It's like a Where's Waldo puzzle, this month's set of MMA rankings. Everything is exactly as we left it last month, except for a single new addition. Can you spot the one fighter who's moved into one weight division's Top 3? Care to take a guess as to where's Vitor? Oops, I guess I sort of gave it away.
The status quo doesn't have long for the SI.com rankings, though. Consider all of the UFC champions who'll be in action over the next couple of months:
In September, the light heavyweight championship will be on the line.
October will see bouts for the bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight belts.
A heavyweight title fight will be among the highlights for November.
So if you're a proponent of change, wait a few months. Six of the UFC's seven champions will be defending their belts this autumn. (What gives, Anderson Silva? Oh yeah, you defended your middleweight belt just last weekend -- and in so doing secured the top spot in the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings.) And while these aren't strictly UFC rankings, every No. 1 spot is occupied by a member of the Dana White Athletic Club.
All in all, more than half of the fighters listed below are scheduled to fight before December. And more might take on bouts soon.
So enjoy some peaceful stillness while we have it. And strap yourself in for an eventful, possibly volatile few months to come.
The Top 3 remains intact, although perhaps not for long. After more than a year on the shelf recovering from a torn rotator cuff, Velasquez finally defends his UFC belt against Dos Santos in November. So something will shift then. And if by that time Overeem hasn't signed to fight a credible opponent, he'll likely be saying goodbye.
Who'll fill the chasm? Brock Lesnar is out indefinitely, and Shane Carwin and Fabricio Werdum are coming off decisive losses. Maybe Frank Mir will step up, or perhaps this will be an opportunity for the survivor of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. One name you probably thought you'd never again hear mentioned in a discussion of contenders is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but his stunning TKO of Brendan Schaub last Saturday suggests that the 35-year-old "Big Nog" might have one last run in him. A run to the Top 3, though? Probably not.
Quinton Jackson no doubt believes what many readers have written to me to insist: that "Rampage" deserves to be in the Top 3. This month he gets to prove it, when he faces "Bones" Jones at UFC 135 on Sept. 24. A Jackson win would throw this division wide open, as one ex-champ, "Suga" Rashad, fortified his place at No. 2 with his beatdown of long-ago belt holder Tito Ortiz last month, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua walloped Forrest Griffin on Saturday night to show he's fit and ready to make a run at the belt he lost to Jones last March. Then there's Lyoto Machida, another former belt holder, last seen front-kicking Randy Couture into retirement. And don't forget Phil Davis, still undefeated, still on the rise. Stay tuned.
Is it really fair to drop Yushin Okami out of the No. 3 slot for being beaten by Silva? I mean, who
The UFC would probably give the nod to Brian Stann, since he faces Sonnen in a No. 1 contenders showdown next month. But I think it comes down to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, the Strikeforce champion, and Vitor Belfort. Setting credentials aside and using my primitive criterion -- who's the better fighter? -- I'm going to go with "The Phenom." We could use more evidence than Belfort's second stint in the UFC has given us, but so far he's been explosive (when he's not getting kicked in the face).
This three-man honor roll is a kind of Mini Me of the heavyweight Top 3, although in this case No. 1 is about to face No. 3, with No. 2 being the one left looking for a fight. Diaz is as well-rounded a challenger as St-Pierre has seen since maybe B.J. Penn, and Nick isn't merely a 155-pounder off his diet. But is he as good as Jake Shields, whom GSP handled? And if Diaz isn't as good, why is he in the Top 3 and Shields not? But as with the heavies, there are a bunch of other names in the welterweight picture: Penn, of course, and his opponent at next Month's UFC 137, Carlos Condit, plus Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks, even Rick Story. And how long will it be before we're giving Rory MacDonald the "Bones" Jones prodigy treatment?
While waiting for Edgar-Maynard III to finally settle matters at UFC 136 on Oct. 8, let's contemplate the future of No. 3. Melendez has set down roots there these last several months, securing his spot on the strength of his last performance, a dominant victory over Tatsuya Kawajiri back in April. But is Kawajiri that good? Same question for Jorge Masvidal, reportedly Gil's next opponent? For months, I was tempted to move up the feisty Jim Miller. Well, guess whom I'm bullish on now: Ben Henderson, who put a beating on Miller last month. Make room, people.
As I wrote in this space last month, "October 8 is a big night for little guys." I'll try to remember to quote that in next month's rankings story, too. I was referring to the night of UFC 136, the fight card headlined by Edgar-Maynard III. In addition, Aldo defends his belt against Florian, who has been in this position before ... twice. (As a lightweight, he lost title fights to Sean Sherk in 2006 and B.J. Penn in 2009.) Waiting in the wings is Chad Mendes, who is undefeated and clearly eager to be truly tested.
Next up for Cruz is Demetrious Johnson in the main event of the UFC Live fights on Oct. 1. A championship bout on "free" TV? The UFC really wants to build the bantamweight brand as well as that of "The Dominator." If Cruz passes that test, what's left? A rematch with Faber or Benavidez? Maybe one of those old WWF-style handicap matches, pitting Dominick vs. Urijah