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MMA 125: Ranking the Top 15 Featherweights in Mixed Martial Arts

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJune 16, 2014

MMA 125: Ranking the Top 15 Featherweights in Mixed Martial Arts

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If you were building the perfect mixed martial arts striker, he'd have a crisp jab, devastating leg kicks and the capacity for violence on a previously unthinkable scale. He'd throw his strikes, not one at a time as we see so often in the cage, but in dizzying combination.

    His fearsome visage would make you think, "Hey, he'd make an excellent Dread Pirate Roberts." He'd have the counter wrestling to stand on his feet until he was bored enough to try the mat and the jiu-jitsu to make opponents reconsider that option anyway.

    He'd have the discipline to make you beat him—he'd never beat himself in a fit of Anderson Silva-style hubris. A man of the people, he'd celebrate a big win not in the VIP section of an exclusive club but in the crowd. With us.

    If you were creating the perfect prototype, in other words, you'd create Jose Aldo.

    Of course, when such a striker finally matriculated from the favelas of Brazil, replacing previous versions of the "perfect striker" like Maurice Smith and Mirko Filipovic, MMA fans responded with a giant yawn and a collective shrug of the shoulders.

    The greatest featherweight of all time walks among us. He has won 14 consecutive fights in the UFC/WECnine of them by knockout—and MMA fans can barely be bothered to turn on their TVs to watch.

    The kind of rivalry that forces fans to stand up and take note simply doesn't seem possible. He is a Picasso buried in a sea of paint-by-the-numbers pretenders, and there are only a handful of interesting challengers to his reign. He's already dispatched most of them.

    In the end, to find his place in history, Aldo will likely need to move up in weight to take the more established belt at 155 pounds. The featherweight division, unfortunately, was not ready for a fighter of his caliber.

    This list is not a ranking based on past performance. Instead, these ratings are a snapshot of where these athletes stand right now compared to their peers. We've scored each fighter on a 100-point scale based on their abilities in four key categories. You can read more about how the ratings are determined here

    Disagree with our order or analysis? Furious about a notable omission? Let us know about it in the comments.

15. Dennis Siver

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Age: 35  Height: 5'7"  Reach: 70"

    Fight Camp: Kiboju

    Record: 21-9 (5 knockouts, 9 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    NC Manny Gamburyan (Dec) UFC 168 (Fight overturned after Siver failed a drug test)
    Lost to Cub Swanson (TKO) UFC 162
    Def. Nam Phan (Dec) UFC on Fox 5

     

    Wrestling

    14/25

    Takedown Average: 0.87, Takedown Accuracy: 30%, Takedown Defense: 64%

    Siver is a strong, powerful man, and his takedowns are more a product of brute strength than refined wrestling technique. At times he looks like a linebacker making a tackle rather than a wrestler applying centuries of science and craft.

    Against smaller fighters like Nam Phan, he has no problem bullying his opponent around. But throw him a bigger and more versatile striker like Donald Cerrone or Cub Swanson, and his pedestrian shots are suddenly ineffective and worthless.

    While his offensive wrestling is less than technical, his lack of formal training in the wrestling department shows more clearly when he's forced to defend takedowns. He shrugs off just 64 percent of his opponents' takedown attempts; those opponents have mostly been subpar wrestlers like Ross Pearson and Paul Kelly.

      

    Grappling

    15/25

    Submission Average: 0.3

    Siver's grappling game is all about position, passing guard and pinning his opponent down so he can unleash heavy ground-and-pound. When he's on top, he finds success by focusing on controlling his foe and peppering away with punches and elbows.

    From the bottom, he is slippery and explosive. He's always looking to create space and escape or reverse position. The German tree stump found himself smothered by Cub Swanson's mount in the second round of their UFC 162 affair, but he kept bucking and squirming, eventually reversing position and almost taking Swanson's back in the process. 

    Like in his wrestling game, his strength plays a huge role in the grappling department. He can overwhelm and frustrate his opponents simply by being calm, collected and heavy on the ground.

    Siver is never going to be mistaken for Shinya Aoki. But he's only been submitted once in the last seven years—a sign he's competent enough to survive against almost anyone when the bodies hit the floor.

     

    Striking

    17/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.94, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.51

    Siver holds a black belt in tae kwon do, and his dedication to this traditional martial art is evident. He unleashes kicks you rarely see in the cage—front kicks, roundhouse kicks, spinning back kicks, leg kicksand he's even ended two UFC bouts with his patented spinning back kick to the body.

    Not many guys throw that strike at all, let alone land it with power and accuracy. That makes his striking game a little unique and something difficult to train for in an increasingly homogeneous muay thai world.

    Beyond his kicks, however, Siver is relatively stiff on the feet. He doesn't fluidly link combinations together and struggles to avoid his opponents' attacks and fire off effective counters.

    While his unusual game and physical superiority will overcome these weaknesses against most fighters, he'll always struggle against those with smart and crisp technique.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    14/25

    In some ways Siver is like former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. While the techniques and style are completely different, the mentality is the same.

    He's a wonderful fighter when he can act like a bully, dominating smaller and physically overmatched foes. But once the tables are turned, you can see the fight being sucked out of him. When he faces adversity, Siver tends to shy away from the challenge, and he'll dig himself a hole by becoming conservative and timid. 

    Once down, he struggles to get back up and re-establish dominance, something Lesnar did to legendary effect against Shane Carwin. If Siver has that in him, we've yet to see it in the cage. He's not a "bad" fighter, but Siver is missing the extra something—whether it's mental or physical— that makes elite fighters stand out. 

     

    Overall

    60/100

14. Nik Lentz

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29  Height: 5'8"  Reach: 68"

    Fight CampMinnesota Martial Arts Academy/American Top Team

    Record: 25-6-2 (6 knockouts, 10 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Manny Gamburyan (Dec) UFC Fight Night 40 
    Lost to Chad Mendes (Dec) UFC on Fox 9
    Def. Hacran Dias (Dec) UFC on FX 8

     

    Wrestling

    18/25

    Takedown Average: 4.02, Takedown Accuracy: 35%, Takedown Defense: 44%

    Say this for Lentz, a Division I wrestler from the University of Minnesota—he's persistent. Over and over again, in every minute of a 15-minute fight, his mind is stuck in one mode: He's looking for the takedown. Always. 

