MMA Nemesis Top Ten 2013

| December 1, 2013 | 11:26 am | Reply

Gilbert Melendez Nemesis Top Ten

The Nemesis Top Ten is a list of lesser known or much less regarded fighters that would pose a back matchup to a current top ten fighter and potentially pull off the upset.

In 1967, Murray Woroner had an idea for a program, where the greatest heavyweight boxers in history would fight each other to the delight of radio audiences. Considering boxing had been around, in various forms of rule-sets and legality for a hundred years, this was a colossal undertaking. With the aid of 250 boxing experts, sixteen of the greatest pugilists in history were selected and given scores in 128 attributes ranging from punching power, to footwork, to confidence. These numbers were then fed into a state-of-the-art computer, very similar to the Spike TV series The Deadliest Warrior, and each fight was virtually simulated. When the dust settled at the end of several weeks of prime time programming, Rocky Marciano defeated Muhammad Ali to become the Greatest Heavyweight Boxer Ever. The problem was, basically no one, including the boxing experts involved in the project, agreed with this.

What does all this have to do with MMA? If you look at any MMA website on the net, there will always be discussions of Top Tens, Pound For Pound, Greatest Of All Time, etc and no one can seem to agree on anything. My outlook on this ranking debacle is this: In such a multi-faceted sport, is it possible to make a cookie-cutter chart and put all the fighting world’s talent in order? If the aforementioned 250 boxing experts decided there were 128 variables to a boxer, how many would there be to an MMA fighter? The fact of the matter is, most of the greatest sports upsets have occurred in combat sports because of the ability to instantly and definitively end a fight. With the amount of facets involved in this sport, it’s not impossible to find fighters well outside of the standard Top Ten list that could potentially destroy those on top, thereby defeating the entire point of ranking.

What I’ve done in my years of writing is make a yearly list of fights between “Top Ten” fighters and lesser known or much less regarded fighters. This is a bit of fun match-making to illustrate the fruitless quest for accurate Top Ten lists and to show exactly how much styles play into combat sports. Below is my list for this years Nemesis Top Ten, followed by previous year’s entries.

Michael McDonald (#3 BW) vs Thomas De Almeida: An ace fighter looking to get back into a title fight with the winner of Barao vs Cruz, Michael McDonald stands as one of the division’s best strikers. A smooth tactical kickboxer that uses long limbs and tight hooks with equal zeal, McDonald’s real danger zone is his lethal bottom game; throwing up submissions and deft sweeps with ease. Thought he’s set to face a major test in #2 ranked Urijah Faber, McDonald is still sitting pretty at the top of his division.

Meanwhile, an ace muay thai fighter is quietly putting together an undefeated streak due to his perfect form and functionality. Thomas De Almeida hasn’t been outside of Brazil much, but the Chute Boxe fighter has picked away at the lighter weight fighters of Brazil like a machine, using his powerful strikes and fluid footwork to dazzle. While McDonald is a dynamo, Almeida is just that much better with his range control and deft knee and elbow strikes, with the takedown defense to force the fight to play out how he wants it. McDonald has some power of his own, but Almeida is simply too slick to catch reliably and will come on in the fight right as McDonald is starting to fade, making for a late finish for the unheralded striker

Cub Swanson (#4 FW) vs Patricio Pitbull Freire: The story of fringe contender to top star is always an exciting one, as Swanson has battled back from near obscurity to be poised for a title shot again. Using a dynamic style of varied tempo attacks, both looping and straight, as well as unique takedowns and outstanding control on the mat, Swanson has put together five wins against all top flight competition, and may be a match away from the Featherweight title.

Someone who is no stranger to titles and tournaments, Patricio Pitbull Freire has never been decisively beaten in twenty-three fights, with crushing victories against several former Zuffa fighters. A fundamentally sound fighter in every arena, Pitbull has quietly been honing his technique over the years, having walked through a tough Bellator FW tournament without breaking a sweat and is set to rip the strap out of Daniel Straus hands if he gets the opportunity. Against Swanson, Pitbull’s superior KO power and strength would play a major role in winning exchanges and keeping on top during scrambles, allowing him to break Swanson down over time. The early going would be anyones game, but as Pitbull gained Swanson’s timing and figured out his tricks, the razor counters would begin to find their mark and ultimately shut Swanson down late in the fight.

