As 2009 comes to a close, it's clear that the mixed martial arts world consists of two groups of fighters: The trio of Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko; and everyone else.
The world's three best fighters have monopolized the top of the Yahoo! Sports Top 10 for the past two years. Combined, they've won their past 28 matches, including a 6-0 record in 2009.
Silva had the top spot in the poll all to himself from January 2008-January 2009. Then Emelianenko, the world's best heavyweight, knocked out Andrei Arlovski in spectacular fashion on Jan. 24, and Silva and Emelianenko spent the next three months tied for No. 1. After Silva's stinker of a unanimous decision win over Thales Leites in April, Emelianenko and St. Pierre, the UFC welterweight champ, spent the next two months in a first-place tie. St. Pierre took the lead in July after his five-round thrashing of Thiago Alves; only to have Silva knock out Forrest Griffin in August and re-take the top slot, a position he's held ever since.
So it should come as little surprise that Silva, St. Pierre and Emelianenko finished 1-2-3 for the second straight year in the cumulative 2009 Yahoo! Sports poll. Using the same formula for the monthly poll's tabulation, with 10 points for a first-place finish; nine for a second; etc., Silva finished with 112.5 points, St. Pierre 106, and Emelianenko 103.5. (Ties split the difference between the two spots, so a first-place tie received 9.5 points each; second-place tie 8.5, etc.).
Rounding out the top 10 were Loyoto Machida (68 points); B.J. Penn (61.5); Miguel Angel Torres (61.5); Rashad Evans (30); Quinton Jackson (26); Mike Brown (25) and Jose Aldo (12). Silva, St. Pierre, Emelianenko, Machida, Penn and Torres were the only fighters ranked in the top 10 for each of the past 12 months.
Penn, meanwhile, appears to have a lock on the No. 4 spot after his one-sided win over Diego Sanchez on Dec. 12. While the UFC lightweight champ still pines for a third shot at St. Pierre, few doubt, at this point, the Hawaiian is the greatest 155-pound fighter ever. Since dropping down to 155 in 2007, Penn has won all five of his lightweight fights via stoppage and has rarely had to break a sweat in the process.
If Penn continues on his current path, the UFC may have no choice but to let him jump up in weight class again.
The Yahoo! Sports Top 10 poll features 21 top mixed martial arts reporters from leading sports web sites, newspapers, wire services and blogs. This month, we welcome four new reporters to the poll: Ariel Helwani of AOL Fanhouse and Versus.com; John Morgan of MMAjunkie.com; Brett Okamoto of the Las Vegas Sun; and Dann Stupp of MMAjunkie.com . For a list of this month's panel participants, go here.
10. Dan Henderson
Weight class: Middleweight/Light heavyweight
Hometown: Murrieta, Calif.
Record: 25-7 (won past three)
Last month's ranking: 10
Most recent result: def. Michael Bisping, R2 KO, July 11
Analysis: A rumored Strikeforce debut against Jake Shields in April will serve more as a test of whether Shields is truly an elite fighter.
9. Miguel Angel Torres
Weight class: Bantamweight
Hometown: East Chicago, Ind.
Record: 36-2 (lost last one)
Last month's ranking: 8
Most recent result: lost to Brian Bowles, R1 TKO, Aug. 9
Analysis: Gets back into the cage on March 6 against a TBD opponent.
8. Brian Bowles
Weight class: Bantamweight (WEC bantamweight champion)
Hometown: Athens, Ga.
Last month's ranking: 9
Most recent result: def. Miguel Torres, R1 TKO, Aug. 9
Analysis: Has to get through a March 6 defense against Dominic Cruz before we get to see the Torres rematch.
7. Mauricio Rua
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 18-4 (lost last one)
Last month's ranking: T7
Most recent result: lost to Lyoto Machida, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: Biding him time until he gets his second shot at "The Dragon."
6. Jose Aldo
Weight class: Featherweight (WEC featherweight champion)
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Record: 16-1 (won last nine)
Last month's ranking: 6
Most recent result: def. Mike Brown, R2 TKO, Nov. 18
Analysis: All you need to know about Aldo is that the featherweight is already being talked about as the man who might be the one who gives Penn a match at lightweight.
5. Lyoto Machida
Weight class: Light heavyweight (UFC light heavyweight champion)
Hometown: Belem, Brazil
Record: 16-0 (won last 16)
Last month's ranking: 5
Most recent result: def. Mauricio Rua, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: Healing a hand injury before he begins training for Rua.
4. B.J. Penn
Points: 149 (one first-place vote)
Weight class: Lightweight (UFC lightweight champion)
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii
Record: 15-5-1 (won last two)
Last month's ranking: 4
Most recent result: def. Diego Sanchez, R5 TKO, Dec. 12
Analysis: Thanks for playing, Diego. Next …
3. Fedor Emelianenko
Points: 182 (six first-place votes)
Affiliation: Strikeforce/M-1 (never lost PRIDE title)
Weight class: Heavyweight
Hometown: Stary Oskol, Russia
Record: 31-1, one no-contest (won last 11)
Last month's ranking: 3
Most recent result: def. Brett Rogers, R2 KO, Nov. 7
Analysis: If Emelianenko really is fighting Fabricio Werdum in April as is rumored, expect Werdum's KO loss to Junior dos Santos to be aired on Spike TV approximately 12,455,201 times.
2. Georges St. Pierre
Points: 185 (four first-place votes)
Weight class: Welterweight (UFC welterweight champion)
Hometown: Saint-Isidore, Quebec
Record: 19-2 (won last six)
Last month's ranking: 2
Most recent result: def. Thiago Alves, unanimous decision, July 11
Analysis: Here's guessing that even if Dan Hardy isn't considered a threat to beat St. Pierre, come March 27, people will buy UFC 11 just because they want to see someone shut Hardy's mouth.
1. Anderson Silva
Points: 196 (10 first-place votes)
Weight class: Middleweight (UFC middleweight champion)
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 24-4 (won last 10)
Last month's ranking: 1
Most recent result: def. Forrest Griffin, R1 KO, Aug. 8
Analysis: Silva says his elbow is healing nicely. Which means next week his agent will probably say he's suffered a setback. And on it goes.
• Votes for others: Gegard Mousasi 18; Brock Lesnar 15; Rashad Evans 10; Urijah Faber 8; Quinton Jackson, Mike Brown 5; Jon Fitch, Shinya Aoki 4; Kenny Florian, Jake Shields 2.
• Upcoming matches for ranked fighters: None in January.