It has been a hugely surprising (and mostly demoralizing) year so far for the UFC champions who started 2016 with a gold belt wrapped tightly around their waste. Of the ten champions, seven have already lost their titles. Having a UFC gold belt wrapped around your waist is the pinnacle of the fight game for most fighters, yet there are actually very few people who can say that they are, without a doubt, the best in the world at what they do.
We all know that the UFC has created a culture of entertainment, spectacle, and amazing moments, but is it truly the ultimate in competition, the best of the best, meeting to decide who the leading fighter in the world really is? A few short years ago there was no doubt in most weight divisions. With GSP, Anderson Silva, and the emerging Jon Jones, that left very few to question if they were, at that particular time, the greatest in their respective weight divisions.
But with over half of the champions that started the year losing their titles already, are the new champions really the best in the world? Did they really deserve their opportunity at the belt in the first place? When they captured the belt, were they just a fortunate product of circumstance or did they get lucky with one punch or did they have it given to them through their opponents foolishness or arrogance?
This two part article looks at all the UFC weight divisions and the champions and asks: Is the champion really the best in the world? Did they even deserve their shot in the first place? This is part one. Part two of this article will cover UFC’s other five titles and it will be published tomorrow.
Champion: Tyron Woodley
2016’s most recent UFC champion Tyron Woodley certainly has all the skills that you imagine a modern champion should have. He is extremely physically fit, built like a tank, has a good wrestling pedigree, and (as evidenced by the Robbie Lawler knockout) has a pretty fearsome right hand. However, let’s not forget that he should never have been given his title shot in the first place. There were a number of more deserving challengers in the form of Damien Maia, Carlos Condit, and Stephen Thompson. He ‘”earnt” his shot at the title by losing to Rory MacDonald, beating fringe top 15 Dong Hyun Kim, and getting a decision win against Kelvin Gastelum who should never have been allowed to fight in the first place due to a bad weight cut.
Is Tyron Woodley the best in the world? He certainly has the potential, and props to him for playing the UFC like a fiddle and making the most of his situation. But he certainly has a murderous row of competition in front of him if he wants to show the world he really is the best. The fact that he is now calling out GSP and Nick Diaz for a super fight when he has not earned anything of the sort makes his current position a sad state of affairs.
Champion: Eddie Alvarez
Eddie Alvarez defied the odds and beat Rafael Dos Anjos for the much coveted Lightweight Title. It was a masterful performance against a man who had seemed almost invincible in the one-sided beatdowns of Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone. That is why it came as a shock for him to get beaten by a man who had scored fairly unimpressive wins against Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis. However, Dos Anjos made it a dog fight and that is Alvarez’s forte.
Did Alvarez deserve the shot? Yes and no. While he beat Pettis and Melendez, he had also lost to Cerrone, which seemed conveniently forgotten about. However, after his Strikefore contract woes and being a champion in that organization, it was hard to begrudge him the shot.
Is Alvarez the best in the world? When you get into an all out brawl, test of wills, and who wants it more, I do believe he is. However, a technical striker and someone who stays on the outside and with high level jiu jitsu could well get the better of him.
Champion: Connor McGregor
Ahh, the phenom that is McGregor. The Featherweight Champion has defied the rules and broken into super stardom. With his astonishing early knockout of Jose Aldo, he managed to predict it all and win massively. He decided, not the UFC, to then go up in weight (which very few champions have done) to see if he could become a two division world champion. Of course, we all know that those plans were spoiled when the champion at the time Dos Anjos had to pull out and Nate Diaz stepped in. Believing in himself, he took the fight but, after being seemingly in control of the fight, his cardio ran out, he went to the mat, and he was submitted in quick fashion.
But not one to be deterred, he demanded the rematch, at 170 lbs no less. We will see very shortly if he can make the necessary changes in his game to conquer Diaz, who has only been stopped once in his career due to strikes.
Did he deserve the match against Aldo? Yes, after a six fight win streak beating Max Holloway, Dustin Poirer, and Chad Mendes, not to mention his own considerable promotional skills, it was necessary.
Is he the best in the world? Quite possibly, but until we get the rematch with Aldo we cannot be sure. Thirteen seconds, one punch, and seeing Aldo hit the floor was amazing, but many, including me, felt we had been robbed of one of the most exciting fights UFC could have presented. Win or lose against Diaz, he must fight Aldo to cement his legacy. If he wins, then he can have another go at being a two weight world champion.
Champion: Dominic Cruz
Dominic Cruz is another feel good MMA story. After nearly three years away from the sport in his fighting prime to deal with two separate ACL injuries, he returned against T.J. Dillishaw to win back the title he never lost. Although it was a close fight, Cruz used his superior footwork and range to sneak the decision victory. He then fought Uriah Faber to close one of the most heated rivalries in the sport and has cemented himself as the greatest comeback story in MMA history.
Is Cruz the best in the world? He is, but Dillishaw is deserving of a rematch. However, Cruz wants to make big money fights, as most champions do and is looking at a super fight with the flyweight king Demetrious Johnson.
Champion: Demetrious Johnson
Since his last loss at Bantamweight all the way back in 2011 to Dominic Cruz, Johnson is probably the single most improved UFC fighter on the roster, and now he is fighting at his natural weight class there seems to be no holding him back.
He has beaten Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez in order to win the belt in the inaugural flyweight championship as it was a new weight class for the UFC. Since then he has beaten John Dodson (twice) John Moraga, Benavides again, Ali Bagautinov, Chris Cariaso, Kyoji Horiguchi and Henry Cejudo. He is now chasing Anderson Silva’s record of UFC championship defences.
Is Demetrious Johnson the best in the world? Without doubt he is. He has overcome every challenge put in front of him and continues to improve to the point that it seems their are now no viable contenders left in his division and he may have to move up just to get a challenge.
(Christopher King of Arundel, England is a new MMATorch contributor. He got hooked on MMA after watching UFC 114 featuring “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans and from there, he says, “I spent a ridiculous amount of money and time watching every event from UFC 1 up to the present so I could understand the history of the sport, the fighters, the weight divisions and everything else in between. It was the style of fighting that drew me in, in order to see what martial art was the most effective, and from there, the fighters themselves, their story, their training and the sacrifices that they go through.” Follow him on Twitter – @ChristofKing)