Jon Jones is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound, because he's dominated every fight he's ever been in.
No, wait, Anderson Silva is No 1. Still. You want to talk dominance? Over the last seven years, the 37-year-old UFC middleweight champion has won 17 straight fights.
Yeah, but after becoming the fight promotion's youngest champion at age 23, Jones took out four former world champions in a row, wiping out the light heavyweight division.
Wipe it out? He's abandoned it. While Silva has three times stepped up a weight class to take on 205 pounders, Jones's two most recent conquests were middleweights.
One of those middleweights, though, was a guy who put Silva on his back repeatedly and smothered him for nearly the entirety of their first fight and for the whole first round of their second. Sure, Anderson won both bouts. But he didn't dominate Chael Sonnen the way Jones did last Saturday night.
We could go back and forth on this all day. Actually, we already have a history of wavering on the question of who's the true alpha male of mixed martial arts. A year ago, mere days after "Bones" had bettered his fourth straight ex-champ, teammate-turned-enemy Rashad Evans, the monthly SI.com rankings column trumpeted a changing of the guard: "It would take something extraordinary for 'The Spider' to be unseated from the top spot in the mixed martial arts rankings. Meet something extraordinary. Otherwise known as Jon Jones. Otherwise known as 'Bones.' Otherwise known as the new No. 1 ..."
We caught hell for that from readers, much like anyone who dared rank a UFC heavyweight over an in-his-prime Fedor Emelianenko used to catch hell. Sacrilege! But we stood our ground. Silva was rolling along, as knockouts of Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami attested. But the first Sonnen fight was a sticking point. How could the pound-for-pound best be blanketed and neutralized for more than 20 minutes? Was it just a bad night?
By last July, of course, we had our answer. Silva showed us what he was made of in his rematch with Chael. He spent the first five minutes in a déjà vu experience, sure, but in the second round he fended off a couple of takedown attempts and swiftly slaughtered his nemesis. Anderson was back on top.
So where do we stand now? With Sonnen having been added to Jones' list of slaughters, it's tempting to judge Jon vs. Anderson by that measuring stick. That's how the loquacious gangster from West Linn, Ore., sorts it out. "I whipped [Silva] for 30 minutes; he whipped me for less than 30 seconds," Chael said at the press conference following last Saturday night's TKO loss to Jones. "I whipped Jon for zero seconds, and he whipped me for the entire fight. If you're asking me my opinion, Jon's better."
Maybe so. If Jones and Silva were to meet, "Bones" surely would be the betting favorite. But that's not what pound-for-pound rankings are about. As I interpret them, they're a comparison of how each fighter picks on people his own size. And while Sonnen is a common opponent, there's an argument to be made that Chael is not the force at 205 pounds that he is at 185.
What pound-for-pound rankings are not is a lifetime achievement award. By that measurement, Silva clearly is top dog. Jones might very well end up as the greatest ever, but at this point in his career he's not done what "The Spider" has. How do you separate the sparkly resume, though, from the here and now?
Jones cannot do it. Asked at Saturday's postfight press conference if he now considered himself the pound-for-pound king, "Bones" demurred. "That would be extremely disrespectful of me to try to disregard what Anderson has done outside of the octagon and inside of the octagon," he said. "I celebrated my two-year anniversary of being champion this year, and Anderson has been doing it for about six. That's phenomenal. That's phenomenal pressure that he's been able to uphold and continue moving forward with it, so I admire him so much. Yes, I've had some great fights, and I've had a great career, but Anderson is still an amazing guy. He's still my idol, and I'm not going to disregard what he's done."
Neither are we. Anderson Silva is still on top of the mountain. But Jon Jones is climbing hand over fist. He's inches away. However, he's not the one Silva should be worrying about. Come July 6, the champ will defend his belt against unbeaten Chris Weidman, a man with Sonnen-like takedown explosiveness and a more dangerous arsenal at his disposal once he puts you on your back. If Silva can pass that test, he'll remain No. 1 for a long time. If not, well, we'll again look toward Jones, the once and future king of the hill.
On to the rest of the rankings ...
