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P4P In-Depth: MMA’s Top Ten Greatest Fighters

(When in doubt, knock him out: Fedor Emelianenko proved his status as the best in the world with his KO of Andrei Arlovski at Affliction’s "Day of Reckoning" event last month.

Ah, the pound-for-pound list — one of the most infuriating traditions in MMA punditry. Our sport has a wealth of dominant champions and brilliant contenders, but who would win an epic, all-inclusive grand prix, if every fighter (somehow, theoretically) were the same size? To put it as simply as possible, who is the most talented mixed martial artist in the world? And by what combination of win streaks, titles, victories over top-ranked opponents, and ability to finish fights does one measure "talent"? All good questions, dear reader. The list below is our effort to define MMA’s absolute top ten list, as things stand now in February 2009. Read on, and let us know how you feel in the comments section…


1: Fedor Emelianenko (29-1, 1 no contest)
Some might argue that naming a heavyweight as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world sort of misses the point of the exercise. But at an even six feet tall (and a somewhat doughy 230 pounds), Emelianenko has never relied on size to win fights, and has beaten considerably larger opponents his entire career. Between his devastating punches and virtually undefendable armlocks, the Last Emperor can end a fight anywhere, at any time. And since the only loss on his record was due to a technicality — a cut stoppage due to an illegal elbow 17 seconds into a fight against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, which he later avenged — Fedor has developed an aura of invincibility that has psyched out opponents before they even step into the ring with him.

But hey, maybe he really is invincible. Even when a fighter manages to briefly put Emelianenko in a bad spot (see esp. Kazuyuki Fujita in 2003, Mark Coleman in 2004, Andrei Arlovski in 2009), his tremendous instincts always rescue him from danger; Fedor on auto-pilot is better than most fighters on their best night. If he can put away a couple more top-ten heavyweights before he retires (while avoiding losses), his status as the greatest fighter of all time will be non-debatable.

2: Georges St. Pierre (18-2)

GSP’s demolition of BJ Penn at Matt Serra raised some questions about his chin and mental fortitude. With a little luck — and some more of his unstoppable wrestling — St. Pierre will continue to answer those questions in 2009.
Why he’s below Fedor: It’s possible that GSP is merely human. If he can have a bad day against Matt Serra, he can certainly have another one against an even better fighter in the future.

3: Anderson Silva (23-4)

Last year, everyone was calling this guy the best P4P fighter in the world by a wide margin. So what happened? Well, Fedor and GSP stayed busy whipping top-ten opponents, while the Spider was booked in two embarrassing mismatches – with a third slated for April. It’s not his fault that he reigns high above the rest of the competition in the UFC’s middleweight division. But he’s achieved all that can realistically be achieved there, and with retirement a possibility next year, his legacy may depend on super-fights against champions in other weight classes. Still, the 8-0 path of destruction that he’s carved in the Octagon is one of the most dominant runs in MMA history, and has firmly secured his spot as a future Hall of Famer.
Why he’s below Georges: A lack of recent accomplishments, period. It has nothing to do with his abilities, which are truly astounding.

4: Miguel Torres (35-1; 48-1 including unsanctioned fights)

Honing his ferocious skills at small, often undocumented shows in Indiana, Miguel Torres entered the WEC in 2007 carrying bantamweight titles from the Total Fight Challenge and Ironheart Crown leagues, and an intimidating official record of 31-1. Though the WEC was supposed to represent a much higher level of competition for the Carlson Gracie protégé, Torres has sliced through everyone who’s been put in front of him, collecting the WEC’s 135-pound belt after choking out Chase Beebe, then defending it twice against Yoshiro Maeda and Manny Tapia. Torres is now on a 16-fight win streak; his last eleven wins have been by stoppage, including a first-round submission win over Ryan Ackerman, which avenged his only career loss. Few fighters can guarantee excitement every time they step into a cage, but Miguel is one of them. Now all he needs is a worthy challenger.
Why he’s below Anderson: Even though he’s been kicking people’s asses for over nine years, Torres has only been beating elite-level fighters for one year. His list of wins over champions and top contenders isn’t nearly as long as the Spider’s yet.