    While he's not super efficient at doing this (he finishes just 35 percent of his takedown attempts), his wrestling chops have single-handedly kept him in the UFC. He's relentless in his pursuit of the takedown, and he will often chain together multiple attempts before finally dragging the fight to the mat. He wears inferior grapplers down, grinding out decision after decision. 

    This hasn't made him popular, but it has kept food on the table.

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    Submission Average: 1.3

    Lentz knows his stuff once the fight touches the ground too. While submissions are clearly in his arsenal, like most wrestlers he generally opts to control his opponents and patter away with ground-and-pound while searching for an opportunity to pass their guard.

    Once he achieves this, he rarely compromises position by hunting for a submission. He'd rather hold ground, score points and take home the decision. 

    When he's found himself grounded, however, he has shown little ability to escape, sweep or counter when he's put in a tight spot. Chad Mendes and Mark Bocek owned him once they secured top position, and Lentz looked lost when trying to squirm away and create space. Lentz is good on the ground, but he's not elite.

      

    Striking

    11/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.16, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.60

    In his UFC career, Lentz has been knocked down by Rob Emerson, Tyson Griffin and Charles Oliveira. He's been schooled on the feet by Bocek and Evan Dunham too. 

    Put plainly, his striking is just bad. And it doesn't appear to be getting much better. He at least recognizes his faults and smartly looks to avoid the striking game if at all possible, choosing to get inside his opponent's range and search for a takedown.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Lentz is a grinder—a wrestle-first, one-dimensional fighter plucked from 2003 and planted in the modern-day UFC. And he still wins fights. That's the power of wrestling, the most valuable tool any fighter can possess.

    Truly elite fighters have little trouble dealing with his game plan, but Lentz's wrestling skills and hardened attitude make him a perfect gatekeeper for the 145-pound division. 

    Unfortunately for him, this approach that makes him relatively successful in the cage makes him a pariah among fans who are looking for more standing action. Lentz, and his wrestling-heavy attack, remains unappreciated, as illustrated by the fact that he's appeared on precisely one pay-per-view card in his past six outings.

     

    Overall

    62/100 

13. Chan Sung Jung

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 27  Height: 5'7"  Reach: 72"

    Fight Camp: Korean Zombie MMA

    Record: 13-4 (3 knockouts, 8 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Lost to Jose Aldo (TKO) UFC 163
    Def. Dustin Poirier (Sub) UFC on Fuel TV 3
    Def. Mark Hominick (KO) UFC 140

     

    Wrestling

    17/25

    Takedown Average: 1.16, Takedown Accuracy: 83%, Takedown Defense: 61%

    Chan Sung Jung announced himself to the MMA world with a wild slugfest against Leonard Garcia back at WEC 48. For fans who saw that fight, it's likely the enduring image they carry with them of the Korean star. The fight launched a T-shirt and a legend.

    It was also an incredibly foolish fight by Jung. He is a far better ground fighter than striker—and he has a wide variety of ways to get the fight there. Slick trips, big throws and a great body lock are all part of his arsenal. He also has formidable clinch work and is quite difficult to get to the ground, even when caught off-balance. 

     

    Grappling

    19/25

    Submission Average: 0.9

    Jung has always been an explosive grappler. Before he was discovered by UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, Jung was locking up impressive submissions on the Asian scene. That skill set brought him to America—one he abandoned after the Garcia fight brought so much love from so many fans. 

    When he was knocked out by George Roop, however, that all changed. Jung vowed to return to his grappling roots and succeeded in emphatic fashion with his cringe-worthy twister submission over Leonard Garcia. He has shown himself to be a formidable grappler ever since.

    In his fight against Dustin Poirier, a highly technical Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, Jung executed numerous passes, the sweetest takedown reversal you'll ever see and got deep into multiple submission attempts before wounding his foe with a knee in the fourth round and finishing him with a choke.

    After losing his way, Jung has found the path once again. He's a ground specialist. He just has to keep telling himself that, and he'll be fine.

     

    Striking

    14/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.66, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 3.28

    The Korean Zombie” looks brilliant standing one moment and amateurish the next. 

    His punches are sloppy, looping hooks. That's not ideal, but he throws them from weird positions, landing often and hard. His kicks, too, shouldn't work as well as they do. He telegraphs them, and they arrive at glacial speed. Timing and craft are the only things that save him from having each and every kick caught or brutally countered.

    He is crafty enough to get away with mistakes and to punish opponents with his sneaky close-range striking. But, ultimately, he's the guy who lost a standing fight to Garcia, who was in the midst of a losing streak that saw the slugger go 2-8 over a four-year span. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    15/25

    The Jung of yesteryear was not a smart fighter by any means, getting baited into brawls and losing fights (or having them wind up being more competitive than they should have been) for no discernible reason. 

    It seemed, for a time, that he had found his identity. But against Jose Aldo, Jung lost his way. He didn't attempt a single takedown, despite that being his only path to victory against a brilliant striker. 

    How he responds to the Aldo setback will be a clear statement about his intent. If he comes back throwing leather, trying to recapture the glory of his early appearances, we'll know he's content with being a Korean Chris Lytle—a fan favorite who knows he's nothing more than midcard entertainment, a fun fighter but not a world-class one. 

     

    Overall

    65/100

12. Dennis Bermudez

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Age: 27  Height: 5'6"  Reach: 66"

    Fight Camp: Blackman MMA

    Record: 13-3 (4 knockouts, 2 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Jimy Hettes (TKO) UFC 171
    Def. Steven Siler (Dec) UFC Fight for the Troops 3
    Def. Max Holloway (Dec) UFC 160

     

    Wrestling

    19/25

    Takedown Average 4.73, Takedown Accuracy: 47% Takedown Defense: 91%

    Sometimes a loss is all it takes to unleash a fighter's true potential. It gets under his skin and inspires his best, both in the cage and in practice.

    Take Bermudez for example. After losing to Diego Brandao in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 14, he unleashed his full potential as a wrestler inside the Octagon, and the results were impressive.

