smart, patient and technically sound.

    The one big flaw that was exposed in his bout with Werdum, however, was a legitimately questionable gas tank. Fights involving Browne rarely survive the first round, but when he was forced into a 25-minute affair with Werdum, he wilted terribly.

     

    Overall

    73/100

4. Alistair Overeem

13 of 16

    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Age: 34   Height: 6'5"   Reach: 80"
    Record:
    37-13 (15 Knockouts, 9 Subs)
    Fight camp:
     Jackson's MMA (?)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Frank Mir (UD), UFC 169
    Loss. Travis Browne (TKO), UFC Fight Night 26
    Loss. Antonio Silva (TKO), UFC 156

     

    Wrestling

    17/25

    Takedown Average 1.81, Takedown Accuracy: 73%, Takedown Defense: 76%

    Alistair Overeem once stood across the cage from the mighty Brock Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling champion and the musclebound behemoth who took the UFC to new heights at the box office. More importantly—for this analysis, at least—Lesnar was also a man who had taken down every fighter he'd ever stepped into the Octagon against, including wrestling stalwarts Randy Couture, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez. 

    Overeem shrugged him off like it was nothing. That, as much as any statistic, says everything about his wrestling game. He can be taken to the mat, but it isn't going to be easy—no matter who you are.

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 1.2

    Stereotyping fighters in the proto-MMA promotion RINGS was fairly easy. The Dutch were going to be stand-up specialists who were vulnerable the moment the fight hit the ground. The Russians, in the mold of their leader Volk Han, were most likely going to be Sambo specialists with deadly leglocks. The Japanese, in turn, had well-rounded games that made them the most versatile fighters in the promotion. 

    Enter Overeem. Then a skinny light heavyweight, he served notice that he was more than just a kickboxer in his very first fight, winning by submission. Eight more submission wins followed during the course of his career. Nothing, in fact, has changed. While submissions aren't his bread and butter, woe betide anyone caught in his deadly guillotine or effective armlock. 

    The Gracie family used to compare a boxer on the mat to a lion dragged into a shark tank. But watch out, grapplers—this lion has gills.

     

    Striking

    22/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.75, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.60

    Punches and kicks are the glory hounds of striking. Most likely to end in a knockout, they are widely celebrated by casual and diehard fans. Knees? They are often forgotten, used by many simply to look busy against the cage and to annoy opponents into making a mistake.

    The knee is unsung and unloved.

    Except, that is, by Overeem, who has made it one of the deadliest weapons in the sport.

    It's a technique he has improved over time. Fifteen years (and 50 pounds) ago, the Reem was known for his wild flying knees. Failing as often as they worked, they were nevertheless a thrill a minute. That's great for fans. For fighters, that's a ticket toward becoming a journeyman.

    Over time, he has reined those wild tendencies in and learned to utilize the strike in several key situations. Today, in addition to deadly knees from the clinch, he uses a stepping knee from distance, distracting his opponent with his right hand and then moving quickly in with a left knee strike.

    Overeem is no one-trick pony, however. He has solid kicks and, while not a great boxer, has a fast, strong counter right hand. It's the kind of shot that makes any opponent hesitant to come too close. In the absence of any discernible defense, it also serves as Overeem's most effective deterrent against an opponent's strikes.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Overeem went more than four years without losing a fight before running into Antonio Silva at UFC 156. There, a cocky Overeem refused to keep his hands up, significantly overrated his own mediocre boxing and gave away a fight he was winning handily.

    Newer fans were shocked. To old hands, it was nothing new—Overeem lost a similar fight to an overmatched Sergei Kharitonov when he forgot to put his hands up and got cracked by a big right hand.

    In fact, Overeem has made a career of inexplicably losing fights at the most inopportune times. When he gets tired, he gets lazy. That's when the game plan goes out the window and chaos reigns. That's not a good look for him—or any fighter.

    And then there's this to consider: After going 12 in a row without a loss, Overeem lost two in a row. The catch? They were the first two bouts after his return from a failed steroid test.

