Is Anthony Pettis the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA today?

What a difference five months make. Well, in fact it hasn't made a huge difference at all. Of the nine fighters I originally ranked…

By: Kyle McLachlan | 9 years ago
Is Anthony Pettis the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA today?
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What a difference five months make.

Well, in fact it hasn’t made a huge difference at all.

Of the nine fighters I originally ranked based on their ‘pound-for-pound’ credentials, only five have fought in that time frame.

This was how my pound-for-pound rankings ended up last time, and I was actually surprised with a few of the final standings:

1. Jon Jones (146 points)

2. Cain Velasquez (140 points)

3. Jose Aldo (137 points)

4. Chris Weidman (112 points)

5. Ronda Rousey (111 points)

6. Demetrious Johnson (107 points)

7. Anthony Pettis (41 points)

8. T.J. Dillashaw (35 points)

9. Johny Hendricks (22 points)

As nine wasn’t a round figure by any means, and instead looked only at the champions of the time, this time I will look at those that have fought, as well as the next best in certain divisions, as a weighty resume in a stacked division can sometimes outweigh a decent championship run in a lesser one.

For those that never read my last attempt to qualify my rankings (and how dare you not have time to read through five thousand-odd words of pure rambling nonsense) I will not only link you to the previous installment, but reiterate the criteria I feel sets apart the very good from the great:

The Categories

I’ve assigned points to a number of categories in order to clarify my train of thought. Of course, what I deem important may not be important to you, so please comment after reading and chastise me for my opinions.

When taking the ranking of their opponent into account, I used the SB Nation/USA TODAY rankings, as the official UFC rankings can seem to change at times to facilitate marketing purposes. When the former does not have a ranking available for the time frame required, I go to the official UFC rankings.

Title fights: The UFC is generally regarded as the pinnacle promotion in MMA, and thus their champions are at the very top of their divisions. Proving your worth as a champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship is for many fighters what they strive for in their careers. At times, lesser-deserving challengers can get a title shot. Taking this into account, I have deemed 5 points for winning or defending a title a fair amount, with an extra 5 points if the opponent beaten was in the top 5 at the time of the fight. Maximum points per fight: 10.

Finishes in title fights: The added pressure of being in the main event with UFC gold on the line has made some fighters proceed with caution, content to get a win at the expense of taking risks in order to finish the fight. Taking into account the poise and skill it takes to finish a top-ranked opponent in such a high-pressure situation, 5 points will be dished out to fighters who can end the bout within five rounds, regardless of the ranking of their opponent. An additional 5 points will be given if the opponent was in the top five when finished. Maximum points per fight: 10.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: Fighting your way into contention for a UFC title is often like running headfirst into a wood chipper. Solid victories at this stage of a fighters career add to the depth of their resume. Beating a fighter ranked between 6-10 will garner 3 points. If the opponent was in the top 5, that will earn a further 5 points. If the win was inside the distance, a further 3 points are added. Maximum points per fight: 11.

Former champions defeated: Beating a fighter who was previously at the top of your division shows you are superior to the prior era. For this, I am only including UFC and WEC champions (up to 145lbs) as well as PRIDE FC heavyweight champions. Taking wear and tear into account, and the fact that some fighters are past it regardless of their previous form, I have deemed 3 points per former champion as fair. If they were still at a good place in their careers when beaten, then the extra points will have carried over to either the ‘title fights’ category or the ‘top ten opponents defeated in non-title fights’ category. Maximum points per fight: 3.

Rounds/Points lost in title fights: Whilst MMA judges are not the most reliable, losing rounds in title fights shows a lesser level of dominance.Taking into account the possibility of inept judging, only 2 points will be deducted per round scored against the fighter in question.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: As aforementioned, early career losses are not the be all and end all. It’s also unfair to dismiss a fighter who has lost in his last few fights, as fighting at the very top level of the sport means losses do happen. I have used the cut off point as any fights happening under the Zuffa banner (so from when the WEC was acquired by Zuffa for anyone at 155lbs and below). I have assigned a 5 point deduction for a loss, with an additional 5 point subtraction if said fighter was finished in the loss. Maximum point deduction per fight: 10.

P4P Credentials: This is perhaps the loosest and most opinion based of any of the criteria I am using. Judging how strong a division is, or the quality of the ranked opponents the fighters being assessed have beaten, is down to the eye test, and therefore personal preference. Whilst not imperative to being a great pound-for-pound fighter, beating fighters in different weight classes is a good indicator of your overall quality, although needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This is also the section where I will take a look at the overall skill set and application of those skills of the fighter in question. For this section, I will assigns grades. An A+ is worth 50 points. An A is worth 40 points. An A- is worth 30 points. And a B+ is worth 20 points.