    He went on a 6-0 run inside the featherweight division, a streak that he will look to extend against Clay Guida late in July. During this stretch, Bermudez landed 25 takedowns while giving up just one to Matt Grice at UFC 157 in a thoroughly wild and chaotic affair. 

    A former Division I wrestler at Bloomsburg University, Bermudez's game centers on his takedowns. He possesses a strong single-leg takedown, and he's excellent at countering any attempts that come his way. As a short, stocky and muscular guy, his center of gravity is low, allowing him to win the leverage battle against nearly every fighter he's faced in his UFC run. 

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    Submission Average: 1.8 

    Bermudez possesses a "strong man" grappling game. He's that guy who shows up to Brazilian jiu-jitsu practice and wrecks everybody with brute strength from the top position. 

    Want to sweep him to escape from the bottom position? Forget about it—you're not flipping this boulder over. Submit him? You better be quick and technical. He's too powerful and explosive for almost anything thrown his way. 

    Brandao caught Bermudez with a slick armbar during their TUF showdown, but "The Menace" has shrugged off every submission attempt with ease since that time. 

    On the offensive side, he prefers ground-and-pound to submissions, and his finishing moves consist almost exclusively of guillotine and rear-naked chokes. Don't look for him to attempt anything fancy, but if you stick your neck out, he has no problem squeezing it until you tap out or pass out.

     

    Striking

    15/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.53, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 3.22

    Give one to get one. It's standard protocol for crowd favorites in the UFC's midcard, and Bermudez is currently walking that path, although for him it's more like give three to get three. There's nothing technical or refined about his striking, but it's powerful and aggressive, and that's enough to decimate the lower echelon of 145-pounders in the UFC. 

    He has no problem standing and trading; he's confident that his magical chin will last longer than his opponent's. He's been clipped by hard strikes and knocked down by Brandao, Tommy Hayden and Grice, but none of them could put him away. Bermudez might collapse in a heap but instantly recovers and is ready to roll after touching down on the canvas. 

    So far, though, his noggin has held strong. He's returned fire in all of these fights, knocking down Brandao and repeatedly blasting Grice, even after their early knockdowns. This ability to recover quickly does not follow any known logic or science, and you get the feeling that at some point, he's not going to bounce back up. 

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    15/25

    Bermudez gets caught up in firefights, and that's rarely a smart move inside the Octagon. It's great for fans but bad for fighters who are looking for any kind of longevity.

    When you look at how many times he's been rocked and hurt, it's incredible that he's 6-0 since leaving the reality show. His aggression and sheer power have led him down an improbable road, and time will tell just how long he can keep the tires on the asphalt.

    For now, he faces a well-rounded test in Guida, and if he passes, he'll find himself facing the top 10 of the featherweight class. 

     

    Overall

    65/100

11. Shinya Aoki

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    Valerie Macon/Getty Images

    Age: 31  Height: 5'11"  Reach: 72"

    Fight Camp: Evolve MMA

    Record: 35-6 (1 knockout, 23 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Toshikatsu Harada (Sub) Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2013
    Def. Cody Stevens (Dec) One FC: Total Domination
    Def. Kotetsu Boku (Sub) One FC: Kings and Champions

     

    Wrestling

    12/25

    The fight world is a curious place. There are many fighters—guys who spent years developing a fearsome submission gamewho can't get a fight to the ground to save their lives. Considering their grappling skills are all but worthless standing, you'd think they'd make this a bit more of a priority.

    Instead, all too often, it's a void that ends up costing them a spot at the very top of the sport.

    Judo black belt Aoki has one of the best submission games in MMA. It's not hyperbole to say, given the time and opportunity, he could tap out anyone on the planet.

    Unfortunately for Aoki fans, against the best of the best, he can't dictate where the fight is contested. He never came close to taking Eddie Alvarez down in their second fight, and Gilbert Melendez manhandled him in their Strikeforce bout. It's a deficiency that all but ran Aoki out of American MMA. And that's truly our loss. 

     

    Grappling

    24/25

    Career Submissions: 23

    Aoki isn't just a slick submission specialist, although a quick glance at one of his highlight videos will reveal he's one of the slickest out there. He's also one of the meanest men to ever step into a cage.

    He isn't one of those guys who will release a submission before the referee has intervened, worried about his opponent's future health. He's a guy who will break his enemy's arm and then shoot him a double bird for good measure. That's not hyperbole—that's history.

    The best part about his grappling game is that he's dangerous anywhere. If you're on top, he has armbars and triangle chokes for days. In the scramble he's demonstrated potent leglocks. And if he gets on top of you? You might as well tap pre-emptively like Art Jimmerson at UFC 1. He's that good.  

     

    Striking

    12/25

    Aoki's striking, believe it or not, has improved dramatically over the last 11 years. Early in his career he looked absolutely lost on his feet, spending his every moment attempting to figure out how to get to the mat. 

    Today he at least looks comfortable. Against a skilled striker like Alvarez, he's still all but helpless. But against the mostly third-tier opponents he'll find with One FC? He'll be good enough to survive unscathed. 

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Training at Evolve MMA in Singapore, Aoki is working hard to diversify his skills. As you'd expect, there are a host of kickboxing aces to share their wisdom. Just as importantly, wrestling coach Heath Sims is there, lending a lifetime of institutional knowledge to the submission star.

    Despite all that, Aoki is a throwback and the closest thing we have to the sport's formative days. More than any other top fighter, he's a one-trick pony. Yes, that pony has a hard kick—Aoki can finish anyone at any time if things go his way. But he also feels like an anachronism. When he retires, we will never see his like again. 

     

    Overall

    65/100

10. Jeremy Stephens

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 27 Height: 5'9" Reach: 71"

    Fight CampAlliance Training Center

    Record23-9 (15 knockouts, 3 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Darren Elkins (Dec) UFC on Fox 10
    Def. Ronny Bezerra (KO) UFC Fight Night 32
    Def. Estevan Payan (Dec) UFC 160

     

    Wrestling

    18/25

    Takedown Average: 1.82, Takedown Accuracy: 50%, Takedown Defense 61%

    Stephens epitomizes MMA's stereotypical “Just Bleed" culture. He looks like the kind of guy who wants nothing more from life than a six pack and a fight on Saturday night. As such, you wouldn't expect him to be a more than decent wrestler—but he is.

