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New year marks new era in MMA, pound-for-pound rankings

Photo: David Becker/AP

Chris Weidman's title defense over Anderson Silva cemented his place in the pound-for-pound rankings.

It's a new year, a new era. Georges St-Pierre is gone, perhaps for the time being, maybe forever. Anderson Silva is gone, perhaps for the time being, maybe forever.

How's that for taking the wind out of the UFC's sails?

Add to that the lengthy absences expected of Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis, plus a notable retirement no one believes in, of non-champion but attention-getter Nick Diaz. There are so many moving parts going in the wrong direction that the mixed martial arts world briefly got giddy last week when a rumor circulated that Brock Lesnar might be coming back. Well, the big lug ain't walking through that door. (And that's fine, really.)

So what's left, in terms of star power? Jon Jones has plenty of it, not so much in fan appeal as in an "it" factor that transcends the octagon. With two brothers in the NFL and athleticism to match, he brings attention to MMA from all corners of the sports world. There's also Chris Weidman, who's soft-spoken and unassuming but anything but a regular guy ... because regular guys don't beat Anderson Silva twice in a year.

And, of course, the UFC also still has its biggest star. Ronda Rousey matches her octagon dominance with a ubiquitous presence in the media -- not just the MMA media but the mainstream, even beyond sports. She filmed two movies in 2013, but she ended the year with a win and already is scheduled for her next date inside the octagon. This is what allows UFC president Dana White to sleep at night.

What's this all mean for the SI.com MMA fighter rankings? It means things are rocking and rolling. Just shake it up baby, now.

Heavyweight

1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)

2. Junior dos Santos (16-3)

3. Daniel Cormier (13-0)

4. Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1)

5. Travis Browne (16-1-1)

6. Josh Barnett (33-7)

7. Stipe Miocic (10-1)

8. Mark Hunt (9-8-1)

9. Antonio Silva (18-5, 1 NC)

10. Roy Nelson (19-9)

Cormier is about to disappear, as his fight next month is in the light heavyweight division, which he plans to make his new home. And Dos Santos, despite his lofty ranking, is a nowhere man, having twice been destroyed by the champ. So that leaves Werdum as the top challenger ... with no one to challenge, since Velasquez is going to be out for up to a year while healing from shoulder surgery. The UFC has floated a showdown between Fabricio and Browne, who smashed Barnett at the year-end card. Hear, hear.

Light Heavyweight

1. Jon Jones (19-1)

2. Alexander Gustafsson (15-2)

3. Rashad Evans (21-3-1)

4. Glover Teixeira (22-2)

5. Phil Davis (12-1, 1 NC)

6. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1)

7. Dan Henderson (29-11)

8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-5)

9. Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2)

10. Mauricio Rua (22-8)

Jones and Teixeira will tangle in April at UFC 172 ... as of this writing. The title fight originally was slated for UFC 169 in Newark, then UFC 170 in Las Vegas, then UFC 171 in Dallas. It's been as hard to pin down as the champion himself. The next step for Jon or Glover is easier to pinpoint: If Gustafsson can beat Jimi Manuwa in March, he'll be next in line; if not, it'll all but assuredly be the winner of the Feb. 22 Evans vs. Cormier bout. Until something changes.

Middleweight

1. Chris Weidman (11-0)

2. Anderson Silva (33-6)

3. Vitor Belfort (23-10)

4. Ronaldo Souza (19-3, 1 NC)

5. Lyoto Machida (20-4)

6. Michael Bisping (24-5)

7. Yushin Okami (29-8)

8. Luke Rockhold (10-2)

9. Tim Kennedy (17-4)

10. Mark Muñoz (13-4)

Two straight losses for Silva, and Belfort has won three in a row, all by breathtaking head-kick knockout. And Vitor is next up for a challenge for the belt worn by Weidman. But Belfort is still No. 3 here, because still lingering is the memory of a different head kick: the front kick Silva planted on Belfort's face to knock out his countryman. I know that was way back in 2011, and fortunes have changed for both men. But it's hard enough putting one guy ahead of Silva ... and the only reason that's happening is that Weidman beat the all-time great twice. If Anderson opts not to return, or stays away for a year, everyone can move up one spot.

Welterweight

1. Johny Hendricks (15-2)

2. Carlos Condit (29-7)

3. Martin Kampmann (20-7)

4. Rory MacDonald (15-2)

5. Robbie Lawler (22-9, 1 NC)

6. Jake Shields (29-6-1, 1 NC)

7. Demian Maia (18-5)

8. Ben Askren (12-0)

9. Matt Brown (18-11)

10. Tarec Saffiedine (14-3)

This division has evolved from one man's domain to a free-for-all. Yes, we recently saw Hendricks give Georges St-Pierre the fight of his life, but it's hard to imagine Johny dominating in the long run the way GSP did. So now that Georges is on hiatus, and pest/contender Nick Diaz is still claiming to be retired, we're about to see some tussles for positioning at the top of the hill, starting with a Mar. 15 showdown for the vacant belt between Hendricks and Lawler. Askren would have been a nice addition to the UFC, but he's instead now on the other side of irrelevancy.

