Jon Jones has joined MMA's most elite. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Onlookers quickly identified that Jon Jones might one day be a pound-for-pounder. Saturday night in Newark, N.J., the 23-year-old "Bones" became the youngest ever UFC champion as he decimated Mauricio Rua for the light heavyweight title and earned a place on this list.
More than that, the precocious champion will have yet another chance to solidify a pound-for-pound level portfolio, as he's set for action in the coming months against former UFC champion brother-in-arms at Jackson's MMA, Rashad Evans. The Evans bout will give the budding phenom the chance to put another top-three name on his quickly-growing hit list.
And for Evans, the opportunity is no less rich. If Evans has been slighted by his fracture with his former trainers at Jackson's, it's revenge. But more than that, it's the chance to regain the UFC light heavyweight crown that he formerly held, and take a high-quality scalp of his own -- a scalp that would keep him on this list for quite some time to come.
With two other pound-for-pounders in Georges St. Pierre and Jake Shields set to square off in just over a month's time, it's safe to say it's a great time for great fights.
1. Georges St. Pierre (21-2)
St. Pierre’s welterweight title reign has earned him some flak for being conservative and safety-first, not showing the shocking dynamism that marked, for instance, his second encounter with Matt Hughes. However, in the last three-and-a-half years since his major misstep against Matt Serra, St. Pierre has positively crushed every opponent in his way, whether or not the judges were needed. He has beaten three fighters -- Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves -- who have appeared on this very list in that time span. Better still, he has done it while pitching complete shutouts. St. Pierre’s level of consummate domination against fighters in a division as great as welterweight is shocking, if not thrilling. Wilder still, he has the chance to expand on that resume heading into 2011, as his next welterweight defense will come against another pound-for-pound entrant on this list, Jake Shields.
2. Anderson Silva (28-4)
With one front kick on Feb. 5, Silva stifled all talk of his diminished dominance over the middleweight division. Following a Hail Mary fifth-round submission of Chael Sonnen last August, the “Spider” sought to make a statement against challenger Vitor Belfort, and make a statement he did. Silva’s elegant, seemingly effortless first-round knockout of his countryman at UFC 126 was a throwback to the violence of his earliest Octagon appearances, the sort of thing fans knew him for prior to controversial outings against the likes of Thales Leites and Demian Maia. With a proposed superfight against fellow pound-for-pound great Georges St. Pierre apparently now on the UFC back burner, Silva awaits the next contender to his 185-pound throne.
3. Jose Aldo (18-1)
Aldo has quickly cemented himself as the sport’s premiere featherweight. He would have had the chance to consolidate that reputation further on Jan. 1 at UFC 125, where he was scheduled to take on fast-rising prospect Josh Grispi. However, an ongoing back injury forced Aldo out of the fight, and into rehab. Now healed, the 24-year-old phenom will risk his brand new UFC title for the first time in his Octagon debut against Mark Hominick, who he faces on the Canadian’s home turf at UFC 129 on April 30.
4. Frankie Edgar (13-1-1)
After twice upsetting the man considered by some to be the sport’s greatest lightweight, Edgar looked to erase the only blemish on his record in a Jan. 1 rematch with Gray Maynard. For five minutes, it appeared that Edgar would have a second mark chalked up in his loss column, as the “Bully” dealt out a throttling which nearly saw the champ finished on multiple occasions. In a show of heroic mettle, Edgar valiantly battled back over the next four rounds to salvage a draw and set up a rubber match between the pair, set for UFC 130 on May 28 in Las Vegas.
5. Jon Fitch (23-3-1)
While Fitch didn’t lose against B.J. Penn on Feb. 27, he also failed to do something which he had done in 13 of his 14 previous UFC outings -- win. It was not for lack of trying, as the onetime welterweight title challenger threw all he had at former two-division champ Penn, but a bruising final frame from Fitch was not enough to avoid a split draw. Fitch will have a chance to resolve the first stalemate of his eight-year career when he meets the “Prodigy” for a second time on July 2 at UFC 132.
6. Jake Shields (26-4-1)
Over the last five years, Shields has taken out elite opposition in two weight classes, emerging as a top-five fighter at both 170 and 185 pounds. In spite of an often straightforward, nuts-and-bolts style of top-position grappling, Shields has become one of the sport’s most accomplished competitors in recent memory. Now, he has the chance to improve his already outstanding résumé with a shot at reigning UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129 on April 30.
7. Jon Jones (13-1)
Jones enters the pound-for-pound rankings on the strength of his brutal win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on March 19. In claiming the UFC light heavyweight title, the 23-year-old put on the sort of performance so rare that even those beyond the sport’s purview took notice. While he has looked virtually untouchable to this point in his career, Jones’ path will get no less bumpy from here: in his first title defense, “Bones” will meet former titleholder, pound-for-pounder and now ex-teammate Rashad Evans.
8. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)
Although a proposed New Year’s Eve rematch with Dream champion Shinya Aoki failed to materialize, Melendez’s next opponent will indeed be sourced from Strikeforce’s Japanese sister promotion. On April 9, “El Nino” will put his Strikeforce 155-pound belt on the line against fellow top 10 lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri, who bested Melendez’s training partner-cum-rival Josh Thomson on Dec. 31.
9. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (19-5)
Returning from nearly a year-long layoff due to surgery on his seemingly ever-injured knee, Rua did not have much to offer young challenger Jon Jones in their March 19 title bout at UFC 128. The third-round stoppage was the first true knockout of the Brazilian’s career, and perhaps the first when Rua never looked competitive. Nonetheless, whenever he returns, the former champion will likely remain a threat to most any fighter in the UFC’s 205-pound division.
10. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)
Sidelined for 10 months -- first waiting for Mauricio Rua’s knee to heal, and later his own -- Evans will have a chance to once again stake his claim as the UFC’s top 205-pounder, though not against the man he thought. Now-former teammate Jon Jones, who stepped in for Evans on short notice and earned gold at UFC 128, is the new man atop the heap who “Suga” will attempt to dethrone upon his return to the Octagon.
* With Jon Jones’ entry into the top 10, previously 10th-ranked Dominick Cruz is bumped from the list.