     

    Overall

    73/100

3. Fabricio Werdum

14 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 36   Height: 6'4"   Reach: 77"
    Record:
    18-5-1 (5 Knockouts, 9 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Kings MMA, Werdum Combat Team

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Travis Browne (UD), UFC on Fox 11
    Def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Sub), UFC on Fuel TV 10
    Def. Mike Russow (TKO), UFC 147

     

    Wrestling

    14/25

    Takedown Average 1.89, Takedown Accuracy: 33%, Takedown Defense: 37%

    For much of his career, Werdum has been the prototypical jiu-jitsu specialist. His wizardry on the mat was his bread and butter. His wrestling and striking? Afterthoughts at best.

    While he has done plenty to improve his striking game over the years, his wrestling skill set is as abysmal as ever.

    When he tries to take an opponent down, he fails two of every three times. Conversely, should someone be foolish enough to try to take him to the mat, he's as apt to welcome it as he is to seriously attempt a defense. His grappling is just that good.

     

    Grappling

    23/25

    Submission Average: 1.4

    They don't make superlatives grand enough to describe Werdum's submission game. He's a multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion who is good enough that very few fighters are even willing to challenge him on the ground.

    While other so-called jiu-jitsu champions are mostly good at moving into and out of the guard or appear helpless without their beloved gi, nine of his 18 career wins have come by way of tapout, including, most famously, a 2010 triangle choke victory over the immortal Fedor Emelianenko.

     

    Striking

    19/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.05, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.92

    Werdum's big break in MMA was serving as the jiu-jitsu instructor and training partner for former kickboxing star Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic. It was a partnership that truly served both fighters.

    Cro Cop was able to develop the skills needed to compete with the sport's best, and Werdum was able to soak up enough knowledge to transform his stand-up game from downright embarrassing to merely bad.

    A lot has changed in the years since his debut. After working with Brazilian muay thai master Rafael Cordeiro, Werdum is now a sophisticated enough striker that he can rely on his stand-up to win fights against all but the best fighters.

    The key to his success is fearlessness. Werdum can throw kicks, high knees in the clinch and wild overhand rights, confident that his fearsome ground game will prevent anyone from taking him down.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    19/25

    Werdum's new strategy, accentuating his striking attack, is a curious one. His most significant weapons are all on the ground. Yet almost 12 years after his debut, he still has almost no mechanism for taking the fight there. That can lead to some cringe-worthy moments.

    Who can forget Werdum, near tears, pleading with Dutch kickboxer Alistair Overeem to join him on the mat?

    Of course, why argue with success? Werdum's ultra-aggressive striking approach, which includes throwing strikes in endless combinations and often ending a barrage with a high kick or a knee to the head, has paid dividends against opponents who are used to a more passive and careful approach.

    And in a way, it's his jiu-jitsu that makes it all possible. Werdum doesn't mind if his freewheeling striking leads to a takedown. He doesn't mind if he ends up knocked off balance in the midst of a wild spree of strikes. He welcomes it. After all, on the mat is where he wants to be the most.

     

    Overall

    75/100

2. Junior Dos Santos

15 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29  Height: 6'4"   Reach: 77"
    Record:
    16-3 (12 Knockouts, 2 Subs)
    Fight camp:
    Nova Uniao

    Last Three Fights

    Lost. Cain Velasquez (TKO), UFC 166
    Def. Mark Hunt (KO), UFC 160
    Lost. Cain Velasquez (UD), UFC 155

     

    Wrestling

    19/25

    Takedown Average 2.37, Takedown Accuracy: 50%, Takedown Defense: 96%

    When MMA was still in its formative stages and strikers were just beginning to catch up with the grapplers who had dominated the sport in the early days, the consensus on MMA message boards was that any world-class striker could become an MMA champion after just six months—if only he could master the art of the sprawl.

    Of course, we've learned since that it's not quite that easy. Yes, a powerful striker like Dos Santos can indeed go far in the sport, but takedown defense is about much more than the sprawl. The key is spacing and distance.  

    Dos Santos is the master of both, using his speed to initiate attacks from outside a wrestler's comfort zone. He doesn't beat wrestlers at their own game; he keeps them from playing at all.

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    Submission Average: 0.8

    Dos Santos trains under Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who vouches for his protege's skill on the mat. We'll have to take his word for it. When not facing Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos has been all but impossible to take off his feet. His back has hit the mat only twice in his UFC bouts.

    When he has been forced to the ground, he has shown a real affinity for preventing his opponent from seizing control.

