Tuesday July 14th, 2015

Conor McGregor!

It’s a name that always should have an exclamation point attached. That goes for both when the Irishman talks and when he fights.

Last Saturday night in Las Vegas, McGregor backed up his big words in a big way, knocking out one of the UFC featherweight division’s most fearsome fighters, Chad Mendes, to answer some lingering questions that had dogged his carefully choreographed rise through the ranks.

And when McGregor had his arm raised, the MGM Grand Garden Arena rocking with the traveling Irish fanbase’s raucous joy, a championship belt was affixed around the 26-year-old Dubliner’s waist. It’s just an interim strap, which usually means nothing of significance, but in this case it symbolizes that McGregor can indeed hang with the big boys.

The belt McGregor wears is a mere trinket compared to the real one, owned by featherweight champion José Aldo. But it will make for a stunning visual to have two title straps on display when the fighters come together (again) to promote a showdown that appears destined to be the biggest fight in the UFC’s two-decade history.

McGregor is a star of grand proportions. If there were a pound-for-pound list for drawing prowess, the Irishman would be at the top of the heap.

That is not a measurement we make in the SI.com rankings, though. We rank fighters on the basis of their fights. And while McGregor had a sublime finish over the weekend, he mostly struggled against Mendes. He lost the first round on all three judges’ scorecards and was on the way to dropping the second, too, before a depleted Mendes surrendered a controlling position on the mat in futile search for a submission. McGregor took advantage, as a top-level fighter does.

As a result, McGregor has replaced Mendes as No. 3 at featherweight, behind only Aldo and Frankie Edgar. As for our pound-for-pound list, McGregor has not yet earned a place in the Top 10. He’s on his way in that direction, to be sure. If he can handle No. 2 Aldo, the sky’s the limit.

On to the rankings …

Heavyweight
1. Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1)
2. Cain Velasquez (13-2)
3. Junior dos Santos (17-3)
4. Stipe Miocic (13-2)
5. Andrei Arlovski (24-10, 1 NC)
6. Travis Browne (17-3-1)
7. Ben Rothwell (35-9)
8. Mark Hunt (10-10-1)
9. Alistair Overeem (39-14)
10. Frank Mir (17-9)

It’s surreal to see someone other than Velasquez at the top of the big-boy list, but his scalp is on display next to Fedor Emelianenko’s in the Werdum trophy room.

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)

No movement at all here over the past month. Perhaps the 205-pounders are keeping still so as not to awaken Jon Jones? It’s all right, guys; the once and future champ has other things on his mind these days.

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

A win over Machida moves Romero up a few rungs on the ladder, though there’s a steep climb ahead, with “Jacare” lingering above. This weekend: Bisping dances with Leites.

Welterweight
1. Robbie Lawler (26-10, 1 NC)
2. Johny Hendricks (17-3)
3. Rory MacDonald (18-3)
4. Tyron Woodley (15-3)
5. Matt Brown (20-13)
6. Ben Askren (14-0)
7. Carlos Condit (30-8)
8. Demian Maia (20-6)
9. Kelvin Gastelum (10-1)
10. Stephen Thompson (11-1)

Lawler and MacDonald put on a gruesome, gritty performance over the weekend, and here’s hoping that Nos. 1 and 3 meet again … though not for a while, so we can catch our breath. Oh, and welcome aboard, “Wonderboy” Thompson. 

Lightweight
1. Rafael dos Anjos (24-7)
2. Anthony Pettis (18-3)
3. Donald Cerrone (28-6, 1 NC)
4. Benson Henderson (21-5)
5. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)
6. Myles Jury (15-1)
7. Will Brooks (16-1)
8. Michael Johnson  (16-8)
9. Tony Ferguson (18-3)
10. Edson Barboza (15-3)

Khabib Nurmagomedov is 22-0 and essentially an uncrowned champion, with his last victory being a dominant one over belt holder Dos Anjos. However, that win came way back in April 2014, so because of inactivity, the Dagestani is out of the rankings.

Featherweight
1. José Aldo (25-1)
2. Frankie Edgar (19-4-1)
3. Conor McGregor (18-2)
4. Chad Mendes (17-3)
5. Ricardo Lamas (15-4)
6. Patricio Freire (22-2)
7. Max Holloway (13-3)
8. Cub Swanson (21-7)
9. Charles Oliveira (20-4, 1 NC)
10. Jeremy Stephens (24-11)

McGregor staked his place among the 145-pound elite with his come-from-behind stoppage of Mendes over the weekend. In doing so, he set up the biggest fight in UFC history, a real belt vs. faux belt showdown with Aldo. Can’t wait.

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)

Looking forward to Dillashaw vs. Barão II (July 25 in Chicago). It’s on Fox, which means we’ll likely see Cruz as studio analyst, a role for which he’s well suited. Would rather see “The Dominator” fighting, though.

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

Dodson is next for “Mighty Mouse,” UFC president Dana White has announced, but no date has been set. Well, that UFC 191 card is less than two months away and has had no main event announced. Would September fly?

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)

Rousey defends Aug. 1 in Rio de Janeiro against Correia. It’s a mismatch–“Rowdy Ronda” is a 15-1 favorite–but the UFC needs to get its crossover star out in front of the public, even if there’s no legitimate challenger. At some point, the promotion will face facts and book a “Cyborg” Justino showdown. 

Women's strawweight
1. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (10-0)
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 (12-3)
10. Tecia Torres (6-0)

Jedrzejczyk is a force. Her pinpoint striking picked apart Penne, just as it had Esparza before that. And her ability to fend off grapplers bodes well for her title reign.

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

Werdum eearned a place on this list with his stunning performance against Velasquez, who remains in the rankings because he’s still the planet’s baddest man at sea level.

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