This is not the Bowl Championship Series. No competitor is going to miss out on a shot at the title or a trip to Pasadena because he is ranked No. 3 instead of No. 2 in the monthly SI.com mixed-martial-arts fighter rankings.
That is a good thing. It allows these rankings to exist simply as an assessment, an (arguably, some might say laughably) educated opinion, not weighed down by ramifications ... other than having the e-mail inbox filled with riled-up rants from readers who feel their favorite fighter has been slighted. But unlike what invariably happens to at least one college football team every year in the much-maligned BCS system, no fighter's career is damaged in even a small way by these MMA rankings.
Rankings are at their least messy when they're understood to be subjective, not intended to be definitive. And subjective means generated by human observation. Look what happens when the BCS gets computers involved. In MMA, the computerized rankings of
I could point out oddities in other media outlets' rankings all day, but the truth is I'd be doing so just to deflect attention from my own. Last month's SI.com 1-2-3 list sure inspired a lot of irate feedback. What some readers didn't understand, it seems, is that these rankings are intended to reflect not the fighters' resumes but rather one opinion of where they fit in the pecking order. Who are the best three fighters at each weight class? Not the most accomplished. The best. If we were put 'em all in one of those silly WWE steel cages, which three would get out alive?
Sorry to go all Vince McMahon on you there. Just trying to brace you for what you're about to read. Yep, a few of the rankings to follow are sure to rankle some fans. So read on, take a deep breath, and e-mail me your thoughts.
Same as last month, except for one thing: This time, I assume, I won't take any heat for not including Fedor Emelianenko in this Good Things Come in Threes list. Then again, maybe I'll hear from folks who think Antonio Silva should be included. And with that dominant win in the swamps of Jersey, "Bigfoot" certainly does deserve consideration. But I'm sticking with these three, with Brock Lesnar at an invisible No. 3a. By ranking Junior dos Santos slightly ahead of Brock, I'm banking on the Brazilian striker being capable of pulling a Cain Velasquez and escaping when (not if) Lesnar gets a takedown in their meeting June 11 at UFC 131. I doubt the smaller dos Santos will shed the Brock blanket with the swiftness and ease that Cain did, but I do expect Junior to get back on two feet and start making use of his two fists. Then what will Brock do?
OK, calm down. Remember what I said above: These rankings reflect one opinion of who's king of the hill. And since I believe pretty strongly that Jon Jones is going to beat UFC champion "Shogun" Rua in a couple of weeks at UFC 128, "Bones" belongs at the top of my light heavyweight list. Rua clearly has the superior resume, with wins over Lyoto Machida (some would say two), Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeeem, Overeem again, "Rampage" Jackson, etc. But Jones, whom I had at No. 3 last month before he dominated previously unbeaten Ryan Bader, is a runaway train building momentum on an uphill charge. I don't need to wait for his diploma to arrive before recognizing this guy as an MMA Ph.D.
There's no shame in losing to Anderson Silva. But getting KO'd in the first round, before putting even the slightest threat on the champion, is enough to drop Vitor Belfort from the top three. Especially with Yushin Okami waiting for a spot. Okami is actually the last man to beat Silva -- actually, let's just say he's the last man "with a victory" over Silva, since he was awarded the win after Silva connected with an illegal head kick. Before that, though, the Japanese judoka was holding his own. He recorded three wins in 2010, the last two against Nate Marquardt and Mark Munoz. Impressive. Oh, and by the way: I've taken some heat for including Chael Sonnen while he's on suspension, and I think some readers made fair points. Chael stays for now, but let's just say he's on double-secret probation.
Jon Fitch got very little love from the UFC 127 judges Saturday night, but he gets plenty here, remaining at No. 2 only because there's nowhere higher for an upward-trajectory fighter to soar, with Georges St-Pierre securely at the top of the heap. BJ Penn deserves some respect, too, for his performance against the bigger, stronger Fitch. He's one of several fighters on the cusp of the top three. I'm sticking with Nick Diaz, and not just to peeve the readership. I just think his versatility, hardiness and revved-up engine make him tough to beat.
Nothing changes here. This top three is going to be tough to crack, although Eddie Alvarez could move up if there's a decisive loser in the third Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard fight. However, there's also another contender for a spot: often-overlooked Jim Miller. His only losses were to Edgar and Maynard, and his quick submission of Brazilian prospect Charles Oliveira in December was impressive. Jim faces another challenge this month, taking on unbeaten Kamal Shalorus.
You can start looking over your shoulder now, Manny Gamburyan and Hatsu Hioki. The Nos. 2 and 3 slots are yours at the moment, but someone is coming after one of them. Actually, Kenny Florian is dropping down from lightweight in a quest to be No. 1, but Jose Aldo's grip on the UFC championship belt is pretty secure at the moment. However, as a two-time lightweight title challenger, Florian immediately becomes probably the second-best fighter in this division. He needs to step into the cage at 145 pounds before he gets consideration in these rankings, though.
I wish Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz would get in the cage, already, so we can see if "The California Kid" still has the edge on Cruz, whom he quickly submitted back in 2007 to successfully defend his featherweight title. Dominick dropped down to bantam after that bout and has been unstoppable ever since. If Urijah can get past former champ Eddie Vineland later this month, a Faber-Cruz rematch should be next. Finally.
I was tempted to put Silva back at No. 1 based on that crazy front kick that felled Belfort, but ultimately decided that five rounds of dominance -- which is what we've been getting from St-Pierre, time after time -- outranks a flash one-punch (or --kick) attack. And remember, pound-for-pound rankings are an assessment of where these guys are now, in their separate weight classes, not a prediction of what will happen if GSP moves up to middleweight and challenges "The Spider." But boy, that superfight would be a super fight.