May 03, 2011

If you're one of those fans who live for the TV sportscast highlight reels -- reverse dunks and upper-deck homers and 60-yard bombs to in-stride receivers -- Georges St-Pierre is not the mixed martial artist for you. You'll find much more satisfaction in watching Anderson Silva, who has put exclamation points on three of his past four fights with sudden and spectacular finishes.

But despite his stunning front-kick knockout of Vitor Belfort in February for his 14th straight victory, a lingering image of Silva -- one that jumps to mind especially when it's time to rank "The Spider" among the other top predators in his sport -- is of him being beaten to the punch, dragged to the mat and neutralized by Chael Sonnen for practically their whole fight last August before pulling off an astonishing submission with less than two minutes left in the fifth round. That night Silva retained what Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer likes to trumpet as "the undisputed UFC middleweight championship of the world." He did not, however, generate indisputable evidence that he was the better man in the cage, much less the best on the globe.

No one has manhandled St-Pierre like that. On Saturday, he faced a guy on a winning streak even longer than Silva's, a fighter who is among the sport's most dangerous jiu-jitsu practitioners. But Jake Shields, a naturally bigger man who before coming to the UFC was the Strikeforce middleweight champ, was unable to get GSP to the canvas, which is where he needed the fight to be in order to show off his submission virtuosity. In 25 minutes of fighting, he did not endanger the welterweight champ for even a second. (Don't feel bad, Jake. No one has put the dynamic Montrealer in a bad position since Matt Serra landed a shot that put him on his back four years ago.)

St-Pierre's unanimous-decision victory did not exactly stir up the UFC-record crowd of 55,000 very stir-up-able onlookers who filled the Rogers Centre in Toronto. There were no exclamation points in reports describing his workmanlike performance at the big ballpark in his home country. But excitement is UFC poobah Dana White's concern as fight promoter, not GSP's worry. As a fighter, his job is to win. And once again he did so with craft and composure. And with just one eye, apparently, after a Shields punch left the champ with blurred vision in his left eye from the second round on.

Maybe that's where the exclamation point should go: Georges St-Pierre successfully defended his title by winning his ninth straight fight, and 15th in his last 16 bouts, controlling and beating up Jake Shields while fighting ... With! One! Eye!

That's the kind of dominance that earns you acclaim -- and occasionally even exclaim -- as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

1. Cain Velasquez (9-0)

2. Alistair Overeem (34-11)

3. Junior dos Santos (12-1)

Nothing has changed since last month for the big boys. Velasquez is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, although the one bit of news is that, according to White, he "probably" will return at UFC 136 in Houston on Oct. 8, nearly a year from when Velasquez took the belt from Brock Lesnar. Overeem has been off since New Year's Eve, thanks to a delay in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, and will next fight June 18 vs. Fabricio Werdum. One week before that, on the 11th, dos Santos will face Lesnar, his dance partner in The Ultimate Fighter reality show, with the winner getting the autumn shot at Velasquez. But for now, the beefy guys are sitting still.

1. Jon Jones (13-1)

2. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)

3. Dan Henderson (27-8)

That sunburn on my face is from all the heat I took last month for ranking 40-year-old Henderson in this division's top three. Well, the Strikeforce champ is not going anywhere. Not yet, anyway. Lyoto Machida deserves consideration for his remarkable jumping front kick finish of Randy Couture on Saturday. "The Dragon" was thoroughly in control from the deafening lovefest introductions to the "Wow!" moment when he sent Couture off to Hollywood with a revival showing of The Karate Kid. But let's see Machida do it against someone of his own era before we open the velvet rope and allow him to elbow his way in front of Henderson and Evans. Did age finally catch up to Couture, or is Machida truly back to the form that made him seem unbeatable before Mauricio "Shogun" Rua showed it was not so?

1. Anderson Silva (27-4)

2. Chael Sonnen (25-11-1)

3. Yushin Okami (26-5)

The only thing that's new here is that Okami, whose nickname should be "The Patient Man," finally has been granted his shot at Silva's title. The judoka, the last man to own a victory over the champ (via disqualification, back in 2006, in a different promotion), will go for the belt at UFC 134 on Aug. 27 in Rio de Janeiro. That means the salivating masses will have to wait a while for the only MMA fight that matters, Silva vs. St-Pierre, which took center stage in recent weeks even as GSP was preparing for the Shields fight. That so-called superfight might actually spend considerable time on the back burner, because right around the time Silva is trying to take care of business in front of his home fans in Brazil, Sonnen should be ready to return from the oblivion of drug suspension and a felony conviction for money laundering.

