Rankings: GSP takes top spot
Editor’s note 5/20: Updated rankings will be posted by the end of the week.
You can follow Dave Doyle on Twitter at @yahoodoyle.
In the near-three-year history of the Yahoo! Sports poll of the top mixed martial arts reporters across North America, only three fighters have claimed the top spot: Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St. Pierre.
Few dispute that the trio comprise the world’s best fighters; most of the argument stems from which of the three deserves to be ranked No. 1.
For most of the past two years, that spot has belonged to Silva, the UFC middleweight champion. But his bizarre behavior in his April 10 title defense against Demian Maia marked the third time in the past four fights that Silva has been perceived to either be clowning or giving less than 100 percent effort in the cage.
Emelianenko, meanwhile, has an undeniable résumé. And when he’s in action, he provides fans with reminders of why many consider him the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
But after Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua meet on May 8, Emelianenko will have been out of action longer than everyone who received a vote in this month’s Top 10 – with the exception of UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, who missed several months with a well-documented illness. Emelianenko’s rumored next fight would be with Fabricio Werdum, a solid pro but hardly a world-beater. At this point, only Emelianenko’s most die-hard fans refuse to recognize that the long stretches of inaction and lack of matchups against elite competition have somewhat tarnished his reputation.
Which brings us back to St. Pierre. Since his upset UFC welterweight title loss to Matt Serra in 2007, he has been near-perfect. St. Pierre easily recaptured the title from Serra in 2008, just passed the two-year mark that unofficially marks MMA champions as “long-term,” and has won 25 consecutive rounds in the process.
St. Pierre gives his full effort every time he steps into the octagon, and he doesn’t showboat or demean his opponents. He doesn’t play games outside the cage either. You don’t see St. Pierre handpicking opponents, making outrageous promotional demands or withdrawing from action for long stretches for any reason other than injury.
So while St. Pierre might not command tabloid headlines, he provides MMA fans with everything that keeps them paying $50 for pay-per-view cards. And last month’s events – with Silva clowning and Fedor fiddling while Strikeforce burned – were enough to vault St. Pierre into the top spot. GSP finished first with 185 points (nine first-place votes), while Silva took second with 179 (seven) and Emelianenko stayed in third with 172 (four).
And that was just the tip of the iceberg on one of the most frantic months in recent memory. Jose Aldo jumped two spots, from four to six, on the strength of his impressive five-round display against Urijah Faber. Jake Shields entered the rankings at No. 7 after his one-sided win over Dan Henderson, a fight that dropped the latter out of the Top 10. And Frank Edgar is in at No. 8 after winning the UFC lightweight title from B.J. Penn in a hotly contested unanimous decision. Penn, for his part, dropped two spots to No. 6.
This month’s voting panel: Denny Burkholder, CBSSports.com; Elias Cepeda, Inside Fighting; Mike Chiappetta MMAFighting.com and Fight! Magazine; Steve Cofield, Cage Writer and ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas; Neil Davidson, Canadian Press, Dave Doyle Yahoo! Sports; Ben Fowlkes SportsIllustrated.com. and Cage Potato; Josh Gross SportsIllustrated.com; Ariel Helwani Versus.com and MMAFighting.com; Kevin Iole Yahoo! Sports; Damon Martin MMAWeekly.com; Todd Martin, freelance; John Morgan, MMAjunkie.com; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Brad McCray, freelance; Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports and The Wrestling Observer; Brett Okamoto, The Las Vegas Sun; Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com; Michael David Smith, MMAFighting.com; Dann Stupp MMAjunkie.com. and The Dayton Daily News.
Note: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has not fought in more than 12 months and as such is ineligible for consideration until after his next fight.
10. Dominick Cruz
Weight class: Bantamweight (WEC bantamweight champion)
Hometown: San Diego
Record: 15-1 (has won past six)
Last month’s ranking: 10
Most recent result: def. Brian Bowles, R3 TKO, March 6
Analysis: The WEC’s June card in Edmonton is expected to feature bantamweights, but Cruz might not be ready to go by that point.
