April 02, 2012

It's no doubt offensive to Bjorn Rebney to hear pundits and fans say mixed martial arts is on vacation, since his Bellator Fighting Championships has continued to pump out the action each Friday night on MTV2 as its featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and middleweight tournaments roll along. Even UFC president Dana White might bristle at the suggestion that the whole sport has gone fishin', since Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter is churning onward as well, reinvigorated by a move to FX and the introduction of weekly live fights.

But the lifeblood of MMA is not second-tier promotions or up-and-comers. It's major UFC events, presented in pay-per-views and more recently on network television. And we haven't had any of those for a month, with a couple more weeks still to go before the bright lights get switched back on.

This little spell of quiet time isn't necessarily a bad thing. White, for one, surely could use a break from the whirlwind pace of jetting around the world for fights and press conferences and handling every micromanageable detail. Before finally unpacking his T-shirt-filled suitcase, the guy probably had spent more face time with ubiquitous interviewer Ariel Helwani than he had with his wife and kids.

Sometimes it's OK to stay right where you are.

In fact, with there being no fights in which contenders can jostle for position, the SI.com rankings are content to simply put the feet up this month and not move a muscle. Ahhh ...

1. Junior dos Santos (14-1)

2. Cain Velasquez (9-1)

3. Alistair Overeem (36-11, 1 NC)

The big guys have another month to relax before getting back into action next month in a big way. Junior dos Santos makes the first defense of his championship May 26, taking on man mountain Alistair Overeem in the main event of UFC 146. That's just the beginning. The Las Vegas event is filled with heavyweight tussles, five in all on the main card. The biggest of them features ex-champ Cain Velasquez, fighting for the first time since the 64-second TKO by Dos Santos last November put the first blemish on his record, against another former belt holder, Frank Mir. The winner presumably will get a shot at the Dos Santos-Overeem survivor.

1. Jon Jones (14-1)

2. Dan Henderson (29-8)

3. Rashad Evans (17-1-1)

Ever since Jones stepped in for an injured Evans, his training partner in Greg Jackson's gym at the time, to take on champion "Shogun" Rua back in March 2011, you knew something had to give. After all, if "Bones" won the belt, which seemed like a good possibility based on his dominant past, where did that leave top contender Evans? Well, we've all seen how that's played out, with Jones indeed becoming the champ, Rashad pulling away from Team Jackson and the two fighters morphing from allies to adversaries. Jones and Evans finally meet April 21 at UFC 145, and there couldn't be more hype surrounding this bout. Pre-fight animosity is part of the game, of course, but this time it's real. Beyond the bitter reality of familiarity breeding contempt, though, what's most fascinating about this bout is the familiarity itself. Never before has Jones fought someone who knows him and his game, who won't be blinded by the glimmering aura.

1. Anderson Silva (31-4)

2. Chael Sonnen (27-11-1)

3. Michael Bisping (22-4)

It's been awfully quiet since Silva vs. Sonnen II was officially booked for UFC 147 on June 23 in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe Chael has decided he'd better stop riling up the Brazilians if he wants to make it to the 60,000-seat soccer stadium intact. Whatever, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on the other guy in our rankings. We have Bisping at No. 3 while much of the MMA world would put Mark Muñoz in that slot. We were hoping to settle the matter once and for all this summer. But the UFC surprised us (and, apparently, Muñoz as well) by instead matching "The Count" with Tim Boetsch at UFC 148 in July. Now, with all due respect to Boetsch for his TKO of Yushin Okami in February, he was being beaten badly for two rounds in that fight before the stunning uppercut turnaround. Can he pull a rabbit out of a hat again, this time against Bisping, a superior striker?

1. Georges St-Pierre (22-2)

2. Carlos Condit (28-5)

3. Jake Ellenberger (27-5)

Dana White traveled to Calgary a couple of weeks ago to announce that the UFC will be holding an event there for the first time, and while he was at it, he also unveiled a couple of other Canadian cards. Actually, he had fighters make the announcements via satellite feed, and the man who announced UFC 154 in Montreal was hometown boy St-Pierre. The event will be Nov. 17, and November happens to be the month when GSP has said he'll be ready to return from knee surgery. Reading between the lines, it would appear that Georges vs. Condit has a date and a place. We'll see. As for No. 3, with Nick Diaz under suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, we're moving Ellenberger up ... until the smoke clears.

1. Ben Henderson (16-2)

2. Frankie Edgar (14-2-1)

3. Gray Maynard (10-1-1, 1 NC)

Edgar, whose favorite Doors song is "Love Me Two Times," will get another shot at Henderson this summer. He deserves it, after having to fight two straight against his previous two opponents. One of those opponents was Maynard, who clings to the No. 3 spot here amid a crowd of contenders. He'll have to prove his mettle in June when he faces Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4. By then, either Jim Miller or Nate Diaz, who meet next month, will be knocking on the door.

1. José Aldo (21-1)

2. Hatsu Hioki (26-4-2)

3. Chad Mendes (11-1)

One line is short, the other long. The short line is made up of those who believe Hioki can handle Aldo, who are on a collision course, though with no meeting yet scheduled. The long line? Contenders behind Mendes for that No. 3 spot (if not No. 2, once José sends Hatsu to the back of the line). Dustin Poirier and Eric Koch are a couple of once-beaten UFC rising stars, and Diego Nunes is still lurking. And looking beyond the Dana White Fight Club, don't forget Pat Curran, who won the Bellator belt with a nasty KO of Joe Warren last month after earning the title shot with a KO of Marlon Sandro.

1. Dominick Cruz (19-1)

2. Urijah Faber (26-5)

3. Renan Barão (28-1, 1 NC)

What can The Ultimate Fighter: Live add to the disharmony that already surrounds Cruz and Faber? One supposes that seeing each other's faces every day for 12 weeks, as they compete as coaches on the FX reality show, will ramp things up a bit. But these guys have seemingly been in each other's faces forever -- or at least since 2007, when they first met. Faber won that featherweight fight, Cruz took the rematch to defend his bantam belt last summer, and on July 7 at UFC 148 they'll step in the steel cage for a rubber match. That same night in Vegas, Barão will put his 28-fight unbeaten streak on the line against Ivan Menjivar to determine who's next in line ... and spare us Cruz-Faber IV.

1. Joseph Benavidez (16-2)

2. Demetrious Johnson (14-2-1)

2a. Ian McCall (11-2-1)

Benavidez, Johnson and McCall all put on quite a show a month ago at the UFC on FX event in Sydney, kicking off the UFC's flyweight tournament with a show of pace and power. Benavidez brought the thunder, knocking out Yasuhiro Urushitani in one semifinal. In the other, Johnson and McCall went 15 minutes in fast-forward -- and they coulda, shoulda kept it up for five more. "Mighty Mouse" got the better of things in the first two rounds, but McCall seized a dominant position in the third and appeared close to finishing before the horn sounded. The result was announced as a split-decision win for Johnson, but later the Australian commission admitted a mistake in calculating the judges' scores and declared the fight a majority draw. So Demetrious and "Uncle Creepy" will do it again in June. And Benavidez will wait.

1. Anderson Silva

2. Jon Jones

3. George St-Pierre

If "Bones" Jones walks out of the octagon still in possession of the light heavyweight belt on April 21, he will have made a strong case to move up to No. 1. After all, a win over Rashad Evans would be his fourth win in 13 months against a reigning or former champion. Of course, Anderson Silva hasn't had a chance to face any former champs lately ... because the belt has been wrapped around his waist for so long.

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