Why ranking UFC fighters might not be as easy as you think

Todd Warshaw

Tim B. takes a look at why a few divisions in the UFC are very tough to rank, and it's probably not something you considered right off the bat.

I write about the official UFC rankings a fair amount on this fine blog. Some of the stuff is just a rundown of the changes, and some of it is a venting of frustrations about a few basket cases that I'm forced to be peers with. Today I want off in a different direction though, and briefly discuss the difficulty with some aspects of the UFC rankings. I'm not talking about picking and choosing between a glut of talented fighters at welterweight or lightweight. I'm not talking about ranking guys in multiple divisions. Today I'm going to talk about depth, or lack thereof.

Anyone and their pet monkey can throw their crap at the walls long enough to come up with something that resembles a decent list of fighter rankings in most divisions. But when the UFC decided to expand their rankings from 10 to 15 fighters in each weight class at the start of 2014, it started to make things really difficult in at least three of the nine divisions. A lot of people do the big WTF at the rankings in these divisions, especially near the bottom. But the reason is simple - we're picking from the bottom of the damn barrel at a certain point.

So I figured I might as well break down exactly what we have to choose from so you might have a better understanding of why someone's that 1-4 in MMA or hasn't fought in the UFC in two years is a ranked UFC fighter. Here are the three toughest divisions to sort out.

Women's Bantamweight - There are 21 women to choose from for 15 spots. 21. Two have been released and signed with Invicta FC (Roxanne Modafferi, Peggy Morgan). So you're really down to 19. Four have yet to fight in the UFC (Alexandra Albu, Alexis Dufresne, Leslie Smith, Shayna Baszler). Dufresne and Smith were just added for this cycle for the first time, by the way. Four are from TUF 18 and have a single win from the TUF Finale (Julianna Pena, Jessamyn Duke, Jessica Rakoczy, Raquel Pennington).

So how do you sort out that hot mess into a top 15 that makes any sort of sense? Does Rakozcy deserve to be in the top 15 based on making the TUF finals despite her 1-4 record? How about Pennington and her 4-4 record? She does have a win in the UFC at least. Should Smith and Dufresne automatically be put ahead of them regardless of how they do in their UFC debuts?

So many tough questions.

Bantamweight - 47 fighters to pick from, so a bigger base than Women's 135 at least. One is Dominick Cruz, which is a tough call for everyone. He hasn't fought in well over two years - so do you rank him or not? It seems like half are and half aren't so he flutters around the nine spot, which just looks kind of dumb. Personally, if the UFC can pull GSP, Kampmann, Belcher, and Lil Nog from the rankings, I don't see why they can't just keep Cruz out till he fights again. But that's just me.

Now, let's look at the 47. One isn't in the division anymore (Brad Pickett). Three have zero UFC fights. One has been released (Tezuka). A gaggle of them have one or two fights in the UFC. In fact, there are only 14 eligible fighters in the division with three or more UFC wins at bantamweight. Obviously there's some carryover via a drop down from 145, and WEC success might be a factor. But four of the guys in the current top 15 (Iuri Alcantara, Cruz, Bryan Caraway, Wilson Reis) have less than 3 UFC wins at 135. And there's Pickett too.

Now I know that three wins isn't doesn't shouldn't be instilled as a rigid tipping point or anything, I'm just using it as a benchmark to show that ranking in the division is hard. The top 10-12 might be relatively easy, but after that? The pickings are slim.

Light Heavyweight - 32 fighters to pick from, since Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was dropped. Three haven't fought in the UFC yet (Steve Bosse, Sean O'Connell, Robert Drysdale). Three of them are apparently retired (Bosse, Kyle Kingsbury, Krzysztof Soszynski). One is dropping to 185 for his next announced fight (James Te Huna). Three have zero UFC wins at 205 (Anthony Johnson, Patrick Cummins, Nikita Krylov). Six have one UFC win at 205 (Daniel Cormier, Rafael Cavalcante, Francimar Barroso, Hans Stringer, Ilir Latifi, Gian Villante). And there's Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort, who are up for debate among rankers in regards to the whole two-division thing.

So, what do you do here? The top eight or so might be easy. Then things get really difficult. It's so slim that Anthony Johnson made the list without a single UFC fight since he was dropped for being too huge for welterweight (and middleweight). Seriously, who else do you put in there though? Wanderlei Silva? Anthony Perosh? If any of you suggest Ryan Jimmo, you're banned.

Anyway, the point of all this was just to show that a) The UFC may have jumped the gun on the top 15's; and b) Rankin' ain't easy. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself or anyone else on the panel, but the next time you see a Mitch Gagnon or a Nikita Krylov ranked in the UFC and laugh in disgust, just consider who else might be there if they weren't.

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