Go back to the end of 2009, and a list of the top 25 pound-for-pound fighters looks very different than what it is now.
Names like Brock Lesnar and BJ Penn sat at or near the top. Names such as Frankie Edgar or Jon Jones weren't even on the list. This is just a tribute to how much anything can change in a year.
A year from now, who knows how much this list will change? People we may not have heard of could have cracked it. Who could these prospects be? That's a debate for another slideshow.
For now, I'm going to give you guys my opinion on the top 25 P4P.
Joseph Benavidez is a UFC bantamweight standout (formerly of the WEC) that trains out of Team Alpha Male with Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes. At first glance, he may not appear as much, but once you get him into the cage, this man can do some serious damage.
Benavidez has great cardio, and with that alone he is a dangerous fight for anyone. Throw in his underrated striking ability and strong submission game, and he could easily be the champ of the UFC 135-pound division if his physical makeup was up to the challenge. Due to his short stature, Benavidez is more of a natural 125-pounder.
However, that doesn't stop him from delivering great performances at his current division, and with a few more quality wins in the next year in addition to his big name wins over Wagnney Fabiano and Miguel Torres, he could go even higher on this list.
Love him or hate him, Josh Koscheck is justified a spot on this list. Other than GSP himself, Koscheck has faced extremely tough competition since his UFC tenure, and more often than not he has come out on top.
Fights against Paul Daley, Anthony Johnson, Chris Lytle, Dustin Hazelett and Diego Sanchez are his toughest fights, and Kos came out on top in all of them. His only loss to top competition was to Thiago Alves.
Although Josh Koscheck may not be fun to watch, his trash talk always makes it easier for you to tune in and watch him fight, just on the chance that he ends up getting whupped. Except for December 11th in Montreal, don't expect it to happen very often.
This pick may be surprising to some, but I think Jon Jones has well earned the right to be featured on this slideshow.
Ever since his dismantling of Stephan Bonnar, his competition level has skyrocketed. Much like his competition level, Jones' overall ability and impressiveness has skyrocketed as well, making him a very popular fighter.
In his last four fights, he has decisioned Jake O'Brien, dismantled Matt Hamill (DQ loss), shattered Brandon Vera's orbital bone and beat tough veteran Vladimir Matyushenko with brutal elbows from the crucifix position. All four are tough competitors, and Jones made them all look like amateurs.
With a fight against Ryan Bader in January, expect to see Jon Jones to be tested harder than ever before. However, with the hockey stick improvement we've been seeing from him, another dominating victory wouldn't be surprising in the least.
Ben Henderson has made his claim as one of the top lightweights in the world.
In the WEC, he has earned some wins over a few good lightweights. Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller have all fallen to "Smooth" Ben in his WEC tenure, and with the UFC/WEC merge, expect Henderson to stack up an even more impressive resumé.
First, though, he'll have to get through a stiff test in Anthony Pettis.
Trash-talking extraordinaire Chael Sonnen makes our list at 21, and for someone who has followed his career as of late, this may come as surprise.
Before engaging Anderson Silva in what many people call the fight of the year, Chael was on a three-fight win streak. Fighters such as former top contender Nate Marquardt, current top contender Yushin Okami and BJJ black belt Dan Miller had all fallen victim to Chael's outstanding wrestling skill.
After beating Anderson Silva decisively for four-and-a-half rounds on August 7th, Chael fell victim to his Achilles heel—the triangle choke—and Silva was able to win the fight. Since then, Chael has tested positive for PEDs, and his fighting career is on hold at least until December 2nd.
If Chael can come back and win a few more fights over top competition, his spot on this list will change dramatically.
Hector Lombard is the classic case of soft competition. Lombard is a great fighter, no question, but he'll never be a household name fighting guys like Herbert Goodman, Art Santore, Joey Gorczynski or Damien Stelly. But for every can that Lombard destroys, he defeats a fighter actually capable of winning.
Lombard possesses great boxing and is an Olympian Judo practitioner. His current record is 27-2-1, and he is among the top fighters that I would love for the UFC to sign.
Much like Chael Sonnen or Ben Henderson, if he can prove himself against great competition, his stock will surely rise, as will his spot on this list.
Junior dos Santos has been an absolute beast since entering the UFC with a great KO win over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90. Since then, he has rattled off wins over Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga and most recently against Roy Nelson in August at UFC 117.
