Randy Couture And The 25 Smartest Fighters in MMA

Dale De Souza@@DaleDeSouzaMMAAnalyst IJanuary 26, 2011

Randy Couture And The 25 Smartest Fighters in MMA

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    Photo by Tracy Lee for Yahoo! Sports
    Photo by Tracy Lee for Yahoo! Sports

    When you think of the MMA fight game, what do you think of?

    Is it the number of slugfests they engaged in?

    Is it the way they finished a few fights in the past?

    Maybe it's the trash-talk they brought in when they tried selling their fights.

    For me, it's the intelligence they brought into the cage with them on fight night -- which sometimes proved to be a night in which a wild brawl was a flat-out stupid move to make if the fighter in question wanted the "W".

    It takes a degree of smarts -- meaning a consistently successful game plan and a chameleon-esque approach to the fight -- to be considered one of the smartest fighters in Mixed Martial Arts.

    As you can see, The Master Strategist of MMA, Mr. Randy Couture, is a fitting example of a smart fighter.

    He's one out of twenty-five names that very easily qualify on this list of the smartest fighters in MMA.

    I know you want to see the other twenty-four, and the spot where The Natural lies on this list (you might be surprised), but before we kick it of, let's go over the ground rules...

Let's Establish The Ground Rules First...

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    NO Touching of the hair or face... and that's it!

    Now let's do this!

Okay, Let's Go Over The REAL Ground Rules Of The List

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    -- They have to have some sort of consistent winning streak (preferably three or more in a row).

    -- They had to have won a fight against a guy that had at least one clear edge over them (Chameleon-esque approach -- i.e. they had to have had to adapt to at least one opponent's style of fighting. Bonus points if one opponent's style almost resulted in them losing the fight)

    -- Decisions, decisions, decisions... YES, it is okay if they gotten a few decisions wins in a row (so YES, Jon Fitch is on this list. So are a few other Wrestlers.)

    -- A few legends are on this list, as are a few undefeated guys. It ain't their name, it's how smart they fight.

    -- Slugfests aren't a must, but if they helped the fighter implement the game plan much like it helped Diego Sanchez in a few fights (like the Clay Guida fight, pictured above), they'll get a mention.

    Note: Some fighters might make the list if they met any or all of the above criteria after a jump or a drop in weight. And YES, I still do welcome any opinions that heavily disagree with the list, but if you're going to flame the piece, at least tell me who should be on the list or where you'd have had certain fighters.

25. Phil Davis

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    Who?

    Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis.

    What does he do?

    He's a former NCAA Div. I National Champion who happens to hold a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

    Why's he on this list?

    Well, it's not the fact that he ended his last fight with that badass "Mr. Wonderful" Arm lock -- better known as "The Philmura".

    If you haven't seen the way this physical freak of nature blends together his wrestling prowess and his rather fluid takedowns with his textbook-image Jiu-Jitsu (see his Anaconda Choke), you're missing out on a guy who is really the wild card of the stacked Light Heavyweight deck of the UFC.

    His ground and pound is really the closest thing to a "striking game" as anyone is going to see for now, but what he lacks in a solid stand-up striking game, he makes up for in the way he blends in his strikes with his wrestling game.

    In other words, like most guys with any great wrestling base, he strikes to set up his takedowns, and he uses his wrestling as a leeway towards garnering a submission.

    Oh, and he hates being considered a "lay and pray guy", which shouldn't be surprising -- especially when you consider that he's trained with Alliance MMA and AKA in recent months.

    His game isn't the most complete game ever, but the fact of him being undefeated means he must be doing something right so far with his wrestling and that blue-belt in BJJ that he's got.

    If what we've seen is him before the black-belt, I for one can't wait to see what types of insanity he can pull off when he starts to evolve into one of the best BJJ specialists in the game.

24. Joseph Benavidez

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    There's only one thing that isn't a bit scary about Joseph Benavidez, and that's the fact that the dude is about 5'4.

    Actually that in itself is scary as hell, but take into account how this man, the prime candidate for a potential UFC Flyweight Champion, fights.

    He's a training partner of Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes, a man who is short for a 135er, yet the lack of size contributes to the speed that he possesses, and that speed makes Benavidez that much more dangerous.

    How so?

    It's bad enough when you're dealing with a good all-around fighter -- one with a good wrestling base, one that has good striking, good takedowns, and some good submissions in addition to a bit of quickness, but Benavidez is on another level as far as being well-rounded is concerned.

    With the addition of his speed, his opponents are usually in for a fast-paced battle for survival, as he pushes a relentless tempo and very rarely lets up or leaves any room for predictability.

