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The official UFC rankings aren't perfect, and here's why

Tim B takes a look at one of the issues plaguing the official UFC rankings.

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The idea of how to rank fighters in MMA has divided fans and media alike ever since someone came up with the plan of doing them in the first place. Everyone sees rankings a little bit differently so there will always be some debate. And now with the official UFC rankings in place, even more focus is being placed on the divisiveness of them.

When the UFC started their official rankings, the idea was to eventually hire 90 media members and let them vote after every event. It was basically done so casual fans could understand the relevance of fighters they might not immediately recognize if they don't watch all the time. If fighter A is ranked number 4 and is facing fighter B at number 5, fans know the bout is relevant. It adds interest, and it was a smart idea. They were very clear right from the start that the rankings weren't going to affect matchmaking, and it hasn't thus far. If anything, the opposite is true. When the UFC signs title bouts, the challengers rise up the rankings just based on the booking itself.

Using consensus rankings was also a smart idea. If you let a bunch of people vote and tally it all up, it's supposed to weed out minority views and outliers. The current list has 76 media members from a bunch of different countries. They all view obviously view the sport differently, but it should all work out in the end, right?

I really wish it did, but it certainly hasn't always played out that way.

I should point out that I am a member of the rankings panel, as are four other writers at Bloody Elbow. We are also joined by members of fellow SBN site MMA Mania. I take my position seriously, and do my best to submit what I think is a fair and balanced ballot every time out. Since I cover the sport (as does everyone else on the panel presumably), I pay enough attention to know when fighters change weight classes, or lose to fighters ranked below them. I adjust accordingly after each event. I may not always see it the way the majority of fans or media do, but I'm generally not wildly off the mark either.

That's what makes it so frustrating to see anomalies in the rankings that just plain should not be happening. Joe Rogan even pointed it out in the opening of UFC 166, when they showed the heavyweight rankings that had Roy Nelson at number nine - ahead of the man that had just defeated him, Stipe Miocic. He basically threw the panel under the bus for seeing it that way.

I certainly had Miocic ahead of Nelson. But somehow I was in the minority on that? How?

I understand that there are ways some could argue that Nelson should have been ahead of Miocic at that point (this was before Big Country lost to Daniel Cormier). Strength of schedule, more relevant wins, etc. But when you put two fighters in the cage and one comes out victorious, with zero controversy, I have trouble seeing how you can not immediately put that fighter ahead of the one they just beat. Things might change down the road of course. John Lineker lost to Louis Gaudinot, but he has four straight wins since while Gaudinot has zero wins and one loss. Having Lineker ahead of him makes sense now, more than a year later. But directly in the aftermath of the bout? No way.

Ranking isn't usually all that black or white, I get that. Dana White was complaining about Chael Sonnen's ranking after he beat Mauricio Rua for example. But the complaint wasn't really justified. Sonnen had left middleweight after his second loss to Anderson Silva, so he fell down the rankings in that division and rose in the LHW weight class when he beat Shogun. Then he said he was going back to middleweight, so some (including me) resumed ranking him there. Then he was fighting Rashad Evans back at LHW, so I dropped him at MW again. But he's still ranked in both divisions overall. It's confusing sometimes, so major variations on guys like Chael don't bother me. But when it's cut and dry, like in the example below, it's pretty simple.

Take Lyoto Machida. The Dragon just picked up an impressive win over Mark Munoz in his middleweight debut. He says he's committed to the division and certainly looks like he won't be returning to light heavyweight. So why is he still ranked there? Sure, he dropped a few spots. But if he's still there, that means a) some panel members still think he should be ranked as a light heavyweight for some reason; or b) they didn't submit their rankings after the last event, and this will change when they eventually get around to it.

You want to make an argument for the first? Fine? But the second one bothers me. When the UFC goes live and influential guys like Rogan are picking apart the rankings, I get thrown under the bus. I didn't have my rankings like that. But fans are just looking at the overall board when it's on their TV. I got outvoted, Joe. I'm not sure how, but I did.

Ranking is subjective in MMA. We all know this and understand it, and even people that have nearly the same outlook can see situations differently. But I think certain minimum standards, like knowing what division a fighter competes in, or understanding that fighter A should be ahead of fighter B because he beat him three months ago, should not be that hard to commit to. Neither should taking the time to fill out your ballot after each event and actually paying attention to it.* (see bottom for clarity)

Everyone makes mistakes, of course. But with 76-90 members, the consensus should wash the occasional error away. When it's not, there's a major issue that needs to be addressed. I don't know who is as committed as I am and who isn't, so this isn't directed at any individual in particular. And it's certainly not directed at the UFC, because I love being a part of this. But for those that aren't pulling your weight, please step your game up. I'm sick of being grouped in with you.

UDPATE: Rankings are aggregated per cycle based only on people who submit rankings in that cycle. That means that if a person skips a cycle, they get no vote. Even if a panelist has no changes since the last event, a user must confirm each weight class to get a vote there.

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