    Offensively, wrestling isn't typically part of his plan, assuming he has one. Occasionally, he'll take a guy down, like he did Estevan Payan, whom he grounded and pounded in his featherweight debut. But, for Stephens, wrestling success comes down to takedown defense.

    Against bigger men at lightweight, giants like Gleison Tibau and Marcus Davis, getting tossed around was the cost of doing business. Stephens looks to be much better off at featherweight. In his most recent outing, he stuffed all nine of Darren Elkins' takedown attempts. That statistic could lead him right to a title shot with the right matchups.

     

    Grappling

    13/25

    Submission Average: 0.7

    One of the glaring flaws in Stephens' overall game is that, while he has pretty good takedown defense, once he is on his back, he struggles to escape.

    Marcus Davis clinched and held him to the cage for minutes on end. Anthony Pettis was able to take him down, stick on him and advance position until he nearly choked him out. Joe Lauzon practically went full-blown UFC 1 on him with easy guard passes.

    Those are all old losses, and he may have honed his skills in the time since. We'll likely find out in the near future.

     

    Striking

    18/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.69, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.29

    Stephens is far from a sophisticated striker. He has truly atrocious striking strategy, throwing haymaker after haymaker in the blind with a hope that one will connect.

    Here's the thing—sometimes it does. When that happens, it's lights out for his opponent. He throws punches the same way Tim Lincecum throws fastballs—full body, full effort and superhard.

    It's a dichotomy that makes Stephens very difficult to rate. Yes, he can be cold-cocked by a slick Yves Edwards or clowned by the gifted Donald Cerrone. But he can also finish anyone in the division with a single punch. 

      

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    16/25

    Physically, Stephens is a top featherweight. He is strong, has demonstrated particularly good cardio (especially for his go-hard-or-go-home style) and owns a steely chin.

    Mentally—not so much. His wild-swinging style, while exciting, has led to a .500 record in the UFC.

    There have been some positive signs since his drop to featherweight (most of his career has been at lightweight). Following his big knockout of Rony Bezerra, he discussed how he came in with a game plan and identified a flaw in what the Brazilian was doing. 

    As simple as that sounds, it's a huge step in the right direction.

     

    Overall

    65/100

9. Clay Guida

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 32  Height: 5'7"  Reach: 68"

    Fight Camp: Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA

    Record: 31-14 (4 knockouts, 15 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Tatsuya Kawajiri (Dec) UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi
    Lost to Chad Mendes (TKO) UFC 164
    Def. Hatsu Hioki (Dec) UFC on Fox 6

     

    Wrestling

    18/25

    Takedown Average: 3.63, Takedown Accuracy: 38%, Takedown Defense: 69%

    Clay Guida might technically compete as a professional mixed martial artist, but the guy is clearly a wrestler at heart. Despite coming from a modest wrestling background, he has an unquenchable desire for the takedown. He aims to make fights dirty by dragging his foes to the mat where he can then work his powerful top game.

    When he's unable to do this, as was the case against Kenny Florian and more recently against Chad Mendes, Guida usually looks uncomfortable and skittish, failing to put together any significant offense.

    "The Carpenter" lives and dies by his wrestling. Though he only lands a scant 38 percent of his attempts, he still nets more than one takedown per round in a standard three-round affair. That's a testament to his relentless attitude and never-say-die spirit.

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.8

    Guida is no dummy. He understands clearly where his strengths lie, and his grappling game focuses on position over submissions. Powerful top control and ground-and-pound are his bread and butter. It's his game, and he's sticking to it.

    After taking his opponents down, he will work ground-and-pound from full guard or pass if the opportunity presents itself. Generally, though, he's perfectly happy peppering away from inside his foe's full guard, avoiding submissions when or if they present themselves. Sometimes, this stubbornness works in his favor, and he cruises to a unanimous-decision victory; other times, it backfires, and he's forced to tap out.

    When Guida does break away from his methodical approach to submit somebody, it isn't pretty. Against Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael dos Anjos, Guida earned a submission victory (subscription required) in Round 3 simply by smashing his shoulder into Dos Anjos' injured jaw from half guard.

    It was a total tough-man move, brutal and unsophisticated—and perfectly fitting for Guida's grind-'em-down style. 

     

    Striking

    14/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.13, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.30

    Guida's striking is pedestrian at best, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. His stand-up attack is basically Plan C behind "Plan A: Take my opponent down" and "Plan B: Try to take my opponent down again."

    He's wild and crazy (except for that one time he wasn't), and he wings punches with reckless abandon. Making this game plan worse, Guida does not pack significant power in his strikes. He's earned just one TKO in his 19-fight UFC career, and nobody will ever confuse him for a power puncher.

    What's important is that he throws enough leather to work his way into range, where he can then test his opponent's takedown defense and take the fight where he's most comfortable—on the ground. 

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    Guida's cardio is remarkable, the kind of nonstop motor that can rescue victory from the jaws of defeat in the UFC Octagon. Even though he is not always the technically superior fighter, he can win fights simply by having more energy to expend late in matches.

    All three of his submission victories inside the Octagon came after the halfway point of the second round, right around the time when most fighters start to fade. That's no coincidence. Even as opponents think about every missed cardio session during training, Guida is still fresh. Often his opponents simply don't have the gas tank to fend off a full-strength submission at that point.

    Yet, the sport is evolving, and Guida cannot get by on his limitless lungs forever. Against a world-class athlete like Mendes, Guida looked lost in the cage. Is the sport at the top level passing him by? 

    At 32 years old, he still boasts a 2-1 record in his last three fights, but one has to wonder just how much longer he can keep it up with his basic skill set. 

     

    Overall

    66/100

8. Ricardo Lamas

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 32 Height: 5'8" Reach: 69"

    Fight CampMMA Masters

    Record: 13-3 (4 knockouts, 3 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Lost to Jose Aldo (Dec) UFC 169
    Def. Erik Koch (KO) UFC on Fox 6
    Def. Hatsu Hioki (Dec) UFC on FX 4

     

    Wrestling

    15/25

    Takedown Average: 1.74, Takedown Accuracy: 35%, Takedown Defense: 43%

    Ricardo Lamas' wrestling is a strange mixed bag.

