The Defeat of Fëdor and July 2010 UFC Rankings

The mixed martial arts world has seen a serious shakeup in the heavyweight division recently. Alistair Overeem defended the Strikeforce belt in extraordinarily impressive fashion. The unbeatable Fëdor Emelianenko was beaten. Junior Dos Santos' 2008 victory over Fabricio Werdum looks more impressive than ever. Cain Velasquez looks like he has the tools to do what Shane Carwin couldn't. For the first time in years, the top of the heavyweight division is a matter of widespread, legitimate debate, possibly the most intriguing weight class in MMA.

Unfortunately, part of the reason it's intriguing is that the best fighters are spread over multiple organizations. Despite the UFC's repeated assertions this weekend that Brock Lesnar is now officially "the baddest man on the planet" — and holy hell, Mike Goldberg, if you say that one more time I will fly to Las Vegas and fight you myself — there's still a great deal of debate on that topic. Most official rankings will probably put Lesnar number one, but a plurality is not the same as a consensus, and many fans and analysts prefer Overeem, Velasquez, or even Emelianenko.

The Last Emperor is widely considered the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, a long-undefeated champion who beat the best fighters in the world, including Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski. In recent months, though, Emelianenko's management has seemed reluctant to let him fight top competition, and against Werdum last month, he made a rookie mistake, going to the ground with a world-class submissions expert who wouldn't have been able to hang with him standing. Werdum locked up a triangle and armbar that Fëdor couldn't escape, and just like that, the invincible champion was defeated.

For the first four minutes of the UFC's heavyweight unification bout on Saturday night, it looked like Lesnar was in for an even uglier loss. Carwin beat him up standing, and Lesnar simply covered up as Carwin transitioned to heavy-handed ground-and-pound. By the end of the round, however, it was obvious that Carwin — who had never failed to finish an opponent before the end of the first round — was out of gas. The second round was nearly a formality, as Lesnar easily took Carwin to the ground, locked on an arm triangle, and cranked until he elicited a tap.

Next for Lesnar is a matchup with 8-0 Cain Velasquez, whose skill set is similar to Carwin's and should give the champ cause for worry. Velasquez is a talented wrestler who won't let Brock into top position easily, and who easily outclasses him on the feet, though his power is less devastating than Carwin's. Where Velasquez has the advantage over the previous challenger is cardio; Velasquez's is not in question. It's a fight fans are already salivating to see. We're also holding out hope, though, that eventually Overeem and Emelianenko will test their skills against the best the UFC has to offer.

Other Fights and July UFC Rankings

The heavyweights weren't the only ones on Saturday's card. The televised portion of UFC 116 got off to a terrific start with a fast-paced contest between Ricardo Romero and Kimbo-slayer Seth Petruzelli. Brendan Schaub quickly knocked out Lesnar teammate Chris Tuchscherer, and Gerald Harris picked up Knockout of the Night honors for using a powerful slam to KO Dave Branch, while lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos earned a unanimous decision over Kurt Pellegrino and Chris Lytle submitted Matt Brown in a surprisingly slow-paced affair that actually drew some boos from the crowd.

Twin "Fight of the Night" honors went to a pair of TUF Season One veterans, Chris Leben and Stephan Bonnar. Leben, a late replacement for Wanderlei Silva, choked out Yoshihiro Akiyama in the third round to earn his third straight victory. Ten months ago, fans were writing Leben off following a second straight loss, but now he has two strong wins in a row and is on the periphery of the middleweight title picture.

The bout that really warmed my heart, though, was the rematch between Krzysztof Soszynski and Bonnar, whose first fight ended prematurely when an accidental head butt led to a doctor's stoppage. Bonnar is an easy guy to root for, while Krzysztof is overrated and one-dimensional (two if you count Kimuras as a dimension) and wasn't terribly likable on The Ultimate Fighter. Their first round had the crowd on its feet, with both fighters landing damaging strikes, but Bonnar simply wouldn't give up, showing the same fortitude that earned him so many fans in his fights with Forrest Griffin, and he eventually finished off Soszynski with relentless ground and pound. It was a huge victory for a guy who's had more downs than ups to his career in recent years.

The rankings below are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Overeem or Gilbert Melendez on these lists.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Brock Lesnar
2. Cain Velasquez
3. Junior Dos Santos
4. Roy Nelson
5. Shane Carwin
6. Frank Mir
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
8. Ben Rothwell
9. Mirko Filipovic
10. Cheick Kongo

Make It Happen: Nogueira vs. Filipovic

They fought once before, in 2003, with Nogueira winning by armbar. Cro Cop has openly expressed interest in this fight, and it makes sense for Big Nog, too, as a way to test whether he's still an elite heavyweight. Filipovic has spoken publicly about the possibility of retirement, and this fight could delay that. It's a win for all parties, including the fans. Make it happen, Joe Silva.

Thank You, UFC, for: Dos Santos vs. Nelson

I am very excited for this. The winner should get a title shot.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
2. Lyoto Machida
3. Rashad Evans
4. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
6. Jon Jones
7. Thiago Silva
8. Ryan Bader
9. Forrest Griffin
10. Rich Franklin

Make It Happen: Griffin vs. Franklin

Honestly, this division is the top three, and everyone else. Jackson has become frustratingly one-dimensional, and looked painfully slow in his loss against Evans. Nogueira was not impressive in his controversial win over Jason Brilz. Griffin has lost two of his last three, and won a split decision over washed-up Tito Ortiz in the other. Franklin came back from a broken arm to finish Chuck Liddell at UFC 115, and the company should reward him with a fight that could put him in title contention.