Anthony Pettis (#1 LW, #8 P4P) vs Justin Gaethje: A fast-rising star that took the UFC by storm, Anthony Pettis has shown few weaknesses in his career, and having systematically ironed them out as they occur. Taking a short notice fight with champion Benson Henderson, Pettis showed exactly what he’s made of, hitting an armbar on the nigh-invulnerable grappler to become the last WEC and current UFC champion in this weight class.

A fighter going through a similar meteoric rise in the WSOF, Justin Gaethje brings many of the same intangibles as Pettis: unshakable confidence, incredible pure athletic ability, and surety of striking, but also has a few tools the champ is missing from his box. An unbelievable wrestling talent, Gaethje’s style didn’t always work on the NCAA mats, but it translates fantastically to MMA, hitting sweeping throws and turning momentum into power slams that opponents can’t hope to counter. His greatest asset is how easily he’s taken to striking, using an overwhelming leg kick and shovel hook that destroys his opponents base and core with each shot, causing damage that opponents aren’t well-suited to deal with. Anything is possible when Pettis is in the cage, but Gaethje plays the unorthodox fight game just as well as the champ, with the wrestling to help dictate the fight in those stale moments of clinch, allowing for a late finish or decision win.

Gilbert Melendez (#3 LW) vs Edson Barboza: The last Strikeforce Lightweight champion, Melendez entered the UFC with a bang, having come close to walking away with the UFC strap against Benson Henderson, but denied on the score cards. Undeterred, Melendez took a fight with Diego Sanchez that may be one of the best bouts in the sports history, going toe to toe with the rugged battler and showing the caliber of fighter he truly is. Fast, heavy hands, reflexes seldom seen even at Lightweight and the wrestling and BJJ chops to hustle all but the best in the world on the mat, Melendez sits at the top of the division and is easily one of the best fighters on the planet.

Inexplicably sitting well off of the top ten, Edson Barboza stands as, at least by my estimation, the single best striker in all of MMA. A perfect mix of power and execution, Barboza has been chopping down the competition for years, only having stumbled once against Jamie Varner. With the core strength and balance to avoid most takedowns and the inside striking to make fighters pay for the attempt, Barboza spends most of his fights obliterating his opponent’s legs, often inflicting injury in a single blow. If Cesar Gracie fighters have one weakness, it’s leg kicks, and Melendez is no exception to this rule, having been chopped up by Josh Thomson and Benson Henderson on multiple occasions. Melendez has an outside shot at landing a KO early, but if he can’t, Barboza ensures he doesn’t have the platform to try it again within a minute, hacking Melendez base, ruining his chance as a shot or throwing an overhand, and beating him to the punch for a TKO or decision win.

TJ Grant (#4 LW) vs Scott Holtzman: Sometimes changing a weight class is a mistake, sometimes it delays the inevitable, and sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered. Having barely tread water at Welterweight, Grant made the drop to 155lbs and went from mid-card contender to title hopeful, having executed his game perfectly since the move. A sharp kickboxer, Grant has ripped through competitors and seldom had to resort to his bread and butter grappling game, with one of the best shots in all of MMA. While an unspecified injury has kept him out of the cage and allowed others to surpass him in the world rankings, he still sits firmly at the top until someone is man enough to take him out.

A fighter whom most have never heard of, Scott Holtzman continues to toll away as reigning XFC Lightweight champion. A pressure grappler that puts guys like Pat Healy and Tim Kennedy to shame, Holtzman is so brutal in his execution that former XFC champion Nick Newell actually dropped the strap and left rather than risk his undefeated record on such a stone cold killer. Grant’s best weapons are his half-range punch and elbow combinations and his double leg, but he would get no use of those with Holtzman in his face for fifteen minutes. In a fight that would bring Grant memories of the Welterweight division he left behind, Holtzman would grind like a maniac, never giving an inch of space to Grant to escape and implement his own plan, and ultimately taking a decision win.

