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The Top Ten Myth

Posted by mmaplayground Wednesday, March 25, 2009 12:00 AM

 

 

Submitted by Shawn Rafferty

In 1967, Murray Woroner wanted to run a program on the radio, pitting the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time against each other to see who would win if they'd done battle in their respective primes. Considering gloved boxing had been around for 100 years, in varied states of popularity and legality, this was an impossible feat to accomplish, as some of these championship fighters were dead by the time others were born. But, with the aid of a state-of-the-art computer and 250 boxing experts, they selected 16 boxers to "compete" in this event, and decided there were 128 variables in boxing in which to build statistics for each boxer. Things like punching power, heart, footwork, and resistance to cutting were all factored in and when the virtual dust cleared, Rocky Marciano was declared the greatest boxer of all time. The problem was, basically no one, including the boxing experts involved in the project, agreed with it.

What does all this have to do with MMA? If you look at any MMA website on the net, be it fantasy games or forums, there will always be discussions of Top Tens, Top Fives, Pound for Pound, Greatest Of All Time, etc and no one can seem to agree on anything, and I, for one, disagree that a Top Ten can even be done. In a sport whose greatest moments involve underdogs defying odds to crush their opponents in spectacular fashion, how is it possible to make a cookie-cutter chart and put all the worlds talent in definitive order? If the aforementioned 250 boxing experts decided there were 128 variables to a boxer, how many variables would there be to an MMA fighter? The fact of the matter is, most of the greatest sports upsets have occurred in combat sports because of the completely unpredictable nature of a strike landing on a chin. With the amount of variables involved in this sport, it’s not impossible to find fighters well outside of the standard Top Ten list that could potentially destroy those on top.

What I've done here is made a list of fights between "Top Ten" fighters and lesser known or much less regarded fighters, to illustrate this point. Granted, most of these fights will probably never happen, and I'm not saying that Fighter A would definitely lose to Fighter B, but I feel they're interesting match-ups that show the versatility and unpredictability of our favorite sport.

Lightweights:

BJ Penn (#1 Lightweight, #4 P4P) vs. Donald Cerrone:

Granted, both fighters are coming off of loses, but the nature of those losses are vastly different; BJ Penn having thrown in the towel in the 4th against George St. Pierre and Donald Cerrone losing a split decision after Jamie Varner broke a hand and a foot on the side of his face. Undeniably these fighters are both tough as nails at their home of lightweight, and while Penn has long been the king of lightweight in the minds of fans, Cerrone is only now starting to turn heads.

So, what would happen if these two met in the cage? While BJ Penn has arguably some of the best boxing and hardest chin at LW, Cerrone is no slouch either, as a former US Muay Thai champion and possessing an ironclad chin of his own. Considering the reach Cerrone would have with his vicious leg strikes, the amount of space between BJs punch and Cerrones chin, and Cerrones never-say die attitude, this could be a surprisingly competitive fight. On the ground Cerrone has one of the most dangerous guards in the game, and while I have no doubt BJ Penn could unravel it in time, I also have no doubt it would take more time and more energy than it would be worth to the Top Ten favorite. While the odds would say BJ wins this via take downs and a sub from top position, I wouldn't count out the Jackson Submission fighter to have a solid game plan that took this into deep water and tested the Hawaiian's chin and fortitude.

Eddie Alvarez (#5 Lightweight) vs. Joe Stevenson:

Again, both fighters are coming off loses, with Alvarez losing to Shinya Aoki's submission madness early in their fight, and Stevenson dropping a decision to newly minted LW contender Diego Sanchez. Neither had great showings in their last bout, although Stevenson had more time to try and shine, but he's nowhere near the Top Ten in most people’s eyes after dropping three straight to Penn, Florian and Sanchez.

