Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

Who Has Had the Toughest Competition: Silva, St-Pierre, or Jones?

I’ve been getting requests for a while to look at the relative competition of the three men widely regarded as the most dominant champions in the UFC – Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Jon Jones. In the past, with SILVA, doing this would have required many hours of work. With ELO… let’s just say it’s quite a bit easier to do.

For this post, I’m going to look at only the championship fights of each man. It’s an unfair comparison if I include non-title fights, because Silva fought for the title in only his second UFC fight, while St-Pierre and Jones needed a few more fights before they became champions.

Anderson Silva

  • Chael Sonnen (second) – 3131
  • Chael Sonnen (first) – 3094
  • Yushin Okami – 2968
  • Rich Franklin (second) – 2847
  • Vitor Belfort – 2823
  • Rich Franklin (first) – 2777
  • Demian Maia – 2769
  • Patrick Cote – 2719
  • Thales Leites – 2719
  • Nate Marquardt – 2655
  • Dan Henderson – 2596
  • Travis Lutter – 2420

AVERAGE: 2793

(Two notes. First, Dan Henderson’s rating may seem lower than it should be. This is because Henderson was in the rare position of fighting for the title despite losing his last fight. Henderson was representing PRIDE Fighting Championships as their champion in two weight classes. Henderson’s fight against Silva was his second UFC championship fight, after losing to Quinton Jackson for the light-heavyweight championship. Second, Travis Lutter is included because that fight was supposed to be for a championship, before Lutter missed weight.)

Georges St-Pierre

  • Jake Shields – 3160
  • Thiago Alves – 2963
  • Dan Hardy – 2961
  • Josh Koscheck (second) – 2939
  • Jon Fitch – 2877
  • B.J. Penn (second) – 2816
  • Matt Hughes (second) – 2816
  • Matt Serra (second) – 2643
  • Matt Hughes (first) – 2539
  • Matt Serra (first) – 2353

AVERAGE: 2807

(I’ve excluded the third Matt Hughes fight because it was an interim championship fight. Hughes’s ELO rating in that fight was 2656.)

Jon Jones

  • Rashad Evans – 3110
  • Quinton Jackson – 3010
  • Mauricio Rua – 3006
  • Vitor Belfort – 2999
  • Lyoto Machida – 2834

AVERAGE: 2992

 

At first glance, it seems that Jones has had the toughest competition, but he’s also had a much shorter championship run than Silva or St-Pierre. The other thing working in Jones’s favor is what is known as “ratings inflation.” Over time, the ELO ratings of the best fighters in MMA tend to rise, because as the sport grows, the distribution of ratings gets wider. The highest-rated fighters go higher, and the lowest-rated fighters go lower. That’s why Matt Hughes had only a 2539 rating when he fought Georges St-Pierre the first time. If I look at just the last two years, the competition of Jones is very comparable to the competition of Silva (St-Pierre has been inactive for too long to make that a meaningful comparison).

Meanwhile, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are in a virtual tie. St-Pierre has the slightly higher average, but he also lost once; ironically, to the lowest-rated fighter on any of the lists in Matt Serra. Overall, if I had to make a call on who the greatest UFC fighter of all time is, it would have to be Anderson Silva. But I will acknowledge that Silva’s highest-rated opponents were not quite as tough as those of St-Pierre and Jones. For Silva, it’s his longevity that makes him great more than anything else. Give any MMA fighter 16 tough opponents in a row, and he’s bound to lose at some point. But Silva hasn’t.

I know what you’re thinking – what about Fedor Emelianenko? It’s very tough to include Fedor in such a comparison. For one, PRIDE had a different mentality towards title fights than the UFC does. Title fights in PRIDE were relatively rare, occurring about once a year per division. But if I included non-title fights, it would almost certainly hurt Fedor, as he took quite a few fights against over-matched opponents like Yuji Nagata. In addition, Fedor’s prime took place earlier than the primes of the fighters listed above, and ratings inflation would not be kind to him.

In the end, performing analysis of this kind is very tricky, and almost certainly requires the construction of arbitrary criteria. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll look at each fighter’s ten toughest opponents overall, and I’ll expand it to include Fedor. But the only conclusion that can be drawn is that judging greatness in MMA is an exercise of opinion, regardless of how many numbers and stats I throw your way.

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