    Sometimes, he looks the part of a straightforward ground-and-pound monster. He beat Bart Palaszewski and James Krause with almost nonstop takedowns and top control. More recently, he took down Erik Koch and pounded him out with little trouble.

    Other times, he will overzealously lock onto a submission or look for a reversal when an opponent tries to take him down (Hatsu Hioki and Dave Jansen put him on his back four and five times, respectively).

    That leads to Lamas being on his back a bit too often for my taste, especially in an MMA judging environment where that can be the difference between winning and losing a round.

     

    Grappling

    18/25

    Submission Average: 1.2

    Lamas has surprisingly crafty ground work for someone who came to the sport with an amateur wrestling base. Instead of defending takedowns in a traditional manner, he sometimes counters them with a submission hold. Wins over both Hioki and Jansen came by way of matching each of their takedown attempts with a submission attempt of his own, many of which came close to ending the fight.

    That's the kind of tactic that can lead to a career spent on the bottom, watching helplessly as an opponent racks up points. Not so for Lamas.

    He is very, very good at escaping from underneath. More than that, even formidable submission artists have been unable to finish him off. That kind of track record can fuel some risky behaviors. After all, even though he is taken down frequently, he usually finds ways to make things work out for him in the end.

     

    Striking

    16/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.27, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.03

    Evidence of Lamas' diverse technique litters his resume. He beat Matt Grice with a head kick, Bendy Casimir with a flying knee and Erik Koch with good old-fashioned ground-and-pound.

    But, like so many others in a sport where four-ounce gloves reward even mistakes, Lamas is a guy who lacks technique. Yes, he hits really hard. If you watch him, though, there's no questioning his iffy form.

    Head movement and footwork are two things he just doesn't really do. Most of the time opponents are too shell-shocked by his own attack to make that matter much. But it leaves him susceptible to getting frozen by smarter strikers. Case in point—his fight with Jose Aldo.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    17/25

    When you look at the stat lines alone, it's a wonder that Lamas climbed the ladder all the way to a title shot against Aldo. On paper, every fight was close, and playing the decision game is bound to backfire on any fighter who consistently leaves it in the hands of the judges.

    When you actually watch him fight, however, his winning streak makes more sense. He wins close decisions by doing just enough to trump opponents. He never winds up in a disadvantageous position without making an opponent pay for it in some way.

    This doesn't happen by chance. He has a feel for each round and makes sure he does just enough to win. It's a surprising mental edge for a fighter with such scant big-fight experience.

    Lamas fought just once in 2012 and once in 2013. That's not enough to maintain the edge needed for success at the highest levels.

      

    Overall

    66/100

7. Dustin Poirier

10 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 25 Height: 5'9" Reach: 73"

    Fight CampAmerican Top Team

    Record16-3 (7 knockouts, 6 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Akira Corassani (TKO) TUF Nations Finale
    Def. Diego Brandao (KO) UFC 168
    Def. Erik Koch (Dec) UFC 164

     

    Wrestling

    13/25

    Takedown Average: 1.41, Takedown Accuracy: 31%, Takedown Defense: 63%

    There's something about a slick submission game that seems to stunt wrestling growth in fighters who aren't carefully trained with the long term in mind. After all, when you can tap out almost everyone in the gym, why worry about something as pedestrian as takedown defense? Who needs it?

    I can't say for certain whether that's Poirier's experience, but he fits the mold. He has excellent submissions—but if an opponent doesn't purposely put him on the ground, it's most likely not going there.

    His struggles are best demonstrated by three facts: He was worked over in the clinch by Jonathan Brookins, he was 2-of-9 in takedown attempts against Cub Swanson, and he was taken down in every round of his fight with Chan Sung Jung before being submitted.

      

    Grappling

    19/25

    Submission Average: 1.7

    Like all the best grapplers, Poirier has a knack for thinking several moves ahead of his opponent. A master of human chess, he will go for a submission, have his next move already planned and then have a few other options already queued up after that.

    He showed this off perfectly against Max Holloway, when he went from the mount position to an armbar to a triangle choke and then back into the mount before, finally, finishing with a triangle armbar. Opponents beware—this is a very dangerous man on the mat.

     

    Striking

    18/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 4.45, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 3.13

    The polish that helps Poirier shine on the ground doesn't exist in his stand-up game. There he's quite unrefined—but certainly not ineffective.

    He has power and accuracy in both hands, and his constant switching between orthodox and southpaw trips up many lesser strikers who are dazed by both the smoke and the mirrors.

    Against better strikers, those not taken in by his razzle dazzle, Poirier is fairly pedestrian from a distance. His combinations are predictable, his repertoire is generally limited to a big left hand, and he is prone to eating shots to the body.

    Where he shines is in the trenches. Most impressively, he is remarkably accurate at close range, landing devastating hooks to either initiate or break from the clinch. This is Poirier at his gritty best, making the fight ugly and loving every minute of it.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    16/25

    Poirier is one of the sport's most frustrating fighters. In 2011 he stepped into the cage with the highly touted Josh Grispi. It was supposed to be a step on Grispi's ladder to the top. Instead, Poirier mauled him. It was a complete drubbing. A prospect was born that night—but it wasn't Grispi.

    Since then, however, Poirier hasn't managed to keep forward momentum. Just when you think he's going to take that next step toward stardom, he falls short in winnable fights.

    While he delivered a lot of punishment, his losses to Chan Sung Jung and Cub Swanson stemmed from an empty gas tank. Even in his winning efforts, he tends to struggle down the stretch (Erik Koch worked him over mightily in the third round of their fight). 

    That's a big problem in the featherweight division, where a fighter needs to be able to consistently muster up 15 (or 25) minutes of hustle at the top level.

     

    Overall

    66/100

6. Cub Swanson

11 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 30 Height: 5'7" Reach: 70"

    Fight CampJackson's MMA

    Record20-5 (8 knockouts, 7 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Dennis Siver (TKO) UFC 162
    Def. Dustin Poirier (Dec) UFC on Fuel TV 7
    Def. Charles Oliveira (TKO) UFC 152

     

    Wrestling

    12/25

    Takedown Average: 2.03, Takedown Accuracy: 56%, Takedown Defense 47%

    Swanson has a hard time staying off his back. Some of that is a sign of respect—his knockout power is fearsome enough to drive a desperate man to drop for a double leg. Some of his struggles, however, are the result of a lack of aptitude.