    Sometimes you think he's going to take an opponent down, and then next thing you know, he's coming in with a Jose Aldo-like storm of punches, kicks, and sometimes even knees.

    Also, when he gets you down, he does an extremely well-done job in being aggressive enough to keep you grounded long enough for him to finish you off in some way.

    In essence, his style is pushing a frenetic-yet-controlled pace in everything he does -- whether it's striking, submissions, or takedowns, and he never seems to slow down much, if at all, when he does so.

    His only losses so far have been to Dominick Cruz, but in his WEC 50 outing, he showed that the champ could be weakened on the feet, as he was able to open up a nasty gash on the nose of Cruz and cause a bit of doubt in the minds of a few as to whether Cruz truly earned the split decision.

    If you think Bantamweights can't fight intelligently, think again.

23. Robbie Lawler

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    How smart is Robbie Lawler, exactly?

    I'd say smart enough to realize, after getting knocked out by Nick Diaz, that 185 is where he ought to be.

    Sure, he's lost to Jake Shields and he lost a 195-lb. Catchweight bout to Renato Sobral, but then again, "having beaten a few names" was not a part of the criteria for this list.

    Besides, Lawler's fights with Shields and Babalu weren't the only times that he was dealing with someone who could beat him in a certain realms.

    If you want to go by his recent fights, Melvin Manhoef had something of an edge over Lawler -- being a Kickboxer and a guy who is known for fighting relentlessly (and in a battle skirt, no less), he was supposed to make his own star shine in the states against Lawler, but that didn't happen.

    Just as it appeared Manhoef was going to put the final touches on Lawler, the HIT Squad fighter came back to score a KO victory over Manhoef -- proof that even some of the best strikers in the game should beware of Lawler.

    He puts his lethal combinations together quite well, and when he blends in his Boxing with his submission grappling prowess, he becomes equally dangerous for anyone in the Middleweight division.

    That submission grappling is something Ronaldo Souza better be mindful of come Jan. 29th.

22. Ryan Bader

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    Much like Phil Davis and others on this list, Bader's game isn't solid enough to where he can blend in striking and his wrestling without ever giving it a thought, but when you're an Arizona Sun Devil and you basically came up with Aaron Simpson, CB Dollaway, and Cain Velasquez, you can get a free pass from a few MMA fans.

    Besides, Bader's a wrestling machine if there ever was one, and his own takedown defense isn't bad either.

    As for the striking, that's the one edge Bader doesn't necessarily have over much of the division, but he does have knockout power in his hands -- the type that many thought would have sent Keith Jardine packing.

    That element did however see some improvement at UFC 119, when he handled Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with relative ease, stopping Little Nog's offense on the feet as well as neutralizing his ground game with his dominating wrestling game.

    To get the judges to think that a legend like Nogueira lost all three rounds of a fight takes some degree of cage intellect, and Bader certainly has that.

    If he can masterfully shut Jon Jones down at UFC 126, I will be one among the many who will be extremely impressed.

21. Shinya Aoki

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    Arguably one of the best Lightweight fighters in the world, Shinya Aoki has made a career off of one simple thing: his otherworldly submission game, which I have to say is actually one of my favorite submission styles to watch.

    Though most fans now remember what Yuichiro Nagashima did to him at Dynamite! 2010 on New Year's Eve about as easily as anything, I still have to say that Aoki's a smart fighter, even if he did take a rather unfair road in dodging Nagashima during the K-1 Max Rules round of their bout.

    The man's takedowns aren't usually the best, but they're the gateway Aoki likes to create in order to work the Judo and Jiu-Jitsu game that once inspired debates of a potential dream fight with BJ Penn.

    From there, The Grand Master of Flying Submissions can hit you with just about anything -- even something standard like a heel hook or a hammerlock,

    While that exhibition basically exposed Aoki as lacking in any significant striking -- and enhanced Aoki-haters' belief that Aoki is 100% in-ring jerk -- a game like Aoki's works even without striking much or striking at all, because although the game plan is mostly grappling, the grappler-in-question is good enough to where he could pull out a submission just by you making the choice to try and greet him.

    He's that skilled in his craft, and he makes it look like kids' stuff.

20./19. BJ Penn

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    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14:  BJ Penn speaks to the media during a UFC 127 Press Conference at Star City on December 14, 2010 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    Arguably one of the best Boxers in MMA, and one of the best non-Brazilian practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it's hard to believe that we're now putting Jay Dee "Baby Jay"  Penn's name in print without using such phrases as "UFC Lightweight Champion" or "Pound-for-pound best Lightweight in Mixed Martial Arts".

