by Kevin Iole
One of the conundrums facing anyone who tries to put together a pound-for-pound ranking of fighters is how to fairly evaluate those who would, in real life, never have a chance of meeting in a cage.
Newly crowned UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is 5 feet 3 inches and weighs 125 pounds, yet he’s being considered in the same category alongside heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem. Overeem, who is serving a suspension imposed by the Nevada Athletic Commission for failing a random drug test, is 6-5, 265 pounds.
Alistair Overeem is currently serving a one-year suspension after failing a random drug test. (AP)
How does one judge the relative merits of Overeem versus Johnson when their physical dimensions are so vastly different and it is impossible for them ever to meet?
That problem, though, is nothing compared to the decision whether to include women in one global pound-for-pound list.
When Yahoo! Sports began doing a pound-for-pound ranking in 2007, it was not expressly listed as a men’s poll, but it was assumed to be as much. Women’s mixed martial arts was hardly a blip on the radar in those days and few outside of the hardest of the hardcore fans paid it much attention.
More and more women, though, are opting to fight and the quality of the female athletes in the sport has never been better. That is only going to increase as women are given more opportunities.
Though UFC president Dana White still is concerned that there isn’t enough depth to create a women’s division in his company, anyone who has seen women fighting on cards such as Strikeforce and Invicta knows they’re both talented athletes and entertaining fighters.
And so came the inevitable issue: Should a woman be eligible to be included in the monthly Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings? MMA reporter Dave Deibert of Post Media in Canada pushed the issue to the forefront when he included Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey ninth on his Top 10 list.
The rankings are the result of the vote of 20 or so MMA journalists, who are asked to vote for who they feel are the 10 best fighters in the world. The only restrictions they’re given are that they can’t vote for a fighter who hasn’t competed in a year, nor can they vote for someone who is on suspension. UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre isn’t ranked and bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will be ineligible next month, because of inactivity. Overeem and UFC welterweight Nick Diaz are both on suspension so are ineligible.
Upon receiving Deibert’s vote for Rousey, I emailed the panel and asked their views on including Rousey, or any other woman, in what heretofore has been an exclusively male Top 10. The issue is beyond whether or not Rousey deserves to be in the Top 10, but rather whether she should even be eligible for it.
The simple solution would be to create a separate women’s poll, as is done in college basketball. The problem that would arise is that the majority of voters don’t see enough female fights to make a valid assessment of their relative abilities. The women who fight regularly on television – largely Rousey, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman – would have a massive advantage over the rest of the field.
Hopefully, that time will come when the women’s version of the sport is as ubiquitous as the men’s, but it hasn’t arrived yet.
Of those who responded to my query, a strong majority were for Rousey’s inclusion.
Ronda Rousey’s latest win over Sarah Kaufman came via first-minute submission. (Courtesy Tracy Lee)
Deibert wrote of his vote, “My thought process: It’s a pound-for-pound ranking. It’s not as if Demetrious Johnson is going to take on Junior dos Santos, any more than Ronda will face Jon Jones. The rankings are simply to evaluate the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Rousey is in the sport, so I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be eligible. My two cents.”
Those who were against, though, made strong points. One voter wrote, “I say no on Rousey. If the poll was to rate the sport’s best champions, yes. Pound-for-pound gender, yes. But the reality is that a 135-pound Rousey has zero chance in an MMA bout with Brad Pickett or Yves Jabouin. Not fair to men, or women, to have her ranked.”
Ultimately, though, we chose to allow Rousey, and any woman, to be included. We want to give the voters as much freedom as possible to pick who they choose. If Deibert, or someone else, believes Rousey is one of the 10 best fighters in the world, then he deserves to be able to vote for her and Rousey deserves the recognition.
We’ll consider the start of a strictly women’s poll in the near future, but for now, we’re going to leave this poll open to all fighters regardless of gender.
