Meet Me To the Punch: Where Are the Challengers For the UFC Champions?
The UFC has come a long way since it's humble beginnings, and MMA fighters have continued to evolve along with the UFC and other MMA promotions.
The UFC was very raw when it began; bare-knuckles, no rules, no rounds, tournament style.
Similarly, the original fighters were very raw as well. Some of them were kick-boxers, wrestlers, grapplers, and some of these guys looked like they lacked any legitimate fighting background at all.
But as Bob Dylan put it, times are a changing. The UFC just held there 100th PPV event (not technically the 100th event, but who's counting?). The fighter's knuckles now sport five ounce gloves, and there are many rules in place to keep their fighter's safe.
The UFC is also said to be worth more than one billion dollars at this point. Fighter's have evolved drastically as well, as the old school one dimensional fighters are almost completely extinct in the sport. Well rounded is the name of the game, but even being well rounded at this point isn't enough to wear gold.
The fighter's who wear gold around their waist are the elite, the cream of the crop, the alpha male of their particular weight class. For the first time fighter's who are considered to be No. 1 contenders end up looking like B-level competition when they step into the ring with the title holders.
Let's take a look at each weight class; the champion, the challengers, and let's ask ourselves...where are the challengers?
Lightweight Class—BJ Penn
Following UFC 101, BJ Penn has been a popular topic. Kenny Florian was suppose to give Penn a run for his money, but unfortunately for Kenny it just didn't pan out that way.
Penn stuffed every single take down attempt Kenny threw at him. He picked Kenny apart through out the rounds, almost finishing him in the first round via strikes.
Kenny was game and fought on, but it was only a matter of time. Penn secured a take down in the fourth round, found his back, and slapped on a rear-naked choke to win the fight (this seems to be his submission of choice as of late; Pulver, Stephenson, and now Florian).
BJ Penn is a very talented individual. He was the first American to win the World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship, so let's just say the guy knows what he's doing on the ground.
BJ's ground game is not the only thing challengers have to worry about either, as he has a solid jab, knock out power, and a great chin.
Critics of Penn have always suggested that BJ lacks proper conditioning and does not train to the best of his abilities. Even Penn admitted this to be true in his early career, but he seems to have rededicated himself, as his conditioning was not an issue in his fight with Florian.
White has confirmed that Diego Sanchez will get the next shot at Penn, and potential future challengers for Penn's belt include Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Sean Sherk, and Clay Guida.
All of these fighters are very similar though, they are all very well rounded fighters with a good base in wrestling. That is just not enough to topple BJ Penn though.
Most of these guys will not be able to hang on the feet, and if they get Penn down they will have to constantly avoid his submission attempts.
Penn looks to reign supreme in the lightweight division for a long time, unless the UFC signs some new talent or we witness an incredible upset.
Georges St-Pierre has been called the future of the sport, and this was long before he wore UFC gold.
His resume is staggering, with wins over Hughes(twice), BJ Penn(twice), Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Frank Trigg, and Sean Sherk to name a few.
GSP started his mixed martial arts career in Kyokushin karate, but his strongest attribute at this point is his wrestling. His take-down percentage sits around 80 percent, which is amazing considering that he has no amateur wrestling background.
St-Pierre can hurt opponents with kicks and punches on the feet, and his ground and pound is brutal. He holds TKO victories over Serra and Hughes, as well as submission victories over Hughes and Trigg.
It's not his striking or submissions skills that set him apart from the rest of the welterweight division though, it's the overwhelming pace he sets. His attacks never end, with take downs and ground and pound being his weapon of choice.
After completely dominating a very game opponent in Thiago Alves, who is next for GSP? Mike Swick and Martin Kampmann are slated to fight to determine the No. 1 contender, but do either of these fighters pose any problems for GSP?
Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves are ranked higher than both Swick and Kampann, but GSP has already defeated both of these men.
Other top welterweights are Hughes and Koscheck, but GSP has beaten Hughes twice and Koscheck once.
GSP completely dominated all of these fighters, including BJ Penn at UFC 94.
When you consider all of that, it's hard to give Swick or Kampmann a chance against GSP, even a puncher's chance for that matter.
The one monkey wrench to throw in all of this is—Jake Shields. If the UFC were to sign him, he would have the best possible chance at defeating GSP due to his stellar ground skills.
However, GSP went four rounds with Penn on the ground, using ground and pound from a very high guard. He could implement a similar tactic against Shields.
George St-Pierre is the king at 170 pounds, and excluding a possible super fight with Anderson Silva, we will not see him defeated for quite some time.
Middleweight Class—Anderson Silva
Anderson Silva rules the 185 pound division in the UFC with an iron fist, and he has made his competition look so poor that the UFC has moved him up to 205 pounds...twice.
Unfortunately for James Irvin and Forrest Griffin, 20 extra pounds doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference.
Anderson Silva burst onto the UFC scene, annihilating Chris "the Crippler" Leben in just 49 seconds.
Next he won the middleweight title, defeating Rich Franklin in the first round one second shy of the three minute mark. He made quite a mess of Franklin's nose in the process.
What makes Silva such a force to be reckoned with? His punches are dangerously accurate (Joe Rogan always says something about laser beam accuracy or something?), they are extremely fast, and his strikes are very powerful.
