Jose Aldo is good. Very, very good. The 24-year-old Brazilian affirmed his status as mixed martial arts' best featherweight Thursday night by throttling Manny Gamburyan midway through the second round.
Aldo realized right away that a sneaky right hand penetrated Gamburyan's defense and clipped the squat grappler on the chin. He pressed, unloaded with a violent uppercut and finished on the floor with a rapid succession of head shots. No doubts. No decisions.
At the head of a division that has quickly become one of MMA's most fascinating, Aldo appears ready and worthy of being mentioned among the sport's best fighters. I ranked "Junior" third on my pound-for-pound list in recent months and strongly considered elevating him after Thursday night's performance -- even if it meant topping George St. Pierre or Anderson Silva. But for now, I'm going to leave him where he is. St. Pierre and Silva have dominated their divisions for several years with a class and grace in victory that exemplifies how good they are, and they've regularly made tough opponents appear meager. Perhaps more important, when they've been asked to fight, to show what they're made of, such as Silva's last effort against Chael Sonnen in August, he did. We haven't seen Aldo in trouble yet, but it will happen.
Physically there's no doubt that Aldo belongs in that group. He's every bit the athlete, and he's stomping people, going the distance just once (a shutout against Urijah Faber for five rounds in April) in eight WEC-promoted contests. Thursday's win over Gamburyan was Aldo's 11th in a row, and he's just beginning to realize his potential. As champion at 145 pounds, he's guaranteed to face real tests over the next few years.
It may appear to some as if Aldo has already wiped out the featherweight division in the WEC. Not so fast. At 14-1, standing 5-foot-11, 21-year-old Josh Grispi could represent a serious threat. Should Grispi win in November against Eric Koch, the shot at Aldo will be his. Then you have younger fighters on the road to the top. Powerhouse wrestler Chad Mendes will get a push now that Faber, his mentor and teammate, is off to the bantamweight division. And if he manages wins over a ranked fighter or two, respected veteran Javier Vazquez might finally get the shot he so desperately wants.
Faber's departure, when it comes to fruition Nov. 11 on the same WEC card as Grispi-Koch, will further shake up featherweight, which just completed a busy month between Dream.16 and WEC 51.
Like lightweight and middleweight, 145 features fighters from various promotions around the world. Hopefully Aldo will have an opportunity to meet opponents like Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa or Joe Warren. They're all dangerous. If not him, then perhaps Marlon Sandro, Aldo's Nova Uniao teammate, might get the chance to knock off the rest of the world's best. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the two best featherweights in MMA are training partners. But for the foreseeable future -- say the next five years or so -- it's easy to imagine that featherweight will be Aldo's division.
October will be dominated by talk of Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez vying for the UFC heavyweight title in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 23. Still, there's an assortment of interesting fights on the horizon, especially at welterweight. The best of the bunch marks the return of Jake Shields to 170 pounds. Making his UFC debut after parting ways with Strikeforce to sign a contract with Zuffa over the summer, Shields gets well-rounded Danish fighter Martin Kampmann.
HeavyweightBrock Lesnar (No. 1). vs. Cain Velasquez (No. 4)
Welterweight:Martin Kampmann (No. 4) vs. Jake Shields (unranked, No. 3 middleweight, No. 7 P4P)Paulo Thiago (No. 5) vs. Diego Sanchez (unranked)Nick Diaz (No. 8) vs. K.J. Noons (unranked)Dan Hardy (No. 9) vs. Carlos Condit (unranked)
LightweightShinya Aoki (No. 5) vs. Yokthai Sithoar (unranked)Eddie Alvarez (No. 6) vs. Roger Huerta (unranked)Josh Thomson (No. 10) vs. Gesias Cavalcante (unranked)
Heavyweight1. Brock Lesnar (5-1)2. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1)3. Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC)4. Cain Velasquez (8-0)5. Junior dos Santos (12-1)6. Shane Carwin (12-1)7. Frank Mir (14-5)8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 1 NC)9. Alistair Overeem (33-11, 1 NC)10. Antonio Silva (14-2)Others receiving consideration: Cheick Kongo, Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson
Light Heavyweight1. Mauricio Rua (19-4) 2. Lyoto Machida (16-1) 3. Rashad Evans (15-1-1) 4. Quinton Jackson (30-8) 5. Forrest Griffin (17-6) 6. Jon Jones (11-1) 7. Ryan Bader (12-0) 8. Thiago Silva (14-2) 9. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4) 10. Rich Franklin (28-5)
Others receiving consideration:Rafael Cavalcante, Muhammed Lawal, Gegard Mousasi, Randy Couture, Renato Sobral.