With that, here are the Yahoo! Sports rankings for September:
1. Anderson Silva Points: 219 (21 of 22 first-place votes) Affiliation: UFC (middleweight champion) Weight class: Middleweight Record: 30-4 Last outing: TKO2 Chael Sonnen, July 7 Previous ranking: 1 Up next:Light heavyweight match vs. Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153, Oct. 13
2. Jon Jones Points: 199 (1 of 22 first-place votes) Affiliation: UFC (light heavyweight champion) Weight class: Light heavyweight Record: 17-1 Last outing: SUB4 Vitor Belfort, Sept. 22 Previous ranking: 2 Up next:TBA
3. Jose Aldo Points: 173 Affiliation: UFC (featherweight champion) Weight class: Featherweight Record: 21-1 Last outing: TKO1 Chad Mendes, Jan. 14 Previous ranking: 3 Up next: Injured, title defense vs. No. 7 Frankie Edgar, date TBA
4. Dominick Cruz Points: 143 Affiliation: UFC (bantamweight champion) Weight class: Bantamweight Record: 19-1 Last outing: W5 Demetrious Johnson, Oct. 1 Previous ranking: 5 Up next:Injured, TBA
5. Junior dos Santos Points:125 Affiliation: UFC (heavyweight champion) Weight class: Heavyweight Record: 15-1 Last outing: TKO2 Frank Mir, May 26 Previous ranking: 5 Up next: Title defense vs. Cain Velasquez, UFC 155, Dec. 29
6. Benson Henderson Points: 105 Affiliation: UFC (lightweight champion) Weight class: lightweight Record: 16-2 Last outing: W5 Frankie Edgar, Aug. 11 Previous ranking: 6 Up next: Title defense vs. Nate Diaz, date TBA
7. Frankie Edgar Points:57 Affiliation: UFC Weight class: Lightweight Record: 14-4-1 Last outing: L5 Benson Henderson, Aug. 11 Previous ranking: 7 Up next:Featherweight title fight v. No. 3 Jose Aldo, date TBA
8. Gilbert Melendez Points:46 Affiliation: Strikeforce (lightweight champion) Weight class: Lightweight Record: 21-2 Last outing: W5 Josh Thomson, May 19 Previous ranking: 8 Up next:Injured, TBA
9. Dan Henderson Points: 39 Affiliation: UFC Weight class: Light heavyweight Record: 29-8 Last outing: W5 Mauricio Rua, Nov. 19 Previous ranking: 9 Up next: Injured, TBA
10. Carlos Condit Points: 38 Affiliation: UFC (interim welterweight champion) Weight class: Welterweight Record: 28-5 Last outing: W5 Nick Diaz, Feb. 4 Previous ranking: 10 Up next: Title fight on Nov. 17 vs. welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, UFC 154
Others receiving votes: Demetrious Johnson, 37; Rashad Evans, 10; Cain Velasquez, 7; Joseph Benavidez, 4; Gray Maynard, 4; Ronda Rousey, 2; Renan Barao, 1; Michael Bisping, 1.
Ineligible: Nick Diaz (serving drug suspension); Alistair Overeem (serving PED suspension); Georges St. Pierre (inactive more than 12 months).Voting panel:Denny Burkholder, CBSSports.com; Elias Cepeda, Cage Potato; Mike Chiappetta, MMA Fighting and Fight! Magazine; Steve Cofield, ESPN Radio 1100, Las Vegas; Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press; Dave Deibert, Post Media; Dave Doyle, MMA Fighting/SI.com; Matt Erickson, MMA Junkie/USA Today; Josh Gross, ESPN.com; Ariel Helwani, MMA Fighting; Rafael Hernandez Brito, Univision; Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports; Damon Martin, MMA Weekly; Todd Martin, freelance; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Dave Meltzer, The Wrestling Observer/MMA Fighting; John Morgan, MMA Junkie/USA Today; Brett Okamoto, ESPN.com; Ken Pishna, MMA Weekly; Mike Straka, Spike TV and Sirius/XM; Dann Stupp, MMA Junkie/USA Today; Jeff Wagenheim, SI.com.