    Had anyone see this coming last year, they'd have been slapped in the face for thinking BJ Penn would face Jon Fitch in a bout that Bruce Buffer would announce without referring to BJ as "The current UFC Lightweight Champion of the World", but alas, he is.

    The only difference between now and last year, when Frankie Edgar filled a void created by a shotty performance by Gray Maynard to challenge BJ at UFC 112, is roughly a total of fifteen  to sixteen pounds.

    BJ is still the same calculated boxer that he's always been, but Fitch will test the former two-division UFC champ to see if the Jiu-Jitsu is every bit as deadly as Welterweight as it ever was at Lightweight.

    While I do believe Fitch's Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu will be a much different animal than what BJ has previously combated, BJ will in turn be up to the task of seeing if Fitch can truly hang with a former Welterweight champion not named Georges St. Pierre.

    Speaking of Jon Fitch...

19./20. Jon Fitch

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    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14:  Jon Fitch speaks to the media during a UFC 127 Press Conference at Star City on December 14, 2010 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    Depending on how you look at it, Fitch is either a step above his adversary at UFC 127 due to BJ having not competed at Welterweight since UFC 94, or he's a step below his UFC 127 opponent because the Matt Hughes win at UFC 123 proved that BJ Penn still has what it takes to threaten anyone at 170.

    BJ better look out, though, because he's dealing not only with a guy who is a prominent Wrestling ace from Purdue University, he's also dealing with a lanky AKA talent who isn't afraid to mix it up with anyone on the feet.

    Little known fact about the AKA boys: Dave Camarillo is the creator of Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, which is a much more aggressive style of BJJ than what most traditional BJJ aces are used to.

    BJ's had a book out for the longest time spreading his knowledge of MMA to fans and hopeful future fighters, but this time might be different.

    BJ might want to pick up as much as he can on exactly what Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu employs, because he can rest assured that the only time Fitch will be considering a chance to lay and pray for fifteen minutes is if he decides to take a fifteen-minute nap on the plane he takes to Australia before fight week officially arrives.

    Once that cage door shuts, it's about shutting down The Prodigy.

18. Kenny Florian

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    You talk about an analytical mind in MMA -- how much more analytical does it get than one-third of ESPN's MMA Live squad, Kenny Florian?

    He's got the hands, the movement, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- one of the best in the Lightweight division, and to my knowledge, he's beaten everyone not named Gray Maynard, BJ Penn, Sean Sherk, Drew Fickett or Diego Sanchez.

    For a guy that fights at 155, he comes in with a rather calm approach to the fight.

    He can stand and he can make even the toughest SOB tap out, but he doesn't ever push the kind of pace that you would expect out of a Clay Guida fight.

    It's a pace in which Florian throws bombs and connects when he needs to, but he keeps his cool and doesn't ever try to go too wild with his strikes.

    He does enough to send his opponent to the ground, and he looks for every shot to finish on the ground.

    At UFC130 or possibly UFC 131, KenFlo may have a chance to finish someone off, and no matter who it is, he's not going to refrain from being calm about it.

17. Dan Henderson

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    HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 17:  Legendary MMA Superstar and two time Olympic Wrestler Dan Henderson attends the CBS' Strikeforce MMA Fighters Open Media Workout on March 17, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
    Valerie Macon/Getty Images

    He's a Wrestler and a guy responsible for three of the most memorable moments in MMA's recent years.

    In PRIDE, he knocked out Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva and cemented his name among some of the best in the sport.

    He looked to carry the title of "best p4p fighter in MMA", but Anderson Silva temporarily shut that down.

    Then came Michael Bisping... *insert generic retelling of UFC 100 here, and how eventually Hendo went to Strikeforce*.

    After Hendo lost to Jake Shields, Babalu beat up Robbie Lawler in three rounds, but opted to call out Henderson instead of facing then-champion King Mo.

    Big mistake, Babalu.

    Henderson's noted for his knockouts, which he usually waits patiently for before proceeding to strike.

    He's pretty patient for a soft-spoken man who is among many in the fight game as a true MMA legend, and he's not done yet.

    Next up: Rafael Cavalcante, possibly in Columbus, Ohio on March 5th.

16. Chuck Liddell

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  UFC fighter Chuck Liddell arrives for Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Stand Up For Skateparks event at a private residence on October 07, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    He's in the HOF and a member of the UFC brass now, but back in the day Liddell had some good takedown defense, some tough takedowns, and of course, that badass striking game.

    His game always involved softening up his opponents on the feet and waiting for his chance to land his signature shot -- the "Deep Freeze", as I'd like to attempt to label that overhand right.

    In recent months, however, he's seemed to bank a bit too much on the right hand, and it's cost him more than his belt.

