There was a time in the not so distant past when Brazilian fighters seemed to completely dominate the championship titles in each of the UFC’s divisions. Times have changed some, but even today, three out of the nine weight classes in the UFC are championed by Brazilians (although that may change very soon, given the title matches in the next few weeks). But for now, here’s the list of the top 5 Brazilians active today.
Note: Fighters on a substantial suspension (e.g. Anderson Silva) were excluded from consideration for this list.
Jose Aldo (25-1, 14 KOs, 2 Submissions)
It’s difficult for anyone evaluating Brazilians fighters today not to merit Jose Aldo as the pinnacle of dominance. He is the first and only UFC featherweight champion (the interim belt is given absolutely no weight or credence here). Undefeated in nearly ten years, Aldo’s combination of power, speed, and timing easily put him at the top of this list.
Those other excellent fighters on this list have incredible attributes, but none are as accomplished in the Octagon or posses the same superlative abilities.
What will happen to Aldo come December? That is the question on the minds of every fight fan. Aldo has a much anticipated date with destiny, in the form of an ornery Irishman named Connor McGregor. Should Aldo lose and the other men on this list win their next big tests, this list could shake up quickly. But assuming Aldo wins along with the rest of them, there cannot be any doubt who is the king of the Brazilians.
If fact, assuming Aldo’s victory at UFC 194, the only accolade left for him would be a super-fight in the lightweight division — something Aldo has asked for repeatedly. Aldo is an all-time great. He should be allowed to hammer that fact home by attempting to win a belt in a second weight class. Only two legends have ever accomplished that feat in the UFC – B.J. Penn and Randy Couture. Aldo could become the third. He just needs to take care of one large Irish obstacle first.
Fabrício Werdum (20-5, 6 KOs, 10 submissions)
The Werdum of today eclipses the version of himself that fought in Strikeforce. The BJJ expert that made Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko tap, was once just a submission artist. Today, after what is undoubtedly countless hours of practice with striking coach Rafael Cordeiro, Werdum has become a lethal all-around fighter that present formidable challenges for any man alive.
He recently won the heavyweight crown by dismantling Cain Velasquez. I, like others, attribute a significant portion of that victory to Velasquez’s failure to acclimate to the high altitude in Mexico City at UFC 188. Usually a perpetual motion machine with inexhaustible energy to pressure and breakdown his opponents, Velasquez was a shelf of himself in his fight against Werdum. But even in the first round, while Velasquez was fresh, Werdum’s improved striking was clearly frustrating the then-champ. In early 2016, Werdum will have the opportunity to prove to the world, and maybe even himself, that his decimation of Velasquez was due to more than high altitude.
Rafael dos Anjos (24-7, 4 KOs, 8 submissions)
By the time Raphael dos Anjos headed into his championship bout against Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, UFC President Dana White had anointed Pettis the pound-for-pound king:
“I believe that kid [Pettis] is the pound-for-pound best. He’s an incredible athlete and has this style that’s very hard to defend against.”
Dos Anjos didn’t buy the hype and proceeded to dominate the would-be king for almost the entirety of their fight at UFC 185. Dos Anjos’s climb to the top of the lightweight division hasn’t been easy. After starting off his UFC career with two straight losses, Dos Anjos went on to a mediocre showing 4-2 record in his next six fights. Then something clicked. Since losing to Gleison Tibau in 2011, Dos Anjos has gone 9-1.
His first title defense comes again a former foe, Donald Cerrone, whom he defeated by unanimous decision back in 2013. But the real money lies ahead, against the winner of Aldo vs McGregor. Both Aldo and McGregor has laid their eyes on the lightweight title, so if the UFC wants to deliver on the oft-repeated mantra of delivering the fights that the fans want to see, it will help make the featherweight vs lightweight champion super-fight a reality.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (22-3, 2 KOs, 16 submissions)
With one ADCC and eight world jiu-jitsu championships under his belt, Jacare is an absolute nightmare on the ground. And it’s plain to see from his submission record that he’s been able to translate his BJJ skills into deadly efficacy in MMA. Jacare’s submission record in MMA drastically outshines anyone else on this list, including Werdum, who is a world-class BJJ practitioner.
On his feet, Jacare is not nearly as refined, but has shown continued improvement and fierce power. He doesn’t have more knockouts, however because like top-notch wrestler in Ben Askren, Jacare continually works to force his opponent into his comfort zone on the ground, where submissions are almost guaranteed. Yet, Jacare’s approach is more fluid and his skills more well-rounded than Askren.
Finally, at UFC 194, we should get to see a very rare treat: the best BJJ in MMA (Jacare) against one of the truly elite wrestlers in MMA (Yoel Romero). This matchup had fallen through twice (at UFC 184 and UFC on Fox 15), but fans are hoping the third times a charm. Romero may be a bit long in the tooth at 38, but with Olympic and World championship medals to his name, as well as multiple victories over wrestling greats such as Cael Sanderson and Les Gutches, he’s one of the best wrestlers in MMA today. His wrestling chops are certainly superior to those of Daniel Cormier.
At UFC 194, we’ll see whether Romero’s wrestling skills can keep the fight on the feet, away from Jacare’s deadly ground game. Standing, both men will be relying on their power and athleticism as much as the technique that they continue to refine. A dominant performance should guarantee Jacare the title shot he’s been hunting for. If he can manage to wrap that middleweight belt around his waist sometime in 2016, then that might be cause to move him up this list.
Vitor Belfort* (24-11, 17 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Belfort makes the list, but with an asterisk. Belfort has been dinged multiple times for PED use, which would cause anyone to naturally question how much of his accolades are to due to the juice and how much is due to skill, hard work and heart? Yet, as Belfort recently stated in an interview on Inside MMA, PEDs don’t teach spinning back kicks like the one he used to brutally knockout Luke Rockhold.
They also don’t teach you how to lock up an armbar and put the best fighter in the world in the most trouble he’s ever faced.
So despite the PED use, his TRT (testosterone replacement therapy), and his most recent loss to Chris Weidman, Belfort continues to be one of the most dangerous and effective Brazilians today. Will that be the case now that he’s supposedly totally off both? Was the Weidman loss a sign of the new normal for Belfort or just another example of Weidman’s continued excellence? We’ll have a much better idea after this weekend, when Belfort faces off against another noted former TRT user, Dan Henderson.
There’s a great chance Belfort may get replaced by the likes of Demian Maia, who’s done well in his move down to welterweight or Renan Barao, who narrowly missed getting on this list. Barao is 1-2 in his last three fights and seems to have lost much of the magic touch he possessed prior to meeting T.J. Dillashaw back at UFC 173. With a weight change and a stellar comeback fight, however, Barao might be on this list rather quickly. But first we need to see just how Belfort handles Henderson. We don’t have to wait long.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.