Jon Jones has just completed one of the greatest calendar years in MMA history. Georges St. Pierre is in the midst of the most disappointing year of his MMA career. As a result, Jones has leapfrogged St. Pierre on the latest list of the Top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial arts.
And Jones is No. 2 with a bullet: He’s getting awfully close to dethroning Anderson Silva as the top fighter in the sport, in any weight class. Considering that Jones is 12 years younger than Silva, it’s only a matter of time before Jones is recognized as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
For now, I have Silva just ahead of Jones, and St. Pierre next. See how I rank the rest of the Top 10 fighters below.
Top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in MMA
(Number in parentheses is the fighter’s rank in the last pound-for-pound list.)
1. Anderson Silva (1): The reckless style and killer instinct Jones has shown over the last couple years reminds me of the way Silva looked early in his UFC run. Silva is a little more cautious now, but his 14-0 record in the UFC leaves him a shade above Jones in my estimation.
2. Jon Jones (3): Jones’s 2011 is the best year anyone has ever had in the UFC. In other MMA promotions, the only fighters I can recall who have had comparable years to Jones in 2011 — in terms of staying active and earning quality wins over good opponents — were Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2002 and Shogun Rua in 2005. Top-level fighters just don’t fight more than three times a year these days, and for Jones to go 4-0 and beat four high-quality opponents handily, all in one year, is something to celebrate.
3. Georges St. Pierre (2): St. Pierre hasn’t fought since April, and it will likely be late in 2012 before his surgically repaired ACL allows him to return to the Octagon. That’s a year and a half of his prime without a single fight. That’s a major disappointment for a great champion.
4. Frank Edgar (4): The lightweight champion of the world will finally get a new opponent when he faces Ben Henderson in February, after fighting only Gray Maynard in 2011 and only B.J. Penn in 2010. Edgar is the quickest fighter in the lightweight division and maybe the quickest in any division, and that should be a big edge against Henderson.
5. Jose Aldo (5): Aldo will defend the featherweight at home in Brazil when he faces Chad Mendes in January. Aldo has never fought a wrestler as good as Mendes before, but Mendes has never fought a striker as good as Aldo before.
6. Junior dos Santos (9): Dos Santos reached a big audience when he took the heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez on Fox. He’ll have a huge fight in 2012 against the winner of the upcoming Brock Lesnar-Alistair Overeem bout.
7. Dominick Cruz (6): Cruz and Uirjah Faber will coach against each other on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter and then meet in the cage for the third (and, presumably) final time in the summer of 2012. Cruz hasn’t really caught on with MMA fans yet, but being featured every week on FX will introduce him to a new audience.
8. Dan Henderson (NR): Two things we need to remember when ranking Henderson on a pound-for-pound list: One is that he’s the only elite light heavyweight who has also had success fighting at middleweight. The other is that one of Henderson’s recent wins was over a heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko. Henderson’s ability to transcend weight classes earns him a spot on the pound-for-pound list.
9. Joseph Benavidez (NR): I’ve been saying for years that Benavidez would be the best flyweight in the world if he fought in a promotion that had flyweights, and the UFC’s decision to launch the 125-pound class with a four-man tournament will be Benavidez’s opportunity to prove that. Benavidez is 15-2 in his MMA career, with both losses coming to Cruz, despite fighting a weight class too high. He’ll take on the reigning Shooto 123-pound champion Yasuhiro Urushitani in March.
10. Rashad Evans (NR): With one more win, against Phil Davis in January, Evans may finally get his chance to fight Jones. As great as Evans is, that’s a fight hardly anyone will pick him to win.