He is 6-0 in the UFC, only one of his fights has gone the distance and only one has ended in the third round. All of his wins except for the decision have come by KO.
His ferocity in the division is matched only by the current champion Cain Velasquez, and even Velasquez will have a tough time manhandling JDS as he did Brock Lesnar. Dos Santos, along with his great boxing, actually has 20 victories as a professional kickboxer. Accompanied by his great takedown defense, you have a fighter made to beat anyone—not just Cain Velasquez.
Lyoto Machida was going into his UFC 113 fight with Mauricio Rua with a lot of questions being asked about him. After Rua had arguably beat him at UFC 104, Machida was coming into his second title defense in need of a decisive win to silence all the critics.
He didn't get it.
Rua KO'd him in the first round, and Machida went on to lose his second consecutive fight (and second career loss) to Quinton Jackson at UFC 123.
His spot among the elite will never be questioned; his path to get the title was filled with tough fights, and he beat every fighter put in front of him decisively.
However, if he wants to retain his relevancy within the division, he will need to notch a win in his next fight.
Coming in at No. 17, we have Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Some may be surprised at this spot, but if anything, Rampage needs to be higher up.
In his UFC career alone, he holds wins over Marvin Eastman, a prime Chuck Liddell (KO), former PRIDE champ Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva in a rubber match, Keith Jardine in a Fight of the Night performance and Lyoto Machida in what was a solid fight for him.
His level of competition in the UFC has been insane, and he has only failed to deliver in one fight. His next fight could be against the winner of Ryan Bader and Jon Jones at UFC 126, and if he can notch a win over either fighter, a spot in the top 10 wouldn't be out of the question.
Eddie Alvarez may not be known to the casual fan, but don't let his lack of a big name fool you. Much like fellow Bellator champ Hector Lombard, Alvarez is a serious threat to beat anyone, and he has the tools to be the greatest in the world at 155.
He has fought a who's who of the lightweight division. He has notable wins over Aaron Riley, Joachim Hansen, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Toby Imada, Josh Neer and Roger Huerta.
In fact, if not for his loss to Shinya Aoki in 2008 and Frankie Edgar's recent demolitions of BJ Penn, one could almost consider Eddie Alvarez the best lightweight in the world. As it stands now, he'll need to up his competition level if he wants to get any higher on this list.
Shinya Aoki is the result of what happens when you completely master the ground game. He flows into submissions with relative ease, he locks them in and he forces his opponent to tap. Usually it doesn't even take long.
Although he fights for Japanese MMA promotion DREAM, no one questions his status as one of the top lightweights in the world. He has shown vulnerability to powerful wrestlers, which could bode ill for him should he ever jump ship to Strikeforce or the UFC, who all have very talented lightweight wrestlers.
As long as he continues to submit his competition with ease, his place on this list should never be questioned. If he wants to move up, a win over Gilbert Melendez would make it happen.
After being brutally KO'd at the hands of Lyoto Machida to suffer his first career defeat, many were questioning whether or not Rashad would go back to his wrestling roots. Rashad's wrestling was among the best, and he had used it to its full effectiveness in the past.
Use it again he did. He used wrestling in his ensuing two fights (against Thiago Silva at UFC 108 and Quinton Jackson at UFC 114) and notched impressive decision victories over two of the UFC's best light-heavyweights.
His P4P status took a hit after suffering a loss to Machida, but his recent winning streak, coupled with Machida's loss and his top contender status, make him an attractive option to remain a mainstay of this list for a long time.
If Brock Lesnar was considered unbeatable, what is Cain Velasquez considered? Velasquez destroyed the former champ Lesnar in 4:12 during their fight at UFC 121. It wasn't even close to what anyone expected, me included.
Cain has shown that he has all the tools to succeed for years in this sport, and against Lesnar, he showed that he is one of the most powerful strikers in the sport.
Ever since his first round stoppage against Denis Stojnic, his competition level has hit the ceiling. He beat Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell, Antonio Nogueira and Brock Lesnar.
His upcoming fight against top contender Junior dos Santos is easily the biggest fight of his career. If he can handle dos Santos as easily as he beat Lesnar, it will be hard not to favor him against everyone he faces for the rest of his career.