    For example, against Gabriel Gonzaga he was able to get to his knees and almost immediately return to his feet the one time he was taken down. That's a handy skill for a striker whose main goal is scoring a knockout.

     

    Striking

    22/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.33, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.92

    Few fighters in UFC history have utilized the jab quite as well as Dos Santos. The key to success here, as it is in so much of his game, is speed.

    He's able to dart in and out with the quick feet of a much smaller man, delivering his jab before his opponent has even processed that he's in striking range. Not only does he use it to bust noses and even bellies, but it's also there to set up his all important power punches. 

    Once established, Dos Santos follows his snapping jabs with a lightning-fast left hook or fight-ending overhand right. Simple, effective and deadly.

    And opponents take note—long thought to be a one-trick pony, Dos Santos disabused the world of that notion in his fight with Mark Hunt, knocking the former kickboxing champ out with a spinning heel kick. That big finish proved that no one in the heavyweight division is more dangerous on his feet—or, perhaps, with them.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    20/25

    There was a telling moment during his second fight with Cain Velasquez that says something about the level of coaching acumen that Dos Santos has in his corner. Faced with an unstoppable onslaught and an opponent who was beating him to the punch over and over again, Team Dos Santos had only a single instruction for their struggling champion: "jab, jab, jab, jab."

    Perhaps a single anecdote doesn't tell the entire tale. And, considering much of his team doesn't speak English, we may be missing some of the nuances that other trainers like Greg Jackson can share with the media to explain his pupils' success.

    But you do get the sense from the Velasquez fights that Dos Santos isn't especially adaptable or quick to find a solution when Plan A isn't getting the job done.

    Luckily for him, it usually does.

     

    Overall

    77/100

1. Cain Velasquez

16 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 31   Height: 6'1"   Reach: 77"
    Record:
    13-1 (11 Knockouts)
    Fight camp: 
    American Kickboxing Academy

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Junior Dos Santos (TKO), UFC 166
    Def. Antonio Silva (TKO), UFC 160
    Def. Junior Dos Santos (UD), UFC 155

     

    Wrestling

    23/25

    Takedown Average 2.37, Takedown Accuracy: 50%, Takedown Defense: 96%

    Cain Velasquez's wrestling is terrifying. As a young fighter, his wrestling pedigree made it almost impossible for manager Bob Cook to find him a fight. Fellow heavyweights wanted no part of the former All-American collegian.  

    As a professional he's shown those cowards were wise in a way. His FightMetric statistics are almost comically good. The apex? Taking down then-UFC champion Junior Dos Santos 11 times in their second fight. If Velasquez wants you on the mat, it's to the mat you go.

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.8

    It's hard to say exactly what Velasquez offers on the ground. In his entire 14-fight career, he's only attempted a paltry three submissions. For the risk averse, that's actually a smart strategy. Submissions can end bouts, true, but they are also a good way to give up the advantage—and that's a good way to lose fights.

    For the most part, when Velasquez gets an opponent down, he's content to work ground-and-pound, passing into half-guard and side control regardless of the opponent. Control doesn't seem to be a problem. When he gets an opponent down, even a persistent one like Dos Santos, he is generally able to keep him there long enough to do solid work. 

     

    Striking

    20/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.33, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.92

    Considering Velasquez started as a pure wrestler, his striking is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, no fighter in UFC history has landed more strikes per minute. He has crisp technique and, because of his strong wrestling pedigree and takedown defense, isn't afraid to mix some kicks in, confident he can get back to his feet if he somehow ends up on his back.

    The major flaw in his game is his lack of stopping power. That might seem a strange flaw to pinpoint, especially considering his 11 wins by TKO, but those are mostly finishes due to accumulation. A tough opponent like Dos Santos can take the champ's best shots and drag a fight out. In a heavyweight fight, that's potentially a major disadvantage.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    23/25

    Before Velasquez had his first UFC fight, he was already widely discussed as a future champion. Some of that has to do with his superb athleticism and wrestling pedigree—those assets alone almost guarantee MMA success.

    But what separated him from the wrestlers who have come before and since are his peerless cardiovascular training and work ethic. No one works harder, and the results show in the cage.

    Most heavyweights are out of steam after a round or two; Velasquez can fight hard from bell to bell. That's the difference between a talented fighter and a champion.

     

    Overall

    83/100

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