Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Is Jon Jones the Greatest?

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* Terrific card in Baltimore last weekend. Two highlight-reel knockouts, four straight submissions, a dominant title defense by a great champion, an upset of a top-10 light heavyweight, and the Fight of the Night between Takanori Gomi and Isaac Vallie-Flagg.

* Evidently no one else liked the women's bantamweight match between Bethe Correia and Jessamyn Duke. It was the least sensational fight at UFC 172, but I really thought it was okay.

* When Jim Miller fights anyone outside the top 10, he looks so dominant, you wonder how he ever loses. He's got to start performing the same way against the other top lightweights.

* Anthony "Rumble" Johnson made his UFC debut in June 2007, as a welterweight. After missing weight twice, he finally moved up to middleweight in 2012, and promptly missed weight by a UFC-record 12 pounds, then lost to Vitor Belfort and got released. He also missed weight for his first fight out of the UFC, which had to be changed to catchweight.

* Competing in World Series of Fighting and a few smaller promotions, Johnson went 6-0, mostly as a light heavyweight. His triumphant return to the UFC on Saturday night has got to rank among the most unexpected career comebacks in MMA history.

Jon Jones and UFC 172

Is Jon Jones the greatest mixed martial artist we've ever seen?

Georges St-Pierre went three years without losing a round, including seven title fights, and wins against the likes of Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn, and Jon Fitch. Anderson Silva set a record for consecutive title defenses. Fedor Emelianenko dominated the heavyweight division and went a decade without losing a fight.

No one seemed less vulnerable than GSP, but he didn't win with the same style as Jones. Silva won in style, but he also lost a lot of rounds before coming back to win. Fëdor spent his last few years ducking top-level opponents.

Jon Jones won the UFC light heavyweight belt just three years ago. Since then, he's defended it seven times, defeating former champions like Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Vitor Belfort, plus serious challengers like Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira. You can't argue against Jones' quality of competition. Yet he's been as dominant as Silva and Emelianenko, and he's showcased flashy techniques no one else can pull off.

In his eight title fights, Jones has won three unanimous decisions, three submissions, and two TKOs. Jones can dominate an opponent for 25 minutes, like he did against Teixeira. That was always Silva's weakness. Whether it was gas tank or concentration or something else, Silva never really looked impressive in decisions. Jones is the most dangerous striker in the light heavyweight division, and he's used three different techniques to submit his opponents. That was the complaint against St-Pierre, who hasn't finished an opponent in more than five years. And Fëdor never fought so many tough opponents in a row.

Jon Jones hasn't fought for nearly as long as the other guys in the "Greatest of All-Time" debate. He's only 26, and probably has more years in the sport in front of him than behind. I still believe he'll eventually move up to heavyweight, maybe after winning a rematch with Gustafsson and beating the winner of Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson. I'm not saying definitively that Jon Jones is the best mixed martial artist in history. But I think he has to be part of that conversation.

April 2014 UFC Rankings

The rankings below do not count as part of the UFC's official rankings, but they are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Pat Curran or Bibiano Fernandes on these lists.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Cain Velasquez
2. Fabricio Werdum
3. Junior Dos Santos
4. Travis Browne
5. Antonio Silva
6. Alistair Overeem
7. Josh Barnett
8. Mark Hunt
9. Stefan Struve
10. Stipe Miocic

Make it Happen: Overeem vs. Hunt

It's hard to keep of track of who's healthy and who isn't in this division, and it doesn't help that Overeem ducked JDS, but there are some really appealing striker-vs-striker matchups in this weight class.

Thank You, UFC, For: Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski

It feels right to have Arlovski back in the UFC, and that loss to Anthony Johnson doesn't seem like such a big deal after Saturday night.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Jon Jones
2. Alexander Gustafsson
3. Rashad Evans
4. Glover Texeira
5. Daniel Cormier
6. Anthony Johnson
7. Phil Davis
8. Dan Henderson
9. Mauricio Rua
10. Ryan Bader

It is my policy not to list fighters unless they (1) have competed in the last 12 months, or (2) have a fight scheduled. In his last bout, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira beat Rashad Evans, but that was more than a year ago. This also applies to fighters in other weight classes, like Dominick Cruz and Cat Zingano.

