Silva, world’s top pound-for-pound fighter, rules again
HeavyMMA's fighter rankings are back this week with a look at the middleweight division, which has been ruled over for better than five years by UFC champion Anderson Silva. Silva gets his next test in June against arch rival Chael Sonnen in a highly anticipated rematch from their UFC 117 fight – which was dominated by Sonnen until he tapped in the fifth round from an armbar-triangle combination.
Heavy's panel consists of HeavyMMA editor Matt Brown, writer Duane Finley and writer/editor Matt Erickson. Each panelist compiles his rankings independently, and the votes are tabulated to reach the results listed below. Coming next week, we'll take a look at the welterweight division.
1. Anderson Silva
UFC champion (31-4, 14-0 UFC)
There's really nothing that can be said about "Spider" Silva that you haven't heard before. Greatest of all time? He very well may be on the way to that title. He holds a slew of UFC champion records and he's really only been threatened once – against the man he'll meet again in a couple months in a soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro in front of his home Brazilian fans. Dana White has said that will not be just one of the greatest events in MMA history, but one of the greatest moments in sports in all of 2012 – and he's right. Silva is already nearly a 3-to-1 favorite in the fight.
2. Chael Sonnen
UFC No. 1 contender (27-11-1, 6-4 UFC)
If there was a pound-for-pound list for best talkers, Sonnen would be the undisputed king. But he's more than capable of backing it up in the Octagon. His last outing, a January unanimous decision win over Michael Bisping at UFC on Fox in Chicago, was a bit lackluster compared to his domination of Brian Stann last October. If the January Sonnen shows up against Silva in June, don't expect to see the same kind of performance Sonnen had against him in 2010.
3. Mark Munoz
(12-2, 7-2 UFC)
An unfortunate injury and subsequent surgery took Munoz out of a January fight booking against Sonnen, sapping some of his momentum. Munoz's 2011 was brilliant – he went 3-0 with stoppages of Chris Leben and C.B. Dollaway and a hard-fought decision win over Demian Maia. It'll be interested to see what type of fight Munoz gets when he returns, likely this summer.
4. Michael Bisping
(22-4, 12-4 UFC)
Bisping had a four-fight winning streak snapped against Sonnen in January. But it was a fight he believes he won, and one that Sonnen himself said he wouldn't have been surprised at hearing the Brit's name called. Bisping really hasn't been truly whupped since his UFC 100 knockout loss to Dan Henderson. Since then, his losses – to Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva – have been close unanimous decision setbacks that he, naturally, believes he won. He'll get his next test another Top 10 middleweight when he meets Tim Boetsch at UFC 148 in July.
5. Vitor Belfort
(21-9, 10-5 UFC)
Since his head kick knockout loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 126 last year, Belfort has looked like a man on a mission. He tore through Yoshihiro Akiyama in under two minutes at UFC 133. And in January, when Anthony Johnson showed up at UFC 142 11 pounds overweight, Belfort took the fight anyway – and put him away with a first-round rear naked choke. Belfort now awaits one of his biggest rivals, fellow Brazilian Wanderlei Silva. The two currently are coaching opposite each other on episodes of "The Ultimate Fighter Brazil" that are airing now and will meet at UFC 147 in a Rio soccer stadium in the type of fight that would be a main event any other time without Anderson Silva headlining against Chael Sonnen.
6. Hector Lombard
Bellator champion (31-2-1, 1 NC, 8-0 Bellator)
Lombard is on one of the most impressive streaks in MMA history. The Bellator titleholder has won 20 straight and hasn't lost in 25 fights – with just one draw between him having nothing but checks in the win column the last five and a half years. His last loss came in Pride to Gegard Mousasi in November 2006. And it's not like he's only been fighting cans since then – he has wins over James Te Huna, Brian Ebersole, Alexander Shlemenko and, most recently, Trevor Prangley. But he may be about to have things turned up a notch. His Bellator contract expires this spring and he hasn't re-signed with the promotion. Word is he's waiting for his negotiating period with Bellator to end this month, and then he can take official offers elsewhere – like from the UFC. Bellator then can try to match it and keep him. But the chances are good he may be in the UFC by summertime, and perhaps fast-tracked to Top 10 competition to see just where he really stands.
7. Luke Rockhold
Strikeforce champion (9-1, 8-0 Strikeforce)
Whom he was facing doesn't matter that much – six straight first-round stoppage wins in Strikeforce is pretty impressive. And those wins got Rockhold his shot at a title, which is still the only time in his career he's been out of the first round. He needed all five to dethrone Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza last year, but he got it done. A potential title fight against Tim Kennedy couldn't happen in January, so Rockhold made quick work of the bigger (and odd choice) challenger Keith Jardine. Rockhold isn't on the ticket for Strikeforce's May 19 outing in San Jose, Calif., but a title fight against Kennedy may be next up for him this summer.
8. Brian Stann
(12-4, 6-3 UFC)
Anyone who things Stann doesn't belong in the Top 10 need only look back at his impressive win over Alessio Sakara on Saturday night. Stann needed a dominant performance after getting taken to the proverbial woodshed by Chael Sonnen in October, and he got it. And then in victory, he remained the pound-for-pound classiest guy in the sport. Stann said Saturday he plans to take some family time, but wants to be back this summer and ready to start making the climb again.
9. Tim Boetsch
(15-4, 6-3 UFC)
"The Barbarian" has picked up a nice three-fight winning streak, including a stunning comeback knockout win against Yushin Okami at UFC 144 in February. Before that, his 2011 wins against Nick Ring and Kendall Grove were mostly dominant decisions and a good way to start his middleweight career after dropping from light heavyweight. Michael Bisping awaits him in July, and it's the type of fight that truly would catapult him into the next tier with a win.
10. Chris Weidman
(8-0, 4-0 UFC)
Weidman's unanimous decision win over Demian Maia at UFC on Fox in January wasn't exactly a fight for his career highlight reel. But it proved Weidman is a good company man who will step up when needed. He got the call to face Maia on less than two weeks notice, took the fight and made weight – a drastic cut considering he wasn't in camp at the time. And he got the win against a tough veteran to stay unbeaten. Does he belong in the Top 10? Though he doesn't have his next opponent announced yet, you can be sure it'll be another top-tier middleweight, and then we'll know for sure.
On the fringe: Alan Belcher, Nate Marquardt, Wanderlei Silva, Rousimar Palhares, Yushin Okami, Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Siyar Bahadurzada, Alexander Shlemenko, Demian Maia
And stay tuned for our every-Monday rankings in a new weight class!
HeavyMMA's Welterweight rankings: Coming April 23
HeavyMMA's Lightweight rankings: Coming April 30
HeavyMMA's Featherweight rankings: Coming May 7
HeavyMMA's Bantamweight rankings: Coming May 14