Print and Go Back Mixed Martial Arts [Print without images]

Thursday, September 2, 2010
MMA's 10 best pound-for-pound fighters


Frankie Edgar wasn't ready to give up his spot on this list. At UFC 118 in Boston, he fought every bit like a man who belonged on it.

For the second time in four months, "The Answer" got a unanimous decision nod over B.J. Penn. This time around, there wasn't a shred of controversy, as Edgar dominated Penn for 25 minutes and affirmed his place here. In maybe MMA's most talented division, he'll have the chance to really add to that résumé in the future with a stream of top-notch 155-pounders in his sights, including his first challenger -- the only man to defeat him -- Gray Maynard.

With his loss, Penn exits this list, on which he's enjoyed a spot since March 2008. However, stepping back into the fold is one of Penn's lightweight coevals.

Gilbert Melendez staked his claim as one of the sport's best back in April, smashing on Dream lightweight champ Shinya Aoki in a hugely significant lightweight bout. That win, combined with Penn's loss, allow Melendez to slip back into the pound-for-pound top 10. Melendez previously enjoyed real estate here from the initial Sherdog pound-for-pound list in September 2007 up to his June 2008 loss to Josh Thomson.

UFC middleweight champion
Record: 27-4

If great champions need signature moments, Silva may have excelled himself in Oakland on Aug. 7. The brash and bombastic Chael Sonnen bombed on a hapless Silva for 23 minutes. Then a sudden triangle armbar earned "The Spider" the come-from-behind victory. In spite of his win and the rib injury he reportedly carried into the bout, post-fight discussion has focused on the waning dominance and increasing fragility of Silva. The Curitiba native will have a chance to prove his fifth-round submission was no fluke, though. After his recovery, he's expected to fight a rematch with Sonnen in the coming months.

UFC welterweight champion
Record: 20-2

When St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck met for the first time in August 2007, St. Pierre walked away with a unanimous decision. When they collide in a UFC title rematch three-plus years later at UFC 124, it will be on the heels of the 12th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," which figures to build the second fight with an easy and obvious face-heel dynamic. It's a dynamic that is only going to be reinforced by the fact their Dec. 11 clash will go down at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

WEC featherweight champion
Record: 17-1

Though Alexandre Franca Nogueira was perhaps the first true dominant featherweight during the division's embryonic stages, it is his countryman Aldo who is now situated as the first truly great 145-pounder. Coming off a brutal blowout of divisional poster boy Urijah Faber in April, Aldo will return to action at WEC 51 on Sept. 30 to make his second title defense. Taking on the enormous task of trying to put a dent in the Brazilian dynamo will be veteran Manny Gamburyan, who has been rejuvenated after cutting down to the more appropriate featherweight division.

UFC lightweight champion
Record: 13-1

On Aug. 28 in Boston, Edgar proved that no matter the controversy that surrounded his April UFC title win against B.J. Penn, he is definitely the sport's top lightweight. For five rounds, Edgar was the superior fighter, ahead of "The Prodigy" every step of the way, standing or on the ground. However, in spite of two massive wins, fans are unlikely to be too taken with Edgar's accomplishments until he gets through his next challenger: Gray Maynard. The only man to beat Edgar, Maynard outpointed him in April 2008.

UFC welterweight
Record: 23-3, 1 NC

Love him or hate him, Fitch was in his element at UFC 117, where he duplicated his June 2006 win over Thiago Alves with a commanding, one-sided unanimous decision. Whether the victory earns Fitch another shot at the UFC welterweight title is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that Fitch has entrenched himself as the hands-down, second-best fighter in one of MMA's historically rich weight classes. His grinding fight style will continue to make him a polarizing figure among fans, but Fitch absolutely meets the most pivotal requirement -- consistently beating great fighters -- of this list.

UFC light heavyweight champion
Record: 19-4

"Shogun" Rua's credentials are a far cry from what they were in 2005, when he tore through four top-10 opponents in half a year. However, assuming his recovery from a worrying third knee surgery goes swimmingly, the Curitiba native will have plenty of opportunities to carve out more outstanding pound-for-pound-quality wins in a talent-rich 205-pound division. First on deck for "Shogun" post-recovery will be former champion Rashad Evans in a highly alluring clash of premier fighters in one of MMA's premier divisions.

UFC middleweight
Record: 25-4-1

There was a time just a few short years ago when Shields was reviled for being one of MMA's most loathsome fighters to watch. During the past five years, the Cesar Gracie protégé has transformed himself from a drab, peripheral contender to one of the sport's elite fighters. With elite credentials at both 170 and 185 pounds, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion has now signed with the UFC, where he'll head back to the talent-rich welterweight division. The first step for Shields inside the Octagon will come Oct. 23 at UFC 121 in Anaheim, when he takes on Martin Kampmann.

UFC light heavyweight
Record: 16-1

"The Machida Era" lasted less than a year, as Mauricio "Shogun" Rua brutally plunked MMA's proudest karateka in Montreal to take the UFC light heavyweight title and 205-pound supremacy. However, Machida still enjoys considerable stature in MMA with high-quality wins in one of MMA's most talented and star-laden weight classes. Though it won't restore him to the lofty status he previously enjoyed as champion, Machida will have the chance to build on his résumé at UFC 123 on Nov. 20 in Auburn Hills, Mich. He'll meet fellow former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

UFC light heavyweight
Record: 15-1-1

Evans' May 29 win over rival Quinton Jackson didn't exactly set the world on fire. Evans walked away with a unanimous decision win, though. He'll have the chance to take his résumé from "very strong" to "exceptional" in the near future, as his win over Jackson installed him as the UFC's top 205-pound contender. The real issue for the former champ is simply inactivity, as champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's most recent knee injury has pushed their clash back into 2011.

Strikeforce lightweight champion
Record: 18-2

In the biggest lightweight bout that could've been made outside of the UFC, Melendez thumped on Dream champion Shinya Aoki for five lopsided rounds, earning the most significant and outstanding win of his career. The major challenge going forward for the 28-year-old Cesar Gracie student is going to be securing major fights within the confines of Strikeforce. Fortunately, as the Aoki fight showed, the lightweight division has a level of global depth and versatility that makes it easier than it would be in other divisions.

*With his Aug. 28 loss to Frankie Edgar, formerly fifth-ranked B.J. Penn falls off the pound-for-pound list.