Make it Happen: Texeira vs. Johnson

Maybe the UFC would prefer to give Johnson an easier opponent, and not risking disrupting the Rumble Train, but this is a pretty appealing matchup after what we saw last weekend. Top three matchups for Johnson's next fight:

1. Glover Texeira
2. Shogun Rua
3. Rashad Evans (timing is awkward for this)

Thank You, UFC, For: Cormier vs. Henderson

I'm glad to see Cormier prove himself against a top-10 opponent in this weight class before he gets a title shot.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Chris Weidman
2. Vitor Belfort
3. Ronaldo Souza
4. Lyoto Machida
5. Luke Rockhold
6. Chael Sonnen
7. Tim Kennedy
8. Michael Bisping
9. Mark Muñoz
10. Francis Carmont

Make it Happen: Belfort vs. Jacare

Weidman-Machida is set for July 5. The next title fight probably won't take place until winter, maybe even early 2015. Belfort and Souza have both done enough to earn title shots, and both need a fight. This is the one that makes sense.

Thank You, UFC, For: Muñoz vs. Gegard Mousasi

Similarly-ranked fighters, and an intriguing striker-vs-grappler matchup.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Johny Hendricks
2. Carlos Condit
3. Robbie Lawler
4. Tyron Woodley
5. Rory MacDonald
6. Matt Brown
7. Tarec Saffiedine
8. Hector Lombard
9. Demian Maia
10. Dong Hyun Kim

I Don't Understand: Why Jake Ellenberger is the 5th-ranked contender in the official rankings

Ellenberger is 2-2 in the last two years and has never beaten anyone who is currently ranked in the top 10. He beat Jake Shields right after Shields' dad died, and he beat Diego Sanchez when we still thought that might be a big deal. Ellenberger's a good fighter, but he's been coasting on those wins for years now. He'll make my top 10 if he beats Robbie Lawler, though.

Thank You, UFC, For: Woodley vs. MacDonald

Top contender's bout.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. Anthony Pettis
2. Josh Thomson
3. Benson Henderson
4. Gilbert Melendez
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov
6. T.J. Grant
7. Nate Diaz
8. Rafael Dos Anjos
9. Donald Cerrone
10. Jim Miller

I thought Bellator's pursuit of Melendez was going to be a real positive for MMA fans. Adding Melendez to a lightweight division with Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler would stack that division with talent, and give Bellator's big names a chance to show how they measure up against one of the best in the UFC. If the UFC held onto Melendez, it was a sign of healthy competition and the UFC's respect for a rival.

I was wrong. The UFC's deal with Melendez, including a coaching spot opposite Anthony Pettis on The Ultimate Fighter and a match against the champion, is a loss for fans. Pettis hasn't fought since last August, and taping of the new show hasn't even begun yet. This keeps two of the UFC's most exciting fighters, and the lightweight belt, on the sidelines for roughly the next year.

Featherweight (136-145)

1. Jose Aldo
2. Chad Mendes
3. Frankie Edgar
4. Cub Swanson
5. Ricardo Lamas
6. Dustin Poirier
7. Chan Sung Jung
8. Dennis Bermudez
9. Dennis Siver
10. Jeremy Stephens

I Don't Understand: How B.J. Penn is going to make 145 pounds

Is Frankie going back up to 155 for their fight? B.J. used to fight at 170 just so he didn't have to cut weight. He's 35 now, and he's going to cut to 145 for the first time in his life?

Make it Happen: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Hatsu Hioki

Two well-regarded Japanese fighters who haven't looked so good in trips across the Pacific. Let them fight each other in Asia, and give the winner an opponent in the top 10. Preferably one who doesn't lay-and-pray.

Men's Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Renan Barao
2. Urijah Faber
3. Michael McDonald
4. Raphael Assuncao
5. T.J. Dillashaw
6. Eddie Wineland
7. Takeya Mizugaki
8. Francisco Rivera
9. Iuri Alcantara
10. Erik Perez

Make it Happen: Assunçao vs. winner of Barão-Dillashaw

Assunçao has a good argument that he's deserved a title shot for a while now. He beat Dillashaw last fall and hasn't lost since, but it's Dillashaw getting the shot at a belt. Assunçao should be next.

Thank You, UFC, For: Alcantara vs. Vaughan Lee

Lee is 3-2 in the UFC, but his losses were against Assunçao and Dillashaw. Alcantara is one of only four bantamweights to last three rounds against Faber, the others being Barão, Dominick Cruz, and Wineland.

Flyweight (116-125)

1. Demetrious Johnson
2. Joseph Benavidez
3. John Dodson
4. Ian McCall
5. Ali Bagautinov
6. Zach Makovsky
7. Brad Pickett
8. Jussier da Silva
9. John Moraga
10. John Lineker

Make it Happen: Johnson vs. Dodson

Assuming Dodson beats Moraga on June 7, he's earned a rematch with Mighty Mouse. Their first fight was awfully close, and there aren't a lot of deserving contenders in this weight class.

