Wednesday June 3rd, 2015

Daniel Cormier captured the UFC light heavyweight championship less than two weeks ago. Today he owns a place in the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings.

Was that inclusion automatic?

No, it was not.

The dominant promotion in mixed martial arts has 10 weight divisions, and our list is a Top 10. How convenient. We easily could make a shiny championship strap the ticket for admission, then sort out the belt-holders once they’re inside the exclusive club.

But why constrain ourselves to basing fuzzy distinctions on things as concrete as brass-and-leather belts?

The SI.com pound-for-pound list leaves off three UFC champions, allowing room for a beltless but terrific trio.

Undefeated strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk was ranked No. 10 last month, on the strength of her title-earning victory in March. But Cormier nudged her off of our crème de la crème list with his smothering finish of Anthony Johnson. “DC” has more big wins on his resume.

Another omission is lightweight titlist Rafael dos Anjos, whose win over Anthony Pettis on the same UFC 185 card as Jedrzejczyk vs. Carla Esparza made it two belts that changed hands that night. Dos Anjos could climb only to No. 2 in our 155-pound rankings, though, since less than a year earlier he’d been thoroughly dominated by Khabib Nurmagomedov. So we’re treating the Dagestani as an uncrowned champion, and with that distinction comes a place in our overall Top 10.

Also on the outside looking in is men’s bantamweight belt holder T.J. Dillashaw, because fellow 135-pounder Dominick Cruz simply has a glossier record with way more gold stars on it. Dillashaw did thrash Renan Barão a year ago in the massive upset that won him his belt, but was that a fluke, just his night of nights? We’ll soon find out, since a Dillashaw vs. Barão rematch is slated for next month.

So, along with Nurmagomedov and Cruz, the third non-champ in our pound-for-pound Top 10 is Frankie Edgar, a former lightweight champion and featherweight title challenger who’s rising again in the 145-pound rankings. Edgar has been at or near the top of the game for years. Even with no belt around his waist, he’s one of the greats.

There are a lot of magnificent fighters in the UFC, some wearing shiny straps, some not. There are some fine ones outside the behemoth promotion, too. Stacking them up is an exercise in fantasy sports. These rankings are not akin to the Lombardi Trophy, which is won on the gridiron. They’re the product of something far more amorphous than final scores. We pile up evidence to support our pecking order, but among that evidence is nothing resembling fact. It’s all just opinion. It’s fodder for a heated discussion around the Internet version of the office water cooler.

On to the rankings …

Heavyweight

1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)
2. Junior dos Santos (17-3)
3. Fabricio Werdum (19-5-1)
4. Stipe Miocic (13-2)
5. Andrei Arlovski (24-10, 1 NC)
6. Travis Browne (17-3-1)
7. Ben Rothwell (34-9)
8. Mark Hunt (10-10-1)
9. Alistair Overeem (39-14)
10. Matt Mitrione (9-3)

Finally. After nearly 20 months out of the octagon, Velasquez returns on June 13 to face Werdum, who has been lugging around a faux replica of a title belt and is hoping to trade it in for the real thing at UFC 188.

Light heavyweight

1. Daniel Cormier (16-1)
2. Anthony Johnson (19-5)
3. Alexander Gustafsson (16-3)
4. Ryan Bader (19-4)
5. Phil Davis (13-3, 1 NC)
6. Glover Teixeira (22-4)
7. Ovince Saint Preux (18-6)
8. Liam McGeary (10-0)
9. Jimi Manuwa (14-1)
10. Emanuel Newton (25-8-1)

With Jon Jones on suspension and ineligible for these rankings, Cormier is the man after finishing “Rumble” Johnson. What next? Bader has raised his hand, so unless “Bones” makes a quick return …

Middleweight

1. Chris Weidman (13-0)
2. Luke Rockhold (14-2)
3. Ronaldo Souza (22-3, 1 NC)
4. Lyoto Machida (22-6)
5. Vitor Belfort (24-11)
6. Tim Kennedy (18-5)
7. Yoel Romero (9-1)
8
. Michael Bisping (25-7)
9. Gegard Mousasi (37-5-2)
10. Thales Leites (25-4)

Weidman withstood the 30 seconds of fight that the no-TRT version of Belfort had in him, then beat up the shrinking Brazilian. The UFC hasn’t yet announced who’s next in line, but here’s a suggestion out of left field: Weidman vs. Rockhold, please.

