Barao on the move in pound-for-pound rankings

Tuesday February 4th, 2014

Renan Barao make quick work of Uriah Faber in their bantamweight championship fight on Feb. 1.
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

"If Barão goes out and stops Faber, he's probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world."

That was UFC president Dana White talking last month about his bantamweight champion, Renan Barão, he of an unbeaten streak that at the time stood at 32 fights. It's now 33 after last Saturday night's UFC 169 main event, in which the Brazilian did indeed go out and stop Urijah Faber.

So does that secure the top rung on the ladder for Barão? No, it does not.

For one thing, White is a promoter, not a pundit. He's entitled to his opinion, as we all are, but we're entitled to weigh that opinion against the man's job description. He sells fights, and if a Barão fight is coming up, Dana is going to sell Renan as the greatest thing since sliced pão de queijo. A week later, White was hyping the Memorial Day middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort and had this to say about his champ: "Oh my God, how's he not pound-for-pound No. 1 in the world if he beats Vitor Belfort?"

See how that works?

However, White did succeed in getting us thinking about Barão, who in last month's pound-for-pound rankings was way down at No. 9. (He was No. 6 in the UFC's media-voted tally.) Have we been undervaluing him? Maybe so, but let's keep things in perspective here. A ranking that lists you as the ninth-best fighter on the planet, pound for pound, is no slap in the face.

On the strength of finishing Faber, though, Barão deserves a boost. Following a loss to Renan a year and a half ago, Urijah went 4-0 in 2013 with three finishes. At age 34, he was looking like a fully revitalized fighter ... until Barão took the wind out of his sails with a first-round TKO. Sure, the stoppage was quicker than many observers would have liked, but by the time referee Herb Dean jumped in, Faber already had been knocked to the canvas twice and was face down and motionless, showing nothing other than survival instinct. It was a thrashing.

Where does Barão belong, then? Not at No. 1, a spot that will continue to be occupied by Jon Jones. The light heavyweight champion did show vulnerability in his last fight, but he had built up such a gap between himself and the rest of the mixed martial arts world that the best of the rest still have some catching up to do. Renan's teammate, José Aldo, is a solid No. 2 after his dominant performance last Saturday against Ricardo Lamas. And heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez isn't budging from the third spot, even though he's in the midst of an inactive spell that could extend until the end of the year.

And just as Velasquez has twice soundly beaten the next-best fighter in his weight class, so have Chris Weidman and Demetrious Johnson. Weidman's two wins over longtime middleweight king Anderson Silva both had elements of the bizarre in them, but in neither bout was he even remotely threatened. As for Johnson, his first meeting with Joseph Benavidez was a tightly contested split decision, but the flyweight champ needed barely two minutes to knock out Benavidez the second time. So the Nos. 4 and 5 positions on our list also are secure.

Beyond that, there's opportunity for movement. Ronda Rousey, Silva, and Anthony Pettis all were ahead of Barão last month, and a case can be made for maintaining the status quo. Rousey has been more dominant in her division than any fighter in any weight class has been. Silva was No. 1 before his setbacks against Weidman. Pettis is a walking highlight reel and, more important, the champion in a lightweight division that's stacked. Why not leave things alone?

Why not? Because Barão. Because 33 in a row without a loss. Because 22 straight victories, the last seven in the UFC, the most recent three being finishes of the 135-pound crème de la crème. Just because.

But no one is being bumped from the Top 10. Take a look ...


1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)

2. Junior dos Santos (16-3)

3. Daniel Cormier (13-0)

4. Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1)

5. Travis Browne (16-1-1)

6. Stipe Miocic (11-1)

7. Josh Barnett (33-7)

8. Mark Hunt (9-8-1)

9. Antonio Silva (18-5, 1 NC)

10. Alistair Overeem (37-13, 1 NC)

Take a good look at Cormier because next month he'll be gone from this list. He takes on Rashad Evans on Feb. 22 in a light heavyweight fight, and he'll probably make that division his home. Heavyweight is a dead end for the two-time Olympian, with his friend and training partner at the top of the heap. With Dos Santos a two-time loser to Cain, that leaves Werdum and Browne to battle it out in April for the next shot at the belt. Miocic moved into the conversation with last month's win over Gabriel Gonzaga, and Overeem jumped back into the Top 10 (at the expense of Roy Nelson) with Saturday's win over Frank Mir.