Silva's knees in the clinch are quite possibly his most feared weapon, as he used them in both fights against Franklin. His kicks are dangerous as well, and let's not forget his flying knee against Carlos Newton, that was a thing of beauty!
Top all of this off with his black-belt in Jiu-Jitsu that he received at the hands of the Nogeira brother's, and you've got yourself one bad dude.
Silva holds the record in the UFC for consecutive victories, now set at 10. He has defeated Rich Franklin (twice), Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt, and most recently Forrest Griffin.
Outside of the UFC, his most note worthy victories were against Jeremy Horn, and Carlos Newton.
Silva doesn't just beat his opponents though, he makes them look terrible in the process.
Excluding the first round of his fight with Henderson, Silva has yet to lose a single round in any UFC fight.
Silva's reign over the middle weight division may come to an end, however, as there is much speculation about him making a permanent move to the light heavyweight division.
Assuming he does not make this move, his possible challengers at middleweight are Henderson, Marquardt, Maia, Okami, and Belfort (although that is a bit of stretch).
Henderson has been guaranteed the next shot at Silva following his highlight reel knockout of Bisping at UFC 100, but Silva has defeated him once before.
Unfortunately for Dan, not too many people seem to think a rematch is going to end differently. Silva has also defeated Marquardt as well. Maia poses a big threat with his submission skills, but as we saw in Silva's fight with Leites, if you are unable to get Silva to the ground you are in for a rough night.
Silva seems invincible at middleweight, and even at light heavyweight he has looked nothing short of spectacular.
With only three fights left on his contract, Silva may vacate his title and no longer rule the middleweight division.
Until that day comes, no one other than Anderson Silva will wear middleweight gold in the UFC.
Light Heavyweight Class—Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida has two things separating him from all the other current UFC champions:
1. He has yet to defend his title.
2. He has never tasted defeat.
Machida started training in karate at the young age of three, under his father Yoshizo Machida. Machida also has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he has trained in sumo wrestling since he was 12.
He is probably the most elusive fighter in MMA, never taking any damage and rarely finding himself in a defensive position. Statistically Machida is the least hit fighter in MMA, getting hit only once every two and a half rounds according to the UFC.
When Machida first moved to the UFC, he was considered boring by many fans, as he opted to be elusive and win fights on points.
This changed dramatically in his last two fights, as he earned knock out of the night bonus' for knocking out Thiago Silva at UFC 94 and Rashad Evans to win the title at UFC 98.
Other fighters Lyoto has defeated include Tito Ortiz, Rameau Sokoudjou, BJ Penn, Stephen Bonnar, and Rich Franklin.
The light heavyweight division is booming with talent however, with fighters such as Rampage Jackson, Forrest Griffin, and Mauricio Rua to name a few.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua will get a crack at Machida's belt at UFC 104, but Machida is considered a big favorite.
The light heavyweight title has changed hands four times in the last four fights, but it looks like Machida plans on holding onto it for a while.
Heavyweight Class- Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is the one UFC champion who is not an elite fighter. He goes against the grain in this article, as he is somewhat of a one dimensional fighter.
His striking on the feet, though powerful, consists of a lead right hand, and that is about it.
Lesnar has yet to attempt any kind of submission, and as far as we know he lacks submission skills of any kind.
He has only five professional MMA fights under his belt, making him extremely inexperienced for a UFC champion.
Brock Lesnar's sheer size and athleticism count for a lot though. His main strength is wrestling, and he has used it to take opponents down and easily maintain control of them on the ground.
Lesnar's ground and pound is very dangerous, and it is evolving at a rapid pace. After his loss to Mir and his win over Herring, Lesnar's ground and pound looked to be bothersome punches. He threw a high volume of short hammerfists, but they were not extremely powerful or damaging shots.
Fast forward to UFC 100, and wow! Every punch Lesnar landed caused enormous swelling and bruising on Mir's face, and by the stoppage in round two you could barely recognize Mir.
It is apparent that Lesnar is ever improving, and that does not bode well for the heavyweight division.
The heavyweight division as a whole is arguably the weakest division in the UFC (it's a toss up with the middleweight division).
Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez are scheduled to fight to determine a No. 1 contender, and they are both relatively new fighters.
UFC/MMA veterans Randy Couture and Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira are potential challengers for Brock's title. However, both men are in the latter part of their careers.
Randy Couture lost the heavyweight title to Lesnar at UFC 91, and Nogueira suffered a knockout from Frank Mir in his last fight.
Other UFC heavyweight prospects include Cheick Kongo and Mirko "Cro-Cop." Both of these fighters would do fine on their feet against Lesnar, but Lesnar can easily take them down and ground and pound his way to victory.
To beat Lesnar, his opponent needs to have the size and skill to negate his take down, and either take Lesnar down or beat him in a striking contest.
Shane Carwin poses the biggest threat to Lesnar at this point, as he is almost as big as Lesnar, and shares a base in wrestling.
Carwin also has knockout power, and has won all 10 of his fights by KO in the first round.
If Carwin can stuff Lesnar's take downs, and land a few good shots, it could be lights out for Lesnar.
He would have to stuff the takedown though, if not it will be a long night for Carwin.
Lesnar may not be as skilled as the other champions, but he may potentially reign as the UFC heavyweight champion for a very long time.
The longer he rules over the heavyweight division, the more skilled he will become, and the harder it will be for his opponents to dethrone him.