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Mailbag: February MMA rankings prompt backlash among readers

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Now I know what Vitor Belfort feels like. In the days after Anderson Silva stopped him with a devastating attack that was as spectacular as it was sudden, I took a few kicks to the face myself from readers for my February fighter rankings. The biggest point of contention was my flip-flopping the consensus opinion among media rankings and putting UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at No. 1 ahead of Silva, the middleweight champ. But that was not my only ranking that rankled readers. I took some heat for putting a division champion below a guy who's fought at that weight only once. And slotting Alistair Overeem at No. 2 among heavyweights made me the heavy for several readers who apparently don't put much weight in his Strikeforce title belt.

To begin this edition of the MMA mailbag, I offer a few sample missives, with my responses to follow:

GSP ranked above "The Spider"? Not a chance in hell. Anderson Silva has never lost in the Octagon. Georges St-Pierre got KO'd by Matt Serra, for Christ's sake!--Matt, Toronto

Urijah Faber over bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz? That's crazy. Just because of a fight early in Cruz's career? I hope "The California Kid" wins his next fight, so we can see him get dominated yet again, albeit by a different fighter: Cruz! At least you considered Eddie Alvarez at lightweight. I sure wish he had a chance to prove he's the best, because he is. And it wouldn't be close vs. Gilbert Melendez, in my opinion.--Bobby, Tulsa, Okla.

I find your rankings a little off. I feel that in order to be ranked in the top three of a division, you must fight top guys. Alistair Overeem is nowhere near active enough and hasn't fought a top heavyweight in years. Elite kickboxing, yes. But no elite MMA opponents. Jon Jones, ranked No. 2 at light heavy, is special and may very well be the future, but he is not there yet. Nick Diaz, No. 3 at welterweight, is for sure a top talent, but he has not faced an elite wrestling convert in quite some time. I believe Josh Koscheck would beat him. Hell, Thiago Alves would most likely walk away with the W, too. And Urijah Faber may be the uncrowned king at 135, but he isn't the champion. Therefore, I think he cannot have top billing.--Adrian, Jacksonville, Fla.

OK, what has Overeem done to a top-10 heavyweight? Oh, that's right, nothing. That dude has two losses to "Shogun" Rua and one to Chuck Liddell. Yes, that was prior to juicing his way up to heavyweight, but I have a real problem with you putting people in the top three who have not fought any real top-10 contenders. Like Junior Dos Santos -- what he is top three for, KO'ing a bunch of nobodys? In his first real challenge, he had way too many issues with "Big Country" Roy Nelson. Jon Jones No. 3 at light heavy? Really? Yes, he looked good against middle-of-the-pack fighters, but he has fought no one in the top 10. If you are OK with putting untested people in your top three, that's on you.--Chris, Santa Barbara, Calif.

You must have drawn the short straw at SI and been forced to cover MMA. Have you ever even seen Overeem fight? How can he possibly be ranked ahead of Fedor Emelianenko, Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar, Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos? The guy has been knocked out a half dozen times in his career. Overeem hasn't lost in three years because he hasn't fought anyone. This is supposed to be MMA rankings, not K1. Get a clue.--Homer, Ottawa, Ontario

All fair points, Matt, Bobby, Adrian, Chris and Homer. Oh, except Homer's theory that I drew the short straw at and was forced to cover mixed martial arts. On the contrary, I was given a choice: write about MMA or hand out beach towels and apply sunscreen at the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photo shoot. And this is what I picked, just so I could exasperate MMA fans with my rankings.

I realize that some of my fighter placements run counter to consensus thinking, but that's because I relied not so much on résumés but on where I think these guys truly fit in the pecking order. I put Overeem at No. 2 because I believe he's better than every heavyweight other than Cain Velasquez. True, he hasn't faced competition as stiff as some UFC heavies have, but against the fighters Strikeforce has put him in with, he's been devastating. Of course, as I said in the rankings story, we'll know more about Alistair after the Heavyweight Grand Prix is done.