The run down will be in alphabetical order. So if you’ve spent the time reading the criteria, you’ll want to see who is in the running. Should you not have the time to read through each fighters individual scores, scroll to the bottom of the article to see the final standings.

Without further ado let’s see what has changed since last time.

The Candidates

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Aldo

Weight class: 145lbs (featherweight)

MMA record: 26-1 (15-0 WEC/UFC)

Title Fights: 10. Aldo won the WEC title from Mike Brown (#1), and defended against Urijah Faber (#3), Manny Gamburyan (#2), Mark Hominick (#8), Kenny Florian (#4), Chad Mendes (#2), Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung (#7), Ricardo Lamas (#4) and a rematch with Chad Mendes (#2). All of these fighters were ranked at featherweight, with the exception of Frankie Edgar, who was ranked in the top five at lightweight. 90 points.

Finishes in title fights: 4. Aldo got back mount on Mike Brown and beat him defenceless with ground and pound, destroyed Manny Gamburyan inside two rounds, spun out of Chad Mendes’ grip and blasted him with a flying knee and beat up an injured Korean Zombie. 35 points.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: 0. Even though he has improved dramatically over the past few years, I was surprised to find out Cub Swanson wasn’t ranked in the top ten when Aldo stopped him inside ten seconds with that double flying knee in a WEC featherweight title eliminator back in 2009. There was an insightful hypothesis made in the comment section of the first stab I had at this that the Shooto 143lb champ Alexandre Franca Nogueira may have been top ten when Aldo battered him in 2008, but alas I cannot find a USA Today/SB Nation ranking that far back, and neither was he ranked by Sherdog. So Aldo stays at nil pois in this category.

Former champions defeated: 2. Urijah Faber had previously been the WEC champ at 145lbs, and Frankie Edgar was the former 155lb kingpin. 6 points.

Rounds/Points lost in title fights: 20 (2 vs Faber, 5 vs Hominick, 3 vs Florian, 4 vs Edgar, 3 vs Lamas, 3 vs Mendes) 40 point deduction.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: 0. Aldo is undefeated going right back to his 8th professional fight in 2005, a rear-naked choke submission loss to Luciano Azevedo for the Jungle Fights promotion.

P4P credentials: I went over Aldo’s positives and negatives in my last go-round on this topic. Needless to say he answered many of his critics with his truly astounding decision victory over Chad Mendes, who most thought would be able to give Aldo the biggest test of his career. He did, and Aldo passed with flying colours. He can be given no higher honour than I am giving out here, but it’s clear that Aldo is not only the greatest featherweight champion in MMA history, but one of its best champions regardless of weight. Grade: A+ (50 points)

Overall Score: 141 points

Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

T.J Dillashaw

Weight class: 135lbs (Bantamweight)

MMA record: 11-2 (8-2 WEC/UFC)

Title Fights: 2. Dillashaw was already seen as a much-improved prospect that deserved to be taken seriously when he got the call to face Renan Barao for the UFC 135lb championship, but few fans or pundits gave him much of a chance going into the fight. Dillashaw shocked the MMA world, dominating Barao in every stage of the game to take the title. Due to rematch Barao for the title in at UFC 177 back in August, Dillashaw instead faced late replacement Joe Soto, who gave him a decent workout before being stopped in the fifth round. Soto was unranked going into the bout, though the grit and skill he displayed in this losing effort saw him elevated to 15th in the official UFC rankings subsequent to it. 15 points.

Finishes in title fights: 2. See above. Dillashaw stopped Barao and Joe Soto in the fifth round. 15 points.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: 0. Dillashaw was probably unlucky not to get the nod against Raphael Assunção (#5) whilst on Assunção’s home turf. Mike Easton seemed to be a perennial fixture in the UFC’s top ten regardless of how many fights he lost in a row, but he wasn’t ranked in the top 10 by SB Nation when Dillashaw easily outscored him.

Former champions defeated: 0.

Rounds/Points lost in title fights: 0.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: 2. T.J was stopped in the first round by John Dodson, who was more experienced in the pro game and who has gone on to prove himself one of the very hardest hitters in MMA. Dillashaw’s second loss was the aforementioned decision loss to Assunção, which was a close one. 15 point deduction.

P4P credentials: Training with a gang of similarly-sized studs at Team Alpha Male and honing his striking under the tutelage of Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig has seen Dillashaw improve an immeasurable amount since he lost out on winning the fourteenth series of The Ultimate Fighter. Since Ludwig’s departure from Team Alpha Male, Dillashaw has made a brave decision by carrying out the majority of his training with Ludwig, seemingly straying away from the camp that brought him up and instead pledging his allegiance to the man that took him to the next level.