    In fights that went more than a minute, only George Roop failed to take Swanson down. Chad Mendes did it eight times en route to a decision win. Ricardo Lamas worked him over in the clinch and on the ground before forcing him to tap to an arm-triangle choke. Even Mackens Semerzier was able to get the better of him on the ground (though the judges would give Swanson a split-decision win).

    Swanson's wrestling is his Achilles' heel—and you don't have to be particularly good to exploit it.

     

    Grappling

    14/25

    Submission Average: 1.0

    When Swanson finds himself underneath a potent grappler, as he does all too often when matched with another contender, things don't get much better. Three of his five career losses have come via submission, and another came when Mendes managed to hold him down for three rounds.

    Grappling, obviously, is not his strong suit. 

    While he has seven submission wins, it's worth noting that three of those were via punches. Others came by rear-naked choke following strikes.

    In truth, despite those misleading wins, almost every grappler he has faced has gotten the better of him. Normally, that's a flaw that would see him plummet down a list like this. Fortunately for Swanson, the top of the featherweight division is loaded with strikers who prefer to play his game.

     

    Striking

    22/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.41, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.61

    So how, you might ask, does a fighter with limited grappling and wrestling make it into the top six?

    For one thing, he competes in one of the thinnest divisions in the sport. For another, he hits like a tiny 145-pound truck. Swanson has minimal grappling skills, it's true. But he gets by on his downright amazing striking. He has one of the largest arsenals in MMA, which ranges from technical kickboxing to twirling kicks straight out of Street Fighter 2.

    The base that fuels it all, however, is boxing. Swanson spars regularly with pro boxers like Vicente Escobedo and Omar Figueroa, which gives him the confidence to sling leather with anyone he might find across from him in an MMA cage.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    19/25

    Chin? Check. Cardio? Check. All-around toughness? Check.

    Swanson has all the physical and mental tools to succeed at a very high level. Oh, and he has the Jackson-Winkeljohn coaching staff flanking him. That certainly doesn't hurt.

    What's hurt him most of all, literally, is a history of injuries. If he can put those behind him and fill the holes in his grappling game, a rematch with Jose Aldo might just be the most compelling fantasy fight in the entire division.

     

    Overall

    67/100

5. Patricio Freire

12 of 16

    Age: 26 Height: 5'5" Reach: 71"

    Fight CampTeam Nogueira, Pitbull Brothers

    Record21-2 (9 knockouts, 7 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Justin Wilcox (TKO) Bellator 108 
    Def. Fabricio Guerreiro (Dec) Bellator 103 
    Def. Diego Nunes (KO) Bellator 99

     

    Wrestling

    16/25

    Patricio Freire is a fighter who got his start, like so many others, as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. That Freire, however, has never been seen in the Bellator cage. Instead, we've seen a bloodthirsty slugger who loves to stay at striking distance with opponents and unload huge, heavy punches. 

    That's not possible, of course, without solid takedown defense. In each of his matchups with formidable wrestlers (most notably Joe Warren and Daniel Straus), he was able to either completely neutralize their takedown attempts or at least make them work very hard for them. While Freire is by no means a defensive savant—Warren was eventually able to get him down and hold him there toward the end of their fight—he isn't an easy mark, either. 

     

    Grappling

    16/25

    We haven't seen it in a long time, but Freire is a solid grappler.

    Amazing? No. But solid.

    He has submissions and is good from top position, as one would expect. However, he also has a lethargic guard. When he does find himself underneath an opponent, he seems far too willing to stay there, eating punches and courting disaster.

     

    Striking

    20/25

    Freire punches very, very hard. He can cover a great deal of distance and doesn't need much windup to generate fight-ending power. Those are very valuable tools that serve as a Band-Aid for festering bad technique just below the surface.

    Bellator's featherweight division doesn't have many particularly formidable strikers, and that lets him get away with a lot of things that he wouldn't be able to against elite competition. He can plow through most problems with raw power. But when Freire comes across a sophisticated, unintimidated striker like Pat Curran, he can be outboxed and out-thought.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    19/25

    “Pitbull” is a shark in a fish tank. Bellator's featherweight division doesn't have many fighters who can match him. Neither, in all honesty, does the UFC. It's a shallow division, and he feasts on the little fish within.

    He owns a 21-2 record and has consistently dominated both the regional-level talent Bellator has put in front of him, as well as the mid-level veterans. The only losses on his record are close split decisions to Warren and Curran.

    Freire is very strong with a gas tank that few can match. He's a legitimate athlete and knows how to use his physicality against easily intimidated foes. On the flip side, he had trouble making adjustments in both his losses. When things didn't go his way, there was no Plan B. That's a problem if he wants to fulfill his potential as a fighter.

     

    Overall

    71/100

4. Pat Curran

13 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26 Height: 5'9" Reach: 73"

    Fight Camp: Team Curran

    Record: 20-5 (5 knockouts, 7 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Daniel Straus (Sub) Bellator 112
    Lost to Daniel Straus (Dec) Bellator 106
    Def. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (Sub) Bellator 95

     

    Wrestling

    17/25

    You'd think a drop in weight classes would have improved Curran's already solid wrestling game. At 155 pounds, he repeatedly stuffed Eddie Alvarez's shots and bounced right back to his feet when Alvarez did manage to dump him on the mat. Offensively, Curran even took Alvarez down once in Round 5.

    After surviving that onslaught, surely men 10 pounds lighter would be a piece of cake?

    And, yet, like many before him, Curran hasn't been quite the same fighter against smaller men. Daniel Straus overwhelmed him in their last two fights. First, Straus defeated Curran at Bellator 106 with takedowns and top control. Curran had no answers.

    In the rematch, Curran's takedown defense was better, but it took a fight-saving rear-
    naked choke in the bout's dying seconds to regain the Bellator title. While Curran is not "bad" here by any means, Straus showed that if you want to beat the Bellator featherweight champion, you can start by planting him on his back. 