Johny Hendricks (#2 WW) vs Jon Fitch 2: Coming off of a heartbreaking decision loss against GSP, Johny Hendricks showed up in the best shape of his life, but was denied his victory on the score cards. A crushing puncher that has learned to channel his D-1 championship shot into a left hook, Hendricks hits like a tank, and has the same base in most circumstances, rarely finding himself on the mat.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why Jon Fitch again? The fact of the matter is, he’s the second best chain wrestler in the MMA world behind Jake Shields and is so far off the top list at this point that it’s not even funny. While the first match was a one hit quit, Fitch remains the best possible opponent to upset Hendricks at this stage of his career, having speed and the ability to take away his base and make his fight a positioning battle on the defensive. While Hendricks punching power makes an interesting X-factor, his lack of understanding of MMA grappling with a cage has never been addressed and is an area Fitch can exploit, taking a decision win in a grueling fight that puts him back on the map.

UFC 156 Tyron Woodley Nemesis Top Ten

Tyron Woodley

Carlos Condit (#3 WW) vs Tyron Woodley: A fighter whose battled every major player in the Welterweight division over the last several years, the methodical gamesman Carlos Condit remains one of the greatest to step on the mat. A traditional muay thai fighter with a knack for violence, Condit’s strike placement, careful composure and overall matwork leave little room for opponents to find openings, and find their path to victory quickly disappear due to Condit’s constant adjustments. Having recently demolished former conquerer Martin Kampmann, Condit is patiently waiting for the title picture to clear up so he knows his next step towards gold.

Someone well outside of Condit’s current level of opposition, Tyron Woodley is coming off a brutal KO of Josh Koscheck, showing a slow and steady improvement over his last few outings. An elite level wrestler taking much the same path as Johny Hendricks in a transformation of a one-shot power hitter, Woodley is, if anything, a faster version of the same with a better flow in his wrestling to striking phases. Against Condit, the door to victory would start to close immediately, but not before Woodley could start snaking punches through those openings. Unlike Hendricks, he tends to attack from angles that aren’t visible to opponents and it’s the punch you don’t see that tends to send you to the canvas, as Condit would find to his dismay.

Jake Shields (#7 WW) vs Tarec Saffiedine: A fighter known for his mix of wrestling and BJJ, Jake Shields is coming off a massive upset over world-ranked grappler Demian Maia, in a fight he controlled entirely on the mat. While having never developed the striking to compete with the big players on the world stage, his takedowns and superb mat control being all he’s needed to outpoint nearly everyone he’s faced.

Someone who knows all about the points game, Tarec Saffiedine is yet to fight in the UFC, but he was able to walk away from Strikeforce with their Welterweight title after kicking Nate Marquardt’s leg to pieces in a five round kickboxing show. Not a power hitter by any stretch, Saffiedine has amazing footwork and range control, picking off opponents whether moving in with combinations or floating on his back foot. Against Shields, a lack of a long shot and inability to lay hands on his opponent would turn this into a waking nightmare, as Saffiedine played a gave of fast evasion and hard counters, lumping Shields up without finding himself in much danger himself. Saffiedine’s base is strong enough to allow him to slip from Shields’ grasp if he managed to corral The Sponge, and with cardio being firmly on Saffiedine’s side, this is one he would literally run away with via decision.

Chris Weidman (#1 MW, #6 P4P) vs Perry Filkins: Having scored an upset for the ages, Chris Weidman shows exactly how utterly ridiculous top ten lists are by topping it with a fluke win. Despite fighting a tooth and nail kickboxing match with one of the flattest strikers in Demian Maia and being unable to stop the shopworn Alessio Sakara, Weidman finds himself not only a Middleweight great, but also a pound for pound legend in the making. While Weidman does have some wrestling chops, and the makings of an elite fighter, he is in no way deserving of real accolades with wins over a handful of real talent.
Just to be in insulting prick, I found someone who loves being a prick and happens to hail from my home state of New Hampshire. Having bowed out of the Bellator Middleweight tourney due to injury, Perry Filkins non-the-less lived up to his nickname of “Filthy” by brutalizing rising star Jeremy Kimball in savage fashion. One of the best in-fighters in recent memory, Filkins fights toe-to-toe at all times, moves like a viper, and has some of the best hips in the business. Weidman has a shot, but Filkins top game is pure suffocation with his relentless hooks making him murder to engage in a tight battle. Could Weidman, the best Middleweight in the world, beat him? Sure. Would he look like he got in a fight with a hornet’s nest after the fact? Absolutely.

