Opening up the MMA mailbag
"Pound-for-pound rankings can be debated until everyone turns blue in the face," a reader named Brian from Marysville, Calif., e-mailed me after seeing last week's story about Frankie Edgar, in which I had quoted the UFC lightweight champion's boss giving the feisty fighter an astoundingly enthusiastic endorsement following his TKO of nemesis Gray Maynard. "However, that doesn't mean that some people's beliefs shouldn't be totally dismissed."
Brian was talking about Dana White's brash contention that Edgar deserves to be ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound in the mixed martial arts world, behind only Anderson Silva. Neither the SI.com rankings nor any others I've seen place Frankie above welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre or even light heavyweight belt holder Jon Jones. But Dana was as undeterred as usual. "I don't care who disagrees," he had insisted in the way only Dana can insist. "You're wrong and I'm right."
My response to that bluster was to coolly say everyone is entitled to an opinion. That wasn't good enough for Brian. "I'm not even sure White really believes this or if he's just trying to get the lesser known Edgar some more MMA love," he wrote. "If he does truly believe it, he's gone completely insane. Edgar is not even in the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC."
Now it's my turn to once again say everyone is entitled to an opinion ... even though every P4P ranking I've seen, including my own, does include the Jersey boy in the top five. But beneath Brian's contrary opinion lies the real issue: Are we ever justified in making a definitive statement about something as opinion-based as rankings?
Brian thinks so. "If I were to say Tito Ortiz is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world," he wrote, "is it still debatable just because I believe that?" Ah, yes, some opinions might be too far out there. But when talking about champions, as Edgar and Silva and St-Pierre and Jones all are, it is a lot more reasonable to justify pretty much any opinion. And what complicates matters is that our opinions aren't all based on the same criteria.
White ranks Edgar so highly, for example, because he contends that Frankie should be given extra consideration as a small lightweight -- that is, he walks around at around 160 pounds, a weight more common for bantamweights, so he invariably is fighting bigger men. That is true, but it is Edgar's choice. And while the extra bulk might translate into a strength advantage for his opponents, Frankie is a speed fighter whose lighter weight serves his style well. He also doesn't have to go through an energy-sapping dehydration process to make weight. So is his lighter weight really a disadvantage? And even if it is, should it be a factor in his pound-for-pound ranking if it's his choice to fight at 155 pounds instead of 145?
Speaking of 145 pounds, that's another side of the P4P debate. Reader Brian's argument against Edgar's high ranking included this tidbit of comparison with the UFC featherweight champion: "Jose Aldo is another fighter I would put over Edgar. I think if he ever moved up or Edgar moved down in weight class, that would be proven." Perhaps, but that should not figure into today's pound-for-pound rankings, at least not in the way I assess them. I rank Edgar, Aldo and every other fighter based on how he performs in his weight class. So even if I believed, for example, that GSP would lose to Silva if he were to bulk up for the superfight the MMA world has been obsessed over, I still could rank Georges higher in the P4P pecking order, based on what he's done against fellow welterweights compared with what "The Spider" has done against middleweights. In fact, that's how I had the two fighters ranked until Silva so thoroughly dominated Yushin Okami in August that I flip-flopped No. 1 and No. 2 last month.
Not everyone approaches pound-for-pound rankings the same way. Many who compile top 10s, for instance, are loath to give any love to the big guys. You wouldn't know it from the SI.com rankings, because we publish only a top three, but in the P4P pound list I send to our friends at Yahoo! Sports in order to be included in their media consensus rankings, I put UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez at No. 4, just ahead of Edgar. The 30-member media panel, however, ranks Cain down at No. 7, below Edgar, Aldo and bantamweight titlist Dominick Cruz. Now, everyone is entitled ... OK, I'll leave that alone and get to the point: I've had people tell me that heavyweights don't deserve to be ranked, that I'm missing the point of pound-for-pound rankings by putting Velasquez so high. To which I say: Huh? He is fighting fellow heavyweights, right? So why is it wrong to compare his performances in his weight class with the performances of each other champion (or any fighter, for that matter) against competitors in his own division?