Scratching the surface, one would see this as being a very solid match for Stevenson though. Although Alvarez has a nuclear one-two punch and solid wrestling and conditioning, Stevenson has an all-around solid game, with the submission grappling skills to make this match a lose-lose situation for Alvarez. Between his crisper strikes and formidable defensive boxing skills, Stevenson could easily out-point Alvarez on the feet, and on the ground, Alvarez could very well find himself in trouble against someone with such a well-rounded grappling game.

Welterweights:

George St. Pierre (#1 Welterweight, #3 P4P) vs. Brock Larson

GSP is coming off of one of the most dominant performances of his life after grinding down BJ Penn in his attempt to usurp a second belt, while Brock Larsons last fight was a one punch demolition of Carlos Prater. GSP is one of the most well-rounded, and well-respected fighters on the planet, some of the greatest WW fighters of all time having lost to him, while Larsons career has mostly entailed crushing mid-tier fighters in record time with his uncanny speed and raw BJJ talent, but it's these things that would make him a threat to GSP.

The only question mark concerning GSP is his ability to take a punch, and Larson is one of the few guys who packs enough muscle to deliver a crushing blow, yet has enough speed in his massive WW frame to land that strike. For sheer physical presence, Larson is almost unmatched at WW, being almost too big for the weight class, and having issues with endurance later in the fights. While the pure technical and athletic factor would clearly be in GSPs favor in this fight, Larson has the brutish power and aggression to deal nearly anyone a one-hit KO or lock on a "Gorilla Jiu-Jitsu" submission in under a minute.

Thiago Alves (#2 Welterweight) vs. Anthony Johnson

Thiago Alves is a rising start and #1 contender in the most competitive division in UFC, having recently beaten Josh Koscheck for a lopsided decision win after negating Koschecks world-class take downs and battering him on the feet. Anthony Johnson has had ups and downs in his UFC career, but has notched two solid victories with a third round KO against Kevin Burns in a rematch of their controversial fight, and against Luigi Fioravanti with a first round stoppage. While Alves has the bigger wins and better fundamental striking in his favor, Johnson is an up-and-coming fighter with tons of pure athletic potential, and is one of the few fighters at this weight that can match Alves for size.

A fight between the two would assuredly be a stand-up affair, with Johnson lacking the ability, and Alves lacking the desire, to take this to the ground. On the feet though, this would be an interesting match, as Johnson can match Alves for size, power, and hand speed. While his is striking might not be as refined, he has shown a decent amount of diversity in his combination's, and most importantly when fighting Alves, a very solid chin. While Alves would potentially take Johnson's legs out from underneath him early in the fight and finish him late, he'd have more than a few opportunities to drop Alves in exchanges with the ATT fighter.

Middleweights:

Anderson Silva (#1 Middleweight, #1 P4P) vs. Frank Shamrock

Yeah, I said it. Coming off a bizarre win over Patrick Cote, in which Cotes knee came apart mid-ring, Silva has gone through nearly every worthy opponent in the UFC MW division. Oddly enough, Frank Shamrock had much the same problem in his title run, stepping away after 5 victories, as there was no one left to fight at that time.

Anderson Silva has been on a tear since entering the UFC, while Frank Shamrocks last few fights haven't been nearly as dominant, coming off a 3rd round TKO loss to Cung Le after having his forearm broken while blocking a head kick. While most people wound consider this a gross miss-match, there is something to consider here.

Frank Shamrock is one of the few professional fighters in the US from a catch wrestling background, which has proven to be the bane of BJJ fighters time and again in Japan. While this art is seldom put to the test in MMA stateside, the fact remains it has proven to be the undoing of Anderson Silva on two occasions, against Ryo Chonan and Daiju Takase. Shamrock is also one of the most physically gifted athletes in combat sports today, having an almost inhuman ability to balance from top position and having an economy of motion seldom seen in this sport. All that, combined with his cerebral fighting style, excellent striking form, and iron jaw, make him a stern test for anyone at MW, including the reigning champion. How a fight between the two would proceed would be difficult to predict, as both fighters are tremendously patient, with Silva having an advantage on the feet with his world class muay thai, but Shamrock having the ability to take the champ down as few have, and being able to finish the fight on the mat or work from top to earn a decision. While the fight would be stacked in Silvas favor in terms of striking and his dangerous guard game, this would be no easy contest.