Light Heavyweight

1. Jon Jones (19-1)

2. Alexander Gustafsson (15-2)

3. Rashad Evans (21-3-1)

4. Glover Teixeira (22-2)

5. Phil Davis (12-1, 1 NC)

6. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1)

7. Dan Henderson (29-11)

8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-5)

9. Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2)

10. Mauricio Rua (22-8)

The Cormier vs. Evans fight on Feb. 22 has No. 1 contender bout written all over it, except in the Swedish translation. Gustafsson takes on Jimi Manuwa next month, and given what he did in his first meeting with Jones, it's hard to imagine the UFC looking past him if he takes care of business. Then again, would Alexander still be assured of the title shot if it's not a rematch? What if Teixeira beats Jones in April? So many moving parts here. Among them: Mousasi is headed to middleweight, starting with a Feb. 15 bout with Lyoto Machida.


1. Chris Weidman (11-0)

2. Anderson Silva (33-6)

3. Vitor Belfort (23-10)

4. Ronaldo Souza (19-3, 1 NC)

5. Lyoto Machida (20-4)

6. Michael Bisping (24-5)

7. Luke Rockhold (11-2)

8. Yushin Okami (29-8)

9. Tim Kennedy (17-4)

10. Mark Muñoz (13-4)

With Weidman vs. Belfort set for Memorial Day weekend, and with Silva out of the picture for at least many months and perhaps forever, the jostling for position begins. The UFC Fight Night card in Brazil on Feb. 15 features a couple of bouts that will boost one or two contenders toward the top of the heap. There's Machida vs. Mousasi, of course, and also Souza vs. Francis Carmont. Either of the two Brazilians could find himself in a title bout with a win this month. If both are impressive, maybe they do a little rock-paper-scissors to see who gets the shot.


1. Johny Hendricks (15-2)

2. Carlos Condit (29-7)

3. Martin Kampmann (20-7)

4. Rory MacDonald (15-2)

5. Robbie Lawler (22-9, 1 NC)

6. Jake Shields (29-6-1, 1 NC)

7. Demian Maia (18-5)

8. Ben Askren (12-0)

9. Matt Brown (18-11)

10. Jake Ellenberger (29-7)

We're still getting grousing e-mails about Lawler, who next month will face Hendricks for the UFC title vacated by Georges "Gone Fishin'" St-Pierre, being still ranked below MacDonald, whom he beat back in November. I don't want to reiterate the reasoning again, so I'll just say this is the last time we'll concern ourselves with that. On Feb. 22, it'll be put up or shut up for MacDonald when he faces Maia. So check back in a month.


1. Anthony Pettis (17-2)

2. Benson Henderson (20-3)

3. Gilbert Melendez (22-3)

4. T.J. Grant (21-5)

5. Josh Thomson (20-6, 1 NC)

6. Khabib Nurmagomedov (21-0)

7. Nate Diaz (17-9)

8. Eddie Alvarez (25-3)

9. Michael Chandler (12-1)

10. Pat Healy (29-17, 1 NC)

Whether or not you agree with the two judges who scored Benson Henderson vs. Josh Thomson for Henderson a couple of weeks ago, you cannot deny that it was a tight contest. So while the "L" might have demoralized Thomson, it diminishes his standing in the 155-pound division not a bit. Same for Henderson ... sort of. He remains at No. 2, but with a pair of losses to Pettis, he's not going to be getting an opportunity to climb back to the top anytime soon. Nor is anyone else in the division getting a shot at the belt in the short-term, as the UFC is putting together a fight between Pettis and featherweight champ José Aldo. It's not a superfight on the order of Anderson Silva vs. either Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre, but it'll still be a shot in the arm for the star-starved promotion.