9. Mauricio Rua
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 18-4 (lost previous fight)
Last month’s ranking: 7
Most recent result: lost to Lyoto Machida, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: If there are still any doubts that the “old” Rua is back, a second consecutive strong performance against Machida should dispel the doubts.
8. Frank Edgar
Affiliation: UFC (UFC lightweight champion)
Weight class: Lightweight
Hometown: Toms River, N.J.
Record: 12-1 (has won past four)
Last month’s ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. B.J. Penn, unanimous decision, April 10
Analysis: There have been numerous silly lines of MMA logic over the years , but few more than the notion Edgar belonged at featherweight. This is a guy who outwrestled Tyson Griffin and toyed with Sean Sherk, both larger fighters than Edgar. Edgar’s win over B.J. Penn was an upset, but he isn’t a fluke champion.
7. Jake Shields
Weight class: Welterweight/Middleweight (Strikeforce middleweight champion)
Hometown: San Francisco, Calif.
Record: 25-4-1 (has won past 14)
Last month’s ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. Dan Henderson, unanimous decision, April 17
Analysis: Dana White recently ranted about how, in his view, non-UFC fighters are overrated, but there’s no disputing Shields’ resume, which includes wins over Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler and now Henderson.
6. B.J. Penn
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii
Record: 15-6-1 (lost previous fight)
Last month’s ranking: 4
Most recent result: lost to Frank Edgar, unanimous decision, April 10
Analysis: Penn continues the curious trend of a former champion continuing to be ranked above the man who just defeated him.
5. Lyoto Machida
Weight class: Light heavyweight (UFC light heavyweight champion)
Hometown: Belem, Brazil
Record: 16-0 (has won past 16)
Last month’s ranking: 5
Most recent result: def. Mauricio Rua, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: Who will show up on May 8: the guy who tore through Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans? Or the “safe” fighter who came for the first “Shogun” fight?
4. Jose Aldo
Weight class: Featherweight (WEC featherweight champion)
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro
Record: 17-1 (has won past 10)
Last month’s ranking: 6
Most recent result: def. Urijah Faber, unanimous decision, April 24
Analysis: All you need to know about Aldo’s lethal stand-up game: In four years of covering major MMA fights from cageside, only twice have I been able to literally feel the impact of a fighter’s strikes. The first time was during Brock Lesnar’s win over Heath Herring. The other was in Aldo’s win over Faber on April 24. And Lesnar has about 120 pounds on Aldo.
3. Fedor Emelianenko
Points: 172 (4 first-place votes)
Affiliation: Strikeforce/M-1 (never lost PRIDE title)
Weight class: Heavyweight
Hometown: Stary Oskol, Russia
Record: 31-1, one no-contest (has won past 11)
Last month’s ranking: 3
Most recent result: def. Brett Rogers, R2 KO, Nov. 7
Analysis: Exactly one fight in 16 months and counting.
2. Anderson Silva
Points: 179 (7 first-place votes)
Weight class: Middleweight (UFC middleweight champion)
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 26-4 (has won past 11)
Last month’s ranking: 1
Most recent result: def. Demian Maia, unanimous decision, April 10
Analysis: No doubt his antics cost him the top spot, but there was no mass exodus away from Silva: Only one reporter on the poll has the UFC middleweight champ ranked lower than third.
1. Georges St. Pierre
Points: 185 (9 first-place votes)
Weight class: Welterweight (UFC welterweight champion)
Hometown: Saint-Isidore, Quebec
Record: 20-2 (has won past seven)
Last month’s ranking: 2 (tie)
Most recent result: def. Dan Hardy, unanimous decision, March 27
Analysis: That makes three fights and victories in 14 consecutive rounds for St. Pierre during the same span that Emelianenko’s handlers have kept him mostly out of competition. And none of Silva’s clowning either. That’s how you get the No. 1 spot in a three-horse race.
• Votes for others: Brock Lesnar 16; Jon Fitch 12; Shane Carwin 11; Rashad Evans 6; Cain Velasquez 4; Gilbert Melendez, Jon Jones 3; Ben Henderson, Dan Henderson, Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz 2; Joseph Benavidez 1.
• Upcoming matches for Top 10 fighters: No 5 Lyoto Machida vs. No. 9 Mauricio Rua, May 8