    He hasn't won since he fought Wanderlei Silva, and he retired months after a loss to Rich Franklin.

    Nonetheless, we still have the memories to go by -- there hasn't been anyone like Chuck since, and there may never be one like him again.

15. Tito Ortiz

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz arrives at the third annual Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2010 at the Palms Casino Resort December 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    He's brash, he's cocky, he's nearing the end of his career, he's headlining only his second Fight Night card (hopefully) when the UFC comes to Seattle, and he's made a career off of some badass takedowns and some serious GNP.

    He's Tito Ortiz, The Huntington Beach Menace

    We can't call him "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" anymore because he's grown up to be quite a controversial man, but he's all man for fighting on as he has recently.

    I'll admit, I could have visualized it, but it was difficult for me to see him fight Matt Hamill at UFC 121 -- not because of his legend status or his past relationship with The Hammer, but because that was the first time in my own recent memory that Tito was not anywhere in the "big three" fights of the main card.

    I will go on record and admit how surprised I will be if he can decisively pick apart Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Seattle.

    If he can actually beat Little Nog with that signature offense he's known for, I will tip my hat to him for proving he can still hang with some of the toughest in the division today.

14. Alistair Overeem (AFTER The Fulltime Move To Heavyweight)

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    We can't talk too much about the career of The Demolition Man without mentioning that rather trying time in his career when he faced Light Heavyweights the likes of Rogerio Nogueira, Shogun Rua, Chuck Liddell, and others in PRIDE.

    The full-time move to Heavyweight, while merely a much more dominant version of the success he was able to scrap together as a Light Heavyweight in PRIDE , was a change from what he was when he fought at the lighter weight class.

    In essence, it also did help Alistair display the Muay Thai Clinch-game from Hell and the Submission Grappling expertise that everyone knew he had.

    As a matter of fact, a current addition to the Strikeforce HW Tournament named Sergei Kharitonov is the only man to beat Overeem since The Reem opted to stay full-time at 265.

    Now the man is 9-0-1 in active MMA competition, and in addition to being Strikeforce's first (and so far, ONLY) Heavyweight Champ, The Reem has won the K-1 Heavyweight Title and the DREAM (Interim) Heavyweight Title.

    With the fall of Affliction and the practically invisible worth if the WAMMA Title that Fedor left Affliction with, that leaves only two major Heavyweight World Titles that Overeem hasn't ever held.

    One is on Cole Konrad's shoulder, and the other is on Cain Velasquez's shoulder.

    If you don't know what Alistair's Muay Thai, Kickboxing and Submission game is by now, you need only as far as his most recent fights (both first-round wins over Todd Duffee and Brett rogers, respectively) and his recent success in K-1.

    I guarantee anyone who is a fan of brutal stand-up onslaught will not be disappointed by The Reem's fighting style, which has come a long way in the sport.

13. Rashad Evans

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    LAS VEGAS - MAY 28:  UFC fighter Rashad Evans (R) reacts to the crowd while speaking to UFC announcer Joe Rogan (L) about his fight against UFC fighter Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson at UFC 114: Rampage versus Rashad at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on May 28, 2010 i
    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

    I had an internal battle with myself when I decided on Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans -- does the guy who bounced back from his title loss and is on a two-fight win streak coming into his bout against the champ go ahead of the man who not only beat him, but is now riding a two-fight skid after losing the belt?

    Well, I'll leave it up to y'all if Rashad should go ahead of Lyoto (Spoiler alert: Lyoto's next on this list).

    Anyways, the whole reason Rashad is even on the list is because even though he recently beat Thiago Silva and Rampage Jackson (both by decision), his whole career before Machida was a mix of decision wins, the "brutal-to-watch-or-even-recognize-as-actual-historical-events" type of upsets by KO, and two submissions with a draw to Tito Ortiz.

    Rashad's Wrestling brought him to the dance before even facing Silva, and he used some strong Boxing along with his wrestling in order to position himself in a fight against Chuck Liddell, but after knocking out Forrest Griffin, one could make a case for saying that perhaps someone told Rashad that he was arguably the best striker at Light Heavyweight -- and that Rashad took that to heart.

    Whatever it might be, he's had his share of moments when people have put Rashad in trouble and he was almost done, but before Machida, Rashad took everyone of his opponents out in some fashion.

    I know I'm not the only one who would be less than surprised if the same thing happened to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128, but then again, we don't know what shape Shogun will be in come fight night.

