The UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings often come under much criticism and the title of ‘pound-for-pound king’ is one that – for the most part – will never be unanimously agreed upon.
Of course, such things are subjective but there are three active UFC fighters who few could argue stand a distance above the rest; ones who have already established themselves as living legends of the game.
Right now, the UFC’s top three fighters in the P4P list reading from 3-to-1 are Daniel Cormier, Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson.
While this writer is a massive Daniel Cormier fan and he is a true champion despite the mess surrounding his rematch and prior loss to Jon Jones but for exactly that reason Cormier is going to be omitted from this discussion; instead being replaced by the aforementioned Jones.
It’s not that Cormier doesn’t deserve his place in the discussion, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep it at three fighters (with DC coming in as a close 4th).
Comparing these three fighters is a difficult task. They each bring something different to the table and have innovated the game in their own special way over the years. All are currently in, or relatively close to their prime and personal issues aside (on the part of Bones) they have all been dominant in their respective divisions over the past few years.
Dominick Cruz (22-1) simply has no equal when it comes to movement. His footwork has been described on countless occasions as the most technical and ultimately successful in MMA today. He has truly pushed the boundaries of the game in his time as champion and his story is made even more impressive when you consider the horrible three-year period of injury he was forced to overcome to reclaim his belt.
In the area of footwork and elusiveness, he trumps both of the other considerations for P4P king. His speed and agility (relative to his division) are matched only by the former-bantamweight Demetrious Johnson himself and yet when the pair met in 2011; it was Cruz who came away with the unanimous decision victory.
After a lengthy layoff, Cruz returned with a comprehensive 1st round stoppage of Takeya Mizugaki, a win that would set him up for a masterclass five round performance against the highly-dangerous TJ Dillashaw.
He holds two wins over both Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez among others and has been regarded as the hardest man to hit in MMA. Cruz will go down as one of the greatest to ever don a pair of gloves but honestly, I feel his low-finishing rate puts him ever-so-slightly adrift of the other two.
Cruz is a master at winning fights, frustrating his opponents and never looking like he is in any danger, but from an offensive perspective – while outstanding – he lacks the devastating ability of both Jones and Mighty Mouse.
Demetrious Johnson’s (24-2-1) run of late has been spectacular. His UFC 199 win over Olympic wrestler Henry Cejudo was brutal, swift and it sent a strong message not only to the 125lb division but to the world of MMA as a whole. In the opinion of UFC commentator Joe Rogan, Johnson had made a very serious argument for his inclusion in the greatest-of-all-time discussion and his entire career has been a testament in the favour of that case.
It could be said that maybe the quality of opponent he was facing – though quite high – wasn’t up to the standard of the 205lb division and the opponents Jones has defeated, and yes I feel there may be some merit to this. But by the standards of any division Johnson is a world-class athlete making other world-class athletes look sub-par and his wins have displayed a virtually flawless skillset; polished to the point of near-perfection.
His speed, his diverse striking arsenal, his slick ground game and devastating clinch work all combine effortlessly with one of the greatest minds the sport has ever seen. Johnson rarely looks like he’s in trouble, he has it in his locker to finish fights but more importantly he puts himself in no danger of losing.
His loss to Dominick Cruz and the one prior to Brad “One Punch” Pickett were losses made by a younger man; losses he needed to have in order to become the fighter he is today. There are few fights the UFC could make right now as tantalising as a rematch between that pair, but in my view, there is one man who stands just above them both in this discussion.
Jon Jones (22-1) has been described on countless occasions as a ‘freak athlete’. His pro-MMA debut was made in April of 2008. His UFC debut came five fights later on August 9th of the same year with him boasting a 6-0 record.
I remember the first time I watched his UFC debut bout with Andre Gusmao; his raw, unquestionable potential in plain view for all to see. His striking was in its infant years and his punches lacked fluidity but the kid still decided to throw several spinning attacks and showed the aggression of a man with five times his stand-up experience.
From there on we had the privilege of seeing this young man grow and develop over the years and become the unbeatable force he is today. He became the youngest UFC champion of all time at 23 when he absolutely trounced MMA-legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 and from there went on an absolute tear, defeating established veterans, legends and champions such as Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Alex Gustafsson and his ‘arch-rival’ of sorts, Daniel Cormier.
Such talents are few and far between and the only blemish on Jones’ record (bar a controversial DQ for 12-6 elbows vs Matt Hamill) have been those brought on by his antics outside of the octagon.
It’s a great shame to see the progress of one so talented halted by such behaviour but as far as combining a perfect skillset and an impeccable resume are concerned, I can’t look past Jon Jones for the #1 spot.
Of course, everyone will have their own opinion on the subject and perhaps in a year’s time the P4P list will look very different, but still the three fighters mentioned above make loving the sport easy, with each of them coming close to reaching the absolute pinnacle of their craft in their own respective ways.
And hang on in there Daniel Cormier, you may still force your way in there yet. Jones/Cormier 2 could be a good one!!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena.