When current WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby and I established the now-buried MMA Media Top 10 in 2001, it became a goal of mine to see mixed martial artists ranked in a real way. Yes, there were periods when I soured on the idea -- e.g. confusion among weight classes in different regions of the world and the likelihood that top fighters in competing promotions would never fight -- but for the most part I hung in there, convinced the exercise was worthwhile because it put fighters' accomplishments into context, assigned them value on the open market, and held promoters accountable when it came to matching title fights.
In June 2001, the MMA Media Top 10, which at the time consisted of a small group of people who spent their time covering the underground sport, featured five weight divisions based on the just-established classes created in California and adopted in New Jersey. Division leaders at the time included MarkColeman, TitoOrtiz, KazushiSakuraba, HayatoSakurai and JensPulver. Few fighters ranked then remain ranked today: heavyweight AntonioRodrigoNogueira, light heavyweight DanHenderson and, at 170 pounds MattHughes, AndersonSilva, NathanMarquardt and SeanSherk.
One thing that hasn't changed when it comes to rankings: promoters whining about them. The latest to take shots is UFC president DanaWhite, who in the lead-up to UFC 114 told ESPN's BillSimmons that he believes some rankings are corrupt because members of the MMA media, which he did not name, are on the take from other promoters. I find the charge laughable. And sad.
His biggest gripe: the placement on heavyweight and pound-for-pound lists of Russian FedorEmelianenko, the world's best big man since 2003 when he pounded Nogueira, who earned his No. 1 spot with an armbar over Coleman in Sept. 2001. Emelianenko, of course, is not under White's promotional control, making any complaints the promoter has on the matter fairly transparent.
Everywhere I look these days new rankings are popping up, which is good. Clearly, fans and media have an opinion to express -- even with best intentions, rankings based on results aren't much more than informed opinion. The picture does get muddy once in a while, but with a little work one can find a broad consensus, including Emelianenko at No. 1. After defeating Nogueira at Pride 25 to win the Japanese organization's coveted title, all Emelianenko has done is go 18-0. Included in this stretch: five victories over men who held a UFC belt. How, exactly, can any reasonable person take White seriously and depose Emelianenko in favor of the current UFC champion, 4-1 BrockLesnar?
I can't. Not yet, though June will be telling.
Emelianenko returns to action on June 26 against No. 9 ranked FabricioWerdum, who stepd into the Strikeforce/M-1 promoted bout in San Jose a decided underdog. Werdum is good, just not very inspiring. And with Lesnar defending his title for the first time in a year the following week at UFC 116 against third-ranked ShaneCarwin, the heavyweight debate will once again move the forefront.
I know how we can settle this. Presuming Emelianenko does to Werdum what he's done to everyone else, put him and the Lesnar-Carwin winner in a cage somewhere. Simple, right? Until fans and media demand the UFC get off its nonsensical prohibition of co-promotion, fans -- and the sport -- will continue to lose out on very important fights. Instead we'll have to endure foolishness about corrupt rankings.
If White is so sure Emelianenko isn't MMA's top heavyweight, why not just make a fight with his champion against the Russian? He'll get run over, White will be vindicated and we'll be done with it.
