The Problem With the UFC Rankings

UFC 156: Aldo v Edgar

Recently, the UFC launched rankings for the first time ever. The lists, voted for by members of the MMA media, give the top ten ranked fighters in each weight division, as well as the top fighters pound-for-pound in the UFC as a whole. 

Initially the UFC were resistant to any sort of ranking systems, worrying that having such a system would reduce the freedom they had to make matches. However, Dana claimed that this system was being introduced purely to allow new fans to get a quick grasp on who is in top position, and who are the names they should learn. 

This is all very well – but the criteria doesn’t seem to be very clear.

The UFC also doesn’t seem to know what they are really doing with these rankings either. After UFC 157, Dana was asked about his promise that the winner of Henderson/Machida would get a title shot. He replied that he stuck by it, and that this has been a fight between number one and number two in the division. What happened to these rankings being purely for fans? So the press don’t seem to know what they are voting for. Is it purely who is the best fighter? If it is, then some journalists really need to have a long, hard think about what they are submitting. Ronda Rousey, unthinkably, doesn’t appear in the pound for pound top ten list. However, others including Frankie Edgar (who is coming off three losses), Joseph Benavidez, Gray Maynard, Dan Henderson and Carlos Condit are judged by some participants to be worthy of inclusion. With no disrespect to these fighters intended, the pound-for-pound rankings are very difficult to gauge – at the present time there are nine UFC champions, and one interim champion.

UFC 154: Kampmann v HendricksReally, those ten champions should be the top ten. Some writers left as many as three of these competitors from their lists. Once the votes are averaged and the lists are compiled, it is Edgar who takes the number ten spot in the pound-for-pound rankings ahead of Rousey. Edgar is a truly incredible fighter who has had a tremendous career, but does he really deserve inclusion ahead of Rousey who is not only on top of her division but has dominated every contender who has come her way? In many of the rankings so far Gilbert Melendez has been ranked the number one contender in the lightweight division, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is the best fighter in the division. For my money that is Antony Pettis, whether he is moving down to 145 or not. However if being the next to get a title shot makes you number one in the rankings, where is Chael Sonnen at light heavyweight? He doesn’t even feature, and didn’t feature in middleweight either in the early rankings. 

These rankings are in many ways more trouble than they are worth. Fans are always going to debate who the UFC pairs up and gives title shots too, but ranking fighters in this way just gives fans more ammunition. Why would the UFC want to listen to fans saying “How can X be ranked number five, he’s clearly number seven at best!”? With this the UFC are making a rod for their own back, and I personally don’t see these rankings being too prominent, or existing at all, this time next year.