Power Ranking the Top 10 Title Contenders in the UFC
There are currently seven UFC champions in the world. Soon, when the flyweight division is settled, there will be eight.
That's some pretty exclusive company.
The UFC is currently enjoying an era of dominant champions that includes Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz. Even Junior Dos Santos, one of the promotion's newer champions, has looked dominant in his two title fights.
Sitting outside this group of champions, but not so far away that they blend into the pack, is a group of UFC title contenders. This group of fighters who occupy the fringe of MMA supremacy consist of many elite competitors chomping at the bit, awaiting their time to adorn UFC gold.
Here, we will take a look at the top 10 fighters in this group. The ranking of each title contender will be determined by a combination of their skill, accomplishments and chances of capturing a UFC title.
To be considered a title contender, a fighter's next projected fight must be a title shot. If it is unclear which fighter of a division is next in line, a de facto front-runner will be crowned the contender.
Carlos Condit is not included on this list because of his status as interim welterweight champion.
Let's begin, shall we?
10. Chan Sung Jung
Few fighters are on the kind of roll that the Korean Zombie has been on as of late. Most recently, he smashed fellow rising star Dustin Poirier, winning the chance to contest the victor of Jose Aldo and Erik Koch.
At 25 years of age, Sung Jung's best days are still ahead of him. At this point, few analysts are giving him much of a chance to win the UFC featherweight title, but Sung Jung is undeniably a card-carrying member of MMA's elite.
Over the next several years, he will be a fighter to watch out for and should become a mainstay in main events and title fights.
If he gets the chance to compete against Jose Aldo later this year, we will learn a lot about just how good the WEC veteran is. If Koch pulls off the upset over Aldo and Sung Jung faces him instead, it will still teach us a lot about how he deals with a truly explosive opponent.
9. Erik Koch
Koch was a bit of a dark horse to become Jose Aldo's next challenger, but he emerged as the featherweight division's No. 1 contender and is poised to stake his claim to the belt this July.
Koch is only 23 years old, but he is already as well rounded as they come. Aptly nicknamed "New Breed," Koch is part of the new generation of mixed martial artists that practice a holistic style of combat from a young age.
As explosive and dynamic as they come, Koch will look to shock the masses by dethroning incumbent powerhouse Jose Aldo this summer.
Though such an outcome is not inconceivable, few seriously expect Koch to pull off the upset, which keeps his ranking in check at No. 9 on this list.
8. Urijah Faber
Faber was on the cusp of a bantamweight title shot before incumbent title holder Dominick Cruz went down with an injury. Now, he's going to have to try for an interim title before he goes for the real thing.
Faber will take on Renan Barao this July for the right to become Cruz's placeholder as 135 pound kingpin. While Cruz is about as tough as they come, the swap of opponents signifies anything but a free pass for Faber.
Though Faber still packs a punch, his recent record (4-5) prevents him from ranking any higher than eighth on this list. Granted, his strength of schedule is overwhelming, but once a fighter makes it to a certain level, excusing him because of the skill of his opponents becomes unacceptable.
It also doesn't help that to become an undisputed UFC champion, Faber must knock off both Barao and Cruz.
7. Dan Henderson
A more sentimental attitude would vault Dan Henderson—a true MMA legend—up the charts, but objectively, he can't rank any higher than this.
Yes, he is on a four-fight win streak, but that accomplishment is mitigated by the strength of competition he has overcome.
Renato Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante and an over-the-hill Fedor Emelianenko are by no means pushovers, but they do not exemplify the type of opponents that the best in the world have to deal with on a daily basis inside the UFC.
However, Henderson's most recent win came over Mauricio Rua, which is quite impressive. It showed that Hendo is still one of the best contenders out there, even in his early 40s, and that he is a legitimate title threat.
That said, there are six other UFC contenders that outrank Henderson at this moment.
6. Renan Barao
Barao has won 28 fights in a row. Twenty-eight!
Inside the Octagon he is a perfect 3-0 and has been impressive enough to garner a fight against Urijah Faber for the interim bantamweight crown.
