In short: rankings have always been informed by alteast two major considerations: What a Fighter HAS DONE and What that fight WILL DO. Hence Overeem's high ranking despite a list of sub-par opponents.
I must warn you, this is one of those times im too lazy to edit anything. I have a bit of a flu and im going to go to sleep instead of reading this thing. Hope to read some comments after my nap :)
Allistair Overeem is one of my favorite fighters. Since 2005, when I first started watching MMA, I have always found Overeem to be an exciting in-ring performer and at the time, I also considered him to be a highly underrated fighter who would one day best the top 205ers. Something about the 23 year olds striking technique, especially his knees from the clinch, and his ultra violent guillotine captured my attention (even thought many of those tools were only successful against sub-par competition) and some how it made his losses less to greats like Chuck Liddell less deflating then they were for other fans. I expected great things from Allistair in 2006.
Unfortunately, my expectations (and the betting that they informed) were way off. By the end of 2006, my interest in Overeem’s knees and his signature guillotine were easily overshadowed by several (T)KO losses and subsequent questions about Overeem’s health and the risks he would incur if he continued his career as a mixed martial artist.
And then, Ubereem was born. Starting with a violent beating of Paul Beuntello in 2007, a horse-meat/steroid infused Overeem remerged at heavyweight and went on a ten fight winstreak in MMA which earned him both the StrikeForce and Dream Heavyweight titles and a K-1 Run which made Overeem the first fighter in history to earn both the K-1 Grand Prix title and a Major Heavyweight title.
In each fight, Overeem showed off exceptional striking, a new found ability to knockout opponents with a single strike and much improved conditioning (which was especially impressive in his K-1 Grand-Prix finals performance which included three fights in one night). A new confidence and a noticeably larger frame had brought my attention back to Overeem and, this time, I wasn’t alone. Since Overeem’s destruction of Brett Rogers, most of the Hardcore MMA community has been praising Overeem, many have ranked him among the two or three best heavyweights in the sport and some have even begun to clamor for a UFC title shot – implicitly but confidently asserting that Overeem will win the StrikeForce GrandPrix.
In a sport that still lives on the Internet, I expected these assertions to bring heavy backlash and forum bickering but, to my surprise, it seems as though claims that Overeem is overrated and that he will not win the StrikeForce GP have only really begun to surface recently. Most of this recent backlash obviously has to do with the fact that Overeem’s next fight is finally here (the fighter has not competed in MMA since December 31st after a busy 2010 which included 7 fights including his K-1 wins).
Until this weekend, Overeem was being defined largely based on his online documentary series ‘The Reem’ and his spectacular 2008-2010 run. The Reem, in particular has shown off Overeem’s new found size and power (which continue to incite conversations about steroid use and steroid masking) while also giving fans a chance to get to know the ultra confident fighter and his camp as they train, interact with media and compete. The documentary series is probably the best example of independent fighter marketing through social media in MMA.
Finally now, as his fight with Fabricio Werdum finally approaches, I’ve found that many fans are finally beginning to look past ‘The Reem’ series and Overeem’s finish-heavy undefeated streak and finally, starting to look at Allistair Overeem’s record and when they do, fans are beginning to tell a completely different story of ‘Ubereem’, one that make the nickname, calls for a UFC title shot and a number two position in the rankings all feel unearned.
While wins over CroCop (Yes, I called the No Contest over Mirko CroCop a win. No it was not a typo or an error in research) or Paul Buentello or even Brett Rogers carry some weight, most fans agree that none are the kinds of victories that should guarantee a title show in the UFC, nor should they allow for confident claims that Overeem deserves the number two position on the heavyweight rankings. As for the rest of Overeem’s record, victories over the likes of Todd Duffee, a forty year old Kazuyuki Fujita and James Thompson do little to answer questions about how good Overeem really is.
Realizations about the Overeem’s lackluster resume have informed claims that the man is a “fraud” and overrated based on his in ring spectacle as opposed to his actual resume - the same thinking that informed an overranking of B.J Penn” A.K.A The “B.J. Penn Fallacy” according to Tim Marchman of Sports Illustrated, just one example of many fans/writers who want to make clear that Overeem has not earned his praise and high rankings.
These assertions are probably right to assert that Overeem has been overrated to some extent and also right to suggest that fans are too often mesmorized by highlight reel knockouts and subsequently forgetful of actual accomplishments and records (A.K.A. fans very often overvalue how a fighter beats unknown opponent to the point that they forget to ask who that fighter has beat). However, to call Overeem a “fraud” based solely on a measurement of his opponents and their own rankings is too make the opposite mistake: to overvalue a record and forget about in-ring performance.