5: Rashad Evans (13-0-1)

Since winning the second season of The Ultimate Fighter as a heavyweight, Rashad Evans has evolved from a fighter who relied a bit too heavily on his wrestling background — and somehow managed to be a showboat and boring at the same time — to the UFC light-heavyweight division’s most explosive knockout artist. His unforgettable KO of Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 was career-altering for both fighters, and he did to Forrest Griffin in three rounds what Quinton Jackson wasn’t able to do in five — beat his ass into submission. Sure, the judges have made him sweat at times (Sugar’s gone the distance five times in the UFC, never once winning a unanimous decision), but nobody’s found a way to beat him yet, and figuring Evans out will only get harder as his game continues to develop and become more well-rounded.
Why he’s below Miguel: Rashad has only recently become a well-rounded fight-finisher, and he’s still one or two wins away from being the kind of unstoppable force in his weight class that Torres is.

6: BJ Penn (13-5-1)

Not to harp on the same point, but BJ Penn’s lopsided loss to GSP in January wasn’t so much a judgment on the Prodigy’s abilities as an indication that lightweight is the only weight class he should really be competing at. Penn is a fantastic 155-pounder — the best in the world, in fact. His jiu-jitsu is legendary, and yet it’s his powerful hands that have earned him the most acclaim in the UFC. He hasn’t quite cleaned out his division (no matter what he might think), but his last three wins at lightweight — against Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, and Sean Sherk — were so one-sided that it’s hard to imagine any 155’er giving him problems. The belt is his as long as he’s motivated to keep it.
Why he’s below Rashad: Penn makes the list due to raw talent level, but his last three wins have been his only wins at lightweight since 2003. Evans’s recent body of work at light-heavyweight is more extensive and impressive.

7: Lyoto Machida (14-0)

As his brother Chinzo observed, Lyoto Machida will only attack when he knows his strike will land. Don’t ask us how he could possibly know that. (Magic?) But in his undefeated MMA career — and particularly in the UFC, where he’s never lost so much as a single round — the top light-heavyweight contender has made his opponents look like slow, awkward children trying to play a big boy’s game. He’s the first mixed martial artist to take elements of traditional karate (particularly the foot-sweeps and emphasis on interception) and make them effective in a cage-fight. He also has a habit of never taking damage, ever. If you value quick finishes above flawless technique, the Dragon is probably not your favorite fighter. Though as he demonstrated against Thiago Silva last month, he will knock a motherfucker out when the opportunity presents itself. What’s not to love?
Why he’s below BJ: He doesn’t have Penn’s finishing ability, and he hasn’t won a title yet — something that Penn has done in two different weight classes.

8: Urijah Faber (22-2)

The original WEC poster boy has thrilled MMA fans with his breakneck-paced kamikaze style, which mixes a tenacious wrestling background with aggressive submissions and unpredictable striking. After five-straight featherweight title defenses, it seemed like the California Kid would be on top forever, but an upset loss to Mike Brown in November demonstrated that Faber’s crowd-pleasingly high-risk attacks can occasionally get too risky. (Throwing a blind reverse elbow can get you knocked out sometimes, apparently.) But that seems to be the only weakness in his game, and if he can rein in his more wild-ass urges he’ll surely reclaim his belt and hold it for another impressive stretch.
Why he’s below Lyoto: Faber hasn’t beaten anybody not named Jens Pulver since December 2007, and beating Jens Pulver isn’t as impressive as it used to be.

9: Shinya Aoki (19-3, 1 no contest)

With his vast arsenal of creative submissions and an equally vast wardrobe of multi-colored tights, the “Tobikan Judan” really is the most entertaining grappler in MMA. Aoki knows you don’t want to go to the ground with him, and he doesn’t care. He’ll hop on your back, pounce into a flying guard-pull, even butt-scoot chase you around the ring; he’s not above any of it. Of course, that only emphasizes the fact that the standup game is not his strong suit, and his loss to Joachim Hansen at last year’s DREAM lightweight grand prix final showed that he can be overwhelmed by an aggressive striker, particularly when he’s already gassed from another fight earlier in the evening. But Aoki has run through a who’s-who of lightweights in Japan, and if we’re ranking fighters based on talent level (which is what this is, pretty much), there’s no way we can leave out the current WAMMA lightweight champ.
Why he’s below Urijah: Though Aoki is a buzzsaw on the ground, he’s not a threat from every position in the way that the California Kid is; Urijah has nasty submissions and dangerous striking.

