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Mailbag: Readers react to March rankings, Fitch-Penn stalemate


Ah, that's better.

When last we opened the mailbag, a few weeks ago, out poured a whole lot of angry. Most of it was a commentary on my against-the-grain approach to assessing fighters, as first seen in the February MMA rankings. As I explained in the column that accompanied those top-three lists from six weight divisions, I rank fighters based purely on where I see them fitting into the pecking order right now, not necessarily on who has the most stellar resume. So I had relatively untested Jon Jones ahead of several light heavyweights who'd beaten more impressive names, and non-UFC guys like Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz got more love than they do in many other rankings. And for giving that love, I got hate mail.

Undaunted, or perhaps daunted just a little, I pumped out this month's rankings and braced myself for the deluge. And the e-mails came pouring in, all right, but this time the consensus opinion was that I apparently was no longer a moron. This meant that all of the friends, neighbors and paid consultants I'd asked to be on call in case I needed someone to plant positive letters in the mailbag were not needed. What follows, believe it or not, are actual letters from actual readers. I am blushing.

I want to say a big THANK YOU for not putting out the same boring MMA rankings as every other blog or news outlet. Rankings should be about perspective and gut calls, because that is what fight matchmaking is all about. If Dana White and Joe Silva were to make every fight Contender 2 vs. Contender 3 and Contender 4 vs. Contender 5, then MMA matchmaking would be just another occupation to be taken over by a script run on a computer program. Whether or not I agree with all of your rankings (most of which I agree with wholeheartedly), I applaud your determination to mix it up and add your two cents. After all, you're a sportswriter. Leave the BCS rankings to Jeopardy's Watson.--Andy, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

What's this? A writer with the gall to use actual skill as a criteria for ranking fighters? What a refreshingly splendid concept. Most "experts" use MMA math to compile a list of the best, regardless of how asinine that really is. Anyone can look up the facts on Wikipedia, but a subjective list is where the real debate begins. The only problem I have with your ranking is that you don't have Fedor as No. 1 in each division.--Bo, Austin, Texas

Hey, I love your rankings and the way you think outside the box with them. I can only disagree with your pound-for-pound assessment in that if you don't think GSP could beat Anderson Silva at his weight, then he truly shouldn't be considered P4P best. Wouldn't pound-for-pound be defined as if weights were the same, Fighter A would beat Fighter B?--David, Columbia, Mo.

OK, so everybody doesn't agree with every word I wrote. I can live with that. But I trust that Bo was being sarcastic with his Fedor comment, since I highly doubt that Emelianenko could cut enough weight to challenge Joe Aldo for No. 1 at bantamweight. Then again, if M-1 Global gets its hands on some of that forbidden psychological technology that "Bigfoot" Silva apparently used to beat the Russian legend, you never know.

As for David's comment about the pound-for-pound rankings, remember, it's an assessment of where Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva are now, not where they might rank if they should meet someday in Silva's weight class. The P4P rankings ask this question: How does the welterweight GSP stack up against the middleweight Silva? If at some point St-Pierre packs on a biere belly and moves up a weight class to challenge "The Spider," that's a whole different discussion. It would not be inconsistent, then, to rank GSP over Silva in the pound-for-pound list, then pick Silva to win a potential meeting at middleweight.

Now on to some missives from more readers who had some issues with my rankings ...

I appreciate the idea that you rank fighters not just on their respective record but also on potential. Therefore I agree on your assessment of Alistair Overeem as the No. 2 heavyweight in the sport. What irks me, though, is your ranking of Nick Diaz as the No. 3 welterweight in the world. Diaz may have dominated the competition in Strikeforce, and I admire the fact that he is willing and capable of fighting to his opponent's strengths. That said, he is the biggest fish in a very small pond. Can you honestly tell me he would beat a Thiago Alves, for example? He had his hands full with Evangelista Cyborg in the first round of their fight, and Alves is basically Cyborg times a hundred.--Juri, Cologne, Germany

At heavyweight, Alistair Overeem at No. 2? If this was the "most active fighter" rankings, he would be No. 1 between winning K-1 and then beating a sadly overmatched Todd Duffee. He beat Brett Rogers, who is not a top-10 fighter and never was, and he breathed on Andrei Arlovski's glass jaw and won, a trend we have seen a lot of when Arlovski fights. I get why you put Overeem in the rankings, but until he wins the Grand Prix, he shouldn't be up that high. Jon Jones above "Shogun" Rua? Really? Rua is the champ and has fought heck of a lot harder competition over his career than Jones, who has fought one borderline top-10 guy in Ryan Bader. Granted, he beat Bader convincingly. But Jones hasn't fought anyone like "Shogun." Should be an interesting fight, but until Jones beats someone who is a definite top-10 guy, he is middle of the pack at best.--Jesse, Philadelphia

I like how, before ripping into my rankings, Juri throws me a compliment for my Overeem ranking. Then Jesse ridicules that very ranking. I must say, though, that both readers argued their points very well. It goes to show how subjective these rankings are. I wouldn't want it any other way. As I wrote in my March rankings column, look at all the problems the "definitive" BCS rankings have wrought on college football. MMA deserves better.

