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Rankings: Jones' stunning rise in 2011

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At this time last year, Jon Jones was considered a bright prospect, but one who still had a ways to go before he could be considered a truly elite fighter. In the December 2010 Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound Top 10 poll, Jones fell squarely in the "votes for others" category, with just four points.

Little did we know what 2011 would bring. Jones had what many have argued is the single finest year a UFC fighter has ever accomplished. Jones went 4-0 this year. He first defeated Ryan Bader in February, came back seven weeks later to capture the UFC light heavyweight title from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in a stunning beatdown, then followed with wins in September over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and in December over Lyoto Machida, both former champs.

With the submission victory over Machida, Jones has broken the chokehold that Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre have had on the Nos. 1 and 2 spots since 2009. Silva, the UFC middleweight champ, keeps the top spot with 199 points from this month's 20 voters. Jones takes second with 171, and welterweight champ St. Pierre, who was ranked No. 1 as recently as January, drops to No. 3.

Full vote breakdown: Silva had 19 first-place votes and one second; Jones had 1 first, 12 seconds, 5 thirds, 1 fourth and 1 fifth; St. Pierre 7 seconds, 12 thirds and 1 fourth.

Speaking solely for myself, I couldn't bring myself to put Jones ahead of Silva yet. Not when one considers Silva's body of work. Silva hasn't had a legitimate loss in seven years (not counting the 2006 DQ against Yushin Okami) and displayed men-among-boys skills in knocking out Vitor Belfort and Okami this year, showing he's as potent now as the night he destroyed Rich Franklin to claim the middleweight title five years ago.

But the clock is ticking. Silva will be 37 in April and will have to slow down eventually. Silva still might hold the No. 1 spot this time next year, but Jones has emerged as Silva's heir apparent and it seems a matter of time until he grabs the top spot, whether it be in 2012 or 2013.


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Henderson

10. Dan Henderson
Points: 21
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Hometown: Temecula, Calif.
Record: 29-8 (won past 4)
Last month's ranking: Unranked
Most recent result: Def. Mauricio Rua, unanimous decision, Nov. 19
Analysis:No fighter in this poll's four-plus years has fought his way back in after dropping out than Hendo, who's back after his win over Rua in one of the sport's all-time thrillers.

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Fitch

9. Jon Fitch
Points: 32
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Welterweight
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Record: 23-3-1, 1 no-contest (draw in previous fight)
Last month's ranking: 9
Most recent result: Majority draw vs. B.J. Penn, Feb. 21
Analysis: Finally ready for his return to the cage after a 10-month absence.

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Melendez

8. Gilbert Melendez
Points: 43
Affiliation: Strikeforce (lightweight champion)
Weight class: Lightweight
Hometown: San Francisco
Record: 20-2 (won past six)
Last month's ranking: 8
Most recent result: Def. Jorge Masvidal, unanimous decision, Dec. 17
Analysis: So much for the idea Melendez's standing would be hurt because he couldn't finish Masvidal: "El Nino" stayed in eighth and had two more points than last month.

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Dos Santos

7. Junior dos Santos
Points: 63
Affiliation: UFC (heavyweight champion)
Weight class: Heavyweight
Hometown: Salvador, Brazil
Record: 14-1 (won past nine)
Last month's ranking: 7
Most recent result: Def. Cain Velasquez, R1 KO, Nov. 12
Analysis: The new champ will be the most interested party at the Dec. 30 Brock Lesnar-Alistair Overeem bout.

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Cruz

6. Dominick Cruz
Points: 102
Affiliation: UFC (bantamweight champion)
Weight class: Bantamweight
Hometown: San Diego
Record: 18-1 (won past eight)
Last month's ranking: 6
Most recent result: Def. Demetrious Johnson, unanimous decision, Oct. 1
Analysis: A coaching stint opposite rival Urijah Faber on the next season of "The Ultimate Fighter" should make their hyped trilogy fight even bigger.

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Aldo

5. Jose Aldo
Points: 127
Affiliation: UFC (featherweight champion)
Weight class: Featherweight
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro
Record: 20-1 (won past 13)
Last month's ranking: 5
Most recent result: Def. Kenny Florian, unanimous decision, Oct. 8
Analysis: Will have a considerable home-court advantage when he defends his featherweight title against unbeaten Chad Mendes on Jan. 14.

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Edgar

4. Frankie Edgar
Points: 131
Affiliation: UFC (lightweight champion)
Weight class: Lightweight
Hometown: Toms River, N.J.
Record: 14-1-1 (won past one)
Last month's ranking: 4
Most recent result: Def. Gray Maynard, R4 KO, Oct. 8
Analysis: Faces a unique challenge in February when he meets Ben Henderson, a foe who isn't likely to be content to hang in the pocket and bang against Edgar the way B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard did.

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St. Pierre

3. Georges St. Pierre
Points: 166
Affiliation: UFC (welterweight champion)
Weight class: Welterweight
Hometown: Saint-Isidore, Quebec
Record: 22-2 (won past nine)
Last month's ranking: 2
Most recent result: Def. Jake Shields, unanimous decision, April 30
Analysis: Is it fair that GSP dropped without losing, and while he's laid up from knee surgery? No, but life isn't always fair.

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Jones

2. Jon Jones
Points: 171 (1 first-place vote)
Affiliation: UFC (light heavyweight champion)
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Hometown: Endicott, N.Y.
Record: 15-1 (won previous six)
Last month's ranking: 3
Most recent result: Def. Lyoto Machida, R2 submission, Dec. 10
Analysis: What can Jones possibly do for an encore to top his 2011?

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Silva

1. Anderson Silva
Points: 199 (19 first-place votes)
Affiliation: UFC (middleweight champion)
Weight class: Middleweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 31-4 (won past 15)
Last month's ranking: 1
Most recent result: Def. Yushin Okami, R2 TKO, Aug. 27
Analysis: Still recovering from a bout with shoulder bursitis.

• Votes for others: Rashad Evans 20, Nick Diaz 19, Gray Maynard 6, Mauricio Rua 4, Chael Sonnen 2, Ben Henderson 1, Joe Benavidez 1, Urijah Faber 1

This month's voting panel: Denny Burkholder, CBSSports.com; Elias Cepeda, Fight! Magazine; Mike Chiappetta MMAFighting.com and Fight! Magazine; Steve Cofield, Cagewriter and ESPN Radio 1100 Las Vegas; Neil Davidson The Canadian Press; Dave Doyle Yahoo! Sports; CTV Sportsnet;Ben Fowlkes, SportsIllustrated.com and MMAFighting.com; Josh Gross, ESPN.com; Ariel Helwani, Versus.com and MMAFighting.com; Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports; Damon Martin, MMAWeekly.com; Todd Martin, freelance; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Steven Marrocco, SportsIllustrated.com and MMAjunkie.com; Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports and The Wrestling Observer; John Morgan, MMAjunkie.com; Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com; Michael David Smith, MMAFighting.com; Mike Straka, Tapout TV; Dann Stupp, MMAjunkie.com and The Dayton Daily News;Jeff Wagenheim, SI.com.

Scoring: Ten points for a first-place vote, nine points for second, etc., down to one point for a 10th-place vote. Fighters under suspension for use of performance-enhancing substances or abuse of drugs are ineligible to be considered for the duration of their suspensions. Fighters who have been inactive for more than 12 months are ineligible for consideration until the completion of their next fight.

• Upcoming matches for ranked fighters: No. 9 Jon Fitch vs. Johny Hendricks, Dec. 30; No. 5 Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes, Jan. 14.

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