Lightweight

1. Anthony Pettis (17-2)

2. Benson Henderson (19-3)

3. Gilbert Melendez (22-3)

4. T.J. Grant (21-5)

5. Josh Thomson (20-5, 1 NC)

6. Khabib Nurmagomedov (21-0)

7. Nate Diaz (17-9)

8. Eddie Alvarez (25-3)

9. Michael Chandler (12-1)

10. Pat Healy (29-17, 1 NC)

Thomson was slated to be the first challenger for Pettis, but with the new champion having pulled out because of a knee injury, Josh will settle for ex-champ Henderson on Jan. 25 in Chicago. Where does that leave Grant, who was the original title fight opponent until a concussion in training put him on the sideline? With Melendez and Nurmagomedov set to tangle on the Feb. 22 card in Vegas, T.J. appears to be the odd man out.

Featherweight

1. José Aldo (23-1)

2. Chad Mendes (16-1)

3. Frankie Edgar (16-4-1)

4. Ricardo Lamas (13-2)

5. Cub Swanson (20-5)

6. Chan Sung Jung (13-4)

7. Dustin Poirier (15-3)

8. Daniel Straus (22-4)

9. Nik Lentz (24-6-2, 1 NC)

10. Pat Curran (19-5)

The Aldo vs. Lamas bout will be part of a Feb. 1 Newark card, headlined by the champion vs. (interim) champion Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barão title fight at bantamweight. That will serve as an appetizer for the Super Bowl that will be played the next day down the road in the Meadowlands. Next in line probably will be Mendes, who took care of Lentz last month. But complicating the pecking order could be the still-unscheduled showdown between Edgar and B.J. Penn, following their coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter.

Bantamweight

1. Renan Barão (31-1, 1 NC)

2. Dominick Cruz (19-1)

3. Urijah Faber (30-6)

4. Michael McDonald (16-3)

5. Eddie Wineland (20-9-1)

6. Raphael Assunção (21-4)

7. Brad Pickett (23-8)

8. Bibiano Fernandes (15-3)

9. Takeya Mizugaki (18-7-2)

10. Eduardo Dantas (15-3)

Finally, he returns. Cruz has been out of the octagon since 2011, with his last victory coming against a man (Demetrious Johnson) who now reigns in a different weight class and has defended his championship three times. Dominick's opponent, Barão, has fought five times since Cruz went down with a knee injury, winning all (he's unbeaten in 32 straight), and also gaining and twice defending the interim belt that was created because of Cruz's extended absence. If "The Dominator" is sharp and ready to go Feb. 1, the UFC 169 main event should be a super fight, if not a superfight.

Flyweight

1. Demetrious Johnson (19-2-1)

2. Joseph Benavidez (19-4)

3. Ian McCall (12-4-1)

4. John Dodson (15-6)

5. John Moraga (13-2)

6. John Lineker (23-6)

7. Jussier da Silva (15-3)

8. Zach Makovsky (17-4)

9. Scott Jorgensen (14-8)

10. Ali Bagautinov (12-2)

The good news for Benavidez is that he's still the second-best 125-pounder in the world. The bad news: He's even more of a nowhere man than Junior dos Santos, having now been beaten twice by the champion in this division and also the weight class above it. Johnson's knockout of Benavidez last month was a stunner, propelling "Mighty Mouse" to among the top champions in the UFC. He's beaten the rest of the flyweight top five, so maybe Lineker will be next, if the Brazilian can beat Bagautinov on Feb. 1 ... and make weight, which Lineker has failed to do three times.

Women

1. Ronda Rousey (8-0)

2. Cristiane Justino (12-1, 1 NC)

3. Cat Zingano (8-0)

4. Sara McMann (7-0)

5. Miesha Tate (13-5)

6. Jessica Eye (11-1)

7. Sarah Kaufman (16-2)

8. Alexis Davis (15-5)

9. Liz Carmouche (9-4)

10. Jessica Aguilar (15-4)

Tate surpassed the expectations of many by taking the Dec. 28 fight with Rousey beyond the first round, something no one had done before with Ronda. But in the end, which came in the third round, Miesha was just like all of the others, succumbing via armbar. Next up for Rousey is McMann, who like Ronda is a medalist from the 2008 Olympics -- Ronda took bronze in judo, Sara silver in wrestling. Most women who step in with Rousey are better off standing and punching, and avoiding the canvas at all costs. But McMann has a resume that suggests she can pull off a high-level grappling match with Ronda. We'll see on Feb. 22 if she can do it.

Pound for pound

1. Jon Jones

2. José Aldo

3. Cain Velasquez

4. Chris Weidman

5. Demetrious Johnson

6. Ronda Rousey

7. Anderson Silva

8. Anthony Pettis

9. Renan Barão

10. Dominick Cruz

No more GSP. "The Spider" has fallen ... and might soon disappear, too. "Mighty Mouse" and "Rowdy Ronda" are on the rise. It is indeed a new era.

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.

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