Josh Thomson Argues JZ Cavalcante Should Be Top Ranked Lightweight

Photo by MMA Junkie

Josh Thomson spoke out yesterday at the Strikforce: Diaz vs Noons 2 press conference, Mike Chiappetta reports:

...it was former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson who stole the show, blasting the media for its lightweight rankings. Interestingly, Thomson wasn't defending his own placement on the list, but rather that of his Saturday night opponent, Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante, who is 15-3 with one no contest in his career.

 

Though Cavalcante's lost two of his last three, Thomson believes he is among the top lightweights in the world, saying "he should be ranked in the top five." But Thomson was just getting started, eventually taking aim at the WEC 155-pound champ, Ben Henderson.

"I think it's a joke that you guys have guys like Ben Henderson ranked above guys like JZ," he said. "You guys got to be freaking kidding me. This kid is a beast. The guy's a great fighter. He's well-rounded, has great ground and pound. He's fought Masato [Kobayashi] in K-1. Are you guys kidding me? Really?

"You guys have a guy named Ben Henderson ranked above this guy?" he continued. "You guys are out of your mind. This guy's a savage. He's good on the ground, he's got good submissions, he's got everything you need."

Disclosure, the USAT/SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings that Bloody Elbow compiles each month currently rank Cavalcante as the #19 lightweight in the world, Thomson at #21 and WEC champ Benson Henderson at #14.

 Those familiar with our unique methodology which combines the leading online rankers (like Shergod, MMA Weekly, MMA Playground and Fight Matrix) with a panel of top MMA writers (from outlets like Sports Illustrated, Sherdog/ESPN, AOL, Yahoo etc) know that we are not even attempting to arrive at a perfective objective ranking of past accomplishments. We're just trying to document the current state of opinion in the MMA community. 

And even if a perfect ranking system were formulated, it would still have little or no predictive value. 

The reality is that MMA at the top levels is too competitive and there are too many factors impacting performance to ever develop an objective and accurate ranking system that would have actual predictive value. 

Let's talk the specifics of Thomson and Cavalcante in the full entry.

SBN coverage of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons 2

 

In the case of Thomson and JZ, both are great fighters who have battled injury over the past few years. Not only has the necessary recovery time kept them out of the cage for months at a time, the lingering effects of the injuries have likely diminished their abilities to some degree.

Sherdog's Tomas Rios elaborates:

Come fight time, Thomson and Cavalcante will bring arguably the greatest conglomeration of talent and injuries a cage has ever seen. If not for those injuries, we might be talking about two of the best lightweights in the sport today -- that's how talented they are and how hamstrung their careers have been by injury.
...
Most of Thomson's injuries have cost him nothing more than cage time; Cavalcante's have left him a different fighter from the nigh unstoppable beast that once dominated the Japanese circuit. A vintage Cavalcante poses problems for the Thomson of today. Unfortunately, the Cavalcante of today will do no better than a competitive decision loss.

Dave Meltzer goes in-depth on the injuries both men have battled:

Cavalcante, 27, had major operations on both knees, and has fought only twice in the past two and a half years. Thomson, 32, suffered a broken ankle 18 months ago, while holding the Strikeforce title. He injured it a second time while getting ready for a title defense with Gilbert Melendez, from whom he won the title in a shutout decision on June 27, 2008, in San Jose. The rematch was postponed a few times before Thomson lost the title via decision on Dec. 19, 2009, in one of the best matches of the year.

Since Thomson's return, he's continued to suffer injury. Both of his hands were damaged in the Melendez match, which he attributed to a rushed hand-wrap before the fight, combined with the output of punches landed. The fight was so brutal that when asked about a rematch, both fighters have stated that while they wouldn't turn it down, they also dread it because of how much punishment they took in the five-round war.

Thomson then suffered broken ribs on the first takedown in his last fight vs. Pat Healy on June 26, when he scored a come-from-behind submission win.

Thomson's training camp has been tough, between waiting for his ribs to fully heal, dislocating two fingers at two separate times - which limited his stand-up training early on - and ongoing shoulder problems.

In addition to the cumulative toll of injuries and inactivity which have damaged Thomson and JZ's standing, their status as non-UFC fighters has also impacted their rankings. 

Neither Thomson nor Cavalcante has any shameful losses on their records. They've only lost to the very elite of their division in the last three years. In Thomson's case that means Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez, ranked #3. For JZ, that's DREAM champ #5 Shinya Aoki -- and in a ring rather than a cage, with Aoki wearing grappling pants. 

But Thomson's beef about #14 Benson Henderson being ranked above him is logical. Henderson has faced nothing comparable to the level of competition that Thomson and JZ have. But Henderson (and arguably Melendez and Aoki) are benefitting from what I call "king of little mountain" syndrome. As the champion of his promotion, he's beaten everyone he's faced. This creates an illusion that Henderson could step directly into a bigger, deeper and more competitive promotion and make an immediate impact at the highest levels. 

Ironically, the very same illusion that causes a clear champ of a smaller/weaker division to rise too high, drags down the top contenders in those same promotions. Only when there is a messy Fighter A beats Fighter B who loses to Fighter C who in turn loses to Fighter A situation  do you have multiple fighters from a second tier promotion rise together. Examples of this include the messy 2008 DREAM lightweight tournament that saw Aoki, #6 Eddie Alvarez, and #21 Joachim Hansen all pick up big wins. Another is the recent Strikeforce light heavyweight jumble between #10 Gegard Mousasi, #13 Muhammed Lawal and #16 Rafael Cavalcante in which the lower ranked fighter owns a win over the guy ranked above him (ie Cavalcante beat Lawal who beat Mousasi). 

Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying no ranking system will ever be perfect. Fighters like Thomson and JZ who've been on the shelf as much as they've been healthy the last couple of years AND are fighting in non-UFC promotions are only going to get their due when/if they win the title where they're fighting. Then they'll be overrated.

Regardless of the rankings, Josh Thomson vs Gesias JZ Cavalcante is top-flight MMA by any standard and I can't wait to see the fight.

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