12. Lyoto Machida

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    MONTREAL- MAY 8: Lyoto Machida (R) fights Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua in their light heavyweight bout at UFC 113 at Bell Centre on May 8, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Say what you will about UFC 104, but the fact remains as it reads:

    If you go at least 16-0 in your career -- racking up decision on decision because all but one fighter can't figure out your style, knocking the holy hell out of one fighter en route to a title shot, snapping the undefeated pro record of the then-champ, and then beating a legend by a controversial unanimous decision (which is still beating a legend, even if the consensus is that you pretty much lost most of the fight), then there's a good chance you've done something right.

    The fact is this: before UFC 104 when Shogun exposed Lyoto Machida's  Karate-based style -- mostly a counter-punching style which was widely knocked but perfectly illustrated what the point of MMA is -- Machida had a streak of smart fights.

    The man's primary style is Machida Karate, and the main principle of MMA that it perfectly illustrated was the principle of inflicting the most damage possible while taking the least damage possible, but if you add in the Sumo-style takedown offense that Lyoto has and you mix that in with the takedown defense that Machida has shown in the past, then the result is Machida's entire career before fighting Shogun.

    We saw traces of that same Machida in round three of the Machida-Rampage Jackson battle at UFC 123, but at the end of it all, we're left with Lyoto on a two-fight skid and Rampage in line for Thiago Silva at a likely timeframe that may land on UFC 130 or UFC 129.

    I don't know about the rest of you Bleacherholics, but somehow, the headline "Lyoto Machida released from the UFC following third-straight loss" would be as tough for me to immediately deal with as the news of Gerald Harris' release was to the rest of MMA World.

    Release or not, it's hard to argue that Machida is definitely one of the more intelligent strikers -- if not fighters -- in all of the sport for the time being.

11. Jon Jones

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Mixed martial artist Jon Jones arrives at the third annual Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2010 at the Palms Casino Resort December 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    "Why is Jon Jones on this list?" you must be asking...

    Well for the answer to this question, you have to look in two particular spots:

    1. Consider that his only pro loss wasn't due to being overwhelmed by Matt Hamill, or getting knocked out by Hamill, or even by getting submitted by Hamiil

    He dropped an elbow straight down on Hamill (it was a 12-6 elbow, which is when the point of the elbow down on some part of the opponent's body), and although some still maintain it shouldn't have, it did cost Jones his undefeated record.

    2. The man is widely considered to be the best (and perhaps also the most diverse) Light Heavyweight striker to not be born with the name Mauricio Milani Rua, and yet he possesses some good (read: underrated) Greco-Roman Wrestling.

    Seriously, the guy comes up with some of the most insane moves on the fly when he fights.

    He'll thrown any move from a flying kick to a flying knee, or a Dragon Elbow (as I coin that spinning backfist he threw against Stephen Bonnar after that suplex), and a whole bunch of moves that could make for its own series of articles.

    The thing is, the way he puts his Greco-Roman together with that insane weapons collection he calls a striking game -- he makes for a very unpredictable opponent because you know he's going to hit you with something, but you never know when or where he's going to hit you, and you never know exactly what he's going to hit you with.

    It's that unpredictability that makes Bones a very dangerous opponent, and the fact that he's always managed to change his game up warrants him being on the list.

10. Anderson Silva

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    It takes a certain degree of smarts to do what the consensus "best damn Middleweight in MMA, period" has done.

    He started off his UFC run fresh off of a win over Tony Fryklund, and to be frank, nobody was really prepared for what Silva had in store for Chris Leben.

    Since then, Silva has compiled an unprecedented 12-0 run in the UFC -- with all but the UFC 97 bout against Thales Leites resulting in either a TKO, a KO, a Submission, or at least some type of scarring damage done to his opponent (or their career).

    Hell, even that debacle with Demian Maia saw the BJJ specialist come into round five with a damaged nose and a closed-up left eye.

    If you need proof that he can adapt to fights pretty well, you need look at fights apart from the Chael Sonnen fight -- Travis Lutter didn't make weight, but he did give Silva hell to where he almost got a TKO win over the champ.

    Nate Marquardt didn't get easily stopped either, albeit he did fall to Silva in round one.

    If you've never seen Silva fight, you're missing out on more than you think, as what you're missing out on is arguably the most dangerous pinpoint striker in MMA history.

    Silva doesn't give you too many "Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama" flashbacks in his fights, but when he fights, he does leave you remembering what he did on that night -- whether you particularly cared for his performance or not.

    What longtime fans of Silva should have recalled from the Sonnen fight was that even in the face of danger and even in the midst of losing his title, the man is capable of overcoming adversity while under pressure.

    They should've also recalled that even if his submissions aren't masterpieces at times, they are effective.

    Remember, if you watch the UFC 117 main event again, Sonnen did what he was supposed to do to escape the triangle choke, but he left his arm out for Silva to crank.