Don't get me started. Oh, yeah, I guess I'm already started. Well, let's get back to Frankie Edgar, whose UFC 136 performance -- coming back from another first-round beatdown by Maynard -- prompted much reader response.
To answer your first question, Bo: No, I cannot explain the difference between 10-8 and 10-7. I guess it's like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it." I don't mean to make light of a matter that deserves a lengthy analysis, but the bare truth is that no one seems to have a definitive take, although I will say that unlike in boxing, a knockdown is not an automatic trigger of a 10-8. Obviously, a 10-8 round is a dominant round and a 10-7 is even more dominant. Where do you draw the line? It's the same question that arises when you compare a round in which one fighter has the slightest of edges and a round in which one clearly is in control -- and both are scored 10-9.
MMA scoring needs much rethinking. So does boxing scoring, but at least in that sport a fighter has as many as 11 more rounds to overcome one badly scored round. In an MMA bout of three or even five rounds, it's tough to make up for a 10-8. That's no doubt in judges' minds as they mark down their scores, which makes them reluctant to give out 10-8s and even more averse to scribbling a "7" next to a fighter's name, no matter how much he's been beaten up.
At UFC 136, Maynard received just one 10-8 score, by the way. The outcry over that was a bit muted, after Edgar scored the TKO to make the scorecards moot. I thought the round could have been scored 10-8 but didn't see 10-9 as highway robbery. One reader I heard from felt strongly that 10-9 was the way to go.
I don't agree that Edgar had an easy time with Maynard, at any time, although in their third bout the champ did gain full control once he recovered from the early beating. In their New Year's Day fight, however, even though I scored Rounds 2 through 5 all for Frankie, they mostly were close and I have no dispute with the deciding judge who gave Maynard the nod in Round 3, leading to the draw.
Your overall point, though, I do agree with. I think the better fighter won. But, c'mon, Edgar fan: You know you were holding your breath every time Gray let fly with one of those big punches.
Interesting that you would link Frankie and Melvin, who by now might have been scheduled to fight for the lightweight belt if only Guillard had taken care of business against Joe Lauzon at UFC 136. Maybe that's the biggest difference between Edgar and Guillard: Frankie didn't allow the fact that he had to fight Maynard once again -- the only opponent he's had on his mind since their second matchup was assured back in August 2010 -- to distract him from the business at hand, while Melvin apparently allowed his dreams of wearing the UFC lightweight belt get in the way of his focus on Lauzon. Another difference: While both Frankie and Melvin were badly hurt in the first round, one of them fought his way out of trouble and the other quickly succumbed.
I agree that Cruz' performance was not thrilling. But I didn't see his tactic as lay-and-pray. He was trying to improve position, but he just wasn't good enough on the ground to inflict damage. That's the flaw Cruz's game. He's proven to be near impossible to take down and difficult to catch with punches while the fight is standing, but he's not such a threat on the mat. If he can refine his submission game, he'll be even more of a terror than he already is.
Very good point, Patrick. But I think it would have been easier for Cage to compose something shorter than for Rampage to last longer with "Bones."
I have nothing against Seagal's martial arts background, Eric, although with him apparently having spent so much time in dojos over the years, I would have expected him to have learned a little humility. I didn't miss his comment about Bones being "so much better" than what he showed, just as I didn't miss his smirk when interviewer Ariel Helwani asked him about the Jones front kick that didn't quite connect ... whereupon Seagal suggested that it hadn't landed because "I haven't taught it [to Jones] yet." Do you really, truly believe he taught Silva and Machida how to kick?
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Steven Seagal isn't a laughable buffoon whose straight-to-video movie career is so feeble that he has to grab attention wherever he can find it, which unfortunately at the moment means sticking his nose into the UFC world. Maybe he truly is the sensei to whom Brazil's greatest fighters bow down as teacher. If so, Jon Jones is in a whole lot of trouble, because he declined Seagal's offer to visit before the Rampage fight, and his next bout is against Machida, one of Steven's guys. Add a melodramatic score from Taiwan and some dubbed dialogue, and we have the makings of one heck of a martial arts action movie. Straight to video, naturally.