Make it Happen: Makovsky vs. da Silva

Makovsky, the former Bellator bantamweight champion, looks like he could be a serious challenger at 125. It's time for him to fight someone in the top 10.

Women's Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Ronda Rousey
2. Alexis Davis
3. Sarah Kaufman
4. Miesha Tate
5. Liz Carmouche
6. Jessica Eye
7. Bethe Correia
8. Sara McMann
9. Amanda Nunes
10. Jessica Andrade

Make it Happen: Kaufman vs. Tate

They haven't fought in five years, with Kaufman winning a UD in Strikeforce. Kaufman can make her case for a rematch with Rousey by beating Tate.

I Don't Understand: Why Cris Cyborg and Marloes Coenen aren't in the UFC

I know they're both more comfortable at 145, but I think the reason has more to do with protecting Rousey than it does with weight cuts. Rousey vs. Cyborg would do huge pay-per-view numbers.

Upcoming Events

UFC Fight Night - Brown vs. Silva

Welterweights Matt Brown and Erick Silva headline the UFC Fight Night on May 10. It's a major step down the ladder for Brown, who was scheduled to fight Carlos Condit before an injury forced him to pull out. Brown has won six in a row, five of them by knockout. Erick Silva is a sensation, but he's never beaten anyone in (or even near) the top 10. Silva is heavily favored (-250), but since 2012, Brown is 6-0 and Silva is 3-3. I'm done underestimating Brown. I like him straight up, and I like him a lot at +190.

Another surprise betting line show Lorenz Larkin (-175) favored against Costas Philippou (+135). Both have lost two of their last three, including decisions against Francis Carmont. I see this one as more of a Pick 'Em. Chris Cariaso, who beat Takeya Mizugaki and Vaughan Lee at bantamweight two years ago, is also an underdog (+120), in his flyweight match against Louis Smolka (-160), who made his UFC debut in January. Cariaso is 2-2 at flyweight, but riding a win streak. Putting three underdogs in a parlay is nuts, but a $100 bet on Brown, Philippou, and Cariaso would win $1,400. More conservatively, a parlay with Brown, Eric Koch (-305), and either Cariaso or Philippou would reap about $750.

Bellator 120 - Alvarez vs. Chandler 3

The next big show, on May 17, is Bellator's first pay-per-view, featuring the rubber match between lightweights Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. Those are both top-10 lightweights, either of whom could challenge for a belt in the UFC, and both of their first two fights were barnburners. The stacked card also features Quinton Jackson against Muhammed Lawal, middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko vs. Tito Ortiz, Patricky Pitbull and Marcin Held, plus fights involving Will Brooks, Cheick Kongo, and Alexander Volkov.

Alvarez-Chandler is a toss-up. They're both great fighters. Gun to my head, I might bet on Chandler. He's a better wrestler, and he's still improving. I think Eddie has already peaked. Rampage and King Mo are both a little nuts (Rampage is a lot nuts), so it's tough to predict who will show up to fight. I guess I might have more faith in Lawal. The easiest fight to call is Shlemenko vs. Ortiz. Shlemenko is a brilliant striker, and Tito is a shadow of his former self. Tito will have the size advantage, but Shlemenko is going to ruin him. TKO.

UFC 173

The next big UFC event is UFC 173, in Las Vegas on May 24. The main card features two important bantamweight bouts: a title fight between Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw, and a top-10 matchup between Takeya Mizugaki and Francisco Rivera. The winner of that is probably one more victory away from a shot at the belt. Daniel Cormier meets Dan Henderson in a title eliminator at 205, and Robbie Lawler faces Jake Ellenberger at 170.

Barao is a huge favorite (-650), but odds aren't out yet on most of the other fights. In the co-main, Cormier will likely be a heavy favorite. He's been terribly dull since coming over from Strikeforce, but he's been winning. I can't imagine he'll choose a fight with Hendo to open up and take some chances. I lean towards the favorites all across the main card on this one, though not with a lot of confidence. I'm curious to see how Lawler-Ellenberger plays out, and I'd really like to see Mizugaki or Rivera make a statement at 135. That weight class needs some fresh challengers, especially with perennial top-10s Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen dropping to flyweight.

If you have to choose between Bellator 120 and UFC 173, I might go with Bellator. They're both good cards, but Bellator's will likely be cheaper, and you can't pass up Alvarez-Chandler or Shlemenko.

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