The inherently subjective nature of rankings means there is no true "perfect method." I think that the USA Today / SB Nation Consensus Rankings are about as good as it gets based on the idea that they capture a snapshot of the consensus opinion of a group of people who (mostly) know what they're talking about. But there is another kind of ranking other than the standard mixture of results combined with the completely subjective idea of "who is better?"
The idea of "resume based rankings" is a popular one in certain college football circles. I'll turn to an old SB Nation college football blog Sunday Morning Quarterback (now Dr. Saturday at Yahoo! Sports) for their description:
A method that attempts to rank based strictly on the measurable: if each team had a resume for this season and this season only, and its name at the top was blacked out, how would the voter rank those resumes? Takes into account only games played to date this season - these are folks who always complain about polls that come out and distort reality before October.
Obviously, we don't have a "season" in mixed martial arts. But the idea of a distorted reality based on early polls is something we put up with. Once a fighter has been determined to be a top level talent, it can take years of results indicating otherwise before rankings adjust themselves.
If you were going purely by record, and not by titles, you could make a case for Rashad at 1 right now.
It got me to thinking, if we set the guidelines of resume based rankings at a four year window (as to not overrate early wins), taking away perceived skills and titles, does Rashad have a legitimate case for #1 light heavyweight in the world. Let's run through the current top 10 (as one assumes you would have to be in the top 10 to have a resume that qualifies you to be in the running for #1).
Update: I screwed up badly when writing this far too late last night and did a four year window instead of five. Please forgive my mistake. The main changes in a 5 year window would be adding in Rampage Jackson's Liddell win, adding in Dan Henderson's Misaki loss and Wanderlei win and adding Shogun's win over Overeem.
5 Year Record: 13-1 (7-1 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Mauricio Rua (TKO), Ryan Bader (Sub), Vladimir Matyushenko (TKO)
Losses: Matt Hamill (DQ)
Quick Notes: Jones is hurt in this scenario by taking perceived skill out of the equation. He has two legit "high level" wins, and then it's picking which mid-tier win is the best. His loss was a strange situation, obviously.
5 Year Record: 3-3 (3-3 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Lyoto Machida (KO), Chuck Liddell (TKO), Mark Coleman (TKO)
Losses: Jon Jones (TKO), Lyoto Machida (Decision), Forrest Griffin (Sub)
Quick Notes: A .500 record, two stoppage losses and having Mark Coleman listed as a "best win" during the period is not pretty. Shogun is obviously a talented fighter, but if you're going purely by resume it is hard to put him in the running for #1.
5 Year Record: 5-2 (5-2 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Lyoto Machida (Dec), Wanderlei Silva (KO),
Matt Hamill (Dec) Dan Henderson (Dec)
Losses: Forrest Griffin (Dec), Rashad Evans (Dec)
Quick Notes: No stoppage losses is a nice bonus, as is an above .500 record.
But he lacks a third true "big" win in the five year period. For some reason I forgot originally that Henderson was within the 4 year window. The Liddell win sits just outside of it.
5 Year Record: 6-1 (6-1 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Quinton Jackson (Dec), Forrest Griffin (TKO), Chuck Liddell (KO)
Losses: Lyoto Machida (KO)
Quick Notes: One loss was a violent loss but to a high level fighter. Liddell was ranked in the top 3 at the time of the win, despite his fall off after that fight. The Thiago Silva win could also be slid into the "best wins" list given his long standing period in the top ten. Some ugly looking wins, but a very impressive record.
5 Year Record: 7-2 (7-2 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Mauricio Rua (Dec), Rashad Evans (KO), Thiago Silva (KO)
Losses: Quinton Jackson (Dec), Mauricio Rua (KO)
Quick Notes: Machida has had a stellar run that I think some may overlook. The Rua win was debated but a very close fight. Wins over the current #2 and #3 are hard to ignore.
5 Year Record: 4-2 (4-2 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Mauricio Rua (Sub), Quinton Jackson (Dec), Rich Franklin (Dec)
Losses: Rashad Evans (TKO), Anderson Silva (KO)
Quick Notes: Two bad, violent stoppage losses but three very solid wins (and a win over Tito Ortiz for good measure). Injuries keeping him inactive for all of 2010 hurts.
5 Year Record: 6-3 (3-2 UFC, 3-1 Strikeforce)
3 Best Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (TKO), Rich Franklin (Dec), Michael Bisping (KO)
Losses: Jake Shields (Dec), Anderson Silva (Sub), Quinton Jackson (Dec)
Quick Notes: Four fights at middleweight, one at heavyweight and four at light heavyweight make it hard to judge Dan as a 205'er exclusively. At the weight in the 5 year period he was 3-1.'
5 Year Record: 9-0 (5-0 UFC)
3 Best Wins: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Dec), Alexander Gustafsson (Sub), Brian Stann (Dec)
Quick Notes: Stann is now a middleweight, but for someone still a bit "unproven" Davis has three very good wins on his ledger. The Gustafsson win is looking better every day.
5 Year Record: 4-2 1 NC (4-2 1 NC UFC)
3 Best Wins: Keith Jardine (KO), Houston Alexander (KO), Tomasz Drwal (TKO)
Losses: Lyoto Machida (KO), Rashad Evans (Dec)
Quick Notes: A positive drug test and no top level wins. I think we can ignore Silva in this discussion.
5 Year Record: 6-2 (3-0 EliteXC, 3-2 Strikeforce)
3 Best Wins: Muhammad Lawal (TKO), Antwain Britt (KO), Aaron Rosa (TKO)
Losses: Dan Henderson (TKO), Mike Kyle (TKO)
Quick Notes: Nice win over Lawal, that's it.
So who is it? Which light heavyweight would be ranked #1 purely on resume alone?
Personally, it seems like it's down to Evans and Machida for the top spot.