As for putting GSP over Silva, that was before The Kick Heard Round The World, when the last thing I'd seen from "The Spider" was an unspectacular, pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat win. And don't forget that it's a pound-for-pound ranking, not an opinion of who'll win if we see a superfight between the two champions.

Oh, speaking of opinions, not all of my customers were dissatisfied with mine ...

I love that you have the balls and the vision to make claims for Overeem and Diaz. Yeah, sure, they don't fight the best, but with the tools these two have, it would be very hard to beat them. I doubt that any heavyweight could overpower Overeem, and he definitely is the best striker out of the HWs. I don't see anyone apart from Cain beating him; he would murder Brock. Diaz, the only way to beat this guy is top-of-the-food-chain wrestling, with fantastic submission defense. I especially think he is hard to beat in five rounds, considering he has arguably the best cardio in all of MMA, to go with the best chin. Thank you for not giving us clichéd, gutless rankings.--Sam, Adelaide, Austrailia

And thank you, Sam, for being by far the most insightful and intelligent reader I've ever heard from.

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I like MMA. Not enough to pay for a PPV, but if it's on Spike or Showtime, I'll watch. I was never a big Joe Rogan fan in his Man Show era or whatever that thing was called back in the day. However, as a UFC announcer, I think he does a very good job. He's sort of the Cris Collinsworth of MMA: really knows the sport, doesn't get too excited over nothing, sees and points out things other people don't. But on Strikeforce telecasts, what's with the screaming guy? I don't know how to watch a Showtime product. I'll watch for a minute, and this guy is screaming because SOMEONE JUST THREW A KICK! Then SOMEONE THREW A PUNCH THAT MISSED, BUT OH, MAN, THAT WAS SOOOOO CLOSE. And on and on. So I turn down the volume. Then I mute the TV. So now I'm watching without any commentary, and that's no fun, so I flip the channel. Nothing wrong with the Showtime fights -- clearly the fighters are minor league next to UFC in some respects, but it's still a watchable product. But that one guy, with his idiotic over-excitement, kills it for me. Please help.--Mark, New York

You're probably referring to Mauro Ranallo, who at times can get as loud as one of broadcast partner Gus Johnson's ties. Or maybe you're talking about Gus himself -- a sign-language interpreter would pull a muscle trying to put proper oomph behind Johnson's play-by-play. As a pair, you could nickname them Fire and Brimstone.

But the volume that makes me hold my ears during Strikeforce fights is not the loudness of the commentary but the abundance of it. Sometimes half a telecast goes by before I can ascertain whether the third guy with a microphone is Frank Shamrock or Pat Miletich, because whoever it is can barely get a word in edgewise. And as a guy who makes a living spinning my own cringe-worthy metaphors, I'm always listening for Ranallo to throw out something that even I wouldn't, such as last Saturday's analytical outburst at the conclusion of the co-main event: "Kharitonov treating Arlovski like Christina Aguilera treated the national anthem at last Sunday's Super Bowl!" Christina ain't got nothing on you, Mauro.

MMA needs less PPV. Also, when they show fights on regular TV, they need to put up the dates and/or show them in chronological order. It's tough to follow if you don't know whether this is the first or second fight between combatants. You can't follow fighters' growth or demise. I think they don't let you know in a cynical attempt to keep viewers who would not watch if they knew the fight was old.--Jorge, Philadelphia

I don't know that it's cynical or even manipulative on the part of the UFC, Jorge, but I do think you make a good point. It would add to the viewing experience, at least for some fans, if we were given some context for the fights the UFC digs out of the archives for its Unleashed shows on Spike. As for cutting down on pay-per-views, you're dreaming, man. That's not going to happen until the company finds a revenue stream to match the millions it makes from pay TV. And even then, Dana White & Co. would surely continue pumping out the PPVs. It's been a successful business model.

Do you think the UFC would have given Ryan Bader the shot at the light heavyweight title if he had defeated Jon Jones? What if Jones and Bader had a three-round war? Would they have announced the title match immediately following?--John, Rochester, N.Y.

