Who's No. 1 in MMA? Even our experts can't agree. The Fight Network's Ariel Shnerer and Inside Fights' Mitch Ciccarelli weigh in with their thoughts.
Shinya Aoki, Dominick Cruz
Shnerer: Shinya Aoki (left), Japan's best fighter, will make his North American debut in April against Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez. Aoki’s clash with Melendez could be one of the year's most eventful battles.Ciccarelli: Dominick Cruz has lost only to former featherweight champion Urijah Faber. Since dropping down to bantamweight, Cruz has handled everyone thrown his way to win the title.
Jose Aldo, Shinya Aoki
Shnerer: Jose Aldo (left) has devastated recent opponents en route to capturing the WEC featherweight title. The Brazilian will make his pay-per-view debut against Urijah Faber this April. If he emerges victorious, Aldo will move further up the pound-for-pound ladder. Ciccarelli: Shinya Aoki is in all probability the best lightweight not under contract with the UFC. Aoki has visible holes in his striking ability but his ground game more than makes up for it.
Dan Henderson and Jon Fitch
Shnerer: Dan Henderson (left) is on a three-fight winning streak after knocking out Michael Bisping at UFC 100 last July. Having recently left the UFC to sign with Strikeforce, Henderson faces BJJ wizard Jake Shields for the promotion's middleweight crown in April. Ciccarelli: Jon Fitch is not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing fighter to watch but more often than not he gets the job done. His only UFC loss was to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and in that fight he showed tremendous resilience by constantly moving forward like a modern-day terminator.
Quinton Jackson, Brock Lesnar
Shnerer: Quinton Jackson (left), who is coming off back-to-back wins over Keith Jardine and Wanderlei Silva, has not seen action since last March. Prior to a contentious loss to Forrest Griffin in 2008, Jackson had been on a wrecking spree as he defeated Dan Henderson, Chuck Liddell and Matt Lindland.Ciccarelli: Brock Lesnar, the UFC heavyweight champion, is certainly a polarizing figure in MMA. Since losing in his UFC debut to Frank Mir two years ago, Lesnar has crushed every opponent.
Mauricio Rua, Jose Aldo
Shnerer: Mauricio Rua (left) had a storied career in Japan, which contributes to his worthiness in the pound-for-pound debate. With career wins over Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem, Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Quinton Jackson, Rua was justifiably considered the consensus best light heavyweight in the sport.Ciccarelli: Jose Aldo is on a nine-fight win streak. In November, Aldo destroyed Mike Brown to claim the featherweight crown.
Shnerer: Lyoto Machida was considered by many to be untouchable at 205 pounds. However, given the controversy coming out of his victory over Mauricio Rua, Machida must silence his critics when he faces the former Pride Grand Prix champion in a rematch this May.Ciccarelli: Lyoto Machida’s karate base has led him to the UFC light heavyweight championship. However, some dispute whether the belt truly belongs to Machida or not. In his first title defense he beat former Pride sensation Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a controversial decision.
Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn
Shnerer: Anderson Silva (left) will defend his UFC middleweight title against Demian Maia this April. With Maia, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen all gunning for his crown, Silva will need to maintain his reign of dominance on the 185-pound division to make his case for being the No. 1 fighter.Ciccarelli: B.J Penn has turned the UFC’s lightweight division into a dead zone. He’s in a league by himself in terms of skill.
B.J. Penn, Fedor Emelianenko
Shnerer: B.J. Penn (left) put on one of the most immaculate performances in MMA history, masterfully dissecting Diego Sanchez last December to retain his UFC lightweight championship. If he defeats Frankie Edgar in April, Penn could return to welterweight to face a top-10 fighter in that division. Ultimately, Penn is aiming for a rematch against St-Pierre.Ciccarelli: Fedor Emelianenko has been the best heavyweight for nearly a decade. One can’t help but ponder how long it will be before we see the WAMMA champ competing in the UFC. After all he is going to run out of legitimate competition in Strikeforce very shortly.
Shnerer: Georges St-Pierre is one or two marquee wins away from being considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. After avenging his only two losses in dominating fashion, the UFC welterweight champion likely will be in line for superfights against Anderson Silva or B.J. Penn.Ciccarelli: Georges St. Pierre is becoming way too much for any welterweight to handle. Since his stunning loss to Matt Serra in 2007, St. Pierre has transformed into an unstoppable machine with absolutely no visible weaknesses in his game.
Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva
Shnerer: Fedor Emelianenko (left) is coming off sensational knockouts of Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers last year. He is expected to continue his dominance when he meets Brazilian jujitsu ace Fabricio Werdum this summer.Ciccarelli: Anderson Silva is MMA’s most precise striker and as evidenced in his submission victories over Dan Henderson and Travis Lutter, the Brazilian is also dangerous on the ground. Last year Silva fought twice, a lackluster decision win over Thales Leites and a devastating knockout over former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.