Dan Henderson (#2 Middleweight, #10 P4P) vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama

Dan Henderson has long been one of the most dangerous two-division fighters in the sport, coming off a split decision win over Rich Franklin at LHW, and while age and battle scars are beginning to catch up with him, he shows no signs of slowing down, having landed a coaching spot on TUF 9 and a fight with Michael Bisping. Yoshihiro Akiyama has had his share of battles in the ring himself and while he's had moments of controversy, he's also been able to destroy top level contenders in spectacular fashion. Interestingly, both fighters have international experience in their respective disciplines, with Henderson having competed in Greco-Roman wrestling in the Olympics, and Akiyama having competed for and won several medals in Judo the world over. Both also have naturally heavy-handed striking ability, which both picked up late in their careers and have used to great effect.

While Henderson certainly has the experience against top-level fighters, this is one of the few fights where he might not be the better fighter out of the clinch, as Akiyama could work his judo technique to avoid Hendersons heavy ground and pound, and possibly gain top position himself. In a striking exchange, both guys have deceptively solid hands, while Akiyama has shown diversity and fluidity to his striking that Henderson lacks, and which could give the Team Quest fighter problems. While a fight between the two would likely go to decision, I doubt either fighter would make it there unscathed.

Light Heavyweights:

Rashad Evans (#1 Light Heavyweight, #6 P4P) vs. Renato Sobral

Rashad Evans is currently at the height of his career as an undefeated fighter, scoring a highlight-reel knock out over Chuck Liddell and defeating Forrest Griffin for the title. Renato Sobral, since being fired by the UFC after choking a blood-soaked David Heath unconscious, has also been on a tear with wins over Mike Whitehead, Sokoudjou, and Bobby Southworth, the latter gaining him a title of his own as the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. While Sobral's level of opponent has been a cut below that of Evans, he’s been in there with some of the toughest fighters of the mid-nineties and has international wrestling and submission grappling experience. While it’s doubtful the two would meet in the UFC after Sobrals dismissal, a fight between the two would be intriguing.

While Evans boxing has been coming along fantastically over the last year, the same can be said of Sobral, not in the KO sense, but the defensive striking sense, which was his main issue with fighters like Chuck Liddell and Jason Lambert. On the ground, Evans would be facing someone who has a comparable level of wrestling experience as himself, but also a BJJ black belt to make him equally as dangerous off his back, which would be a threat Evans has never faced before. While Evans would have the definite advantage in hand speed and knockout power, you couldn't sleep on Sobral getting the fight down and possibly scoring the submission or decision.

Lyoto Machida (#2 Light Heavyweight, #7 P4P) vs. Jon Jones

Lyoto Machida is coming off of one of his most dominant performances, knocking out Thiago Silva on the ground, three seconds shy of the end of the first round, and cementing his place as a potential contender for the title. Jon Jones is coming off an impressive victory of his own in a handy greco-roman clinic put on against the rugged Stephen Bonnar, which also highlighted his incredibly unorthodox striking style. While the disparity in experience if vast, in that Machida has cracked the heads of some of the toughest fighters of all time, while Jones has been in MMA for all of a year, this match would be a true test of what Machida is capable of.

Machidas greatest strength is his epic elusiveness, making him almost impossible to land clean punches on. But, how would his ability to evade damage fare against someone like Jones, who throws the oddest assortment of spinning elbows, jump kicks, and flying knees, and seems to land them with frightening regularity? It would be a stern test to Machida's ability to read body movements, and would make it very difficult to land counter strikes against Jones. Another thing to consider would be that the only area Machida has ever looked uncomfortable when being clinched against the cage, where he can't use his footwork, sumo and judo backgrounds to throw or move opponents. Jones has one of the most functional greco-roman games ever seen in MMA in his ability to execute innovative suplexes and throws against very difficult opponents. It would be interesting to see how Machida could handle that if Jones could get inside on his lethal right straight and use his clinch work to take Machida out of his element. In the long run, I feel Machidas counter punching and raw striking talents would eventually cost Jones the fight, but it would have the potential to be an amazing display.

