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The Countdown to No. 1: Nos. 16-20

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Yesterday we ran through the list of fighters who narrowly missed the cut for the 20 greatest fighters in UFC history. There were some harsh truths in there, none harder than the exclusion of some of the most familiar names from the early UFC, including two members of the UFC's own Hall of Fame. But the numbers say what they say and we're going to plow forward into the top 20, counting down today from No. 20 to No. 16.

#20 (tie) Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida - 38 points

Machida and Belfort have been jockeying with each other for position on this list for quite some time. Machida edged in front with his knockout of Mark Munoz a few weeks ago. Not to be outdone, Belfort tied it back up with his KO of Dan Henderson over the weekend.

Belfort is a rare breed. He's one of only a handful of fighters to win a UFC title and win an old-timey tournament. He's also stopped his opponent in all 13 of his UFC victories, a record for greatest number of wins while maintaining a 100 percent stoppage percentage. But like a lot of fighters, he has been unable to sustain a lengthy winning streak. He started his career with three straight wins and is currently riding another three-fight win streak. In many cases, Belfort's short streaks are a product of his success in earning title shots. Right when he's able to put a few wins together, there he is in a title match, where he's lost three out of four chances.

On the flip side, Machida's score is bolstered by the eight straight wins he garnered upon entering the UFC, the sixth-longest streak in UFC history. He's had his ups and downs lately, but it's hard to stress enough just how impressive Machida was when he first came to the UFC. His run to the title was almost unparalleled in its dominance. Many were willing to crown him among the greatest ever at that point. That turned out to be premature, but his accomplishments then and now are great enough to justify such a high ranking.

Outlook: Belfort's standing has only improved since he turned himself into a head-kicking wrecking machine and Machida looked great in his (admittedly short) debut as a middleweight. With both carrying significant name value, one will probably get fast tracked for a title shot if Chris Weidman keeps his belt in December. In any event, it seems that the two are on a collision course and might settle their ranking differences personally before too long.

No. 18 (tie) Benson Henderson and Junior dos Santos - 40 points

There are very few things similar about the UFC careers of these two fighters other than the number of points earned in this scheme. Dos Santos has eight stoppages in 10 wins, while Henderson is the only member of the top 20 without a single stoppage victory in his UFC career. Dos Santos has eight wins in non-title fights, while Henderson has only three. On the flip side, Henderson defended his lightweight title three times, while dos Santos only defended his once.

However, in the grand scheme of UFC fighters, both have ample reason to merit such high rankings on this list. Dos Santos's run to the title included nine straight wins, the fifth-longest win streak in UFC history. Henderson's three lightweight title defenses are tied for the most ever in that division and his seven straight wins after coming over from the WEC is the longest win streak by a debuting lightweight in that division's history.

Outlook: It's hard to believe it, but Henderson and dos Santos are both 29 years old (Henderson is a couple of months older). The difference is that the two Velasquez losses have put some city miles on dos Santos' odometer, while Benson's style is one that keeps him looking smooth, even in a loss. With still a lot of career ahead of each of them, there is still plenty of time to improve their standing. Dos Santos can keep racking up stoppage wins even without another crack at the title. Henderson is still among the top few fighters at 155 and another title shot feels like it's just an Anthony Pettis loss away.

No. 17 Frankie Edgar - 41 points

Lightweight is often called the toughest division in the UFC. Until his move this year to featherweight, Edgar was the one constant in a weight class filled with nothing but variables. Between 2010 and 2012, Edgar fought six times with the lightweight title on the line, but only faced three different opponents. His wins were not always pretty and in some cases his losses were even prettier than the wins. But even so, he had a four-year run as a dominant force at 155 pounds, winning five straight contests, with two title defenses thrown in for good measure. Edgar is also hard to ignore for his toughness. He's the only fighter in the top 40 with multiple losses on his record, but without ever being stopped.

Outlook: Name value and a lower weight class mean that Edgar can never be that far off from another title run. This is especially true considering that many still think he should have gotten the decision in every one of the title fights where he ended up with a loss. Fans gripe about the rematches and constant title shots, but few other fighters south of 170 have the resume to justify the treatment that Edgar receives.

No. 16 Andrei Arlovski - 43 points

Lightweight may be the UFC's toughest division, but heavyweight is where champions have had the hardest time holding onto their belt. The record for most consecutive title defenses at heavyweight is only two and Andrei Arlovski is one of the men tied for that record.

After an inauspicious start to his UFC career, going 1-2 with both losses by stoppage, Arlovski proceeded to reel off six wins in a row and claim the interim title. That was later upgraded to the undisputed title when Frank Mir couldn't defend his belt. No matter what you called it, Arlovski was considered the prototype for a well-rounded heavyweight during his heyday. He provided stability to a division that hadn't seen a consistent champion since Randy Couture's second stint in the role. Arlovski did himself no favors in his last few, forgettable UF C fights but remains one of the only prominent fighters of the modern era to leave the UFC coming off a win.

Outlook: Arlovksi is the lowest ranked fighter in the top 20 who is no longer active in the UFC. That doesn't bode well for his long-term prospects to remain on the list as newer fighters establish their careers and climb the ranks themselves.

What's on tap Thursday: Nos. 15-10.

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