Another thing MMA deserves to see get better: judging. A couple of my recent fight stories have called into question judges' decisions, and readers have been pretty opinionated as well. Here are some dissenting opinions on my suggestion that Jon Fitch left BJ Penn a beaten man, despite the judges calling their UFC 127 main event a draw:

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Fights are not decided by who is "tired" when the fight is over. So just because Penn was worn out when the fight ended has nothing to do with the decision made by the judges. Second, fights are not decided on overall strikes landed, fights are scored by rounds. It was clear Penn won the first two rounds. Taking someone's back and going for a submission is of higher value than getting a takedown and landing ineffective strikes. Penn did this in both rounds when he took Fitch down. Fitch was lucky to get the draw because lay-and-praying for a full round usually does not score you a 10-8, even if you are getting some effective strikes in. In order to get a 10-8, you usually have to drop your opponent and be a moment away from ending the fight.--Emory, Austin, Texas

Yes, Fitch "won" the fight if you were to judge by, say, Pride rules. But the draw was the fair result given UFC criteria. However, I think by singing Fitch's praises you really miss what was going on in the fight. Fitch had cardio on BJ Penn, that is all. If anything, this fight lowered Fitch's stock in my book as it proved that his skills are clearly lacking: getting his back taken twice in about 30 seconds, even if it is by BJ Penn; not being able to avoid the takedown against a guy who is much smaller and weaker; being able to do nothing until Penn tired, etc.--Ga'ash, New York

BJ was a bit gassed in the third round and he took a lot of small punishment. But 40-something power punches taken from the ground? Are you kidding me? I've watched the UFC since No. 1, and you've got to be more realistic in your arguments if you want to be taken serious as an MMA "expert."--Danny, Irvine, Calif.

Emory: It wasn't simply that Penn was tired; he was a beaten man. And I gave Fitch the second round. Yes, he had his back taken, but he reversed position in a matter of seconds and began the smothering beatdown that continued through the round that followed. Speaking of which, do you really define Fitch's 134-0 striking advantage in the third as "lay-and-praying"? I wouldn't want to live in your monastery.

Ga'ash: You make fair points, although I think that escaping from dominant position and seizing control of the fight takes more than just cardio. There's strength involved, of course, and also a good bit of what you said was lacking: skill.

Danny: The power strikes and other numbers I reported were CompuStrike stats. I started counting up the punches myself, but ran out of fingers and toes. I understand where you're coming from, though, questioning the "power" of short punches on the ground. I think the best way to assess it is to simply take a look at the recipient of those punches. BJ didn't end the fight utterly defenseless, but the beating did take its toll.

OK, let's now go to one of the notes I received after questioning the judges who handed Diego Sanchez a decision victory over Martin Kampmann at UFC on Versus 3:

What you and many fans don't seem to understand is that the judges weigh some factors more heavily than others, and rightfully so. If a fighter's strikes are landing but are mostly ineffective, he won't be rewarded to the same degree that he might have been had his strikes done some damage beyond a fat lip or a bloody nose. What I saw in the Sanchez vs. Kampmann fight was a lot of strikes landed by Kampmann, as you mentioned, but the vast majority didn't affect Diego much. He was bloodied, yes, but he kept coming forward, kept chasing Kampann around the Octagon. Midway through the second, it seemed to me that the tide started to turn in Diego's favor, and he carried that momentum through to the end of the fight. Oftentimes, the fighter who finishes strong -- the fighter who likely would have prevailed had the fight gone five rounds -- is the one who gets the benefit of the judges' doubt.--Mike, New York

I understand your point, Mike, about what would have happened if the fight had been a five-rounder. Sanchez was a mess but wasn't fading, while Kampmann appeared to just make it to the finish line. But sticking with that analogy for a moment, if you ever watch NASCAR you'll occasionally see a driver eschew a late pit stop in the belief that he has just enough fuel to get him to the checkered flag. Would it be fair to him if suddenly the track officials changed the race to the Daytona 505? No. Likewise, it's not fair to judge Kampmann on anything other than the three-rounder he signed on to fight. Besides, it wasn't a matter of him running out of gas. Kampmann backpedaled to the finish because he broke his hand and couldn't throw his right anymore.

Overall, I just think Kampmann was the more efficient, if not more powerful striker. Sanchez threw a lot of punches, and missed an awful lot. And even though Kampmann was staggered once, I think he inflicted more damage. Obviously Mike saw things differently, as did the judges, but I was not alone in my assessment of the fight. Right, Shane?

Thank you for your article on Kampmann vs. Sanchez. You precisely described how the fight went down and why it should have been scored as a decision win for Kampmann as well as wisely pointing out that he probably should have won his last fight as well. Never have I read an MMA article that so clearly reflected my own feelings on a cage-related issue. Well done!--Shane, Sparks, Nev.

I should probably leave it at that. There may be no sweeter way to end a column than with a reader -- a very astute reader, I might add -- saying, "Well done!" But I'd like to wrap things up instead with a couple of random e-mails commenting on other things I wrote: my suggestion that perhaps a 55,000-seat venue is too big for the UFC, and my comment that the oddly mixed bag of compassion and childishness is what we should expect from Dana White. No need for any remarks from me following these e-mails. The writers nail it, as you'll see.

I am one of those people who will be seated in the 500 level (Section 508, to be exact) for UFC 129 at Rogers Centre. And yes, I realize that the view of the Octagon won't be that great and that I will be watching the fights on the big screens that will be around the stadium. But that is beside the point. I am looking forward to this event for the atmosphere; 55,000 people going crazy for some great fights and awesome finishes should be worth the price of admission alone. And when GSP finishes Jake Shields, the noise from the fans will blow the roof off the old Dome!--Lucas, Guelph, Ontario

Just wanted to share my story of Dana White. While in Cabo, I was out with my brother-in-law and I spotted Dana. I walked up and asked for a picture, and he happily posed with me. I also bought him a beer. About two-and-a-half hours later, he taps me on the shoulder, hands me a beer and wishes me well. I don't care what people think, but for a celebrity like him to remember my face in a poorly lit bar and get me back with a beer means he truly does care for his fans. I have met many celebrities in my time, and he was by far the most gracious toward me.--Mark, Chandler, Ariz.