10: Thiago Alves (16-3)

The UFC welterweight division’s #1 contender has defeated three consecutive top-ten-ranked 170-pounders in his last three appearances (Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes, and Josh Koscheck), and none of those fights were even close. Only Georges St. Pierre and Miguel Torres can make the same claim, putting the Pitbull among very good company. Known for his devastating Muay Thai, Alves might possess the sharpest standup in the UFC after Anderson Silva, and is a far better striker that anybody Georges St. Pierre — who has made his name shutting down grapplers — has ever faced. Maybe it’ll be enough to earn the American Top Team young lion an upset victory when he meets GSP later this year.
Why he’s below Shinya: He hasn’t won a title yet. And would it kill him to wear some crazy tights once in a while?


Cagepotato Comments

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Anonymous- April 28, 2009 at 8:14 am
Tito are u serious Titos a bitch wouldn't even box dana white he doesn't belong in the UFC
Anonymous- April 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm
Maxent- March 28, 2009 at 9:27 pm
I like this p4p list, but i think Machida will move up eventually to 4th or 5th spot.
Anonymous- March 12, 2009 at 12:46 am
Although I respect your opinion ,there is no fighter in MMA that has destroyed top notch competition like GSP. His wins have come by submission ,knockout, and decisions. He has not only won his last 15 rounds in the octogan....but has scores 6 10-8 rounds and demolished every top challeger. Fedor and Anderson have hardly faced MMA legends. The fact that GSP demolished hall of famers Matt Hughes and BJ Penn twice speaks volumes. At 27 , he's also far from reaching his potential.All these posts predicted that Hughes,Fitch, Penn and now Alves and Silva will KO GSP. I seriously he will lose a single round to Alves or Silva at a catch weight....but what do I know.
Nobody mentions Silva's 4 mma loses of the fact he can't wrestle because they started following the sport a couple years ago.
Anonymous- March 9, 2009 at 5:38 pm
I agree 100%. Rashad does not belong here. Lyoto is the best fighter in the light heavyweight. I cant wait for Rampage and Lyoto to fight. Because Rampage is going to walk all over Rashad! KO first round
Anonymous- March 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Even though I`m a huge g.s.p fan i would see him in third place but just because anderson silva finishes fighters like dan h,nate m,rich franklin etc...G.s.p is more well rounded even though his striking isnt as devastating as andersons. G.s.p is pure muscle and talent he deseves to be on that list just 4 pulling off a flying jab.

rashad evans has had a good year but he has not been tested enough yet and when he was by tito he was lucky that tito lost a point 4 grabbing the fence.

except 4 that the list is pretty much understandable
Keno- February 18, 2009 at 8:23 pm
Cung Le is one of the top 10 fighters in the world.
Anonymous- February 18, 2009 at 5:59 am
Wheres the love for KIMBO
Anonymous- February 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm
tito ortiz.... are you serious hes a chump now. Fedor doesnt impress me either he was losing to arlovski who in my mind is well past his prime and he needs to jump into the ufc and fight before ill give 2 shits about his record.
Anonymous- February 14, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Anonymous- February 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm
ginas tits should def. be on the list lol............ but get rashad evans out the top 10 rampage will knock his ass out DA 41 LE
Bob Loblaw- February 13, 2009 at 3:42 pm
MMA Junkie said, ""the Spider was booked in two embarrassing mismatches" ??????

Fighting the second best fighter in his division is embarrassing?

Well dude, consider this: what the fuck was Patrick Cote doing in there going for the title? Seriously - either UFC management was huffing hard on the crack pipe that morning, OR they wanted to start generating momentum for St. Pierre vs. Penn by bringing attention to another French Canadian. Specifically, the only other French Canadian in the UFC.

Think about it - they get all the UFC fans watching a French Canadian going for the championship. Stop right there - they have just established the common theme they want rolling around in the fans' heads and kept it there until the GSP, the true target of the campaign, had what was supposed to be a superfight vs. Penn.

Meanwhile, the UFC matchmaker has validated the whole event by having one of the most exciting and legendary fighters ever headliningn it. Yeah, Cote is a capital CHUMP, but Silva was able to carry the main event responsibility all on his own. It's all about investing in the future.

