Lyoto Machida (left) and Joe Rogan: Sherdog.com
Exit “The Dragon.”
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida has left the list of MMA’s pound-for-pound best following a narrow split decision loss to fellow ex-titleholder Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 123 on Nov. 20 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Despite a third-round surge by the Brazilian karateka, Jackson’s aggression in the first two stanzas won over the judges, leading to a verdict that few predicted and many would question. Nonetheless, Machida’s second career loss, coupled with his brutal dispatching at the hands of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in May, caused his ouster from the rankings. As a result, UFC 205-pound title contender Rashad Evans and Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez each move up one spot.
Filling the void left by Machida’s absence is WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, who enters the list at No. 10. Currently ranked as the world’s top 135-pounder, Cruz stuck-and-moved his way to a five-round split decision title defense in his August rematch against Joseph Benavidez. The Alliance MMA product has tasted defeat just once in 17 bouts, having been submitted in 2007 by Urijah Faber -- a man who he could very well meet again in the future now that “The California Kid” has dropped to 135 pounds.
1. Anderson Silva (27-4)
Undeniably the UFC’s greatest middleweight and arguably its most dominant champion of all-time, Silva has notched an unprecedented seven consecutive defenses of his 185-pound crown. In his latest, at UFC 117, “The Spider” pulled out an almost inconceivable come-from-behind win, submitting Chael Sonnen with a triangle armbar after four and a half rounds of being dominated by the wrestler. On the mend from a rib injury, which he carried into that bout, the Brazilian already has a pair of challengers queued up for his return. On Feb. 5, Silva will meet countryman Vitor Belfort at UFC 126. Should that defense prove successful, he would next face Yushin Okami in a rematch of their infamous 2006 bout, which the Japanese fighter won by disqualification.
2. Georges St. Pierre (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. That dynamic will only be reinforced by the fact that their Dec. 11 clash will go down at the Bell Centre in St. Pierre’s hometown of Montreal.
3. Jose Aldo (18-1)
Since entering World Extreme Cagefighting in June 2008, Aldo has laid waste to every challenger put before him, embarking on an 8-0 run through the 145-pound division, with seven wins via stoppage. Most recently, the Brazilian dynamo disposed of top contender Manny Gamburyan with a sound knockout in his second title defense. During a ceremony at UFC 123, Aldo was formally crowned the first UFC featherweight champion, a title he was slated to put on the line for the first time against Josh Grispi at UFC 125 until a back injury forced him off the bill.
4. Frankie Edgar (13-1)
On Aug. 28 in Boston, Edgar proved that, no matter the controversy surrounding 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 and 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 “The Answer” in April 2008.
5. Jon Fitch (23-3, 1 NC)
While not one to cause a stir with outrageous interviews, Fitch has nonetheless proven a polarizing figure due to his wrestling-based, results-oriented style of fighting. The former Purdue Boilermaker’s resume speaks for itself, however, with 13 wins and only one defeat inside the UFC’s ever-deepening 170-pound division. The American Kickboxing Academy standout’s path will not get any easier in February, as he faces former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.
6. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (19-4)
Rua’s current resume remains a far cry from where it was in 2005, when he tore through four Top 10 opponents in half a year. Though he now holds the UFC title in one of the sport’s deepest divisions, his problem remains the catastrophic knee injuries he seems to suffer with regularity. Coming off his May knockout of Lyoto Machida, Shogun’s third serious knee surgery in three years has postponed a fight with former champion Rashad Evans until March 2011. The pair will reportedly meet in the United Arab Emirates at the as-yet-unannounced UFC 128.
7. Jake Shields (26-4-1)
There was a time a few short years ago when Shields was reviled for being one of MMA’s most loathsome fighters to watch. During the last five years, the Cesar Gracie protégé has transformed himself from a drab, peripheral contender into one of the sport’s elite competitors. Shields won his long-awaited UFC debut on Oct. 23, though not without some controversy. Nonetheless, the win -- a razor-thin split decision over Martin Kampmann -- entitles the former Strikeforce middleweight champion to a shot at the winner of December’s Georges St. Pierre-Josh Koscheck 170-pound title bout.
8. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)
Evans’ win over rival Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on May 29 did not exactly set the world on fire, though he walked away with a unanimous decision. “Suga” will have the chance to take his resume from 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 champion has become inactivity, as he will have to wait until UFC 128 in March 2011 to get a shot at rehabbing champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
9. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)
In the biggest lightweight bout that could have been made outside of the UFC, Melendez thumped on Dream champion Shinya Aoki for five lopsided rounds on April 17, earning the most significant and outstanding win of his career. The major challenge going forward for the 28-year-old Cesar Gracie student will be securing major fights within the confines of Strikeforce. To that end, “El Nino” could be looking at a rubber match against former sparring partner Josh Thomson next, though rumors of a rematch with Aoki in Japan also persist.
10. Dominick Cruz (16-1)
Cruz furthered his reputation as the world’s top 135-pound fighter on Aug. 18, edging out a split decision win in his five-round WEC title defense against Joseph Benavidez. Up next for Zuffa’s lightest champion is another title bout, this time against Scott Jorgensen at the final WEC show on Dec. 16. The winner will be crowned the first-ever UFC bantamweight champion.
* With his Nov. 20 split decision loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, previously eighth-ranked Lyoto Machida exits the top 10.