Welterweight

1. Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1 NC)
2. Johny Hendricks (17-3)
3. Rory MacDonald (18-2)
4. Tyron Woodley (15-3)
5. Matt Brown (19-13)
6. Ben Askren (14-0)
7. Carlos Condit (30-8)
8. Nick Diaz (26-10, 1 NC)
9. Kelvin Gastelum (10-1)
10. Jake Shields (30-7-1, 1 NC)

Condit is back. After more than a year on the sideline, healing a torn ACL, “The Natural Born Killer” returned with a fury last Saturday, thumping Thiago Alves. He’s right back in the mix for the belt, which will be on the line next month when Lawler defends against MacDonald. 

Lightweight

1. Khabib Nurmagomedov (22-0)
2. Rafael dos Anjos (24-7)
3. Anthony Pettis (18-3)
4. Donald Cerrone (28-6, 1 NC)
5. Benson Henderson (21-5)
6. Gilbert Melendez (22-4)
7. Eddie Alvarez (25-4)
8. Will Brooks (15-1)
9. Miles Jury (15-1)
10. Michael Johnson  (16-8)

Cerrone earned a title shot, finally, with a beatdown of substitute opponent John Makdessi last month. It was his ninth straight victory, his sixth in just over 13 months. The last man to beat him? Dos Anjos, the champ, two summers ago.

Featherweight

1. José Aldo (25-1)
2. Frankie Edgar (19-4-1)
3. Chad Mendes (17-2)
4. Ricardo Lamas (15-4)
5. Conor McGregor (17-2)
6. Patricio Freire (22-2)
7. Max Holloway (13-3)
8. Cub Swanson (21-7)
9. Charles Oliveira (20-4, 1 NC)
10. Dennis Bermudez (14-4)

Edgar solidified his standing in the sport with last month’s five-round disassembly of Urijah Faber. Now he gets to sit back and see whether Aldo can hold onto his belt in next month’s defense against McGregor. If so, José vs. Frankie rematch?

Bantamweight

1. Dominick Cruz (20-1)
2. T.J. Dillashaw (11-2)
3. Renan Barão (33-2, 1 NC)
4. Urijah Faber (31-8)
5. Raphael Assunção (23-4)
6. Bibianio Fernandes (16-3)
7. Marcos Galvão (17-6-1)
8. Aljamain Sterling (11-0)
9. Joe Warren (12-4)
10. Eduardo Dantas (16-4)

Dillashaw vs. Barão II is still a month away. Can’t wait.

Flyweight

1. Demetrious Johnson (22-2-1)
2. Joseph Benavidez (22-4)
3. John Dodson (17-6)
4. Ian McCall (13-5-1)
5. Jussier da Silva (18-3)
6. John Lineker (25-7)
7. Zach Makovsky (19-6)
8. John Moraga (16-4)
9. Henry Cejudo (8-0)
10. Kyoji Horiguchi (15-2)

Is Dodson next for “Mighty Mouse”? John got the decision over Makovsky a couple of weeks ago, but he was not as impressive as Benavidez was that night in beating Moraga. Hmm. This month we get another glimpse of the future, when Cejudo steps in existentially with Chico Camus.

Women’s bantamweight

1. Ronda Rousey (11-0)
2. Cat Zingano (9-1)
3. Miesha Tate (16-5)
4. Sara McMann (8-2)
5. Alexis Davis (17-6)
6. Jessica Eye (11-2, 1 NC)
7. Sarah Kaufman (16-3, 1 NC)
8. Liz Carmouche (10-5)
9. Marion Reneau (6-1)
10. Bethe Correia (9-0)

Within the past month, Rousey had a movie premiere and an autobiography published. She was on the Sports Illustrated cover and Howard Stern’s radio show. But we have to wait until August to watch her travel down to Brazil to beat up Correia. 

Women’s strawweight

1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (9-0)
2. Jessica Aguilar (19-4)
3. Claudia Gadelha (12-1)
4. Carla Esparza (10-3)
5. Rose Namajunas (2-2)
6. Maryna Moroz (6-0)
7. Joanne Calderwood (9-1)
8. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (7-0)
9. Jessica Penne (12-2)
10. Tecia Torres (5-0)

Jedrzejczyk makes her first title defense on June 20 against Penne. Let’s see if she can continue the dominance she showed in grabbing the belt from Esparza.

Pound for pound

1. Ronda Rousey
2. José Aldo
3. Chris Weidman
4. Demetrious Johnson
5. Cain Velasquez
6. Robbie Lawler
7. Frankie Edgar
8. Dominick Cruz
9. Khabib Nurmagomedov
10. Daniel Cormier

Only Velasquez is in action this month, and putting a beating on Fabricio Werdum might do no more than secure his present spot, with the Top 4 all but a lock to remain intact until one of them slips up.

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