Heavyweights:

Fedor Emelianenko (#1 Heavyweight, #2 P4P) vs. Cheick Kongo

Fedor is considered by most to be the greatest heavyweight of all time, having convincingly beaten every top-tier opponent he's fought, and showing no signs of weakness under a variety of situations. He has some of the heaviest hands in the HW division, utter calm under pressure, and a grappling game inescapable as a black hole. When dealing with someone the caliber of Fedor, it’s nearly impossible to find an opponent that brings something to the table he hasn't faced, but Cheick Kongo might be that man. Coming off convincing wins over Dan Evensen and Mustapha Al-Turk, Kongo is slowly making his way up the HW ladder in the UFC, but developing a formidable fighting style along the way.

While he doesn't have anything Fedor hasn't faced before singularly, he does have two skillets that make him dangerous to the wrong types of opponents. While his stand-up might not be at the level of some fighters populating the HW divisions, like Antonio Hardonk or Andrei Arlovski, he has a fast developing knack for out wrestling his opponents from clinch and making them fight in his world, a nightmare for the majority of the division, who have shorter reaches and less developed hands. In a fight between the two, Fedor might find himself on the end of Kongos jab, and unable to maneuver the larger Kongo to the mat without pulling guard, which could leave him open for punishment from top, courtesy of Kongo's ground and pound. While Fedor has the power to test any chin, anywhere, anytime, and the ability to end the fight the moment his opponent touches the mat, Kongo could potentially draw a fight into deep water and test the WAMMA Heavyweight Champion's cardio, which hasn't happened since his fight with Mirko Cro-cop. It’s a fight we'll likely never see, but one that would showcase a new test for the Last Emperor.

Frank Mir (#2 Heavyweight) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

Frank Mir looked like a re focused fighter after his colossal upset victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, which saw him win the UFC Interm Heavyweight Title, and a rematch with Brock Lesnar. Gabrial Gonzaga isn't new to the heavyweight division, but after a recent KO loss to Shane Carwin, he has fallen off of the Top Ten lists across the cyber world. His size, lightning speed and world-class BJJ game still make him a difficult match for virtually every HW in the world though, and Frank Mir is certainly not an exception.

In a match between the two, Frank would be universally out-classed by the former top ten fighter. While Mir's striking has come a long way in the last two years, Gonzaga has an unnatural speed at HW, combined with solid muay thai and vicious leg and head kicks that can knock out or cripple the vast majority of heavyweights out there. In terms of grappling, while Mir might have a dangerous guard and solid all-around grappling skills, Gonzaga is a multi-time world champion and a larger man to boot, so Mir's go-to game plan of boxing to set-up takedowns would be a moot point, in that he'd be out-classed and ultimately defeated at any given moment.

I wanted to use Mir vs. Gonzaga as the keystone of my argument here, as it truly illustrates the fickle world of the Top Ten, where a man knocked off the totem pole Saturday could conceivably be on top on Sunday, if he fought the right person. Granted, while none of these fights are guaranteed wins or losses for anyone involved, I feel they're justifiably exciting and competitive fights between world champions and members of the Top Ten, and lower-tier, yet no less dangerous fighters. The entire reason this sport exists is because when two men step into a ring or cage, you never truly know what’s going to happen, and fights like this just illustrate the fallacy of ranking fighters in regards to each other. In a world where fighters fight injured all the time and where one-punch knockouts are a common occurrence, no man can safely claim to be the best on any given day.

(The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of this website in general, nor it’s webmaster. They are solely the views of this writer)

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