1. José Aldo (24-1)

2. Chad Mendes (16-1)

3. Frankie Edgar (16-4-1)

4. Ricardo Lamas (13-3)

5. Cub Swanson (20-5)

6. Chan Sung Jung (13-4)

7. Dustin Poirier (15-3)

8. Daniel Straus (22-4)

9. Nik Lentz (24-6-2, 1 NC)

10. Pat Curran (19-5)

If the Pettis superfight happens -- and why shouldn't it, with both fighters and the UFC on board? -- it'll create a super opportunity for the rest of the athletes on the above list. Or even for someone not on it. B.J. Penn, who's been a champion at both lightweight and welterweight, could very well earn himself a shot at supremacy in a third division if he beats Edgar after the two are finished coaching a season of The Ultimate Fighter. Of course, Frankie has beaten B.J. twice, so maybe the ex-155-pound champ will be the one who earns a shot at the 145-pound strap.


1. Renan Barão (32-1, 1 NC)

2. Urijah Faber (30-7)

3. Michael McDonald (16-3)

4. Eddie Wineland (21-9-1)

5. Raphael Assunção (21-4)

6. Brad Pickett (23-8)

7. Bibianio Fernandes (15-3)

8. T.J. Dillashaw (9-2)

9. Takeya Mizugaki (18-7-2)

10. Eduardo Dantas (15-3)

Who loses and still moves up in the rankings? Faber does. He was whipped by Barão last weekend, but prior to that he had proven himself to be better than those below him. He moves up one spot because former champion Dominick Cruz is dropping out of the rankings, having been inactive for over two years. (Henceforth, we'll drop anyone who's not fought in a year.) Cruz's loss is an even bigger gain for Team Alpha Male, because Faber's training partner, Dillashaw, grabs the available spot on our list.


1. Demetrious Johnson (19-2-1)

2. Joseph Benavidez (19-4)

3. Ian McCall (12-4-1)

4. John Dodson (15-6)

5. John Moraga (13-2)

6. Ali Bagautinov (13-2)

7. John Lineker (23-7)

7. Jussier da Silva (15-3)

9. Zach Makowsky (17-4)

10. Scott Jorgensen (14-8)

Lineker appeared primed for a title shot if only he could get past Bagautinov over the weekend. He didn't, and that saved the UFC from a tough decision. Lineker had been winning and winning, but at the same time missing weight and missing weight -- in four of his last six fights. The fourth failure was last Saturday, and you can imagine the sigh of relief that came from the UFC brass when the Brazilian lost to Bagautinov. Will that be enough to boost the Russian into a title shot, considering that Johnson already has beaten all those ranked above Bagautinov?


1. Ronda Rousey (8-0)

2. Cristiane Justino (12-1, 1 NC)

3. Cat Zingano (8-0)

4. Sara McMann (7-0)

5. Miesha Tate (13-5)

6. Jessica Eye (10-1, 1 NC)

7. Sarah Kaufman (16-2, 1 NC)

8. Alexis Davis (15-5)

9. Liz Carmouche (9-4)

10. Jessica Aguilar (15-4)

The Sochi Olympics are nearly upon us, and so are the Las Vegas Olympics. That's a one-event competition Feb. 22 at the Mandalay Bay: the main event of UFC 170 between Rousey, the UFC champ and a 2008 bronze medalist in judo, and McMann, a silver medalist in wrestling at the 2004 Games. Nice timing by Dana White & Co.

Pound for pound

1. Jon Jones

2. José Aldo

3. Cain Velasquez

4. Chris Weidman

5. Demetrious Johnson

6. Renan Barão

7. Ronda Rousey

8. Anthony Pettis

9. Anderson Silva

10. Johny Hendricks

Last month Georges St-Pierre disappears and Anderson Silva falls. This month Dominick Cruz is gonzo. Barão rises. Hendricks shows up. The top of the sport is experiencing a changing of the guard.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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