By Micah Caputo
Hungry Man Division
Roy Nelson does not have any significant wins over top fighters, but he was the IFL heavyweight champ and almost casually won the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. His only significant losses are to Junior Dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, and Jeff Monson. The Dos Santos fight showed that Nelson has good defensive boxing and a hard head, while the Arlovski fight was taken on ten days notice. The Monson fight was extremely controversial and many felt the decision should have gone to Nelson. His next fight is against Frank Mir and will show if he belongs in the next division or not.
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is the biggest guy on this list. He has wins over Andrei Arlovski, Ricco Rodriguez, and most recently Fedor Emilianenko. While the Fedor win was officially called a doctor stoppage, the positional control Bigfoot used to deliver the beating that ended the fight was astounding. If he gets on top of anybody they won’t be coming back. His only big loss is to Fabricio Werdum. He has also held three belts in lower level MMA organizations. A solid finish in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament on the tough side of the bracket could easily propel him to the top of the whole list.
The Big Three
These fighters have been on top for years and dominated at the highest level with their elite BJJ skills. They each have multiple wins over top level opponents and have all won various BJJ titles at different belt levels. None of these three have ever been submitted.
Frank Mir has been a UFC champion and has beaten several top opponents including Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar, Minotauro Nogueira, and CroCop. His best losses have come against Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. Mir also had some tough losses during his comeback from a motorcycle accident, but has clearly bounced back. The only negative thing that can be said about his fighting skills is that he has a weakness to elite fighters who cut weight to make 265.
Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira has held both the Pride and UFC heavyweight titles. He has big wins over Randy Couture, Josh Barnett, Fabricio Werdum, CroCop, Tim Sylvia, and Ricco Rodriguez. All these wins have shown dominant BJJ with either amazing submission finishes or high level control and transitions. His big losses are to Josh Barnett, Fedor, Frank Mir, and Cain Valesquez. It may seem odd to rank Nogueira over Mir when has a win over him. However, during that fight Mir insisted on keeping the fight standing even when he had knocked Nogueira down several times. That fight did not show who had the better BJJ it showed who had better boxing. Based on the number of Nogueira’s top wins I am putting his BJJ over Mir’s.
Fabricio Werdum has many accomplishments including two time Mundial Blackbelt champ and two time ADCC champ. He has top wins over Bigfoot Silva, Alastair Overeem, and Gabriel Gonzaga. He is also the first person to beat Fedor which also makes him the only person to have beaten both Emilianenko brothers. His top losses are to Andrei Arlovski, Junior Dos Santos, and Minotauro Nogueira. Now it may seem strange again to rank Werdum over Nogueira when he has a loss to Nogueira. I think that Nogueira’s win over Werdum occurred during Nogueira’s prime. Nogueira has started to slip recently after so many hard fights, while Werdum’s recent win over Fedor shows that he is at the top of his own prime. Nogueira in his prime could not beat Fedor while Werdum in his prime did. This means that Werdum right now has better BJJ than Nogueira and currently has the best BJJ in heavyweight MMA.
Theses are some interesting tidbits that I picked up while researching for this article. I did not really take them into account when ranking the fighters, but they are interesting nonetheless.
Fedor’s top wins are Arlovski, Nogueira, CroCop, and Sylvia. His top losses are Bigfoot Silva and Werdum. He has been submitted only once in his career.
Junior Dos Santos has beaten three of the top BJJ guys. Gonzaga, Nelson and Werdum. It will be exciting to watch him continue to fight.
The Strikeforce heavyweight tournament is huge. It’s implications for the top BJJ heavyweight fighters is long reaching.
In boxing there is an idea called the Lineal Champ. With all the different boxing organizations and belts and non-title fights the lineal champ is the first guy to beat a champ after he won the belt, regardless of organization or title bouts. This goes on as that guy loses the lineal title to his next loss and so on. This idea is particularly intriguing for MMA due to the presence of the open weight fights early in the sport’s history.
Royce Gracie was the first ever open weight champ for his victory at UFC 1. He did not have a loss until he fought Sakuraba in the Pride Openweight Grand Prix in 2000. Sakuraba then lost to Igor Vovchanchyn, who lost to Mark Coleman. His next loss was to Nogueira whose next loss was to Fedor, who was undefeated until his submission loss to Werdum.
Of course, you could say that Royce Gracie technically lost to Harold Howard in UFC 3 when he forfeited the bout after being exhausted in his win over Kimo Leopoldo. Howard lost to Steve Jennum in the finals. Jennum lost to Tank Abbot, who lost to Dan Severn, who lost to Mark Coleman at UFC 12. Coleman lost to Maurice Smith, who lost to Randy Couture, who lost to Enson Inoue, who lost to Mark Kerr, who lost to Fujita, who lost to Mark Coleman in the Pride Openweight Grand Prix in 2000. Coleman lost to Nogueira, who lost to Fedor, who lost to Werdum.
Any way you look at it Werdum holds Royce Gracie’s UFC 1 lineal open weight chamionship. I did not take this into account when ranking the fighters, but it is an interesting bit of trivia for fights nerds. It is also interesting that both lines run through UFC 1 and the Pride Openweight Grand Prix. The lineal open weight title started with a BJJ black belt and as of right now ends with a BJJ black belt.