What the Top 15 P4P UFC Fighters Should Work to Improve On

Sean SmithAnalyst IAugust 15, 2014

What the Top 15 P4P UFC Fighters Should Work to Improve On

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    In MMA, as in most sports, competitors must continuously improve and evolve to reach the highest level.

    Even once a fighter makes his way to the top, he must keep working to ensure contenders aren't closing the gap. Jon Jones is widely considered the best fighter in the world right now, but he's holding onto that title by putting in the work at Jackson-Wink MMA to ensure he maintains a gap between him and the rest of the light heavyweight division.

    There are always areas that some of the best in MMA could still work to improve.

    With that said, here are the Top 15 UFC fighters and their most needed improvements. As a note, the following rankings are based on the official UFC rankings, which are voted on by various members of the MMA media.

15. Daniel Cormier

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    Improvement Area: Striking Defense

    For the most part, Daniel Cormier has cruised through his opposition en route to a shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. However, DC hasn't been completely flawless.

    The American Kickboxing Academy product has shown some weakness in defending against kicks. Specifically, Frank Mir's left body kick found its mark repeatedly when Cormier picked up a decision win over the former heavyweight champion at UFC on Fox 7.

    When Cormier meets Jones in January, he'll need to fill that hole. The 205-pound king might have the wrestling to force Cormier to stand, and Jones is much more skilled than Mir when it comes to kicking.

14. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Improvement Area: Offensive Wrestling

    Alexander Gustafsson is the only fighter to have taken Jones down inside the Octagon, so he's clearly made some big strides with his wrestling. However, he could still improve his takedowns in order to become a more complete fighter.

    Failing on seven of eight takedown attempts against Jones, Gustafsson hardly dominated the champion in the wrestling department. Even one or two more takedowns could have helped Gustafsson steal a round and possibly the fight on the scorecards.

    While Gustafsson takes his wrestling to another level, he could also work on his top control. Being able to maintain the top position against the few light heavyweights who can strike with him would give the Swedish fighter more options and the ability to dominate all opponents regardless of their styles.

13. Benson Henderson

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    Improvement Area: Defensive Wrestling

    A submission loss to Anthony Pettis ended Benson Henderson's lightweight title reign, but his takedown defense has been a bigger cause for concern recently.

    In his past two fights, Henderson has been taken down 10 times. Now, those were matchups with solid wrestlers, Josh Thomson and Rustam Khabilov, but those takedowns forced Henderson to use energy to escape and arguably should have led to a loss on the scorecards in the bout with Thomson.

    Should Henderson end up in a close fight that goes into the later rounds, allowing that many takedowns could end up costing him. 

12. Vitor Belfort

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    Improvement Area: Public Relations

    No fighter has taken more heat over testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) than Vitor Belfort. Given that he failed a drug test in October 2006, perhaps the criticism is deserved.

    Whether he was unfairly chastised or not, Belfort did not handle the situation very gracefully over recent years. From threatening MMA media members to dodging questions about a failed drug test for months, Belfort didn't do himself any favors.

    Since TRT has now been banned, Belfort has a chance to put this whole nightmare behind him. The Brazilian must test clean for the rest of his career, though, or every accomplishment he's had in MMA will come into question.

11. TJ Dillashaw

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    Improvement Area: Striking Defense

    TJ Dillashaw's striking defense looked very good against Renan Barao in his championship-clinching win at UFC 173, but he's not that far removed from some less impressive stand-up performances.

    Just 10 months ago, Dillashaw was slightly outstruck by Raphael Assuncao. Before that, Dillashaw suffered a knockout loss to John Dodson in The Ultimate Fighter finals. With no knockout defeats since that December 2011 bout, this may be nitpicking, but Dillashaw should still make sure he's hit less frequently from now on.

    Now that he's bantamweight champion, Dillashaw has no room for mistakes. The next punch that touches his chin could be the one that sends him back to contender status.

10. Johny Hendricks

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    Improvement Area: Offensive Grappling

    As good as Johny Hendricks is at wrestling, he's not a huge threat from the top position. Maybe it's simply because he prefers to stand and trade leather, but Hendricks still has no UFC submission wins and rarely keeps opponents on the ground long after taking them down.

    It wasn't until the fifth round of his bout with Robbie Lawler that Hendricks spent a good amount of time on top. That late takedown helped seal the win for Hendricks at UFC 171, but it could have been much less of a nail-biter had the champion looked to shut Lawler down on the canvas earlier.

    When he faced Carlos Condit, Hendricks scored 12 takedowns, which was impressive, but it also revealed that Bigg Rigg has trouble controlling adversaries on the ground. There's going to come a matchup where Hendricks needs to avoid standing, so he should make some strides with his offensive grappling sooner rather than later.