I waxed lyrical about Dillashaw’s prowess in the last article, and the win over Soto doesn’t do a huge amount for his standing. It does show that he can adapt on the fly and take on a potential banana skin of an opponent on just 24 hours notice. This is the versatility champions need to have, and with back-to-back fifth round knockouts, Dillashaw is clearly not a man to mess with.

Only the thinness of his resume stops him getting a higher grade, although with former champion Dominick Cruz back on the scene (more on him later) Dillashaw could see a lot more points added to his final tally with a victory there. MMA fans await that match-up with baited breath. Grade: A- (30 points)

Overall Score: 45 points

Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson

Weight Class: 125lbs (flyweight)

MMA record: 21-2-1 (11-2-1 WEC/UFC)

Title fights: 6. Johnson became the first ever UFC flyweight titlist with a split decision victory over Joseph Benavidez (#2). Johnson had to overcome the dangerous John Dodson (#4) to make his first successful defence. John Moraga (#5) was next, finished by armbar in the fifth and final round. The champ then became the first to ever stop Benavidez (#2) when he starched him in the first round of their December 2013 rematch. Ali Bagautinov (#5) was dominated via decision, and Chris Cariaso (#8) was shown up to be levels below Johnson before submitting to a nasty looking kimura back at UFC 178 in September. 55 points.

Finishes in title fights: 3. Benavidez and Moraga both top five, Cariaso top ten. 25 points.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: 2. Miguel Torres (#5 bantamweight) via decision at UFC 150. And Ian McCall (no meta-critic rankings at time of fights, but consensus top five at flyweight) via decision at UFC on FX 3. 16 points.

Former champions defeated: 1. Miguel Torres was the former WEC 135lb champion. Ian McCall was considered by some to be the no.1 flyweight in the World when Johnson beat him, but as I’m not counting the Tachi Palace Fights title no points are given for that fight. 3 points.

Rounds/points lost in title fights: 11 (6 vs Benavidez, 5 vs Dodson) 22 point deduction.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: 2. A very, very competitive unanimous decision loss to Brad Pickett in Johnson’s first WEC fight, and a decent showing to then UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz at UFC on Versus 6. 10 point deduction

P4P Credentials: This is what I said last time:

Looking at Johnson’s credentials, this is where he shines. Undersized at 135lbs, he nonetheless looked a superb fighter, and fought his way to a title shot. Even in his first fight for the WEC Joe Rogan noted how Johnson was ‘the fastest fighter (he’d) ever commentated on’ and that if the 125lb weight class was brought in ‘he’d be a real handful’.

Rogan was right. Since dropping down to 125lbs ‘Mighty Mouse’ remains undefeated.

An athletic freak, Johnson is one of the fastest pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. He has a toolbox so full it’s a wonder how he ever keeps the lid shut. He uses his reflexes as his defence, and releases his hands and feet quickly, changing the angles up and rarely staying in one place at any one time.

His grappling is also much-improved, and he phase shifts between the different elements of mixed martial arts seamlessly. Not just in terms of takedowns, but in implementing the Thai clinch, which he uses to smash his opponents with knees. Not only does he do all this at lightning-quick speed, he maintains a fast pace throughout, with seemingly limitless stamina.

Arguably the most impressive facet of Johnson’s game; his IQ. The rematch with McCall was a thorough domination, and in the titanic tussle with John Dodson, Johnson overcome being hurt in the early rounds to punctuate his performance with a dominant display in the clinch. He listens to trainer Matt Hume and carries out his instructions to immediate effect and good results.

Nothing has changed. Fans weren’t expecting much going into the Johnson-Cariaso title fight, it was seen as more of a short notice showcase for the brilliant champion. That is what it ended up being, and while it doesn’t do much for ‘Mighty Mouse’s legacy, it reaffirms him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters around. He deserves to be more beloved. Grade: A+ (50 points)

Overall Score: 117 points

Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler

Weight Class: 170lbs (welterweight)

MMA record: 25-10-1 (13-9 UFC/Strikeforce)

Title fights: 1. The newest entry in this pound-for-pound study, ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler won the UFC welterweight title this past Saturday with a close, and in some quarters controversial, split decision victory. 10 points.

Finishes in title fights: 0.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: 4. Josh Koscheck (#7) Rory MacDonald (#4) Jake Ellenberger (#6) Matt Brown (#6) 24 points.

Former champions defeated: 0.

Rounds/points lost in title fights: 15 (9 in the first Hendricks fight, 5 in the rematch) 30 point deduction.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: This is very harsh on Robbie. Remember when I said that only losses in Zuffa count? For a veteran like Lawler who has been through the grinder over the years, this category could put him into minus figures! I’m not bending the criteria to try and favour a fighter I like, but going by my initial reasoning, that this category was meant to seperate losses in a fighters rookie year as opposed to in their prime, I am going to find a middle ground here, and only include losses from when Zuffa took over Strikeforce in March 2011. Therefore, Robbie suffers a 10 point deduction here.

