As a fan of combat sports, I’ve always been intrigued by the term "pound for pound" for the simple reason that it’s fun to think about and debate who is the best fighter now, and to also consider who is the "greatest of all time" (GOAT)? But what does it really mean? And how do we judge this? I mean, there must be some vague guidelines to consider when making this decision.
In my quest for answers, I turned to the one thing we all turn to when we have questions, Google. And it led me to none other than Wikipedia’s definition of "pound for pound" which cited four common criteria used to pin down this elusive term.
(1) Who faced the greater quality of opposition?
(2) How exciting are they?
(3) How famous are they?
(4) Who would win if all those ranked were the same size?
1) Who has faced the greater quality of opposition? A fair question, but how do you value a fighter’s quality? Do you just count top-10 wins? But then again, aren’t those rather subjective as well? Even the official UFC rankings panel often can’t agree, and they’re supposed to be the "experts". (Let the record stand that I’m not talking down to anyone on the panel, some of you do a pretty good job, but others seem like they’re drawing names out of a hat)
2) Everyone loves an exciting fighter, it’s the reason why some mediocre fighters remain employed by the UFC while others like Jon Fitch, Jake Shields and Yushin Okami have had to take a step down and fight for WSOF. But should this really be a criteria for determining ‘the greatest?" Most people would call Anthony Pettis a more exciting fighter than Georges St-Pierre but that doesn’t mean he has accomplished more, or is a better-rounded fighter.
3) Fame, although easily the most unimportant thing to consider, but if all other factors were close, I could see how someone could give the nod to the fighter who has had the most impact on the sport. A good example would be to cite GSP’s PPV drawing powers, but I wouldn’t use the same excuse to hype up Brock Lesnar as the best, for obvious reasons.
4) The last one is one of the more common interpretations of "pound for pound". If every fighter were the same size and fought, who would prevail? Or at the very least, who would win the majority of the time? One could answer this by simply picking the most well-rounded fighter in all areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d win, someone could be so great in one area and passable enough in the rest to trump those other fighters. But again, because we can’t actually know what would happen if Fedor Emelianenko and Jose Aldo were the exact same size and fought, we are left with just more assumptions.
The point I’m trying to make is not that it’s subjective, that much is blatantly obvious, what I’m trying to say is that it’s pointless to include such things in official rankings unless we can agree on some way to rank them. We rank the divisions according to who beat who, and partially factor in how they beat them, and although it’s far from perfect, at least we have something to go off. If we can settle on one or two key judging criteria to determine this, I think we’ll see a more fair representation. And this is why I made this post, to simply open up a discussion.
As an example, I’ll compare the UFC’s current top-10 P4P rankings to my own and give my reasoning behind it.
UFC’s Pound for Pound List:
1) Jon Jones
2) Jose Aldo
6) Anthony Pettis
8) Renan Barao
10) Ronda Rousey
My Pound for Pound List:
1) Jose Aldo
2) Jon Jones
3) Demetrious Johnson
4) Cain Velasquez
5) Chris Weidman
6) TJ Dillashaw
7) Johny Hendricks
8) Anthony Pettis
9) Renan Barao
10) Anderson Silva
First off, I rank them according to accomplishments, the main factor in this is title defenses. In the event of a tie, I simply give the nod to the fighter who I believe is better well-rounded. For Aldo, (and Cruz if he were still champ and active), I include WEC title defenses because the belt is basically the same, it was just transferred over in the merger. For this reason, Jose Aldo’s two WEC title defenses, plus his six in the UFC give him a total of eight title defenses during the course of his 5-year reign over the featherweight division. Add to the fact that he hasn’t had as many close calls as Jones, or weird fights (Belfort & Sonnen), just further support my decision.
Jones clearly takes the number two spot, but why Johnson over Velasquez? Well, Velasquez has already been dethroned once, but aside from that, he has one more successful title defense and I believe he has displayed a greater variety of skills. In the number five spot, I’ve got Weidman, who may leap-frog Velasquez if he can get past Machida in July. After that we’ve got the three new champs who have yet to defend their belt, Dillashaw, Hendricks, and Pettis. This is where I actually try to compare their skills and pick who I think is the best, and I’ve got to go with Dillashaw, I think he’s the more complete fighter. He’s got great stand up, as we saw when he dominated and finished Barao, and he’s a talented wrestler to boot. I put Hendricks over Pettis because of his performance against GSP and his wrestling advantage over Pettis, an area I still have some concerns with regarding Pettis.
I don't rank any non-champions above current champions, so #9 is the best spot I can give Barao. He had a nearly 10-year long winning streak and 3 title defenses, which although I don't think puts him above Silva in GOAT status, I feel he's still much more relevant in the title picture while Silva seems to be fading. I didn't include Rousey because I feel, like the current weight class rankings, women should have their own pound for pound list.
Disagree with me? Fine, let me know why in the comments.