Cormier didn't move an inch. That goes for his UFC debut, in which he manhandled Mir against the cage for much of the fight but inflicted little damage and was never a threat to finish. It also goes for his place in these rankings. He held steady, while Mir nearly fell out of sight. Nelson, he of the thunderous KO of Cheick Kongo last weekend, ascended a little. But it looks like he's got more work to do if he intends to fight his way to the top. Would "Big Country" have it any other way?
Machida wants Jones. Gustaffson wants Jones. But a pair of crutches and an easy chair want him even more. The champ sustained what initially was called a compound fracture of the big toe on his left foot, and later was described as a dislocation. If he needs an extended time to heal, perhaps we'll see his two suitors fight over him. While that gets sorted out, allow me to explain why Sonnen is making his first appearance on this list ... after a loss. Put simply, he has to be ranked somewhere, either here or at middleweight, since he's better than many guys on both lists. And he indicated after Saturday's loss that he's going to continue his career here rather than at 185. First order of business: He called out Wanderlei Silva. It's a road-to-nowhere fight, but it'll likely be a main event. Because Sonnen says so.
With his lopsided but plodding victory over Alan Belcher, Bisping didn't send chills down anyone's spine. But he's back in the win column, at least, and that's better than the alternative. Will he ever get that shot against Anderson Silva that he craves? That's highly doubtful, and not just because "The Count" has a say of going Sisyphus on us whenever he's close to a title shot. But even if Bisping gets there, Silva might not be there. "The Spider" indicated to Dana White over the weekend that if he gets past Weidman he'll be ready for a superfight. Against Jon Jones? Against Georges St-Pierre? The UFC president wouldn't say, but it's looking like this weight class is poised for some changes at the top. The May 18 meeting of Belfort and Rockhold should put someone in prime position.
Here's what I said about this weight class in our last rankings column: "This month's Top 5 is nearly identical to last month's Top 5 ..." OK, keep the "identical" part (but get rid of "nearly") and make it the Top 10. Not much happening at the moment with the crème de la 170-pound crème ... except for behind the scenes, where there's surely some jockeying to determine who'll get the rebound relationship with the survivor of GSP vs. Hendricks. Whenever that happens.
Maynard has seemed to be in some sort of octagon limbo. After the epic, exhausting Frankie Edgar rematches, he stepped in with now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Clay Guida and really didn't get much chance to show off his fighting. He'll do that later this month when he and T.J. Grant tussle for a title shot. The guy they have their sights set on, Henderson, fortified his place at the top of the ladder with a tightly contested split decision win over Melendez, who proved himself to be Strikeforce tough.
How is it possible that Aldo can be so entrenched as champion with such a stout list of contenders threatening him from every angle? Mendes, who couldn't last a round with the Brazilian, scored his third straight knockout since that loss and is bearing down on Edgar, who this summer will take on Charles Oliveira in his first nontitle bout since 2009. And Pat Curran continues to roll onward and upward over in Bellator.
Next month Barão will do with his interim championship what temp titles are not designed for: He'll defend it for a second time, taking on ex-WEC champ Eddie Wineland. Usually, an interim champ is trotted out just to keep a weight class fresh and active for a short time while the real champ heals. Well, it's been 19 months since Cruz last fought. He's undergone two knee surgeries and has become a talking head on Fuel TV. The UFC has said "The Dominator" is keeping his belt, though, so he must be on his way back.
Benavidez fought in the first UFC flyweight title bout last September, and a split decision was all that separated him from being where reigning champ Demetrious Johnson is. With his impressive TKO of Darren Uyenoyama on top of his win over fellow contender Ian McCall, Benavidez is lining himself up for another grab at the golden ring. First, "Mighty Mouse" must defend in July against John Moraga.
Cat Zingano pulled a Liz Carmouche on us last month, even did her one better. Carmouche was a big underdog to Ronda Rousey in the first UFC women's bout, and she showed the world that she has some fight in her, even in what turned out to be a loss. In the case of Zingano, we saw not just a memorable performance from her but an upset victory. Taking out Miesha Tate really gives a boost to Cat's rise from nowhere. Watch out for the explosion of recognition when she coaches opposite Rousey on
Pound for pound
Should we reverse ourselves, ignore all of what was said at the beginning of this story, and flip-flop Silva and Jones again? Nah. Let's leave it alone. For now.