BJ Penn is inconsistent at times. He can appear unmotivated at times. However, when he is on, he is a tough fight for anyone (except GSP). Just ask Matt Hughes. Or Joe Stevenson. Or Diego Sanchez. Or any of the other fighters BJ has fought against and beat.
Following his two consecutive losses to current champ Frankie Edgar, BJ Penn was surrounded by questions entering his fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 123. Many wondered if he would be more motivated to win after his legacy had been put into question twice in a row.
Boy, did he answer.
Matt Hughes lasted 21 seconds. BJ dropped him with a swift right hand early on and followed it up with a few shots on the ground before the fight was stopped. BJ can be nasty when provoked, eh?
If you take BJ's outstanding technical boxing by itself, the man is a nightmare to game-plan for. When you add in his outstanding jiu-jitsu, he becomes nearly unbeatable.
His resumé includes names such as Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Sean Sherk, Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Caol Uno, Renzo Gracie and Din Thomas. Add in his upcoming fight with consensus No. 2 welterweight Jon Fitch, and BJ's wanted status of G.O.A.T. is very reachable.
Dominick Cruz is the current WEC bantamweight champion. He is currently on a seven-fight win streak. In his win streak, he has notable wins over Joseph Benavidez (twice) and Brian Bowles to win the belt.
He is big for a bantamweight, standing at 5'8", and he uses his long reach to outbox his opponents from out of their reach.
He has an upcoming fight with Idaho's own (YEAH!) Scott Jorgensen for the UFC Bantamweight belt, and this fight should be a great test for both fighters.
Nick Diaz is hands down the best fighter not in the UFC not named Fedor Emelianenko. What's not to like about him (other than the alleged marijuana burning)? He's got great stand-up, he can grapple with the best of them (see Hayato Sakurai) and he knows how to grind out decisions if needed.
He's currently on an eight-fight win streak, with notable wins over Marius Zaromskis, Hayato Sakurai and KJ Noons. He is the current Strikeforce welterweight champion.
He would be a great acquisition for the UFC. There are so many matchups that he would be great for, it just makes sense. Unfortunately, you can bet Strikeforce won't let him go as easily as they let Jake Shields go. Nick Diaz's next fight is currently in the works, though no possible opponents have been named.
Gilbert Melendez is easily the second best lightweight in the world. After dismantling the former second best Shinya Aoki in their fight last April, Melendez could make the case for No. 1. However, until his competition level steps up, he stays at No. 2 on the lightweight list and No. 9 on the P4P list.
He trains out of Cesar Gracie's camp along with a few other top-notch fighters, such as Nick and Nate Diaz and Jake Shields.
Speaking of Cesar Gracie, we have his top pupil on the list next. Jake Shields is an outstanding fighter, if a boring one at times. However, being great doesn't require that you entertain the fans, and it takes an MMA purist (like me) to be entertained by a Jake Shields fight.
He combines top-notch wrestling with a black belt in BJJ to smother his opponents and force them to give up great positions. Although he generally chooses not to use them to his advantage, he has the cardio to grind out decision after decision, and usually his competition level is at or near his ability.
His fight with Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 was his organizational debut. He squeaked out of it with a win, and now he should fight the winner of Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre for the title.
Stats to think about:
- Number of decision wins: 13
- Number of submission wins: 10
- Number of wins over great fighters: 9
All in all, he was a great pickup for the UFC, and he should add some depth to a weight class that is peaking at the right time.
As great of a grinder as Jake Shields is, Jon Fitch is the undisputed king of the grinding department. His fights are somehow less entertaining to casual fans than Jake Shields', and Dana White has acknowledged this by neglecting to give Fitch a title shot, even though he is on a five-fight win streak.
In this writer's opinion, the only fighters in the world today that can beat Fitch at 170 lbs. are Georges St. Pierre and MAYBE Jake Shields. That's some pretty good company, and that should tell you the caliber of fighter that Fitch is.
Don't let his lack of finishes fool you. He is a legit fighter, and if GSP didn't exist, he would almost certainly be the champ of his division.
His next fight will be against BJ Penn at UFC 127.
Despite making a grave mistake in his last fight and getting caught by one of the best BJJ practitioners in the division, Fedor's stock is still very high.
Why not? His current record stands at 32-2. He holds notable wins over Antonio Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Ricardo Arona, Renato Sobral, Gary Goodridge and Heath Herring. Best of all, he went 10 years without losing a fight.