No and no. Jones has been spectacular throughout his short UFC career, and fans have been clamoring for him to step up in competition. He did so with the fight against the undefeated Bader, and was as dominant as ever. Had Bader won the fight, even in heavy-handed fashion, I think he still would have had to win once more before getting a title shot. And if "Bones" had simply edged Ryan in a rugged, highly competitive bout, he probably would have been held back, too. Now Jones is not only the light heavyweight challenger but also actually the favorite to win. Quite an ascent.

The smiley face from Dana White on Twitter after Fedor's loss was sophomoric. I don't recall Dana tweeting a smiley face when Liddell got pummeled by Rampage Jackson for the second time, then got chopped down by Keith Jardine, then Rashad Evans, then "Shogun" Rua, then Rich Franklin. Nor did Dana smiley face B.J. Penn after he got clinic'd by Frankie Edgar for the second time. Nor Mr. PPV Lesnar doing a Three Stooges impersonation after taking a punch from a guy he had 40 pounds on. I don't recall M-1's Vadim Finkelstein or Strikeforce's Scott Coker tweeting smiley faces after any UFC legends got their lunch money taken from them. The UFC needs to put a David Stern-type CEO in there. Dana's about five years expired, and smells more rotten every day.--Dan, Wellington, New Zealand

I called Dana on his childish tweeting in a column this week, but as I pointed out, the day after he was insulting people on the Internet, he showed up at a hospital to visit a fan who'd been injured in a dangerous, heroic act. So when I say, "That's just Dana being Dana," I'm simply pointing out that he is a mixed bag, not saying he deserves a pass. If you don't like the way he acts, hit him in the wallet by not buying his pay-per-views or his UFC merchandise. But hey, Dan, lay off the Three Stooges.

I have no qualms with the MMA spotlight temporarily shining on a freak of nature like Herschel Walker. He's there to spread the popularity of the sport, and has said as much while professing his love for MMA and his desire to help his training partners. But you rationalized focusing your story on Herschel rather than a Nick Diaz title bout by writing, "Relatively few SI readers know who Nick Diaz is." Ouch, really? He's probably the most enigmatic personality in the sport, and he's been around for a long time. Come on, Jeff, let's get him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Errr, wait, maybe not the best choice. We need someone like Georges St-Pierre to spread the wildfire. If Silva vs. St-Pierre happens, it will be the biggest fight in MMA history. So if Marky Mark and Christian Bale can be on the cover in December (in a boxing ring, no less, only a little insulting), there is no reason why they can't plaster Georges and Anderson Silva standing toe to toe on the cover. Heck, I'd even be happy if they put Brock Lesnar's dumb mug on there. I don't care. Sports Illustrated needs MMA to be on the cover. They will gain a lifetime subscription from me.--Bo, Austin, Texas

I'm on the case, Bo. And the powers that be listen to every word I say.

Awesome article on Chael Sonnen. I'm amazed at how often this clown gets away with pulling the wool over the collective eyes of the public. Nobody seems interested in asking him the tough questions. As an M.D., I wonder how it is that the [California State Athetic Commission] could fail to ask him to present medicolegal evidence as to the reason for his alleged hypogonadism. The most common cause in a young male his age with normal external signs of secondary sexual development (beard, axillary hair, deeper voice, etc.) would be exogenous steroids. In other words, it is very likely that he has suboptimal levels of endogenous testosterone because his abuse of exogenous anabolic steroids shut down his own testicular supply. Getting an M.D. to confirm a diagnosis of hypogonadism without mentioning the cause is a joke. This Sonnen kid is a fraud, a cheat and a liar, and deserves no place in a sport where unfair advantage can have such serious consequences for his opponents.--Scott, Edmonton, Alberta

You're way more qualified to assess the medical aspects of the situation than I am, Doc. I don't know the scope of the questions that Chael's doctor faced in his testimony before the CSAC. I do know Sonnen claims his condition is something he's dealt with since puberty, not something new. Still, based on his recent track record, it's reasonable to doubt anything that comes out of Chael's mouth.

You're aware that Chael trained at the WCW Power Plant in hopes of becoming a professional wrestler, right?--HK, Parts Unknown

I am now. And I assume that you trained with him, HK, considering the long tradition of pro rasslers coming from your hometown.