Cruz remains atop bantam rankings
He's nicknamed "The Dominator," but Dominick Cruz didn't exactly overwhelm Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 132 Saturday night in Las Vegas. Still, Cruz was speedy and forceful enough to retain his bantamweight championship.
He also remains at the top of the heap in his weight class' SI.com rankings, where he's been for four months. Before that, Faber had surged to the top spot simply by entering the division. But then the longtime WEC featherweight champion actually fought as a bantamweight, and reality showed what hypothesis had not: Even though he had his hand raised, Urijah was not a dominator.
So now it's Cruz setting down roots atop the rankings. If his performance over the weekend was any indication, Dominick will be looking down upon the rest for a long, long time. Maybe "The Dominator" fits after all.
If you think these rankings make me "The Dumbinator," by all means send an e-mail to make your case. I'll get someone to read it to me.
Maybe "Cigano" means "The Dominator" in Portuguese. Dos Santos sure looked the part during his commanding and concussive beat-down of Shane Carwin a few weeks ago at UFC 131, which elevated the heavy-fisted 26-year-old by one spot in our rankings. (Note to Brazilian readers: Yes, I know what "Cigano" really means; I was just making a point.) As for Overeem, he might well have fallen from our top three entirely on the basis of his lackluster bout last month against Fabricio Werdum. But he did win, and really, Werdum was the one most responsible for the fight's watching-paint-dry vibe. A bout starts with the competitors on their feet, and if you're a ground fighter it's your job to force a change of venue. But Werdum attempted to get the fight into his wheelhouse not by engaging Overeem and trying to take him down but by flopping onto his backside and waving him on. Waving works in bullfighting; in MMA, it's just bull. So Overeem stays, although Antonio Silva will be gunning for his spot when they meet in the fall in the next round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Yeah, I know it's Quinton Jackson, not Evans or Henderson, who'll be challenging Jones for the UFC belt in September. But I just don't see "Rampage" as top-three worthy. And yes, I know all about September 8, 2007, when then-UFC champ Jackson defeated then-Pride champ Henderson. But if we were to base our rankings on that bout, we might as well also base them on Royce Gracie and Tank Abbott footage. A fight four years ago is ancient history. More recent history -- Henderson's stirring TKO of Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in March, Jackson's uninspiring decision over Matt Hamill in May -- tells me that while Hendo is more explosive and dangerous than a 40-year-old has any right to be, "Rampage" is mellowing with age, making his nickname no longer descriptive. Actually, Jackson has been working hard to earn a new nickname, "The Misogynist." I'd like to think my judgment here is not being tinted by the fighter's unprofessional behavior in interviews with female reporters, but it's challenging to judge just the fighting while ignoring the man behind the punches. I'm guessing "Bones" Jones, last seen chasing down a robber who stole a woman's bag, will have a lot of female fan support at UFC 135.
Silva and Okami fight next month in a rematch of their 2006 bout won by Okami by disqualification after Silva landed an illegal kick. "The Spider" has not lost since then, piling up a UFC-high 14-fight win streak. Okami has won three straight since a 2009 decision loss to Sonnen. Does that last name ring a bell? It's been nearly a year since Chael has been inside a cage. After he'd smothered Silva for four-plus rounds last August, it all fell apart. First Sonnen got caught in a triangle/armbar submission with less than two minutes to go before he was to have the UFC belt strapped around his waist. Then he ran afoul of the California State Athletic Commission, which suspended him for failing a drug test and lying about having received approval for hormone replacement therapy. On top of that, Chael became a convicted felon after copping a plea in a real estate money laundering case. Finally, Sonnen is eligible to apply for a fighter license. We'll hold off on the serious matchmaking until we see the paper in his hand. But here's a thought: Both Mark Muñoz and Brian Stann became top-10 middleweights on the strength of wins last month. Why not make Sonnen take a step back and prove himself again against one of those guys? Especially now that Michael Bisping is busy.
So we've finally got a UFC champion vs. Strikeforce champion showdown, probably the first of many to come. (Bet Jeff Lacy just gave a sigh of relief.) So why is Jon Fitch, who doesn't wear a belt, occupying the spot between St-Pierre and Diaz? Because I think he'd beat Nick if they fought. Really, if UFC matchmaking were purely about the quality of fighters, Fitch would be the one standing across the cage the next time GSP steps inside. But Joe Silva and Co. apparently are of the opinion, "Been there, done that, fell asleep during the grappling." And while it's reasonable to believe that St-Pierre would handle Fitch much the way he did back in 2008, Jon would be the alpha male in a fight with Jake Shields, Josh Koscheck or Dan Hardy, the three men who've been given shots at the welterweight belt over the past year or so. Hardy has fallen out of the title mix, with two more losses on top of the one to GSP. But Shields and Koscheck remain contenders, and I was prepared to add Rick Story to that list if, less than a month after beating Thiago Alves, he had been able to also take down Nate Marquardt. But Marquardt self-destructed a day before the fight, and Story fared not much better against late replacement Charlie Brenneman. Elevator going down?
Edgar and Maynard still haven't scheduled their rematch of a rematch, leaving Frankie's UFC title in the balance. Melendez hasn't yet signed for another defense of his Strikeforce belt. That's quite an unmoving clog at the top of the division, not leaving much room for Jim Miller, the next-best lightweight, to muscle his way in. He faces former WEC champ Ben Henderson next month, and a decisive victory would let him get a foot into that crowded phone booth. (Sorry for the old-school cultural reference. Do phone booths even exist anymore? If so, maybe there's one in New Jersey, home of Miller and Edgar and a short drive across the Delaware River for another top guy, Philadelphia fighter Eddie Alvarez, the Bellator belt holder.)
OK, Florian finally has fought at bantamweight, so we can end the pretense and insert him into the top three, where he truly belonged from the moment he stopped ordering extra cheese on his pizza and committed himself to dropping down from lightweight. I had refused to include Kenny in the rankings of a weight class in which he'd never competed. But now, after his decisive victory over Diego Nunes, he gets the No. 2 spot. This ranking actually tested my methodology, since my top criterion is not a fighter's record but rather my subjective assessment of how he'd do in bouts against other top contenders. And when I think about Florian vs. Aldo, a fight that Dana White has hinted might happen soon, I come to the conclusion that Kenny might be the better fighter. So why does Jose remain at No. 1? It's because of his UFC title belt -- no, it's not that a belt around Aldo's waist carries more weight but rather that it might weigh down on Florian, who has wilted in title bouts before. Oh, and welcome to the UFC, Hatsu Hioki.
The loser of Saturday night's championship fight? Actually, there were two of them. One is Faber, obviously, because he didn't leave the Octagon with the leather strap around his waist. Then again, "The California Kid" fought like a champ, hurting Cruz more than Cruz hurt him, which makes it feasible that we'll someday see a rubber match. So calling him a loser, even though he was outpointed on the judges' scorecards, is a little harsh. The same might be said about the evening's other loser, Benavidez, because even he was in a no-win situation. He's already lost twice to Cruz and isn't likely to get a third shot. And if Faber had won, that'd mean the new champ would be his friend and training partner, not a likely opponent. Maybe Joseph should consider concocting some career goals other than "Win a championship."
None of the top three from last month fought, and nobody else distinguished himself to the point of nudging his way in, so we're going to stick with the status quo. Anticlimactic, I know. You were hoping for a little stirring of the pot here? Well, maybe next time.