Heavyweight1. Fedor Emelianenko (32-1, 1 NC) 2. Brock Lesnar (4-1) 3. Shane Carwin (12-0) 4. Cain Velasquez (8-0) 5. Junior dos Santos (11-1) 6. Frank Mir (13-5) 7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 1 NC) 8. Alistair Overeem (32-11, 1 NC) 9. Fabricio Werdum (13-4-1) 10. Antonio Silva (14-2)
Others receiving consideration:Cheick Kongo, Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Roy Nelson, Josh Barnett
Light Heavyweight1. Mauricio Rua (19-4) 2. Lyoto Machida (16-1) 3. Rashad Evans (15-1-1) 4. Quinton Jackson (30-8) 5. Anderson Silva (26-4) 6. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-3) 7. Forrest Griffin (17-6) 8. Thiago Silva (14-2) 9. Jon Jones (11-1) 10. Muhammed Lawal (7-0)
Others receiving consideration:Gegard Mousasi, Randy Couture, Jason Brilz, Ryan Bader, Rich Franklin
Middleweight 1. Anderson Silva (26-4) 2. Chael Sonnen (24-10-1) 3. Jake Shields (25-4-1) 4. Nate Marquardt (29-9-2) 5. Dan Henderson (25-8) 6. Vitor Belfort (19-8) 7. Robbie Lawler (17-5, 1 NC) 8. Demian Maia (12-2) 9. Yushin Okami (24-5) 10. Jorge Santiago (22-8)
Others receiving consideration:Yoshihiro Akiyama, Ronaldo Souza, Wanderlei Silva, Hector Lombard, Michael Bisping
Welterweight1. Georges St. Pierre (20-2) 2. Jon Fitch (22-3, 1 NC) 3. Thiago Alves (16-6) 4. Paulo Thiago (13-1) 5. Josh Koscheck (15-4) 6. Nick Diaz (22-7, 1 ND) 7. Matt Hughes (44-7) 8. Dan Hardy (23-7, 1 NC) 9. Carlos Condit (24-5) 10. Paul Daley (23-8-3)
Others receiving consideration:Martin Kampmann, Dan Hornbuckle, Jay Hieron, Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida
Lightweight1. Frankie Edgar (12-1) 2. B.J. Penn (15-6-1) 3. Gilbert Melendez (18-2) 4. Kenny Florian (13-4) 5. Eddie Alvarez (20-2) 6. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-5-2) 7. Gray Maynard (9-0, 1 NC) 8. Sean Sherk (33-4-1) 9. Shinya Aoki (23-5, 1 NC) 10. Tyson Griffin (14-2)
Others receiving consideration:Josh Thomson, Evan Dunham, Jim Miller, Ben Henderson, George Sotiropoulous
Featherweight1. Jose Aldo (17-1) 2. Bibiano Fernandes (8-2) 3. Manny Gamburyan (11-4) 4. Mike Thomas Brown (23-6) 5. Urijah Faber (23-4) 6. Hatsu Hioki (21-4-2) 7. Raphael Assuncao (14-2) 8. Masanori Kanehara (16-7-5) 9. Michihiro Omigawa (10-8-1) 10. Marlon Sandro (16-1)
Others receiving consideration:L.C. Davis, Josh Grispi, Deividas Taurosevicius, Javier Vazquez, Joe Soto
Bantamweight 1. Dominick Cruz (15-1) 2. Joseph Benavidez (12-1) 3. Brian Bowles (8-1) 4. Miguel Torres (37-3) 5. Scott Jorgensen (10-3) 6. Takeya Mizugaki (13-4-2) 7. Damacio Page (15-4) 8. Rani Yahya (15-6) 9. Masakatsu Ueda (11-1-2) 10. Shuichiro Katsumura (11-7-3)
Others receiving consideration:Eddie Wineland, Charlie Valencia, Cole Escovedo, Wagnney Fabiano, Antonio Banuelos
Flyweight1. Jussier da Silva (3-0) 2. Shinichi Kojima (10-4-5) 3. Mamoru Yamaguchi (23-5-3) 4. Yuki Shojo (10-5-2) 5. Yasuhiro Urushitani (17-4-6) 6. Ryuichi Miki (10-4-3) 7. Pat Runez (4-0) 8. Kiyotaka Shimizu (5-3-1) 9. Mitsuhisa Sunabe (12-6-3) 10. Fumihiro Kitahara (8-1-1)
Others receiving consideration:Isao Hirose, Alexis Vila, John Dodson, Alexandre Pantajo, Jessie Riggleman
Pound-for-pound1. Georges St. Pierre (Canada) 2. Fedor Emelianenko (Russia) 3. Anderson Silva (Brazil) 4. Jose Aldo (Brazil) 5. Mauricio Rua (Brazil) 6. Dominick Cruz (U.S.) 7. Jake Shields (U.S.) 8. Frankie Edgar (U.S.) 9. B.J. Penn (U.S.) 10. Lyoto Machida (Brazil)