Bellator 71 Emanuel Newton Nemesis Top Ten

Emanuel Newton

Glover Teixeira (#6 LHW) vs Emanuel Newton: A fighter who has shown his simplicity is beyond effective, Glover Teixeira rides a five fight win streak into a title shot against Jon Jones. Having the functional strength of a giant, Teixeira’s simple combination punching has sent stout foes like James Te Huna and Ryan Bader to the canvas in a heap, which is BJJ skills are always there to snatch a neck or slip a submission. While he’s growing long in the tooth, his style is one that won’t suffer from age and remains one of the stiffest tests at Light Heavyweight.

Having come off a series of upsets, one has to wonder if Emanuel Newton is really as bad as we all seem to think. While not a massively talented fighter in any one area, Newton’s endurance, grit and pacing have given several men fits as of late, including Muhammad Lawal on two occasions. What Newton brings to this fight that Teixeira would find absolutely infuriating is a wide variety of combinations, fast head kicks that would test Teixeira’s lax defense, and the battle wits to avoid a direct assault. The game plan that saw Newton beat King Mo with relative ease would work just as well against Teixeira, whom would give chase until his legs weren’t in it anymore, and eat a pile of kicks for the trouble. A cat and mouse game sees the mouse outwork the cat for a decision or late TKO if Newton can lace Teixeira with a wily head kick.

The best part about this yearly project is checking my work, and while these matches above may seem unlikely due to rifts in organization or the fighters being a far ends of the division spectrum, MMA is funny when it comes to bringing fights together. Fighters move up and down the ranks, move to other venues, and since 2008, we’ve seen several of my matches come to fruition. Here’s my complete lists year by year, with the bouts that have actually happened since my write-ups highlighted. If you laughed at some of my picks above, keep in mind I called Jones beating Machida four years before it happened. Who’s laughing now?

Past year’s Nemesis Top Ten’s:

Urijah Faber vs Miguel Torres
Jose Aldo vs Daniel Straus
Benson Henderson vs Josh Thomson (scheduled for 2014)
Nate Diaz vs Matt Wiman
Johny Hendricks vs Tyron Woodley
Michael Bisping vs Lorenz Larkin
Tim Boetsch vs Tim Kennedy
Jon Jones vs Pat Barry

Dominick Cruz vs. Ian “The Barn Owl” Loveland
Marlon Sandro vs. Jonathan Brookins
Shinya Aoki vs. Nate Diaz
Josh Koscheck vs. Douglas Lima
Chael Sonnen vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” DeSouza
Yushin Okami vs. Alexander Shlemenko
Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Gegard Mousasi
Alistair Overeem vs. Cole Konrad

BJ Penn vs. Donald Cerrone
Eddie Alvarez vs. Joe Stevenson
Georges St. Pierre vs. Brock Larson
Thiago Alves vs. Anthony Johnson
Anderson Silva vs. Frank Shamrock
Dan Henderson vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
Rashad Evans vs. Renato Sobral
Lyoto Machida vs. Jon Jones

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Cheick Kongo
Frank Mir vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

Manny Gamburyan vs. Joe Soto
Hatsu Hioki vs. George Roop
Gray Maynard vs. Donald Cerrone
Jake Shields vs. Ben Askren
Dan Hardy vs. Edgar Garcia
Anderson Silva vs. Hector Lombard
Yushin Okami vs. Robbie Lawler
Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera
Forrest Griffin vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Frank Mir vs. Brett Rogers


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Bellator, Exclusive, MMA, Opinion, UFC, World Series of Fighting, XFC

About the Author ()

I'm a 20+ year veteran of martial arts and a fan of MMA since UFC 1, when my world was thrown on its head by the budding sport. I'm obsessive in the pursuit of martial abilities and have competed across the country in everything from Vale Tudo to archery to Scottish broadsword. Once my body broke down, I picked up a pen and went in the direction of writing. I specialize in betting advice, predictions, and I'm a walking encyclopedia of MMA trivia. I own a cafe in Exeter, NH called Hammersmith Sandwich Company and write out of my office between customers.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.