Fedor is very well-rounded. He's not great at any one thing, but he's good at everything, and this kind of versatility has served him well thus far in his career. He'll need to rebound in a big way in his next fight, especially after losing only his second fight to a UFC castoff.
Mauricio Rua is undoubtedly the best light-heavyweight in the world. After handing Lyoto Machida the first loss of his career, he erased any thoughts otherwise.
Rua is a great fighter who can beat anyone when he has his mind set to it, and he usually does. He is known for being a savage striker who often knocks his opponents out.
His health may be called into question due to him having his third knee surgery in four fights after his championship fight in May. If he can come back healthy and stay healthy, he could go down alongside Chuck Liddell as one of the greatest 205-pounders in UFC history.
A tentative date has been set for his return: May of 2011 against top contender Rashad Evans.
Unquestionably the best lightweight in the world, Frankie Edgar has multiple opportunities to increase his stock in both the lightweight and the P4P rankings. He has an upcoming fight with undefeated top contender Gray Maynard, who coincidentally handed Frankie his first loss of his career.
Should he defeat Gray (and I think he will), he'll have a potential fight with Anthony Pettis or Ben Henderson. Of the two, Ben's the bigger threat, and if Frankie can defeat him, his P4P status will get higher depending on what the others do.
Frankie also has the advantage of being too small for his weight class, so if he chooses to, he can drop to 145 and challenge José Aldo for the UFC featherweight belt. Regardless of his fights with BJ Penn, a potential matchup with Aldo would be a great fight, and if Frankie can beat him, his P4P status could go to No. 2.
Jose Aldo, to put it simply, is a god. Okay, maybe we shouldn't go that far, but his awesomeness is unquestioned after his reign of terror on the WEC (and soon to be UFC) featherweight division.
He is 8-0 in the division, with all of his wins except for one coming via KO or TKO. His one decision? A five-round decimation of former champ Urijah Faber, fresh off the heels of a second round TKO of Mike Brown.
He is well known for being a vicious striker, and rightfully so. Twelve of his 18 wins have come by KO or TKO, and all have been impressive. His most impressive is easily his eight-second double flying knee KO of Cub Swanson.
On the ground, Aldo is as good as they come, but we haven't seen his ground game much because he is very hard to take down, and he'd much rather stay standing. He has been compared to Anderson Silva, and with good reason. Only Silva has shown a mastery of the striking arts to rival Aldo's, and it will be interesting to see how Aldo's career unfolds.
He's only 24, and that gives him a solid 10 years of beating up his hapless opponents.
Who better to put at No. 2 than Anderson Silva, king of the UFC middleweight division?
His control over the division has been nothing short of spectacular. Even when he was shown serious adversity (Chael Sonnen, UFC 117), he was able to apply his various skills (In this case, a submission) and win the fight.
As is the trend with the top three, Anderson is very well-rounded, and we have seen him use all of his various skills at some point in his UFC career. Whether it was his spectacular KO of Forrest Griffin, his slick submission of Chael Sonnen or his questionable motivation against Demian Maia, we've seen everything that Anderson has to offer.
He has a scheduled title defense against Vitor Belfort at UFC 126—tell me which Anderson you think will show up to that fight.
Finally, after much buildup, a lot of typing and some deliberation (Anderson or GSP for No. 1?), I've made my decision. As you can see, I've picked the UFC welterweight title holder, Georges St. Pierre, as my choice for numero uno on the P4P list.
You can't say he's unworthy. What else does he have to accomplish?
Let's look at his resumé. Dan Hardy, Thiago Alves, BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Karo Parisyan, Josh Koscheck, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, Jason Miller and Jay Hieron have all fallen victim to GSP's MMAwesomeness. Of his two losses—Matt Hughes and Matt Serra—both have been avenged.
GSP is easily the most well-rounded fighter in the sport. He can beat you in a variety of ways. He can grind out a decision, outstrike you or make you tap out. The possibilities are endless. GSP, though, for all his talents, actually formulates game plans that rarely, if ever, fail, and always uses his skills against his opponent's weakness.
To me, it would be interesting for GSP to fight someone as well-rounded as him. Anderson Silva is the only one to me that comes to mind. That will be an interesting fight to look for in the future, and in the meantime, GSP has a date with rival TUF 12 coach Josh Koscheck, set for December 11th in Montreal.