While trying to construct accurate heavyweight rankings (if there are such a thing) and, at the same time, make predictions about who will win a fight – in this case Allistair Overeem versus Fabricio Werdum – we must remember that assessments and rankings are influenced by several things including a fighters popularity, his appearance (both factors which Marchman suggests have informed the overrated of Overeem), his highlight reel and even his race (although race is a topic for another discussion). For Marchman and many hardcore fans, these factors, especially Overeem’s highlight reel, amount to problems that infect a discussion that should be based purely on Overeem’s record A.K.A. who he has beaten.
Unfortunately, Marchman and those making similar arguments are forgetting that ranking a fighter is much more complicated then it sounds. Despite being able to put the rankings into a neat question; “Who is the best?”, we must realize that the top tens are based on several considerations and also several different questions that must be negotiated.
Some fans, for example, may use rankings to make assertions about which fighters would win in hypothetical match-ups with the rest of the weight class. Other fans may be attempting to rank a fighter based solely on what he/she has accomplished but, if that were the sole purpose of a ranking, Fedor Emelianenko would probably sit atop any and all heavyweight rankings and Mauricio Rua would probably hold his spot over the lightheavyweight rankings despite losing to Jon Jones.
This tendency to rank recent winners and champions over defeated but still more accomplished fighters like in the Rua/Jones case is quite revealing. It tell us that rankings are based upon several factors and are used to make several assertions including both claims about which fighters have accomplished the most and which fighters would best their contemporaries should they fight (Hence Fedor’s rankings drop and Jones’s flight up the ranking despite the better resumes of other light heavyweights).
And thus …
… while records and who a fighter has defeated matters, how a fighter has looked in his most recent fights and predictions about if he could defeat the best heavyweights can all can play an important role in our rankings as well. Put another way, Hardcore fans do not simply limit expectations and rankings to a fighters record but also attempt to measure how great a fighter is based upon his skills and most recent in-ring performances even against weaker competition. A fighter’s physique, his technique, even small details like a fighter’s footwork can tell us several things about how great he is, how much he has changed and if he can beat most of the rest of his division.
Jon Jones is probably one of the best examples of ranking based upon prediction – despite an undefeated record, if you sit down to examine Jones’s opponents, you might be surprised to find the list somewhat lacking considering his name stands above other light heavyweights like Quinton Jackson or Lyoto Machida who hold accomplished records full of top ten names. In fact, most of you would probably agree that Jones has only one (or two, if you consider Ryan Bader a top ten fighter) fight against a top ten fighter – Shogun Rua – and has therefore accomplished less then many of his contemporaries. And still, few would disagree with his number one ranking over fighters like Lyoto Machida, Quinton Jackson and, of course, Mauricio Rua who have no doubt accomplished more against better opponents in their longer careers.
This suggests that Jones’s ranking actually comes despite his record and mostly as a result of his in-ring performances and subsequent predictions of what his record will look like in the future. In fact, most hardcore fans would probably lay money on the 23 year old regardless of his opponent and so few, if any, quibble about Jones’s number one ranking. Jones is simply understood as the best in his weight class and it is more based upon his in-ring spectacle, what he will probably accomplish in the future and less on his actual record to date.
Jones is just one example of several fighters who have earned the top spot in many rankings despite having less impressive records then others again, implying that rankings attempt to answer several different questions - which fighter has acquired the best record and which fighter would be most likely to beat all of his contemporaries? And are thus not wholly defined based upon a fighter’s record as it stands today.
Thus, in keeping with this style of ranking fighters, we must remember that our assessment of Overeem must take on several factors including not only the names we find on his record but also how he has looked in ring and what we think he will do this Saturday against Werdum.
Many fans will agree that Overeem is a great fighter who has done brilliant work since moving to heavyweight which has included what might be an undervalued top ten win over Brett Rogers. Recent performances have informed predictions that Overeem will defeat any and all opponents in the StrikeForce GP and might serve as the biggest threat to the UFC Heavyweight champion (whether it be Junior Dos Santos or Cain Velasquez). Add in a good (but not great) heavyweight record and you have Overeem’s name positioned in the second place spot on many rankings and it is well deserved as long as we understand what rankings are actually based upon and what questions they are trying to answer (especially if you think, like most fans do, that Overeem will beat Werdum this Saturday).
The major limitation with rankings should be clear: if a large portion of rankings are influenced by yet to happened fights and predictions about who will win in the future, losses to underdogs and unexpected results will no doubt incur massive criticism from fans who claim that fighters like Overeem were overrated by websites like Sports Illustrated. But hey, it comes with the territory. No one said ranking fighters was going to be easy.<!--EndFragment-->