P4P Credentials: How do you summarise Robbie Lawler? After exploding onto the scene when the UFC was still running events in double-digits, he went from being a touted prospect-cum-destroyer of men to eventually being, at best, a fan friendly action fighter, and at worst a dangerous journeyman.

Now, perhaps he is the ultimate renaissance man.

Spurned on by being welcomed back into the UFC’s ranks with open arms following their acquisition and assimilation of Strikeforce, Lawler found himself reinvigorated and refocused, making the cut to 170lbs for the first time in nearly a decade and putting together his skills to finally become the sum of his parts.

It wasn’t that long ago that Lawler was a brawler, but now, in boxing terms at least, he is a boxer-puncher, able to dictate range to find his spots and striking with accuracy and variety. His kicks are lethal, and although his takedown defence isn’t infallible, either with his mastery of the butterfly guard or sheer dogged determination his ability to scramble to his feet is top class.

So now I have to give my two cents on the decision rendered this weekend. At first i felt Johny Hendricks had been jobbed, but on second viewing the only issue I found with the scorecards was the 49-46 given to Lawler. 48-47 either way is justifiable in my opinion, and Robbie Lawler rightfully finds himself on top of the welterweight heap.

In 2014 this is unimaginable, but in combat sports you can never judge how much experience will be needed to turn a talented fighter, or even a mediocre one, into the best in his division.

Robbie Lawler is at his absolute peak now at the ripe ol’ age of thirty two. Whether his time at the top will be short-lived or whether he will continue to channel his years of experience into a solid title run, who knows? He is without a doubt a legend. Grade: A- (30 points)

Overall Score: 34 points

Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis

Weight class: 155lbs (lightweight)

MMA record: 18-2 (10-2 WEC/UFC)

Title Fights: 2. Pettis submitted Benson Henderson, the reigning UFC lightweight champion, in the first round back at UFC 164. This past weekend he submitted Gilbert Melendez (#2) in two rounds. 20 points.

Finishes in title fights: 2 (see above) 20 points.

Top ten opponents defeated in non-title bouts: 1. Pettis obliterated the teak tough Donald Cerrone (#5) in the first round of their fight in January 2013. 11 points.

Former champions defeated: 0.

Rounds/Points lost in title fights: 0.

Losses in Zuffa organisations: 2. Pettis’ first lost was a close one to Bart Palaszewski, in one of those fights where takedowns held more sway with the judges than striking (although Pettis was knocked down himself in the third round). The only other defeat in the career of ‘Showtime’ so far was in his first fight for the UFC, when he was out grappled by Clay Guida. 10 point deduction

P4P credentials: Last time out I gave Pettis a fairly low grade as he’d only had one title fight and hardly any wins over highly-ranked opposition. Seeing as he bounced back from a layoff of over a year by submitting Gilbert Melendez, who had never been submitted before, it made me really re-evaluate ‘Showtime’.

He has no stopped the teak tough and highly durable Donald Cerrone inside a round. He has submitted the rubber armed champion Benson Henderson inside a round. And he has submitted Melendez inside two rounds. Pettis is one of the most dangerous kickers in the entire sport, as well as being capable of submitting fighters at the very highest level. His counter punching is sharp, and although his boxing defence was shown to be less than perfect this past weekend, expecting a fighter to go completely unscathed at the highest level of MMA is not only unrealistic, it’s petty. Pettis deserves the highest grade here. Should be able to shut down the ultimate grinder, Khabib Nurmagomedov, he may well go down as the most stylistically versatile lightweight champion of all time. And yes I’m including Baby Jay when I say that.  Grade: A+ (50 points)

Overall Score: 91 points

This concludes our look at the champions that have fought since I last compiled this list.

The standings now look like this:

1. Jon Jones (146 points)

2. Jose Aldo (141 points)

3. Cain Velasquez (140 points)

4. Demetrious Johnson (117 points)

5. Chris Weidman (112 points)

6. Ronda Rousey (111 points)

7. Anthony Pettis (91 points)

8. T.J. Dillashaw (45 points)

9. Robbie Lawler (35 points)

But what will it look like when we take the best contenders into consideration? Only the very best of those not wearing gold will be considered. Oh, and one fella currently wearing gold of the ‘interim’ variety.

For now, share your thoughts on the list as it looks here. Who is too low? Who is too high? Should Robbie Lawler only be judged on his run at welterweight, or should all recent form be taken into consideration when judging a fighters ‘pound-for-pound’ credentials?

How would you rank the champions as they stand?

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Kyle McLachlan
Kyle McLachlan

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