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December 24, 2009

Sherdog.com’s Pound-for-Pound Top 10

It was a fairly wild year for the pound-for-pound landscape in mixed martial arts.

Of course, MMA’s pound-for-pound top trio -- Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko -- stayed intact, each one picking up two wins in 2009. Some were less enthusing, like Silva’s win over Thales Leites, and some were not quite so competitive, like St. Pierre’s routs of B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves. But they all, in one way or another, whether perfunctory or dramatic, reinforced the status of the sport’s Big Three.

However, entrants Lyoto Machida, Jose Aldo and Brian Bowles all picked up titles under the Zuffa LLC banner and moved into these pound-for-pound rankings with their sensational knockouts over the likes of Rashad Evans, Mike Thomas Brown and Miguel Torres. Meanwhile, Penn, after beginning the year with a humbling defeat to rival St. Pierre, rebounded soundly with a pair of brilliant blowouts of Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.

Here’s hoping 2010 can offer the same excitement among the pound-for-pound elite.

1. Anderson Silva (25-4)
The year began miserably for Silva, as he underwhelmed against mid-level title challenger Thales Leites to the point of public outrage. However, he turned in arguably the finest performance of his career in August, when he humiliated and demolished former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin in the first round. Now, an enigmatic elbow injury has disrupted the beginning of Silva’s 2010, postponing a slated showdown with fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort. However, Silva expects to be healthy enough for his next Brazilian-versus-Brazilian title defense -- hopefully, more entertaining than his last -- come April.

2. Georges St. Pierre (19-2)
St. Pierre got into the cage just twice in 2009, but he came away with two dominant victories over B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves. However, his most significant successes may have come outside the Octagon, as he picked up sponsorships with Gatorade and Under Armour and more deeply entrenched himself as one of Canada’s most beloved athletes. The 2010 campaign for St. Pierre will start at UFC 111 on March 27 in Newark, N.J., when he takes on surging British challenger Dan Hardy.

3. Fedor Emelianenko (31-1, 1 NC)
In Strikeforce’s first foray onto live network television, Emelianenko showed the skills and a flair for the dramatic that have made him one of the best and most beloved MMA fighters in the world, as he thrillingly halted Brett Rogers in the second round. None-too-surprisingly, “The Last Emperor” has been tabbed to headline the second Strikeforce show on CBS come April, when he will see opposition from another standout heavyweight in Fabricio Werdum. A victory over the grappling star would leave Emelianenko with just one more obvious foil in Strikeforce’s heavyweight division -- the elusive Alistair Overeem.

4. Lyoto Machida (16-0)
It may not go down as the worst decision of 2009, but it was certainly the least popular. Machida’s unanimous points verdict over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in October so inflamed the MMA world that all parties involved agreed to an immediate rematch. Hand surgery on “The Dragon” pushed the date of the fight back until May 1 in Montreal, but it will still be one of 2010’s biggest bouts when it does happen. The whole Machida-Rua scenario should serve as a vivid reminder that the anointing oil is often called for prematurely in MMA.

5. B.J. Penn (15-5-1)
Fans and critics alike always wanted an incarnation of Penn that was keen to dominate the lightweight division. Though Penn’s obvious talent flickered occasionally during his run across multiple weight classes, “The Prodigy” has looked every bit his nickname since his return to lightweight. Two elite fighters in Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez could not mount a morsel of offense against Penn, who dominated them en route to late-round finishes. Of course, conversation has quickly turned to whether or not Penn has already rid the division of all its serious challengers.

6. Jose Aldo (16-1)
Perhaps it is fitting that 2009 will come to a close with Aldo on top of the 145-pound division, punctuating a year in which the featherweight class has played a prominent role on all corners of the globe. Since his World Extreme Cagefighting debut in June 2008, Aldo is 6-0 with six stoppages, including four in 2009 alone. In his WEC title capture over Mike Thomas Brown, Aldo was positively dominant in crushing a pound-for-pound entrant. The featherweight division continues to expand and improve and may have some flux still in store, but Aldo’s youth, skill set and killer instinct have positioned him as a potentially long-term dominant figure.

7. Jon Fitch (21-3, 1 NC)
It’s not easy being Fitch. There was a time not long ago when MMA fans flooded UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s inbox with demands that the former Purdue University wrestling team captain be put on the UFC 68 main card. Now, Fitch’s potent-but-prosaic grappling has made him a persona non grata among fans, who seem to have little patience for his style. With a tougher-than-expected victory over Mike Pierce at UFC 107, Fitch moved his record to 11-1 in the UFC, in perhaps MMA’s deepest weight class. However, with six straight fights seeing the final bell, some conclusive endings are the only antidote to Fitch’s unpopular position.

8. Mike Thomas Brown (22-5)
Brown remains the number two fighter in a deep and rapidly intensifying weight class. Yet, he seems a forgotten man in light of his one-sided loss to Jose Aldo in November, despite the strength of his wins over Urijah Faber (twice), Leonard Garcia and Jeff Curran. The world may not be clamoring for a rematch between Brown and Aldo, but the American Top Team standout has a wealth of interesting talent to face at 145 pounds. Brown's rebuilding process will begin at WEC 46 on Jan. 10, when he takes on tough Philadelphian Anthony Morrison.

9. Brian Bowles (8-0)
Though Miguel Torres was supposed to be the bantamweight division’s first serious star, that opportunity now resides with Bowles. However, despite how impressive Bowles was in capturing the WEC 135-pound title from Torres in August, that opportunity will be a difficult one to cash in on. The bantamweight division continues to spawn more and more young challengers, rapidly improving their games from fight-to-fight. Bowles will meet one of those contenders in his first title defense on March 6, when he battles once-beaten Dominick Cruz in the WEC 47 main event.

10. Thiago Alves (16-6)
It was an inauspicious 2009 for Alves. After waiting months to challenge welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre for the UFC title, he was handed a one-sided loss in his five-rounder against “Rush.” It was a far cry from the 2008 campaign that saw him run over three top 10 welterweights. However, with a crop of new and interesting challenges in the UFC ranks, 2010 may be a rebound year for the Fortaleza, Brazil, native. Alves’ year will begin at UFC 111 on March 27, when he will meet a yet-to-be-named opponent.


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