As for Lutter, fuck him and his flabby ass. If he ever figures out that cardio is a significant factor he might go somewhere, but by the time he does he'll be 53 and mostly retarded for having gotten hit in the head so much.
Goose- February 13, 2009 at 11:24 am
The list is great, but Rashad, come on. Do you think Rashad can beat Hendo, or even some of the little guys (GSP, Alves). He is not P4P caliper, I'm sorry CP, you are wrong.
lilpo0ts- February 13, 2009 at 6:55 am
why does lyoto look like he has sand paper skin?
Fedor a million ankles- February 12, 2009 at 8:55 pm
I'm still laughing about Shinya Aoki being in the top 10, with Quinton Jackson nowhere to be found. Look Ben I know how you love Aoki's tiny rainbow clad nuts, but Aoki hasn't done SHIT, EVER, to ANYONE. He wears fucking GRIPPY PANTS and people act like he's some jiu-jitsu god. With all this talk lately about how much friction plays a factor in an effective guard, you'd think people would notice that Shinya couldn't do shit without his magical pants.

5 posts about Warmachine was pretty lame but then you go and insult the lightweight division with this bullshit. Why don't you just add him to the hall of fame t-shirts if you love him so much. You could even make the shirts pink.

The only thing Aoki has going for him in the pound for pound department is his entrance music. BAKA SAH VYE VAH!
My Wang, It Hornay- February 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm
Thiago Alves? Are you stupid Cagepotato?
GOGOARMPLATA- February 12, 2009 at 6:56 pm
Are you kidding?!?!?!!

GSP better than Silva?? How? Because he stayed busy?? (I don't see KOS on that list, he invented busy!!)
Lets just put it this way, after all the GSP fights, someone is always calling him out, everyone wants a shot at GSP. Even 15 pound lighter BJ Penn thought he can take him. and Greasy has a loss to SERRA for crying out loud!! that should be reason enough to take anyone off a P4P list.
BG you screwed this one up! sorry pal. and then you wonder why sherdog has more page views. :)

Anonymous- February 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm
no Rampage?
Dagnut- February 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm
How can you omit Henderson? He actually competes @ different weights successful only losing to the 2 best in their class in Silvia and Rampage.
Henderson could realistically compete from 185-205 pounds with most people ..might have difficulty fighting @ 170 but I think @ a catchment weight of 180 he could compete with pierre..wrestling topnotch .. standup top notch..hard as fcuk..good sub defences.
JUst for the record I think florian will beat bj...will that put him on the list
randy watson- February 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm
"the Prodigy???" knows what hes talking about. silva is awesome but his opponents are from the weakest divi in ufc..
Anonymous- February 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm
O.K., who's the genius that made these rankings? First, Fedor isn't #1. Yes he is the best heavyweight, but does'nt take the "king of MMA" status. Anderson Silva #1, GSP #2, then Fedor at #3. Fedor has faught nobody's and has-been's,(the only good opp. were Arlovski and Minotauro), and he struggled with them. Anderson has easily dismantled all of the challengers to his title, even Henderson & Franklin with ease. DOES ANYONE AGREE WITH ME????!!!
BRETTZKY- February 12, 2009 at 2:28 pm
After looking at Shinya Aoki's pic, I see that Nick and Nate Diaz's dad made a stopover in Japan!
ThumbWrestler- February 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm
Ummm... Didn't Seth Petruzelli Beat Kimbo Slice?

I Think We Need A Handicap Fight. As In All These P4Pers Vs. Seth Petruzelli. Just Saying If Kimbo Took A Quick Dive I Don't See Them Winning.
Rault- February 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm
Jugger - "Tell you what Rault, if Thales Lietes comes in and destroys Anderson Silva, causing him to tap from strikes at 3 minutes in the first round... I'll agree with you that GSP should be ranked above Anderson"

hahaha so there you go again just ignore facts and still believing A. Silva should be ranked higher than GSP for no apparent reason at all.
Funny you should bring up GSP's loss to Serra when A. Silva got flying fucking heel hooked by Ryo Chonan. What is the difference between both of these quite embarrassing losses? GSP has avenged his loss (in fact he has avenged both his losses) while A. Silva has not avenged that loss nor any of his other losses.

Again, any reasonable person can look at the simple facts and see that GSP deserves to be ranked higher than A. Silva.
Old, Bald and Irish- February 12, 2009 at 1:29 pm
@ armfarmer

Got it. Welcome to the Idiot Club. I've been a charter member for several years...