1. Georges St-Pierre (22-2)

2. Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 1 NC)

3. Nick Diaz (25-7, 1 NC)

Is St-Pierre up for a double dip of Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu? No sooner had he had his hand raised and his belt wrapped back around his waist following Saturday's win over Shields when talk began of GSP possibly taking on Jake's teammate, Nick Diaz, who earlier in the month put on a thrilling performance against Paul Daley in a successful defense of his Strikeforce title. If this tantalizing fight happens, it could spark a succession of unification bouts between UFC and Strikeforce champs. But we can think about that big-picture scenario later. For now, I want to devote all of my mental energy to pondering how St-Pierre and Diaz would go at each other.

St-Pierre always attacks an opponent's weakness, while Diaz prefers to test himself against a foe's strength. But both of these fighters are so well-rounded that it's hard to ascertain areas of vulnerability. St-Pierre surely could score takedowns at will, but does he really want to fight Diaz on the mat? Would Diaz prefer that to standing and trading? Diaz isn't the first human being who comes to mind when you hear the term "chess match," but he and St-Pierre surely would throw a lot of grandmaster moves at each other along the way to determining who'll be the last king standing.

1. Frankie Edgar (13-1-1)

2. Gray Maynard (10-0-1, 1 NC)

3. Gilbert Melendez (19-2)

While Edgar and Maynard continue to sigh resignedly at the mere mention of each other's names while preparing for their third meeting, on May 28 in Las Vegas, Melendez just keeps revving up on his march forward, stampeding all in his path. Earlier this month, the Strikeforce belt holder viciously TKO'd Tatsuya Kawajiri in the first round, then declared himself ready to unify the Strkieforce and UFC titles. He'll have to wait at least until Edgar and Maynard settle matters, and also maybe until after Jim Miller and Anthony Pettis have taken their shots as well. For someone as explosive as Melendez, it can't be easy to sit back and wait patiently.

1. Jose Aldo (19-1)

2. Hatsu Hioki (24-4-2)

3. Mark Hominick (20-9)

What did Manny Gamburyan do wrong to drop from No. 2 to Number Nowhere? Well, he did nothing. Thanks to a back injury, he hasn't fought since last September, when he was handled rather easily by Aldo. There was no shame in that; everyone we'd seen in the cage with the destructive Brazilian to that point had looked to be in over his head. But that's no longer the case.

On Saturday, Hominick put up the kind of fight against Aldo that, even in a loss, has propelled him into these rankings. He could very well have jumped right in at No. 2, if not for two long-ago losses to Hioki, who just keeps rolling along in Japan. After submitting King of the Cage champ Donald Sanchez on Friday in Tokyo, the Shooto and Sengoku champ has lost just once in his last 14 bouts.

Next up for Aldo, according to White, might be 10-0 Chad Mendes. Sitting in the wings: Former lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian makes his featherweight debut June 11 against 16-1 Diego Nunes.

1. Dominick Cruz (17-1)

2. Urijah Faber (25-4)

3. Joseph Benavidez (14-2)

We have to wait until July before seeing Cruz vs. Faber II? That's sure a lot of circling before squaring off.

1. Georges St-Pierre

2. Anderson Silva

3. Cain Velasquez

What more is there to say about Silva vs. St-Pierre, except to point out that the matchup we're talking about here is not their possible future cage clash but their less tangible but more immediate battle to determine who is more dominant in his weight class? Both are at the top of the heap, no question, with an argument to be made for each to be The Man.

Of course, neither is The Baddest Man on the Planet, a distinction reserved for the heavyweight champ. And while I've heard some grumbling from folks opposed to seeing the big guys in the pound-for-pound picture, I'm fine with it when a fighter is as dominant in his division as Velasquez has been. So with last month's No. 3, Aldo, looking not so indestructible Saturday, there's room for someone to move up. It was between Velasquez and Jon Jones, and because he's been mowing everyone down for a little longer than "Bones" has, Cain gets the spot.

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