9. Ronda Rousey

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    Improvement Area: Striking Defense

    As dominant as Ronda Rousey has been in the women's bantamweight division, it's hard to pick out an area where she has flaws. However, there's at least one aspect of her game that could use some honing.

    Rousey tends to come out of the gates quickly and with reckless abandon. That has worked for her, but it's also led to the champion eating more punches than she's had to. Trading punches with wrestlers like Miesha Tate is one thing, but Rousey can't do that should she run into more powerful strikers like Cristiane Justino or Holly Holm.

    In order to become truly unbeatable, Rousey needs to be more tactful with her stand-up approach.

8. Renan Barao

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    Improvement Area: Striking Offense

    Renan Barao has had many successes with his striking, including knockout wins over Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland.

    However, Barao's striking faults shone through in his first UFC loss against Dillashaw. The Brazilian absorbed 169 strikes, many being counters, as Dillashaw took advantage of his wildness.

    Barao's ultra-aggressive style can be great in spurts, but he needs to learn to be more controlled to ensure consistent success at the highest level.

7. Anderson Silva

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    Improvement Area: Defensive Wrestling

    While Anderson Silva's losses to Chris Weidman both came while standing, the middleweight legend's biggest weakness has always been his wrestling.

    The Spider was taken down in both bouts with Weidman, and a close call against Chael Sonnen in August 2010 was also the result of his inability to stop takedowns.

    It's probably not something Silva will need to worry about in his upcoming matchup with Nick Diaz, but the former champion will need to improve his wrestling in order to regain his belt.

6. Anthony Pettis

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    Improvement Area: Defensive Wrestling

    Anthony Pettis countered Benson Henderson's takedowns by locking up a quick submission in his most recent outing, but Showtime isn't always going to be able to rely on finishing opponents off his back.

    Not long ago, Clay Guida completely shut Pettis down on the ground, and Jeremy Stephens did his best to mimic Guida's game plan four months later.

    If Pettis is going to hold onto the lightweight belt a long time, it's going to be because he shored up his takedown defense considerably.

5. Chris Weidman

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    Improvement Area: Conditioning

    This isn't to say Weidman doesn't have some technical areas he can work on, but conditioning has been the middleweight champion's biggest problem.

    Albeit on short notice, Weidman had trouble making it through three rounds against Demian Maia in January 2012. Then, last month, Weidman allowed Lyoto Machida to close the gap on the scorecards in the later frames.

    While Weidman still went on to defend his title against Machida, he'll need to be able to go five rounds regularly in order to remain champion for the long haul.

4. Demetrious Johnson

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    Improvement Area: Marketability

    Demetrious Johnson is one of the most skilled and dominant champions in MMA today, but he's still hugely underappreciated.

    Not long ago, Johnson's lack of finishes was blamed. However, a knockout of Joseph Benavidez and a submission victory against John Moraga silenced those criticisms.

    It's not that Mighty Mouse needs to become the next Chael Sonnen, because that's just not who he is. Still, Johnson needs to find a way to get more fans to gravitate toward him in order to get the respect he deserves.

3. Cain Velasquez

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    Improvement Area: Injuries

    This is a tough one to fix, but Cain Velasquez does need to find a way to remain healthy, or he's going to spend a good portion of his prime on the sidelines.

    Velasquez is in the midst of his second hiatus of more than 12 months over the past four years. Not only is that bad for the heavyweight division, but it also hurts Velasquez's wallet and legacy.

    Whether the heavyweight champion needs to take it down a notch at the gym or something else, he has to find a way to avoid the injury bug going forward.

2. Jose Aldo

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    Improvement Area: Conditioning

    Jose Aldo has made a habit of dominating opponents early before stumbling to the finish.

    Only since joining the UFC roster, Aldo has seen Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Lamas finish very strongly against him in the fifth rounds of those matchups. Hominick, particularly, had Aldo in big trouble and seemingly had a chance to finish with ground-and-pound.

    The featherweight champion is a massive talent, but conditioning has been holding him back from closing the show against inferior opponents. It's been an issue for a while, so Aldo may never go five rounds in top condition since he still hasn't shown improvement in this area.

    Eventually, it will come back to bite him in a close fight.

1. Jon Jones

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    Improvement Area: Defensive Grappling

    Because his wrestling is so good, we've hardly seen Jones underneath an adversary. However, that's all the more reason for him to work on that area, so he's comfortable when the situation presents itself inside the Octagon.

    That time could be coming soon, as Jones prepares to fight a world-class wrestler in Cormier. Jones has only been taken down once in his UFC career, but Cormier might be the person to ground the champion multiple times. If not him, possibly nobody in the light heavyweight division can.

    Jones could be extremely dangerous off his back, but we just don't know because we haven't seen him in that position for more than a few seconds. Whether he's strong there or not, Jones needs to be prepared for that possibility before his next title defense in January.