Velasquez still trails Silva, Jones, St-Pierre in pound-for pound rankings
Now that the old ticker is finally beginning to quiet its insistent thumping over watching Junior get creamed by Cain, it's time to get down to the important monthly business of sorting out the crème de la crème in mixed martial arts.
Velasquez's performance over the weekend is still occupying a lot of minds, and surely it will be until someone else comes along and puts on a more virtuosic performance. Isn't that the way it always is? Concocting rankings is a fanciful opportunity to bask in the presence of the best, and right now it's hard to imagine the new UFC heavyweight champion being bested.
Yet when you get to the bottom of what you're now reading, to the "Pound for pound" Top 3, you won't see Cain's name. One reason for that is the list can fit only three names, and Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre constitute a tough trio to crack. Another reason is that his masterpiece at UFC 155 puts Velasquez on only a two-fight win streak.
The real challenge facing Cain and other jumbo fighters, though, is that a pound-for-pound ranking isn't made for them. It's an exercise in theoretically leveling a playing field that in real life is not level. We've already bestowed upon Velasquez the honorary position of "baddest man on the planet," by virtue of him being the best among the biggest in the sport with the most facets of combat in it. (It's an inexact measurement, but who's man enough to argue with Cain other than some British boxer who isn't even the baddest man in Manchester when Bisping is in town?) But then we contort the facts, imagining Silva and Jones and St-Pierre and Velasquez and the other elites as all the same size.
That's one way to do it, anyway. I find it too much of a dream world, with too many winding roads to walk down. In measuring Velasquez against flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, for example, do we get to extrapolate the boost that a shrinkage by 115 pounds might have on Cain's already famous cardio? Or do we stuff "Mighty Mouse" with hypothetical cheese until in our mind's eye he's lumbering around like a mighty moose? And the process is no less mind-twisting when the fighters we're weighing are merely a weight class apart. I mean, assessing Silva vs. GSP in a pound-for-pound discussion is way different from deciding who'd win their superfight, right?
Maybe this is over-thinking something meant to be trivial fodder for fan discussion/bickering. But I prefer pound-for-pound rankings that use a different sort of man vs. man measurement. When I'm comparing the sport's top guys, I assess how each one performs against men his size. Which is why Cain Velasquez's performance last Saturday night was so eye-opening. Considered along with the other available evidence — that he won his first nine bouts, eight by knockout; that in his one loss he merely was caught by a single big punch, not systematically taken apart; that he rebounded with a thrashing of a bigger man to earn a redemptive title shot — the beatdown of Junior dos Santos made a strong case for this big guy to be counted among the elite of the elite.
Silva, Jones and St-Pierre had better watch their backs. Someone's catching up. And he's big.
1. Cain Velasquez (11-1)
2. Junior dos Santos (15-2)
3. Daniel Cormier (10-0)
If Alistair Overeem were not serving a suspension, he would be squeezed into our No. 2 slot. Dos Santos was so thoroughly thrashed on Saturday night that it feels inadequate to drop him just one spot here. But I'm also not ready to elevate Daniel Cormier just yet, and even if he does what he's supposed to do against Dion Staring on Jan. 12, it would not be much of a boost. He's going to have to show us something in the UFC ... in this or another weight class.
1. Jon Jones (17-1)
2. Dan Henderson (29-8)
3. Rashad Evans (17-2-1)
After 37 bouts in a career spanning 15 years, Henderson finally is learning how to fight. It's not the punches you throw, Dan now understands, it's the verbal jabs you stick in the face of someone higher than you on the ladder. So in a New Year's message on Twitter, "Hendo" took a subtle swipe at Jones and his DUI, writing, "No drinking and driving and hitting telephone poles." It's not exactly Chael-level comedy, but not bad for a rookie.
1. Anderson Silva (32-4)
2. Chris Weidman (9-0)
3. Michael Bisping (23-4)
The waiting room is a lot less crowded than it used to be. Weidman is sidelined with a shoulder injury, and both Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch lost their spot in line when they were beaten at UFC 155. So that leaves Bisping, who need just beat Vitor Belfort on Jan. 19 in São Paolo (is that all?) to earn a shot at the title. At least that's the way UFC poobah Dana White tells it. We haven't heard a word from Silva, who seems to have his sights set outside the 185-pound division.
1. Georges St-Pierre (23-2)
2. Johny Hendricks (14-1)
3. Carlos Condit (28-6)
All three guys above will fight March 16 in Montreal. But none of their paths will cross. St-Pierre only has eyes for Nick Diaz, and presumed No. 1 challenger Hendricks has been unable to trash talk his way around that. So Johny will take on Jake Ellenberger. Then there's Condit, who has agreed to a rematch with the hot Rory MacDonald. Carlos' spot here could be in jeopardy even before that, depending on what happens between Jon Fitch and Demian Maia on Feb. 2.
1. Benson Henderson (18-2)
2. Gray Maynard (11-1-1, 1 NC)
3. Gilbert Melendez (21-2)
Nate Diaz' loss is his teammate's gain. The Cesar Gracie-trained fighter was thoroughly dominated by Henderson last month, so there was a spot up for grabs. And while I've always been hesitant to rank Gilbert Melendez -- not because of how he's fought but because of whom he's fought over in B-level Strikeforce -- now is his time.
1. José Aldo (21-1)
2. Frankie Edgar (14-3-1)
3. Chad Mendes (11-1)
The free ride ends in less than a month for Edgar. He's not yet earned his ranking in this weight class, really, having never fought at 145 pounds. But the former lightweight champion has a résumé to back up his standing here, and on Feb. 2 he gets his chance to prove he belongs, when he challenges Aldo for the belt.
1. Dominick Cruz (19-1)
2. Renan Barão (29-1, 1 NC)
3. Michael McDonald (15-1)
This is the way things are supposed to be. Cruz has an injury setback, so Barão puts his interim belt on the line against the next man in line, McDonald. Perfect. I know that's not exactly inventing the wheel, but so many title bouts are being concocted for flimsy reasoning having little to do with competitive merit that when the UFC gets one right, it's worth noting.
1. Demetrious Johnson (16-2-1)
2. Joseph Benavidez (16-3)
3. Ian McCall (11-3-1)
Johnson makes like a champion for the first time Jan. 26 in Chicago when he puts his belt on the line on the year's first Fox card. His opponent, John Dodson, could earn a spot in this Top 3 with even a closely contested loss, depending what happens a week later in Las Vegas when Benavidez and McCall clash.
1. Anderson Silva
2. Jon Jones
3. Georges St-Pierre
Anderson, Jon and Georges are safe at the top of the heap for another month. But things could get volatile Feb. 2 if José Aldo smashes Frankie Edgar in a big way. And the next time Cain Velasquez steps into the octagon, watch out.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.