     

    Grappling

    18/25

    Although not quite one of the Gracies, there's perhaps a genetic component to Curran's submission success. His cousin and trainer, journeyman Jeff Curran, was a mainstay on the international scene in the days before the little guys were a big deal.

    He was a master on the mat, and Pat is no different. Sure, there are some Brazilian jiu-jitsu standouts who might be too much for him once things go to the ground—but he's rarely outmatched once the fight hits the mat. 

    The Bellator featherweight champ boasts seven victories via submission on his resume, all via some form of choke (and one via the ultra-rare Peruvian necktie, which he hit on an actual Peruvian, Luis Palomino). He's ruthless in attacking his opponent's neck, and the finish is oftentimes born from a scramble rather than from an elaborate setup. 

    You rarely see Curran work from his guard, but Straus did a nice job of pinning him to the mat and nullifying his offense when he snatched the strap at Bellator 106, which was Curran's lone slip-up in his last eight fights.

    Because of this, you have to knock Curran a bit in the grappling department. He's great when he's on the offensive, but with a powerful grappler on top, he sometimes struggles to get back to his feet or to work a sweep or submission attempt.

     

    Striking

    20/25

    Despite owning more submissions than knockouts, Curran's greatest threat to opponents is his technical striking game and brutal knockout power. 

    Early in fights, he uses leg kicks and feints to get a feel for his opponent's movement and timing, and when the opportunity to pounce presents itself, he does not delay. This game plan causes him to get picked apart early in fights on occasion, but losing the first round doesn't matter when you finish your opponent later, and Curran goes big with an assortment of head kicks, flying knees and punches. 

    On the flip side, if he doesn't secure the big knockout, he sometimes fails to find his rhythm for the bout's duration, and he lost his featherweight strap to Straus at Bellator 106 because of this. Straus used a smart, calculated approach on the feet, and Curran was never able to find his range and mount any significant attack. 

    Against the likes of Jose Aldo, this could present a major problem. But Curran's stand-up game is generally superior inside the Bellator cage, and he's never been finished via strikes. For a perfect summary of his game-changing power, check out his fight with Mike Ricci from Bellator 14 or his disgusting, Tekken-like combo to put away Joe Warren at Bellator 60. 

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    20/25

    At 26 years old, Curran is now entering his athletic prime, and he's already accomplished more than most will in a lifetime. His 25-fight career is still young, and he has plenty of time to grow and evolve as a mixed martial artist. 

    As he continues to develop, we will probably see him rule the Bellator roost, knocking down contenders after they emerge victorious from the Bellator tournament finals or Bjorn Rebney decree.

    There are no holes in Curran's mental game. He doesn't overpursue the finish or become easily shaken or rattled when his opponent finds success. His killer instinct leads him to find the finish even when the odds are stacked against him (see the fifth round of his latest fight against Straus). His calculated brand of violence has led him to the top of the Bellator featherweight mountain. 

     

    Overall

    75/100 

3. Frankie Edgar

14 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 32 Height: 5'6" Reach: 68"

    Fight Camp: Renzo Gracie Combat Team

    Record: 16-4 (4 knockouts, 3 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Charles Oliveira (Dec) UFC 162
    Lost to Jose Aldo (Dec) UFC 156
    Lost to Benson Henderson (Dec) UFC 150

     

    Wrestling

    20/25

    Takedown Average 2.54, Takedown Accuracy: 35%, Takedown Defense: 63%

    We're used to seeing fighters work off their jab. It's a staple of the sweet science, and even many MMA fighters are starting to see the utility of setting up their offense with a fast, distance-gauging blow. 

    But setting up a takedown with a jab? That's fairly unusual—unless your name is Frankie Edgar. For years the former lightweight champion has disguised his single-leg takedown with a punch, sneaking his right hand behind an opponent's knee while distracting them with a leaning left jab. 

    Over and over again, he's done it. And over and over again, it's worked. Of course, that's not his only effective takedown technique. He also changes levels quickly to pull off a strong double-leg takedown. Those tactics make him a very dangerous wrestler, even against much larger fighters. 

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.3

    Despite training for years with the great Renzo Gracie, Edgar has never shown any particular submission prowess. He has, however, learned how to defend well. He's never tapped out in a fight, despite spending a lot of time sharing the cage with great submission artists like B.J. Penn and Charles Oliveira. 

    In a scramble, he is both explosive and smart. He's rarely been trapped for long, despite almost always being the smallest man in the cage, even now as a featherweight. 

     

    Striking

    21/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.35, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 2.23

    Edgar's success standing is built primarily on speed. Like a shark, he's in constant motion, pacing back and forth and making opponents work hard to track him down.

    Almost always the shorter man, he should theoretically be at a disadvantage from a distance. But he moves so quickly, coming in behind powerful looping punches with both hands, that he closes in smartly against even the best strikers.

    Edgar's problem is a distinct lack of power. He's almost always more skilled than his opponent standing—but his lack of pop almost always guarantees the fight is going to a decision.  

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    20/25

    UFC President Dana White has a mantra that longtime fans have heard over and over again. "Never," White tells anyone who will listen, "leave it in the hands of the judges."

    It's a plea that serves two purposes. First, it encourages aggression and legitimate attempts to finish fights. That's good for promoters who are looking to sell fans on an exciting show. It's also a piece of solid advice, especially considering the state of MMA judging.

    Edgar, in many ways, is a poster boy for the system's inefficiency.

    Seven times since 2010, he has gone the distance. He's been on both sides of close decisions, most recently against featherweight champion Jose Aldo, a fight Edgar thought he'd won.

    Without developing a go-to submission or a few additional tricks standing, this pattern is all too likely to continue. Edgar can only be as good as MMA's broken officiating. And that's a problem. 

     

    Overall

    78/100 

2. Chad Mendes

15 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29 Height: 5'6" Reach: 66"

    Fight Camp: Team Alpha Male

    Record: 16-1 (6 knockouts, 2 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Nik Lentz (Dec) UFC on Fox 9
    Def. Clay Guida (TKO) UFC 164
    Def. Darren Elkins (KO) UFC on Fox 7

     

    Wrestling

    22/25

    Takedown Average 4.99, Takedown Accuracy: 59%, Takedown Defense: 100%

    In 2008, Mendes came within three points of winning the NCAA wrestling championship at 141 pounds. That speaks volumes about his wrestling prowess.