    If it isn't smart to find an opening for a submission, even when the opponent knows exactly how to escape it, then I don't know exactly what qualifies as smart.

9. Jose Aldo

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    Call him Junior, call him The Brazilian Cobra, or just call him "that one little dude that will not hesitate to f**k you up six-thousand ways from Sunday".

    Either way, there's a reason why Jose Aldo is the former-WEC-now-UFC Featherweight Champion, there's a reason why he's considered along with Georges St-Pierre and his Black House teammate Anderson Silva to be one of the best-- if not the best -- pound for pound fighter in Mixed Martial Arts... and to top it all off:

    There's a very good reason why he's on this list, and this time, it's not my now-sometimes-visible bias towards Ed Soares & Co.

    The only loss on his record is to Luciano Azevedo, a second round loss to a rear naked choke that could've had an asterisk next to it if the ref had called it a tap when Azevedo  had more of a cobra clutch on Aldo while Aldo's right arm was outside of the ring.

    Even in defeat though, the striking of Aldo was still improving and the takedoGamburyan wn defense showed in that fight.

    For those of you who still don't know who Aldo is, you really ought to spend some time on Youtube or Dailymotion.

    If you don't want to, though, no worries -- I planned on talking about Aldo anyways.

    In a nutshell, he's a striker (a Black House boy that's a striker -- go figure) whose strikes sometimes come from out of nowhere, but he's a bit more tactical than what his fights against Mike Brown and Jonathon Brookins have shown.

    He's smart enough to know when to bring that lightning fast offense and when to be a calculating striker -- because after he beat Brown, it didn't take long for many to see that Aldo will take any opportunity to unload that offense if you give it to him.

    Many were expecting that Urijah Faber would be the man that exposed Aldo's game and took the title back, but what nobody expected was the vicious leg kicks of the man.

    That's where he's calculating at times -- because even your most casual fan, who likely went for Faber and likely hadn't heard of Aldo, had it figured that Faber would expect Aldo to bum-rush him early in the round, but few would expect Faber to get leg kicked to death.

    The same happened with Manny Gamburyan, who did blast Aldo a few times early.

    The thing with Aldo (that I hope someone else picked up from WEC 51, where Aldo wrecked The Anvil in round 2) is that to beat Jose Aldo on the feet, you have to do more than blast him in small doses.

    You have to pull the trigger and not stop until the ref pulls you off of Aldo, and until I actually see teammates Mark Hominick and George Roop fight at Fight Night 23 on Saturday, I can't think of anyone that will be able to do just that to the champ.

8. Matt Hughes

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    Photo Credit: Tracy Lee (Yahoo! Sports)
    Photo Credit: Tracy Lee (Yahoo! Sports)

    Diss him now, but you don't get coined as "the greatest Welterweight in UFC history" just by being born with a face, a head of hair, and four limbs.

    If you're Matt Hughes, it takes just a wee bit more than that.

    His striking arsenal is one that perfectly illustrates my point of a tool that sets up takedowns, because as great as Hughes is, he's not the first guy you think of when you think of guys with good striking.

    It's his double-legs, single-legs, the "Triangle Choke-breaker" powerbomb-slam of Carlos Newton, his occasional walking spinebuster-esque takedowns, and his submission grappling that's gotten him as far as he's gone.

    Is he what he once was as a fighter? Of course not, but despite losing to BJ Penn at UFC 123, it's still a fair call to say that Hughes is definitely one of the all-time smartest fighters in the sport.

7. Rich Franklin

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    DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 19:  UFC fighter Vitor Belfort  (L) battles UFC fighter Rich Franklin (R) during their Catch weight bout at UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort at the American Airlines Center on September 19, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Ge
    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

    If there's really a notable flaw in Rich Franklin's Freestyle fighting game, it's that he's a Southpaw who has gone up against -- and been defeated by -- three of MMA's most dangerous left-handed strikers in Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Lyoto Machida.

    Some still dispute whether Franklin really did lose to Dan Henderson or not, but that's neither here nor there.

    While you can dispute Franklin's appearance on this list, you can't dispute the fact of him being an intelligent fighter -- in every sense of the word "intelligent".

    After all, you can't ever figure out which way Ace is going to finish you off -- he has a lethal left hand, but he doesn't look for the left hand against everyone.

    As a matter of fact, he's recently only looked to end with the left in only his most recent fight with Chuck Liddell, and while he hasn't gotten a finish by the left hand recently, his right hand has proven to be equally as effective.

    That's what happens when you do something to take the left arm of the former Middleweight king out of the equation.

    Anyways, with a Freestyle fighter like this Cincinnati-bred future Hall-of-Famer, you're guaranteed a game in which the finish could come by KO, by TKO, by Submission, or if you want to see how long Ace can go, he can take you a full fifteen minutes.

    As far as Freetyle fighters go, few guys can hold a candle to Ace.

    He's not flashy, and he won't talk s**t about your favorite fighter, but he'll give you one hell of a show.

6. Mauricio RUa

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    MONTREAL- MAY 8: Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua receives the light heavyweight belt after defeating Lyoto Machida at UFC 113 at Bell Centre on May 8, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    How smart is Mauricio Rua, The Shogun?

    Just smart enough to nab KO wins over a who's who of fighters such as Rampage Jackson, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, and even Mark Coleman, among others -- and become UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in his late 20s.

    Now I know y'all have to be asking, "Isn't Shogun's style the exact same style that disqualifies a fighter as 'smart'? I mean, the guy is a psychotically fast-paced Muay Thai Specialist!"

    That's true, Shogun is a Muay Thai specialist and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt as well, but if you think his style is one that is tailor-made for a plethora of losses by knockout, think again.

    The thing about former Chute Boxe Academy students like Shogun and Anderson and Wanderlei SIlva is that while their Muay Thai is used in an obvious variety of ways, their respective Muay Thai games all have two things in common:

    1. They're all guys that you don't want to clinch with, and...

    2. Their reckless style of offense follows a slower yet deadlier pinpoint striking clinic.

    If you notice, Shogun can swing wildly if you choose to exchange with him in such a way, but usually he starts off slowly and he uses his stand-up prowess to create his own openings to finish rather than bank on someone leaving an opening for him to strike.

    Underrated is the takedown ability that Shogun has shown in the past as well, and say what you want about his loss to Forrest Griffin, but let it be remembered that while Shogun possesses literally no Wrestling background at all, the man can execute a halfway-decent takedown with the same ease that he can stuff a takedown.

    He's one of the toughest fighters in the world to deal with when he's on his game, and he'll have the task of showing the world what he can do after almost a year away from the Octagon when he makes his first title defense against Rashad Evans at UFC 129.

5. Royce Gracie

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    It's smarts when you revolutionize a sport by taking your own craft and pitting it against other styles of martial arts, but when your showcasing of that style sets the groundwork in place for a sport to evolve into one of the world's most popular combat sports, that's more than smart -- that's motherf**king brilliance.

    Seriously, all Royce Gracie did was find new ways to make people submit using his family's style -- a style that we all now know of called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

    The guy won two UFC tournaments, submitted 11 -- yes, ELEVEN -- opponents between UFC 1 and UFC 4, only losing once when he had to throw in the towel against Harold Howard in the UFC 3 tournament, and the only person to truly finish him was Matt Hughes.

    Somehow, in the time that Gracie spent as an active competitor, no one was able to make him submit or take him to the judges and beat him on the cards.

    If that's not smart fighting -- fighting to where only one person ever finishes you by the time you finish your career -- then I don't know exactly what is.

4. Kazushi Sakuraba

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    People note Jon Fitch's wrestling and GSP's wrestling when they mention the art of wrestling, but how many wrestlers are crafty enough and brilliant enough with their wrestling to where they are known as "The IQ Wrestler" to the world of Mixed Martial Arts?

    It ain't Fitch.

    Not GSP either.

    As great as Couture is, it ain't him either.

    Dan Severn? Forget about it, dude.

    Only Kazushi Sakuraba, the Gracie Hunter, could be so well-versed in wrestling that his career exhibits wins over every member of the Gracie Family -- except Ralek Gracie who "Saku" lost to at DREAM 14.

    While his record shows a loss to Royce Gracie as well, the loss to Royce was merely a fight to avenge the loss Royce suffered in their ninety-minute PRIDE Grand Prix Final encounter -- a loss that took place at K-1 Dynamite! USA in June 2007, a loss that saw Royce win by unanimous decision, and a loss that saw Royce test positive for Nandrolone after the fight.

    Nevertheless, Sakuraba is on this list because in his prime, he proved to be one of the smartest wrestling specialists in the game, mixing in strong wrestling prowess with his knowledge of the old-school style of "catch wrestling", showcasing his ability to hook his foes in various submission locks -- a skill that has led him to gain nineteen submission wins in his 43-fight career.

    Not too shabby for a guy that nearly got his ear nearly detached from his head by Marius Zaromskis.

3. Fedor Emelianenko

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    The incomparable "Last Emperor" -- the only Heavyweight to last 10 years as the arguable pound-for-pound best 265er in Mixed Martial Arts.

