Just about every mixed martial arts pound-for-pound discussion begins with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
No one has dominated his division like Silva, who has successfully defended the 185-pound crown a UFC-record nine consecutive times. Add to that his promotional-best 14 wins in a row, and it’s difficult to argue that Silva doesn’t deserve the title of best MMA fighter.
A handful of observers support UFC welterweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre for the No. 1 spot. They point to the ease in which St. Pierre has beaten the opposition since reclaiming the 170-pound belt from Matt Serra in April 2008.
UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones is starting to make a push to have his name included in the conversation. He’s looked virtually unbeatable inside the Octagon.
But for the past two-plus years, the pound-for-pound debate has been limited to Silva and St. Pierre. It’s time the conversation be expanded – and not to include Jones.
After successfully defending his title at UFC 136 with a fourth-round TKO of top contender Gray Maynard, lightweight champion Frankie Edgar erased all doubt that he sits among the best mixed martial artists.
Edgar personifies the essence of pound-for-pound best fighter.
Though he possesses the 155-pound belt, Edgar is a natural featherweight – a smallish one at that. No other UFC champion can claim to be competing above his natural fighting weight.
It’s what separates him from the championship pack.
“He’s the best pound-for-pound fighter because he’s doing it the opposite way: he’s giving up weight,” Edgar’s boxing trainer Mark Henry told ESPN.com. “Nobody’s doing it that way.
“Here’s what’s so special about him, if there had been a 135-pound class in UFC when he started that’s where he would have fought.
“People don’t give him credit. If he’d have started at 135 and later won the 155-pound title, people would be calling him ‘incredible.’”
Dana White has been singing Edgar’s praises for some time now, but after his unforgettable performance Saturday night in Houston against Maynard, the UFC president has increased the volume.
As far as White is concerned, a convincing argument can only be made for placing Silva ahead of Edgar at this time.
“[Edgar] is the Arturo Gatti of MMA,” White said. “That’s really who this kid is. I have so much respect for him, and I am going to say this here tonight and I don’t care who disagrees.
“You’re wrong and I’m right. He’s the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, period.
“The only thing that keeps him from being No. 1 is that Anderson Silva has not been beaten in the UFC since 2006 and most of the time he has been the champion.”
In White’s attempt at praising Edgar, he actually does him a disservice. Edgar is no Gatti. His achievements inside the Octagon surpass those of the late boxing champion.
There are a couple of things Edgar and Gatti do have in common. Both put everything they have into a fight, and each calls New Jersey home.
That’s where the similarities end. Gatti was never among boxing’s pound-for-pound elite and often came up short against bigger fighters, especially those considered the best in their respective weight classes.
The boxing equivalent of Edgar is Manny Pacquiao, a former WBC flyweight champion who always enters his welterweight title bouts 2 or 3 pounds below the 147-pound limit. And while Pacquiao can claim to be the better finisher, Edgar showed on Saturday that he too is capable of doing damage with a well-placed right hand.
“I don’t see these 155-ers beating Frankie, but if they did, they’re not accomplishing what Frankie is doing,” Henry said. “If they want to accomplish what Frankie has they’d have to win at 185 or at least 170.
“And all the 145-ers are bigger than him. [UFC bantamweight champion] Dominick Cruz, who entered his last fight at 160, would be bigger than Frankie if they fought.
“Frankie could absolutely make 135, if we got with the right people. If everybody else can do it, why can’t we? We’re just 23 pounds over [the bantamweight limit].”