Barao is as hot as a fighter can get right now and has looked dominant against a slew of solid fighters over the past couple years. On the whole, he is quite simply a very well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Known mostly for his ground game, Barao has played into the styles of strikers like Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen of late and come out victorious. In fact, he brutalized both of them on the feet, decisioning Jorgensen and knocking down Pickett before sinking in a rear-naked choke.
The only possible knock on Barao is that while he has faced some very good fighters, he has yet to beat an elite one. By most accounts, Urijah Faber retains such a standing in the MMA community, so whether Barao can bump his game up to the next level should be revealed very soon.
That I have him ranked higher than Faber on this list should explain what I anticipate the outcome of that fight to be.
5. Frankie Edgar
Edgar had been flirting with defeat for two consecutive fights before he finally succumbed against Ben Henderson last February.
His ability to weather the storm of his opponents is ungodly; his boxing is sensational; his cardio is amazing; and his wrestling is fantastic. But above all else, Edgar's best trait as a fighter is his uncanny ability to just win.
After having entered his last four contests as a champion, the Jersey boy is set to reprise his role as challenger, as he now sits as the lightweight division's No. 1 contender.
In their first match, Edgar struggled with Henderson's size and length advantage. If he is able to puzzle out a solution to that problem, he may once again be a champion. If he is unable to do so, perhaps he will finally make the cut to 145 pounds, where he would remain one of the UFC's best No. 1 contenders.
4. Martin Kampmann
At one point it looked as though Kampmann was destined for gatekeeper status, but then he turned it up a notch. Or 10.
Since last November Kampmann has gone 3-0, with wins over Rick Story, Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger. These wins have made him a legitimate title contender, even if the UFC deems it necessary for him to take on Johny Hendricks before he gets an honest shot.
Kampmann is a slick striker who can take a punch. He also has a very solid submission game, which makes him dangerous anywhere the fight takes him.
Because of his recent success and ample talent, Kampmann has to be considered the No. 1 contender to Carlos Condit's interim welterweight title.
With the momentum he has right now, Kampmann is the fourth best title contender in the UFC.
3. Joseph Benavidez
Joseph Benavidez is a contender to an unclaimed crown, but a contender nonetheless.
He currently awaits the outcome of Demetrious Johnson-Ian McCall II to find out who will join him in a match to decide the UFC's first ever flyweight champion.
Benavidez possesses rare power for the 125-pound weight class and has the wrestling to match. He also possesses a strong ground game with very good submissions.
The considerable collection of skills Benavidez owns has allowed him to amass a 16-2 record, with his only defeats coming at the hand of Dominick Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champ.
It is only a matter of time before Benavidez becomes the promotion's first flyweight champion, and it will only take a little longer than that before his name begins to circulate in pound-for-pound discussions.
2. Cain Velasquez
Velasquez fell flat on his face when he tried to defend the UFC heavyweight title, but outside of title defenses, he has been an absolute horror.
Just ask Antonio Silva.
It's difficult to look all the way past the devastating loss Velasquez suffered to Junior Dos Santos, but it what it is—it's a loss to Junior Dos Santos. Everyone who has ever fought the guy has one of those.
Velasquez remains an electric talent in the UFC and is one of the most threatening title contenders within the promotion.
He also stands as one of the most talented title contenders there is.
1. Chael Sonnen
Chael Sonnen failed to move beyond No. 1 contender status last time he contested Anderson Silva, but the outspoken American will be looking to shed the label for a champion's one this July.
Sonnen possesses some of the best wrestling in MMA and has developed some solid striking to complement that skill.
Sonnen's obvious deficiency is his submission defense, which has let him down several times in the past. But even so, Sonnen has navigated a proverbial minefield of terrific fighters without taking much damage.
In fact, the only loss Sonnen has suffered in the past three years has been the one Anderson Silva handed him in 2010.
His hit list during the past three years consists of Dan Miller, Yushin Okami, Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann and Michael Bisping.
That list, accompanied by the fact that he has a real chance to become the UFC's newest champion this July, makes Chael Sonnen the UFC's most dangerous title contender.