Middleweight1. Anderson Silva (27-4)2. Chael Sonnen (25-11-1)3. Jake Shields (25-4-1)4. Nate Marquardt (30-9-2)5. Dan Henderson (25-8)6. Vitor Belfort (19-8)7. Yushin Okami (25-5)8. Demian Maia (13-2)9. Jorge Santiago (23-8)10. Ronaldo Souza (13-2, 1 NC)Others receiving consideration:Robbie Lawler, Wanderlei Silva, Hector Lombard, Chris Leben, Michael Bisping.
Welterweight1. Georges St. Pierre (20-2)2. Jon Fitch (23-3, 1 NC)3. Thiago Alves (16-7)4. Martin Kampmann (17-3)5. Paulo Thiago (13-2)6. Josh Koscheck (15-4)7. Matt Hughes (45-7)8. Nick Diaz (23-7, 1 ND)9. Dan Hardy (22-7, 1 NC)10. Paul Daley (25-9-2)
Others receiving consideration: Carlos Condit, Jay Hieron, Ben Askren, John Hathaway, Chris Lytle.
Lightweight1. Frankie Edgar (13-1)2. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)3. Gray Maynard (10-0, 1 NC)4. B.J. Penn (15-7-1)5. Shinya Aoki (25-5, 1 NC)6. Eddie Alvarez (20-2)7. Kenny Florian (13-5)8. Evan Dunham (11-1)9. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-6-2)10. Josh Thomson (17-3)
Others receiving consideration: Jim Miller, Takanori Gomi, Sean Sherk, Ben Henderson, George Sotiropoulous.
Featherweight1. Jose Aldo (18-1)2. Bibiano Fernandes (8-2)3. Manny Gamburyan (11-5)4. Mike Thomas Brown (24-6)5. Urijah Faber (23-4)6. Hatsu Hioki (22-4-2)7. Marlon Sandro (17-1)8. Michihiro Omigawa (12-8-1)9. Joe Warren (6-1)10. Josh Grispi (14-1)Others receiving consideration: L.C. Davis, Diego Nunes, Raphael Assuncao, Masanori Kanehara, Hiroyuki Takaya.
Bantamweight1. Dominick Cruz (16-1)2. Joseph Benavidez (12-2)3. Brian Bowles (8-1)4. Miguel Torres (38-3)5. Scott Jorgensen (11-3)6. Takeya Mizugaki (13-4-2)7. Damacio Page (15-4)8. Rani Yahya (15-6)9. Masakatsu Ueda (11-1-2)10. Eddie Wineland (17-6-1)
Others receiving consideration: Wagnney Fabiano, Antonio Banuelos, Brad Pickett, Michael McDonald, Darren Uyenoyama.
Flyweight1. Jussier da Silva (7-0)2. Mamoru Yamaguchi (24-5-3)3. Yuki Shojo (10-5-2)4. Yasuhiro Urushitani (17-4-6)5. Ryuichi Miki (10-4-3)6. Kiyotaka Shimizu (6-3-1)7. Pat Runez (4-0)8. Alexis Vila (8-0)9. Fumihiro Kitahara (9-1-1)10. Mitsuhisa Sunabe (13-6-3)
Others receiving consideration: Alexandre Pantoja, John Dodson, Isao Hirose, Ulysses Gomez, Louis Gaudinot.
Pound-for-pound1. Georges St. Pierre (Canada)2. Anderson Silva (Brazil)3. Jose Aldo (Brazil)4. Mauricio Rua (Brazil)5. Dominick Cruz (U.S.)6. Frankie Edgar (U.S.)7. Jake Shields (U.S.)8. Lyoto Machida (Brazil)9. Gilbert Melendez (U.S.)10. Jon Fitch (U.S.)