Familiar look for monthly rankings
These mixed martial artists sure don't move around like they used to.
With only one major event since our May rankings, and that one whose only ranked competitors pulled out of the main event because of injuries, it should come as no surprise that our June rankings have a familiar look to them. Are you having a déjà vu experience as you read this?
Hey, stability happens sometimes when you rank just the cream of the crop.
This isn't baseball, where first place in the standings can juggle three teams, one after another, day after day, like a summertime circus act. Fighters at this elite level go to bat just once every few months, and in this sport a win isn't always a win. Quinton Jackson beat Matt Hamill in UFC 130's substitute main event last Saturday night, and while that was good enough for company president Dana White to award "Rampage" a shot at light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (assuming Jackson's injured hand heals), the victory was not quite impressive enough -- taking into consideration the quality of Quinton's performance and the level of his competition -- to elevate him into our top three.
Of course, some things are more subjective than others. If, for example, the original UFC 130 marquee matchup hadn't fallen apart because of injuries to both fighters, and SI.com's No. 2-ranked lightweight, Gray Maynard, had beaten Frankie Edgar, not only would Maynard have taken home Edgar's UFC title belt, but Gray also would have replaced Frankie atop our rankings in the division. No one would have argued with that.
But you might have an argument with some of what follows. If you do, I have a question for you: Why didn't you say something last month?
Finally, the big guys are going back to work. At least the healthy ones are. Velasquez remains on the shelf, where he's been since injuring a shoulder last October while battering Brock Lesnar for the UFC championship. Lesnar was scheduled to return at UFC 131 against dos Santos in a matchup of top contenders. But with the ex-champ suffering a relapse of diverticulitis and undergoing colon surgery, dos Santos now will face Shane Carwin in the June 11 main event.
A week later, Strikeforce champ Overeem will see his first action since New Year's Eve, when he put in 19 seconds of work in knocking out Todd Duffee in a Dynamite 2010 show in Japan. Overeem faces Fabricio Werdum in a long-delayed first-round matchup in the promotion's Heavyweight Grand Prix. Tune in next month for a possible rankings shake-up.
So let me see if I have this straight. Moments after Jones beats up Mauricio Rua for the UFC title in March, former champ Evans is ushered into the cage and introduced as his teammate's first challenger. Training camp ties are severed, and a friendship morphs into a feud that makes Evans' standoff with Rampage Jackson seem trivial. Then Jones reveals he has a hand injury that will require surgery. Evans, who once sat and waited for a promised title shot against an injured Rua, only to see that fight fall apart, decides he's better off being active while Jones goes under the knife, and accepts a bout against Phil Davis. Shortly thereafter, Jones gets another medical opinion and opts not to have the surgery. But the UFC has gone too far with promotion to cancel Evans vs. Davis, so it's decided that Jones instead will be served up to Rampage or, if Jackson's hand doesn't heal in time, Lyoto Machida, who is coming off a stirring win over Randy Couture.
That's all well and good, but Evans is still our No. 2. (Boy, that must be a major consolation for him after losing out on a title shot again.) And while Jackson and Machida both are worthy, we're keeping Henderson right where he is, too.
There. Got it?
Here's why someone invented the eraser: I had crossed out Sonnen's name on this list a couple of weeks ago, after the California State Athletic Commission essentially put him on ice for at least a year. But then the commission backtracked, reinterpreting one of its own rules and making Sonnen eligible for relicensing at the end of this month. So Sonnen is back on the list, much to the chagrin of readers who complained last month that he shouldn't receive credit for his strong showing against Silva last fall because he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Fair point. But based on his full body of work, Sonnen stays. We might have to wait until the September rankings, which will come out a few days after Yushin Okami challenges Silva for his UFC belt, to see any movement in this division.
A month ago, the buzz following St-Pierre's title defense against Jake Shields was that GSP's next opponent might be Shields' teammate Diaz, the Strikeforce belt holder. An update: buzz buzz silence buzz buzz. Translation: Nothing has happened but more talk. Some of the talk veered off course, though, as the combustible Diaz expressed a desire to try his hand at professional boxing, drawing interest from former IBF super middleweight champion Jeff Lacy. Just when that looked like a good possibility, in swooped White to persuade Diaz to stick with MMA.
No GSP-Diaz fight has been confirmed or announced yet. But considering the silence we've heard from Diaz lately, you can bet that in their get-together White talked him out of the sweet science by speaking the same language, which sounds like
This was supposed to be the weight division with the month's biggest churn, with Edgar putting his UFC title on the line against Maynard. But their scheduled UFC 130 main event -- which was to be their third meeting, after Maynard's 2008 win and their stirring New Year's night rematch in which Edgar came back from a dizzying first-round battering to take control and earn a draw -- never came about, as Edgar injured his back and rib cage and Gray hurt a knee. Now what?
"When Frankie and Gray get healthy, we will make that fight as soon as possible," White said at a UFC 130 news conference last week. "Hopefully they are both healed in eight weeks, and we can do it."
Can't wait. And neither can Strikeforce champ Melendez as well as a long line of contenders.
Aldo is nursing various injuries and not expected to defend his UFC title until the fall. Shooto and Sengoku champ Hioki has no fights scheduled and, according to several Web reports, could soon end up in the UFC -- but isn't there yet. Hominick is pretty occupied right now being the father of a newborn. As seems to be the case near the top in several other weight divisions, there's a whole lot of sitting around and waiting (at least in terms of fighting, if not diaper changing) going on among featherweights.
One upcoming bout that could bear more immediate consequences for these rankings is the June 11 featherweight debut of former lightweight contender Kenny Florian, who takes on 16-1 up-and-comer Diego Nunes at UFC 131. The winner there could very well squeeze into this top three. At whose expense? We'll see.
We still have a month to wait before the summit meeting between UFC champion Cruz and the only man to beat him, former WEC featherweight champ Faber, who quickly choked out Cruz to defend his belt back in 2007. Cruz has come a long way since then, though, and it'll be interesting to see whether "The California Kid" still has his number. We've got a full month to ponder that one.
I'm done arguing my case for slotting St-Pierre above Silva as the alpha male of MMA. I'm finished trying to justify including a heavyweight in the top three, as if the jumbo dudes are somehow less qualified. No more of that. What interests me now is pondering who is on the cusp of becoming part of this elite trio and what it will take to break in.
Jones is a prime example of a fighter on the verge. He's already in the P4P top three in some media rankings. What does he have to do to make the list here at SI. com? Would defeating Rampage Jackson or Machida in his next fight vault "Bones" past Velasquez, at least? Does he need that victory plus a win over Evans (or, for that matter, Davis)? Would one spectacular win -- say, a domination of Rampage that's as thorough and decisive as his win over Mauricio Rua was -- do the trick for Jones? Is there anyone else in serious contention to unseat one of the top three?
It's questions like those that make pound-for-pound rankings the most fascinating of all. Where weight class rankings can weigh relatively tangible factors, P4P is all amorphous fun.