Every month, The MMA Corner breaks down the ten fighters who made the biggest impact on the sport within that month. This isn’t a traditional set of rankings or a pound-for-pound listing – rather, think of it as a “best month ever” top 10. Which fighters made their mark in September 2011? Read on to find out…

1. Jon Jones

While it was hardly the best performance of his life, as Joe Rogan suggested in the post-fight interview, the phenom still had little trouble disposing of former champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 135. The head games leading up to the contest did not deter the young champion one bit in the match-up. In fact, it seemed at times that it was Jones toying with Jackson during the bout.

The question now is whether there’s anyone out there that can offer Jones a legitimate test. Rashad Evans is next in line, and he holds one advantage over Jones that no other opponent has been able to claim: He has trained with Jones in the past.

Another interesting angle in Jones’ fight with Jackson is how polarizing the rising star has become. It was surprising to hear the chorus of boos in the stands at the Pepsi Center in Denver, even just in reaction to video images of Jones on the big screen. Have his feuds with Evans and Rampage caused his image to go from one of fan-favorite highlight-reel fighter to that of a hated champion?

2. Jake Ellenberger

Ellenberger picked up the biggest win of his UFC career at UFC Fight Night 25 when he quickly finished recent title challenger Jake Shields. Shields has long been considered one of the top welterweights in the sport, but Ellenberger needed just 53 seconds to score the TKO.

Ellenberger is now 5-1 in the UFC and is riding a five-fight winning streak. Also of note is the fact that his lone loss inside the Octagon came via a controversial split decision against current No. 1 contender Carlos Condit. With a resume like that, a title shot could be looming in the very near future for “The Juggernaut.”

3. Daniel Cormier

Tournament formats can often lead to revelations about fighters. It can be a way to sky-rocket to the top of a division. It’s even better when the breakthrough story is that of an alternate fighter.

Such is the case with Cormier, who found himself in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix bracket after Strikeforce heavyweight champion and grand prix participant Alistair Overeem was yanked from his scheduled tourney bout with Antonio Silva.

Cormier took full advantage of his sudden entry into a bracket that included the best heavyweights outside of the UFC. At “Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov,” Cormier advanced to the grand prix finals with an upset victory over Antonio Silva. Cormier outclassed Silva in the striking department to score the first-round knockout.

Next in Cormier’s path is Josh Barnett. While Barnett’s game of catch wrestling and submission grappling has led to dominance in the tournament, an argument can be made that a world-class wrestler of Cormier’s caliber will make it difficult for the former UFC champion to implement his usual game plan. Add Cormier’s surprisingly solid striking to the equation and the tournament final becomes the ideal situation for Cormier to make a huge statement in the heavyweight division.

4. Josh Barnett

If Cormier is the surprise of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, Barnett is the no-brainer. Long ranked right behind Fedor Emelianenko as one of the top heavyweights in the world, Barnett is still going strong while Fedor has fallen upon rough times. Barnett delivered the anticipated result against Sergei Kharitonov at “Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov” in the semi-finals of the grand prix when he submitted the K-1 striker in the first round of their bout.

Barnett is beginning to reestablish his name in mainstream MMA, but his past involvement with performance-enhancing drugs still leaves him with a bad reputation. If he can continue to win and test clean, Barnett could be a force in the heavyweight division. There are just two obstacles he must overcome: A tournament final match-up with world-class wrestler Daniel Cormier and a history with the UFC brass that might keep him out of the Octagon come Strikeforce’s expected eventual demise.

5. The Ultimate Fighter 14 cast

If one thing can inject life into the UFC’s long-running reality series prior to its move to a new cable network home, it’s the first-ever edition of the show to feature featherweights and bantamweights. The smallest fighters ever to be featured on the show delivered in the debut episode with a number of solid fights. It leads to expectations that they can keep it up for a whole season. Now, let’s hope they meet those expectations.

6. Alexis Vila

Vila KO's Warren (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

With the plethora of UFC and Strikeforce events, it takes a significant performance outside of those promotions to find one’s way into the Gauge rankings anymore. Well, Vila did exactly that at Bellator 51.

The undefeated 135-pounder made his major promotion debut with Bellator as a participant in the season five bantamweight tournament. His opponent? None other than current Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren. The outcome was stunning, as Vila needed a mere 64 seconds to knock out the 145-pound champion.

If there’s one way to announce your presence in an organization, it’s to take out a champion. Vila has to be considered the favorite out of the remaining field of bantamweights in the tournament.

7. Luke Rockhold

What do Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson and Nick Diaz have in common? They all held Strikeforce championships which now sit vacant while they prepare for battles inside the UFC’s Octagon. In other words, a Strikeforce title has become less of a championship to defend and more of an instant ticket into the UFC.

That’s great news for Rockhold, who battled Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for five rounds at “Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov” en route to a unanimous decision victory. With the win, Rockhold claimed the Strikeforce middleweight title. Talk had already started pre-fight of Souza as a potential future challenger to the UFC’s middleweight kingpin, Anderson Silva. Now, Rockhold enters into that conversation instead.

8. Josh Koscheck

Koscheck might now be able to add “Retired a legend” to his list of career accomplishments. The American Kickboxing Academy product did what was expected of him in defeating UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes by way of knockout in the co-main event of UFC 135. While Hughes would not officially announce his retirement after the loss, he did state that he will take a break from the sport.

Hughes might not be the top welterweight he once was, but a win over the legend is still worth a lot. “Kos” rebounded nicely following his loss to Georges St-Pierre, but it is hard to see him receiving another title bid anytime soon. However, Koscheck will remain among the top contenders and could likely serve as the gatekeeper for rising contenders such as Jake Ellenberger.

9. Michael Bisping and Jason “Mayhem” Miller

While Bisping and Miller are the coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 14, they have not been the stars to this point. In fact, their personalities have yet to truly clash. However, with their faces gracing the television on a weekly basis, these two are a perfect example of the unique criteria that factors into the Gauge rankings. With both men possessing strong personalities, it will be only a matter of time before they start grating on each other and then we’ll get the sort of drama that the reality series is based around.

10. Muhammed Lawal

“King Mo” made a successful return to the cage at “Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov” after more than a year away. Granted, he was given an improving, but outclassed opponent in Roger Gracie, but it was a fine tune-up bout on the way to bigger fights. Lawal handed Gracie a first-round knockout loss, setting the table for a possible rematch against Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, the man who handed Lawal his lone career defeat.

Top Photo: Jon Jones (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)