Passing the Guard: December 2014 MMA Power Rankings and UFC 181 Primer

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By E. Marcel Pourtout, Editor

Music to listen to: Burn Out by The Cinematic Orchestra

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve hit December which means its time for another set of Power Rankings and some teasers for UFC 181 which takes place this Saturday.

Heavyweight:

1. Cain Velasquez

2. Fabricio Werdum

3. Junior Dos Santos

4. Mark Hunt

5. Travis Browne

Thoughts: Velasquez is a few months away from being eliminated from my rankings which eliminates anyone who hasn’t fought in 16 months for any reason. His consistent injuries have kept him out of the UFC cage, including the past event in Mexico UFC 180. Werdum won the “interim” title in the main event over Mark Hunt. For older fans of MMA, we’ve known Werdum as a ground practiconer who was average at best in the standup game. However, the Brazilian has shown impressive boxing since returning to the UFC two years ago and it was in full display against Hunt. Dos Santos faces Stipe Miocic later this month and could be a victory away from getting another shot at regaining the UFC title. Dos Santos earned a first round TKO win over Werdum back at UFC 90 in October 2008. Browne faces Brendan Schaub later this month as well.

Light Heavyweight:

1. Jon Jones

2. Daniel Cormier

3. Alex Gustafsson

4. Anthony Johnson

5. Phil Davis

Thoughts: We’ll finally get to see Jones vs. Cormier in January 2015 with the winner presumably facing the winner of the Gustafsson/Johnson battle later that month. The argument could be made for Gustafsson being ranked ahead of Cormier especially since the Swede came the closest to beating Jones and has looked strong ever since. That’s fair but I still think that Cormier would theoretically win a fight between the two of them at this moment. In fact, I’m bullish on Johnson beating Gustafsson in January.

Middleweight:

1. Chris Weidman

2. Anderson Silva

3. Vitor Belfort

4. Luke Rockhold

5. Ronaldo Souza

Thoughts: Weidman and Belfort will fight in February 2015 for the championship. I still have Silva ranked second despite a long layoff due to his leg injury. He’ll get Nick Diaz in January 2015 which will be the stiffest test of his career with all factors considered.

Welterweight:

1. Johny Hendricks

2. Robbie Lawler

3. Rory MacDonald

4. Tyron Woodley

5. Hector Lombard

Thoughts: Right now, I’m taking Hendricks in a decision over Lawler for UFC 181. Both guys are even in the standup with Lawler possessing more speed and Hendricks more power. Hendricks’ left hand has to be acknowledged as a knockout weapon but Lawler can drop anyone in the division as well. Wrestling will be a larger factor in this fight than the last one with Hendricks using it to control the pace in a close decision win.

As much as we’ve mocked Rory MacDonald on The Sports Inquirer since its inception nearly three years ago (time flies!), the Canadian has had a strong run of three straight wins after a loss to Lawler at UFC 167 last year. He’s shown the aggressiveness that’s needed to compete for a belt. He should be in line for the next title shot. Woodley is another title contender that could be heard from in 2015 if he gets past Kelvin Gastelum in January of that year.

Lightweight:

1. Anthony Pettis

2. Gilbert Melendez

3. Khabib Nurmagomedov

4. Rafael dos Anjos

5. Donald Cerrone

Thoughts: Pettis and Melendez fight as well on Saturday and I’m giving the slight edge to the challenger. I think Melendez will use a grappling approach to slow down the quicker Pettis and grind out a decision. Nurmagomedov and Cerrone were supposed to fight in what has been the MMA dream matchup booked by fans for nearly a year but one the pen met paper, injury prevented it from happening in true life. Cerrone now gets Myles Jury next month. dos Anjos is also in title contention and a win over Nate Diaz later this month could get him a fight for the belt.

Featherweight:

1. Jose Aldo

2. Frankie Edgar

3. Chad Mendes

4. Ricardo Lamas

5. Cub Swanson

Thoughts: No Conor McGregor. From a promoter standpoint, McGregor is a dream fighter. He’s a white Irishman who a legit fighter, talks strong, comprehensible trash to opponents (the accent is not hard to understandable) and loves to speak to the media. However, he’s not a top-five fighter in the division…yet. A win over Dennis Siver next month in Boston will most likely get him that title shot against Aldo.

Edgar should be next in line to face Aldo, especially after a fifth round win over Swanson last month. Mendes took Aldo the distance last month as well but just couldn’t get the decision.

Bantamweight:

1. T.J. Dillashaw

2. Renan Barao

3. Dominic Cruz

4. Urijah Faber

5. Rafael Assuncao

Thoughts: Straight forward division. You have to assume that champ Dillashaw will face Cruz at some point in 2015 to determine the true champion in the division because Cruz technically didn’t “lose” the belt. That’s not a knock on Dillashaw who is the deserved recognized champion but seeing those two battle it out would settle much.

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