July 25, 2014

Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen

It stands to logic that winning, and then winning some more, will elevate you in the pecking order. That goes for all sports, really, not just mixed martial arts. But there are other ways to earn yourself acknowledgment as being among the crème de la crème.

Bisping showed off his strength and grit in going three rugged rounds with Chael Sonnen in the co-main event of last Saturday night's UFC on Fox 2 event in Chicago. "The Count" lost the bout by unanimous decision, but in the process he won lots of admirers, many of whom thought he should have been given the judges' nod. Even with the defeat, the Brit did enough to deserve a spot in February's middleweight Top 3.

Henderson gets his chance to solidify his lightweight standing later this month, when he challenges Frankie Edgar for the UFC title at UFC 144. But even while he's been busy preparing for that Feb. 26 bout in the Tokyo suburbs, the former WEC champion has seen his reputation get a boost. It happened a couple of weeks ago, when Jim Miller withstood the best that Melvin Guillard could dish out, then choked out the feisty fighter from the bayou in the main event of a UFC on FX event in Nashville, Tenn. Miller had been on a seven-fight winning streak and was angling for a title shot himself before he was derailed by Henderson last summer. Miller's quick dismantling of Guillard only underlines the impressiveness of that Henderson victory.

What did Vitor Belfort (middleweight) and Gilbert Melendez (lightweight) do to deserve being bumped from their weight classes' Top 3s? Nothing, really. As Curly Howard might say, they're victims of "soicumstance." Someone else just put on an eye-opening performance … or someone else's victim did.

Heavyweight

1. Junior dos Santos (14-1)

2. Cain Velasquez (9-1)

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

Get used to seeing this trio of big guys. They're not moving, and you can't make them. Dos Santos won't be defending his UFC championship until his knee injury heals, and Overeem will patiently wait for the title shot he earned with his Dec. 30 smashing of Brock Lesnar. As for Velasquez, he has no dance partner and could be idle for a while until the UFC rustles up a worthy fight for the ex-champ.

Light Heavyweight

1. Jon Jones (14-1)

2. Dan Henderson (29-8)

3. Rashad Evans (17-1-1)

Finally, we have Jones vs. Evans. Finally! The showdown of training partners-turned-bitter rivals will happen April 21 at UFC 145 in Atlanta, set up by Evans' dominant win over Phil Davis in last weekend's UFC on Fox 2 main event. Henderson is likely next for the survivor of that grudge match, so we're left to hope that the two sworn enemies don't beat each other up so badly that they both end up on the shelf. At age 41, "Hendo" can't wait forever.

Middleweight

1. Anderson Silva (31-4)

2. Chael Sonnen (27-11-1)

3. Michael Bisping (22-4)

Sonnen might not believe it (or maybe it's just that he wants us to believe he doesn't believe it), but he will finally get his rematch with Silva this summer. Sonnen secured another UFC title shot with his win last weekend over Bisping, who as a consolation prize secured the No. 3 spot in these rankings. Why does he deserve to be there instead of the previous occupant, Vitor Belfort? Well, I don't think the Brazilian could handle Sonnen the way Bisping did. It's a judgment call, of course, and Mark Muñoz or Yushin Okami should be in the conversation, too.

Welterweight

1. Georges St-Pierre (22-2)

2. Nick Diaz (26-7, 1 NC)

3. Carlos Condit (27-5)

St-Pierre is a bit too worked up over Diaz. The UFC champ seems obsessed with the abrasive ex-Strikeforce belt holder. One danger with that: even in the best-case scenario, GSP won't be fully healed from his knee surgery until late summer or fall, and that's a long time to carry animosity without it either taxing or distracting you. The other danger: if Condit beats Diaz in the main event of Saturday night's UFC 143, St-Pierre might have a hard time refocusing. Time will tell.

Lightweight

1. Frankie Edgar (14-1-1)

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

3. Ben Henderson (15-2)

Sorry, Gil. Melendez had been ranked in the Top 3 forever, and did nothing to warrant being bumped. But as I mentioned above, watching Jim Miller dismantle Melvin Guillard a couple of weeks ago only added to the awe I experienced at seeing Henderson beat Miller last August. We'll soon see what he can do against Edgar. As for Melendez, he needs … something. Maybe a UFC stalwart (Gray Maynard?) to challenge for his Strikeforce title. Or maybe a move to the big show himself.

Featherweight

1. José Aldo (21-1)

2. Chad Mendes (11-1)

3. Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2)

Mendes was dominated and then vanquished by Aldo in the first round last month; yet he stays right where he is in the rankings. One reason is he lost to a guy who looks unbeatable. Another reason is that no one else appears to be qualified — or at least ready — to step up. Hioki must show more against Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144 than he did in his UFC debut (split-decision win over George Roop in October). Maybe Dustin Poirier, who fights Max Holloway this weekend at UFC 143, has what it takes. Or maybe Erik Koch, who was Poirier's original opponent before being injured. Or Diego Nunes. Those are future challengers. For now, Mendes remains.

Bantamweight

1. Dominick Cruz (19-1)

2. Urijah Faber (26-5)

3. Joseph Benavidez (15-2)

Cruz and Faber will begin a season of The Ultimate Fighter next month, with that coaching gig leading to a rubber match down the road for the UFC belt worn by "The Dominator." Cruz handled Urijah with relative comfort last July, but when they met for Faber's WEC featherweight belt back in 2007, "The California Kid" made quick work of Dominick. So a third fight makes sense. It might be the only bantam title bout that makes sense at this point. Benavidez soon will disappear from this Top 3, as he'll be part of the tournament to determine the first UFC flyweight (125-pound) champion. Then what?

Pound for pound

1. Anderson Silva

2. Jon Jones

3. George St-Pierre

Last month, Jones leapfrogged over St-Pierre in this most subjective of all subjective pecking orders. What will it take for him to climb to No. 1? Well, if he beats Evans in April, that'd be four champions or ex-champs vanquished in a little over a year. Impressive. But Silva soon will be on a stage from which he can impress, too, as Chael Sonnen's win over Michael Bisping last weekend sets up a rematch of a fight Silva won but, because Sonnen dominated the action for most of the way, the champ still might be compelled to avenge as if it were a loss.

Article by Jeff Wagenheim

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