UFC Rankings Need To Be Truly Independent From Zuffa To Matter

It’s really admirable in a way that the UFC would want to set up “official rankings” to help guide new fans into the sport and into the weight divisions. Following the UFC can be difficult for even a hardcore fan, of course, and for a casual fan trying to get into it has to be rough due to the sheer number of fight cards and fighters involved in the modern UFC.

With a roster nearing 500 fighters spread out over nine weight divisions the challenge to be knowledgeable in every division is daunting.  So one can understand why the UFC would pair up with a company like Fight Metric to try and develop a ranking system of sorts.  The UFC and Fight Metric will poll what they’re numbering as 90 members of the MMA media to rank the Top 10 in every weight class plus the Top 10 pound for pound as well.  It’s daunting, of course, but they will contribute to what I can imagine are going to be “Official UFC Rankings” and such.  It’s to make it easier to follow, which is understandable.  

I asked Kevin Iole, of Yahoo, if this was a grab at getting credibility in their match-making. That was my concern and I’ve always thought that when you’re not sure of something that you find someone who knows more than you.

“I do not think they’re looking for credibility. What they’re looking for is an easy way to quantify and promote match-ups  Casual fans who watch football and basketball are used to hearing, Stay tuned for No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama. That’s clear and easy to follow and conveys a message that, hey, this is a big game. The UFC and Fox will use the rankings to do the same thing.”

Why Kevin? He’s been around the MMA much longer than I have and I wanted to hear what he thought about it.  You can follow him on Twitter right here, too.

My thinking is that while the UFC still would make match-ups of its own accord, with the whole “we make the fights the fans want” motif in effect, the ranking system makes sense in a way. Quickly following any sport means going and looking at records, ratings, et al and it’s one of the few things MMA doesn’t have on a sort of official basis. Every other sport has a ranking system or a definable pecking order; we know where the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls will be seeded in the Eastern Conference playoffs because their records dictate it.

There isn’t anything David Stern can do to make the Heat the #1 seed, for example, even if they have a lesser record than the Bulls after 82 games.  It’s measurable and definable, something MMA doesn’t have.

Combat sports are inherently different because they become more about opinion than they are about measurable in a lot of ways. It’s a reason why things liked “MMA Math” exist and why we can debate who’s ranked where: projections of subjective worth are more relied upon in MMA & boxing than objective ones. It’s why Alexander Gustafsson can be ranked by many people higher in the light heavyweight division than Phil Davis despite Gustafsson dropping a one-sided loss to the Penn State wrestling product. We all have opinions and unfortunately there’s no clear way to know it all. MMA rankings become more about consensus at times, and this is a good step in some regards. But there’s one main problem with it.

The UFC would be directly ranking people based on the input of the media as opposed to being an unbiased source doing the same. This isn’t the UFC using someone’s ratings; this is Zuffa directly compiling ranking sheets and figuring out where the general consensus is. That’s my main problem with it: the lack of independence from the UFC.

Unlike the ranking for the NCAA football & basketball, among others, the UFC would be directly involved. While Fight Metric would be tallying it, of course, they would be “Official UFC rankings” instead of some website’s rankings. The NCAA uses rankings from the Associated Press, of course, to help define the best (from a group of polling services) but the AP is also an independent group.  Division 1 football’s Bowl Championship Series may be a loose coalition but they aren’t working for the NCAA directly.  It’s an indirect, independent relationship.

It was a conflict of interest, I thought, for any journalist who was going to be a part of this. That’s the distinction between the BCS and the UFC.  That was my first response to all of it, of course, and Twitter this morning was illuminating as well. I had imagined Iole was one of the guys that were asked to be in it when they announced this was coming around and he stated as such as well on Twitter.

“I was offered and I declined. To be technical, the offer came from Fight Metric and I did not respond to it. But I did tell UFC P.R. staff I would not participate.” Kevin wrote to me in an email. He wrote on Twitter that he felt it was a clear conflict of interest and I asked why he felt that.

“It’s an indisputable conflict of interest. First, a journalist not only has to avoid impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety. At the very least, this creates an appearance of impropriety. But the poll is not being conducted for a journalistic entity. The results are going to be used to promote. Obviously, some managers will begin to lobby writers to rank their fighters higher, which could then impact how much the fighter is paid. There are way more than that, but just with those, I’m fine with my decision to pass.”

Could this system work? I’m not sure. But I don’t think having the UFC run its own rankings is proper, either. So I asked Kevin what he thought.

“This ranking system might work, because I think there will be many of my colleagues who choose to participate. That will then be disseminated by UFC and by FOX to the casual audience, who will take that seriously. The downside is to the reputation of the journalists involved. Bloody Elbow/USA Today had great rankings that I participated in. I quit because it was time-consuming and I couldn’t give it the attention it demanded. But that’s a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Any UFC-run rankings system is not a journalistic enterprise.”

So at this point I offer it up to our fans on Inside Fights as well as the Inside Pulse Network.  What do you think of a UFC run ranking system that’s supported by a contingency of the MMA media?  Do you think it’s proper or would you rather see something else?  Let us know below.

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