Pound-for-pound rankings are imaginary, no matter how you approach them.
If you're of a mind to rank fighters big and small based on your sense of how they would stack up against each other if all were the same size, you will find yourself closing your eyes and opening your mind to a world in which 125-pound UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and a man who in real life weighs nearly twice as much, heavyweight belt holder Junior dos Santos, stand shoulder to shoulder (rather than shoulder to forehead). Mind-blowing.
If, instead, your concept of a pound-for-pound pecking order is to rank all fighters based on how each does against fighters his own size, you still have some hypothesizing to do. After all, how do you stack Anderson Silva's beatdown of the last middleweight he faced, Chael Sonnen, against, say, Georges St-Pierre's win over interim welterweight belt holder Carlos Condit? One was a knockout, the other a decision, but the KO came only after the eventual winner was dominated for a round. So much to weigh.
By contrast, rankings within each weight division are rock-solid realistic, right? That's the way it would seem to be -- measuring welterweights against other 170-pounders, featherweights against others weighing in at 145. But the math doesn't necessarily add up so neatly.
Lately, UFC matchmaking has blurred the lines on the bathroom scale. We have a light heavyweight champion who most recently fought a middleweight, a middleweight champ whose last fight was against a light heavyweight, and on and on and on. That requires a little imagination to sort out, too.
1. Junior dos Santos (15-1)
2. Cain Velasquez (10-1)
3. Daniel Cormier (10-0)
It took just 64 seconds for Dos Santos to knock out Velasquez for the UFC championship. Now it's taking 413 days to get these guys back into the cage. Finally, at UFC 155 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas, we get to see the two toughest fighters on the planet go at it. This is big.
1. Jon Jones (17-1)
2. Dan Henderson (29-8)
3. Rashad Evans (17-2-1)
While Jones is occupying his time taking on the second best the middleweight division has to offer -- while ignoring any suggestion that he instead dance with the top 185-pounder in the sport, now or ever -- the other 205-pound contenders are shuffling the deck amongst themselves. Henderson reportedly will take on Lyoto Machida at UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in Anaheim, Calif., and Evans will fight earlier that month, taking on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas. Before all that takes place, the bar might well be set high this Saturday night when Alexander Gustafsson and Mauricio Rua square off on the UFC on Fox card in Seattle.
1. Anderson Silva (32-4)
2. Chris Weidman (9-0)
3. Michael Bisping (23-4)
Yes, Silva is a middleweight. That might not appear to be the case, considering that "The Spider" faced a light heavyweight in his last fight and has set his sights on a welterweight for his next one. Meanwhile, with Weidman out of the picture for a while after shoulder surgery, Bisping is lobbying to have his Jan. 19 bout against Vitor Belfort be designated an interim title fight. The brash Brit knows better than to put any credence in an interim belt, but he understands how the game is played: If he's in possession of the faux strap when Silva decides to once again fight at 185 pounds, Bisping cannot be passed over for a shot at the real thing.
1. Georges St-Pierre (23-2)
2. Johny Hendricks (14-1)
3. Carlos Condit (28-6)
The final two fights of UFC 154 last month in Montreal sorted out the division nicely. Hendricks' one-punch knockout of Martin Kampmann was breathtaking, and St-Pierre's relentless beatdown of Condit showed that the champ was fully recovered from the knee injury that had kept him out of the octagon for 19 months. Those results, combined with the ongoing suspension of Nick Diaz, made it clear that GSP vs. Hendricks is the summit meeting. However, if St-Pierre opts for a superfight with Anderson Silva instead, the welters will just have to have their own private dance.
1. Ben Henderson (16-2)
2. Gray Maynard (11-1-1, 1 NC)
3. Nate Diaz (16-7)
Something is about to give. Henderson and Diaz will go at it Saturday night on Fox, and on the line is more than a shiny brass-and-leather belt. If Diaz dethrones the champion, the spillover effect will be felt all of the way over in the Strikeforce lightweight division. The top man over there is Gilbert Melendez, Nate's training partner and lifelong friend, and when "El Niño" moves over to the UFC from his going-out-of-business current workplace, he would be inclined to find a weight class without a Diaz in it. (Hello, José Aldo?) On the other hand, if Henderson keeps his belt, he could soon be defending it against another Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu fighter.
1. José Aldo (21-1)
2. Frankie Edgar (14-3-1)
3. Chad Mendez (11-1)
There's the Super Bowl in New Orleans and, on the same early February weekend in Las Vegas, there's the closest thing the UFC has to a superfight (at least until Anderson Silva stops dancing around either Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre). A clash between Aldo and Edgar, the former lightweight champion, has been a long time coming. And Aldo might soon be going ... out of this division and up to 155 pounds.
1. Dominick Cruz (19-1)
2. Renan Barão (29-1, 1 NC)
3. Michael McDonald (15-1)
Looks like No. 2 vs. No. 3 is going to be the one. With Monday's news that Cruz has had to undergo a second surgery on his knee and will be out for another six to nine months, interim champion Barão is going to have to do what a champion does: defend his belt. Even if Cruz were close to full recovery, I'd still want to see Renan step in with McDonald. I mean, this bizarre thing that's been going on in the UFC, with guys winning interim belts and using them as wall (and resume) decorations rather than defending them, has been puzzling. It shouldn't take an extraordinarily extended absence by the real champion for the interim alpha male to put it all on the line.
1. Demetrious Johnson (16-2-1)
2. Joseph Benavidez (16-3)
3. Ian McCall (11-3-1)
Next month John Dodson gets his chance to show that he deserves a spot in this Top 3. That spot will be No. 1 if he manages to beat Johnson in the main event of the UFC on Fox card Jan.26 in Chicago. And the man Johnson beat for the belt, Joseph Benavidez, reportedly will face the guy "Mighty Mouse" topped to get to that title fight, Ian McCall, at UFC 156 on Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas. And around and around we go.
1. Anderson Silva
2. Jon Jones
3. Georges St-Pierre
GSP solidified his standing with his return to the octagon a little over two weeks ago. He didn't do anything worthy of leapfrogging either Silva or Jones, but he ensured that The Big 3 will remain intact.