by Ken Pishna
Aah, the mythical MMA Pound 4 Pound title. It’s long been the topic of heated debate; especially since weight classes were added. Does the title mean anything really? No, there is no pound for pound weight class… well, expect for the one that BJ Penn seems to be attempting to forge for himself. In reality, this mythical ranking is just that, as well as a self-indulgent bit of fodder for those of us that consider ourselves the MMA hardcores.
With that said, let the indulgence begin… here are my self-important top Pound 4 Pound fighters in the world:
1) Fedor Emelianenko (22-1-0-1)
Fedor has been at the top of my Pound 4 Pound ranking for some time now and quite deservedly so. It’s difficult to argue against a 22-1-0-1 record; especially when that one loss was nearly five years ago. Pride is often accused of feeding tomato cans to build a fighter’s record, but that can’t be farther from the truth with Fedor. Amongst his victories are Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman, Gary Goodridge, Semmy Schilt, Heath Herring, Mark Coleman, Antonio Nogueira (twice), and most recently Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. If that isn’t a who’s who list, then there isn’t one.
It has often been said that styles make fights, but in today’s MMA, the best of the best adapt their game to counter the style of their opponent and Fedor is the master. He stymied Nogueira’s submissions with a brutal ground and pound attack in their first meeting and when Nog went to work on his striking game, Fedor outboxed him. Amazingly against Cro Cop, Fedor morphed once again. This time providing the ultimate defense against the uber-striker and then outstriking him later in the fight. The question now is: man or machine? The answer is obviously machine.
2) Matt Hughes (36-4)
With a career that has been nothing short of legendary since he entered the UFC, Matt Hughes has steadily earned his climb as one of the top Pound 4 Pound fighters in the world. In his 40 bouts, he has only lost to Dennis Hallman (twice), Jose Pele Landi-Jons, and BJ Penn. But I think what really solidifies his ranking to me is the heart that he has shown, time and again. His slam-knockout of Carlos Newton as he was being choked unconscious, his arm bar of rising star Georges St. Pierre, and most amazingly his comeback after being knocked silly in his last bout with Frank Trigg; the latter of which I rank as one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history, if not sports history.
His strengths and weaknesses as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter can be argued to world’s end for all I care, but I doubt anyone can mount much of a worthy denial of his place in the P4P rankings.
3) Chuck Liddell (17-3)
Yeah, the Iceman lost 2 out of 3 fights in 2003, but those two opponents were Randy Couture and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, arguably at their most recent peaks in performance. Consider this, in his last eight bouts – including those against Couture and Jackson – Liddell is 6-2 with all six wins by knockout. That is pretty impressive for anyone, but especially considering the opposition that he has faced. Those wins included Babalu Sobral, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz, Vernon “Tiger” White, and avenging losses to both Couture and most recently, Jeremy Horn.
Liddell’s last two victories were particularly impressive. Against Couture, he showed how he could adapt his game to overcome the strengths that Couture displayed in their first fight. In his revenge on Horn, Liddell displayed a level of maturity we’ve not seen in him before as he never rushed the pace of the fight and avoided any opportunity for Horn to work his game plan.
4) Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira (25-3-1)
Nogueira just can’t seem to get over the Fedor hurdle, but that is about his only stumbling block in recent years. Prior to his run-ins with the current Pride Heavyweight Champion (Nog was the first), the only blemish on Nog’s record was a split decision loss to Dan Henderson in 2000, which he avenged by submission in 2002. In fact, both of his losses to Fedor were also by decision. Nogueira has never been finished in a fight.
Outside of his troubles with Fedor, he has racked up victories over Sergei Kharitonov, Heath Herring (twice), Cro Cop, Bob Sapp, Semmy Schilt, and more. Nogueira is one of the slickest submission fighters in the heavyweight division and has honed his striking game to a fine edge as well. Outside of Fedor, it’s hard to argue that he stands at the top of the heavyweights.
5) Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (9-2-1)
After his performance in this year’s Pride Grand Prix, how can Shogun not be in the top five? Since his loss to Babalu in the IFC Light Heavyweight tournament two years ago, he has rattled off eight consecutive victories with seven of them by knockout.
Prior to the Grand Prix, Shogun was maybe working in the direction of the P4P list, but knocking off Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona inside of four months propelled him into the rankings without denial.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR:
Rich Franklin, Yves Edwards, Takanori Gomi, and Wanderlei Silva.