As a voting member of the Yahoo! polling panel, I turn in a monthly ballot, and the following list is the same one I submitted there last week. On the outside looking in, here are my honorable mention picks who are ready to break in if someone else stumbles: Lyoto Machida, Gegard Mousasi and Rashad Evans.
Without any further ado, here's my list with my rationale...
10. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Career record: 28-7
The former UFC light-heavyweight champ was ranked inside the top five until losing a unanimous decision to Forrest Griffin back in July. Still, that loss doesn't completely cancel out consecutive wins over MMA superstars Dan Henderson and Chuck Liddell. After going through some well-publicized personal problems, Jackson has a chance to make a major statement about where he stands when he faces Wanderlei Silva in December.
9. Thiago Alves
Career record: 16-3
One of the breakout stars of 2008 vaults into the top 10 due to a seven-match win streak. Five of those victories have come by way of knockout. Most impressively of all, in the last year Alves has beaten three welterweights ranked around the top 10 in the world: Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck. The Brazilian wrecking ball deserves a crack at the welterweight crown after Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn settle their rematch in January.
8. Urijah Faber
Career record: 21-2
Mike Brown finally derailed Faber earlier this month with a first-round TKO, but before then, Faber was one of the most consistent winners in MMA, having reeled off 13 straight wins, including victories over Jens Pulver and Jeff Curran. He'll likely get back to action in January, and a rematch with Brown could follow shortly thereafter.
7. Miguel Torres
Career record: 34-1
With an all-time record of 34-1 (or 46-1 depending on who you believe), Torres has passed test after test with flying colors. He's been so dominant he hasn't even gone to a decision in three-and-a-half years. He's well-rounded with really slick groundwork. Next week, he defends his WEC bantamweight title against Manny Tapia.
6. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Career record: 31-4
Even though he's only the UFC's interim champ (Brock Lesnar holds the linear title), Nogueira might have had first crack at Randy Couture if it wasn't for a scheduling problem. Still, Nogueira is the only man to hold heavyweight titles in PRIDE and the UFC, and has never been finished in 35 pro fights. He holds wins over notables Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett and Fabricio Werdum, and faces off with Frank Mir for the right to fight Lesnar at UFC 92 in December.
5. Forrest Griffin
Career record: 16-4
Griffin doesn't have explosive athleticism or power, but he blends a wide variety of skills together to present the full portrait of a mixed martial artist. He's outslugged sluggers, submitted jiu-jitsu masters, and always seems to do it on a full tank of gas. With successive wins over top five light-heavyweights Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Griffin is the top of the heap in his weight class right now.
4. Georges St. Pierre
Career record: 19-2
The prototypical mixed martial artist comes with a vast array of skills, size and speed, making him a formidable foe for anyone. Since stumbling against Matt Serra in April 2007, the 27-year-old St. Pierre has rediscovered his mojo, reeling off wins over Josh Koscheck, Serra, Matt Hughes and most recently the tough-as-nails Jon Fitch. When he's at his best, it seems hard to believe anyone can beat him.
3. B.J. Penn
Career record: 13-4
Bar none, possibly the most physically gifted of all mixed martial artists. Penn combines world-class jiu-jitsu, precise and powerful striking, and impressive takedown defense in presenting an intricate puzzle to opponents. In the past, Penn's work ethic has been questionable, but in the last 18 months, he's rededicated himself to reaching his full potential, and the proof is in the three straight fights he's finished by TKO or submission. Up next is a war with GSP in January. Even though it will be in January 2009, you can already pencil it in as a "Fight of the Year" nominee.
2. Anderson Silva
Career record: 23-4
With the grace of a ballet dancer, the precision of a doctor and the power of a jackhammer operator, Silva brings everything opponents don't want to see in front of them. His long, lean body gives most rivals automatic matchup problems, he has a jaw of iron, and the killer instinct of an assassin. Not only has no one beaten him in his last nine fights; he rarely even finds himself in trouble. Plus, he can pull off pink shirts. At this stage of his career, it will be superfights or bust for "the Spider."
1. Fedor Emelianenko
Career record: 29-1-1
The one knock on Fedor in the last couple years has been his choice of opponent. Sure, it hasn't been ideal, but at least Affliction has a few world-class heavyweights who can test him. The first one, Tim Sylvia, proved to be less challenging than running on the beach; Fedor won in 36 seconds. And while he does deserve some criticism for his choice in opponent, his record cannot be denied. His only loss came from a cut, and he usually dominates from start to finish. The fact of the matter is he fights in the most dangerous weight class in the sport; from a heavyweight, a single punch can end things. He's never gotten caught, not against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, not against Mark Coleman or Mirko Cro Cop. Until someone beats him, or until he gives up fighting top competition altogether (a prospect not impossible), it will be hard to justify him a place other than No. 1.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Cavalcante didn't want fight to stop
After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
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