    So too does his success in the Octagon. With the exception of fights that ended in the very first round, he has taken every opponent to the mat. Some, including solid wrestlers like Nik Lentz, ended up on their back over and over again. Only champion Jose Aldo has truly stymied him, avoiding seven shots before ending Mendes' night with a knee to the head in the clinch.

    When not in the cage with Aldo, those takedowns add up, in the record books and on the judges' scorecards. Mendes averages almost five takedowns for every 15 minutes of fighting. That's not just good—it's the highest average in WEC/UFC featherweight history.  

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.4

    It should come as no surprise that the one submission win in Mendes' Zuffa career came by way of the guillotine choke. It's the house special for fighters from Team Alpha Male, and Mendes has likely spent plenty of time both defending and executing one of MMA's most versatile chokes.

    But while submissions aren't key to his game, grappling is. After all, he needs to do something with all those takedowns to win points and rounds.

    He has good top control and solid ground-and-pound, and like most skilled fighters, he tends to win in the scramble when a careful plan turns into complete chaos. He's even managed to throw a few wrinkles into his game—including a really cool flipping guard pass that has to be seen to be believed.  

     

    Striking

    20/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 2.42, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.42

    Mendes and his coaches have done a remarkable job turning a pure wrestler into a multifaceted and powerful striker. He's a great natural athlete and must have a brain like a sponge, allowing him to master techniques in a variety of sports in mere months.

    He has great movement, punches in combination and has the kind of God-given power that easily corrects for any technical errors he might make. The prototypical wrestler-turned-striker fights more like Clay Guida, charging wildly and hoping for the best. Mendes made Guida look absolutely foolish, moving away from his wild punches with textbook footwork and making him pay with counter right hands.

    It was a masterful performance—the difference between a good fighter and a great one. 

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    22/25

    Mendes is everything you could want in a fighter from a wrestling base. He has kept his wrestling strong, added very sophisticated striking and shown an ability to avoid trouble on the ground. Best of all, he mixes his striking and wrestling well, moving easily from one to the other without having to trip a mental switch like some fighters who seem to keep each skill set in a separate box.

    In truth, he has everything he needs to succeed. He just happens to be unlucky enough to enter the MMA scene at the same time as Jose Aldo, one of the most gifted fighters in UFC history.

     

    Overall

    81/100 

1. Jose Aldo

16 of 16

    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 27 Height: 5'7" Reach: 70"

    Fight Camp: Nova Uniao

    Record: 24-1 (14 knockouts, 2 submissions)

    Last Three Fights

    Def. Ricardo Lamas (Dec) UFC 169
    Def. Chan Sung Jung (TKO) UFC 163
    Def. Frankie Edgar (Dec) UFC 156

     

    Wrestling

    22/25

    Takedown Average 1.05, Takedown Accuracy: 72%, Takedown Defense: 91%

    If any questions lingered about Aldo's wrestling game, especially after he was taken down by Canadian kickboxer Mark Hominick they were answered definitively against Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes.

    In the Edgar fight especially, Aldo's takedown defense shined. Edgar is great at mixing takedowns in with his lightning-fast punches, but Aldo was more than ready. He defended Edgar's deadly knee pick deftly and moved at an inhuman speed to fend off a double-leg takedown that would have felled even the most seasoned wrestler.

    It's clear at this point that Aldo has spent endless hours making sure he can keep the fight exactly where he wants it—on his feet.  

     

    Grappling

    17/25

    Submission Average: 0.2

    Like Vitor Belfort before him, Aldo's grappling game is a bit of a mystery. Both men came from the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigrees. Both prefer, however, to stand and bang. 

    In time, Belfort would reveal good hips and a solid grounding in submissions. Aldo, so adept at staying on his feet, hasn't really had the chance to do so—yet.

    As a young fighter, he showed some jiu-jitsu prowess in Brazil, winning titles as both a purple and brown belt. But you'd never guess he has a grappling background at all as a professional. He's focused primarily on his stand-up game. 

     

    Striking

    24/25

    Significant Strikes Landed per Minute: 3.18, Significant Strikes Absorbed per Minute: 1.79

    It's here that Aldo really shines. While most MMA fighters are either slick stylists or powerful brutes, Aldo manages to combine the best of both worlds. As a technician, he's mostly superb. He has a stiff jab, a tricky uppercut and a decent counter right straight or stepping knee ready for anyone foolish enough to charge at him recklessly.

    But when you think of Aldo, what come to mind, more than any boxing techniques, are his powerful and persistent leg kicks. He famously wrecked Urijah Faber's leg with a series of kicks, but Faber is hardly alone. Very few can avoid them for long.

    That, of course, is by design. Many MMA fighters use leg kicks almost like a jab, as single strikes to throw their opponent's off balance and distractions that aren't really central to the fight. Aldo mixes his in with his other wide-ranging techniques, often combining a right straight, left to the body and right leg kick in devastating combination.

    And, if that's not enough, he can also explode with a fury when he thinks the time is right. He's no mere stylist—he can crack. Nine of his fights in the WEC and UFC have ended by knockout, including a spectacular flying knee that dropped Cub Swanson eight seconds into their fight.

     

    Fight IQ and Intangibles

    24/25

    At age 16 Aldo left home to pursue two dreams—to see the ocean and to become a professional fighter. He accomplished both in Rio de Janeiro when legendary coach Andre Pederneiras from Nova Uniao took the struggling teen under his wing.

    He gave Aldo a room in the gym, rescuing him from the streets, and has seen him grow into a man and champion. That's a powerful bond—and the kind of life experience that won't let fame and success go to his head.

    Most remarkable about Aldo's rise is his constant improvement. UFC Fight Pass allows fans to watch all of Aldo's UFC and WEC fights. While he was good from the get-go, his improvement is incredible.

    He's not yet perfect. Inside his kicking range, a good boxer can outpunch him. On the ground, he might be tested. But those weaknesses aren't easy to take advantage of. It will take a great and disciplined fighter to beat him.   

     

    Overall

    87/100 

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