Thank You, UFC, for: Randy Couture vs. James Toney

This contest is likely to be at a catchweight rather than at 205, because Toney can't stop eating. This figures to be a rude introduction to MMA for the former boxing champion.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Anderson Silva
2. Chael Sonnen
3. Yushin Okami
4. Vitor Belfort
5. Nate Marquardt
6. Demian Maia
7. Wanderlei Silva
8. Alan Belcher
9. Michael Bisping
10. Chris Leben

Make It Happen: Wanderlei Silva vs. Leben

Leben asked for this fight, and Wandy won't turn anyone down. This has Fight of the Night written all over it, or at least "entertaining slugfest." Great idea, Crippler.

Thank You, UFC, for: Maia vs. Belcher

This fight is not official yet, but it makes a lot of sense. I'm looking forward to it.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Georges St-Pierre
2. Jon Fitch
3. Thiago Alves
4. Josh Koscheck
5. Dan Hardy
6. Martin Kampmann
7. Paulo Thiago
8. Matt Hughes
9. Dong Hyun Kim
10. John Hathaway

Make It Happen: Jake Shields vs. winner of Alves/Fitch

Shields isn't technically with the organization yet, but everyone expects that he'll sign with them sooner rather than later. Once he does, Shields should be considered an immediate title contender in both the middleweight and welterweight divisions. If he opens at welterweight, this is the fight he should get. If Shields starts at 185, Kampmann is probably the obvious choice to take on the winner of Alves/Fitch.

Thank You, UFC, for: Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida

Hughes has been fighting a pretty light schedule, with only three fights in the last three years. This not only gets him into the Octagon, it pairs him up with a legit opponent for the first time since UFC 85, and gives Almeida a chance to work his way up in the division by defeating a legend.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. B.J. Penn
2. Frankie Edgar
3. Kenny Florian
4. Gray Maynard
5. George Sotiropoulos
6. Evan Dunham
7. Tyson Griffin
8. Jim Miller
9. Joe Stevenson
10. Takanori Gomi

Make It Happen: Sotiropoulos vs. Sean Sherk

Sherk isn't ranked here because he hasn't fought in over a year and isn't scheduled to do so any time soon. If he ever gets back into action, he's presumably top-10, and a natural opponent for Sotiropoulos as the Aussie positions himself for a title shot.

Thank You, UFC, for: Florian vs. Maynard

The top contender fight that had to happen. Match-making in MMA isn't perfect, but it's light years ahead of boxing, and a major reason that MMA is the world's fastest-growing sport, while boxing retains only a shadow of its former popularity. In mixed martial arts, the fights that need to happen usually do, and this fight needs to happen. UFC 118 has a very, very exciting lineup.

Before that card, though, the UFC has two more major events coming up. The cleverly titled UFC on Versus 2 goes down at the beginning of the August, and less than a week later, Anderson Silva will bore fans out of their minds by dancing around Chael Sonnen for 25 minutes. The Versus event features three fights with important ramifications in their respective divisions. The headlining fight pits fast-rising Jon Jones against veteran Vladimir Matyushenko, whose 24-4 record and three-fight win streak belie his less-than-flattering nickname, The Janitor. Jones is a heavy favorite (-600), but the UFC is right to bring him along gradually. A win, however, should earn Jones a shot against the top contenders in the division.

The card also features Okami against standout wrestler Mark Muñoz, who is coming off an impressive TKO victory over Kendall Grove. Okami (-200), who hasn't lost to anyone but Sonnen in the last three years, should be fighting established contenders rather than prospects. Nonetheless, a win should put him into a top contenders' fight, while an upset would vault Muñoz into the top 10 at 185. Rounding out the Versus card's primary attractions, Tyson Griffin (-290) steps in for the injured Joe Stevenson to take on Japanese superstar Takanori Gomi (+230) in a matchup of talented lightweights coming off losses. The smart money is on the favorites, but if you really need to pick an upset, go with Muñoz. Don't bet against Jones unless you're the type whose thrill-seeking involves major risks, like Russian Roulette, or invading Austria.

The next weekend, UFC 117 goes down in Oakland. The title fight matches Anderson Silva (-450), who hasn't tried to win a fight in several years, against shameless self-promoter and moderately unbalanced loudmouth Chael Sonnen (+300). Silva won't engage his opponents, and Sonnen is a one-dimensional wrestler. I don't know which of them to root against harder.

More interesting bouts include the Alves/Fitch rematch, which pretty clearly establishes the best welterweight this side of Georges St-Pierre. Alves is a very slight favorite, but it's basically a pick-em, and Fitch won their first meeting. The other big fights are Hughes/Almeida, which could position Hughes for one last run at glory if he wants to pursue it, and Junior Dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson. JDS (-355) is a substantial favorite, but Nelson (+285) has no obvious holes in his game. He has size, cardio, knockout power, and a truly exceptional grappling game. Dos Santos is a fantastic striker, and he has a brown belt from the Nogueira brothers, so he's no slouch on the ground, but I think Nelson poses him a real threat. This is my favorite fight on the card. I'd take Dos Santos straight up, but at those odds, I'll put a few dollars on Nelson. Uh, recreationally.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site