    He wasn't the best fighter in the world last June when Fabricio Werdum shocked the world (and shattered any potential interest in Fedor coming to the UFC), but prior to the shocker, Fedor had made a career out of his dominance.

    His only errors in the Werdum fight were lulling himself into a false sense of dominance, and forgetting that Werdum -- for his otherwise-quizzical pro record and less-than-stellar outings against top names -- is still one hell of a BJJ Specialist.

    In other fights, however, he's done an intelligent job of recognizing the strengths of certain fighters, and doing his best work with his Sambo and Judo skills to work around those strengths.

    Remember, his record may have had two wins in Affliction over Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski -- two men seen now as "past their primes" -- but his record also shows victories over Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and among others, Mirko Filipovic -- all in their primes.

    Let's also not forget that in his prime, Minotauro Nogueira was seen as arguably the best Brazilain Jiu-Jitsu practitioner outside of the UFC at the time.

    The stoic Heavyweight out of the Red Devil Fight Club is known not only for his own Sambo-based takedowns, but for the submissions and sometimes knockouts he's produced in his time as a fighter.

    While people recognize him for his ability to pound people into Kingdom Come, it's his ability to ground an opponent and find a way to make them squeal that has made Fedor as big a name as he's become.

    He'll have a chance to prove that he is still that man against Antonio Silva on February 12th

2./1. Randy Couture

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    PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 28: UFC heavyweight fighter Randy Couture weighs in at the UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira Weigh-In at the Rose Garden Arena on August 28, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

    He's The Natural for a reason, and his placement on this list is labeled as it is for a reason also (I explain that on the next slide).

    Of course, he's a master strategist, hence the argument for him being anywhere on this list, and to be a master strategist means you have to know your opponent's strengths and do everything you can to either use it against him, or work around it.

    Vitor Belfort -- fast heavy-handed boxer, and a good BJJ game, and yet Couture earned the nickname "The Natural" after using some Boxing against Vitor.

    Tim Sylvia -- in his best days, you'd get flamed for hating on Sylvia by internet fans of the sport because he was arguably the best UFC Heavyweight in the world, but then again, he was a solid all-around threat who had beaten everyone not named Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fedor Emelianenko, or (you guessed it) Randy Couture.

    When Sylvia fought Couture, Couture's age was supposed to show and Sylvia was supposed to hand him his own ass... Sylvia never got around to handing Couture his ass.

    Brandon Vera -- one of the hottest prospects to have emerged from the WEC, and despite a few good performances, he needed to show the world that he could beat the best in the world, yet he never got much more than a head kick on Couture.

    Even though he's supposed to be somewhere relevant to where Chuck Liddell is now, he's still kicking ass and taking a few names -- and he's still using a few tricks against some of his opponents.

    He's got the task of Lyoto Machida ahead of him at UFC 129 in Toronto.

    I'm going balls-out on this: DO NOT be surprised if Couture can -- and does -- finish Machida.

1./2. Georges "Rush" St-Pierre

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    LAS VEGAS - JULY 11:  Georges St. Pierre celebrates his victory against Thiago Alves during their welterweight title bout during UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. St. Pierre defeated Alves by unanimous decision.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty
    Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

    Pound for pound best in the world?

    Some think so for GSP.

    Firstly, let me say that the ambiguous order of Couture and GSP is the way it is for a reason: because some say GSP is one of the smartest fighters in the sport, and others say Couture's been a Master Strategist, so he is actually the smartest fighter in the game.

    Now then, you all know GSP has the most fluid takedowns in MMA today, and you all know he can submit people given the chance, but GSP is on the list for more than just what you all know.

    If you need proof that GSP finishes strong, even when he looks like he's close to defeat, just ask BJ Penn about GSP.

    I'd say aside from Matt Hughes and Matt Serra -- so far, the only two men to have beaten GSP -- The Prodigy has given The Fighting Pride of Montreal his toughest couple of fights.

    He said it best before he fought Josh Koscheck: he's at his best when he's fighting trash talkers, wrestlers, and"grudge fights: against familiar opponents.

    His next fight is against a man who is neither a trash talker nor a grudge, but does have some wrestling and also some Jiu-Jitsu.

    My personal opinions of Shields aside, GSP has to be looking at Shields and thinking about what he was able to do against Martin Kampmann.

    If GSP can't find a way past Shields, the same fate could await St-Pierre, but then again, GSP has been questioned ever since the BJ Penn fight as far as whether or not he could in fact get past the all-around game of Penn, the striking of Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy, and the now-fairly-diverse game of Koscheck.

    GSP has come in with some smart game plans so far, and rest assured that this man will have something in store for Mr. Shields come UFC 129.