Dana White attacks media fighter rankings (part 238)

The always controversial Dana White landed himself in further trouble yesterday when he appeared to accuse leading MMA websites of taking bribes to give fighters better places in their rankings. The comments came in an interview with ESPN’s Bill Simmons where the two of them went through Sherdog’s ‘Top 10 pound for pound’ list. While there was a much in the list that White agreed with, the high placing of legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko caused him to say:

“That’s insane…he’s not even the world’s best heavyweight…what you have to understand is that these guys are in it for the money…they get paid from these smaller promotions…so they feel that they have to put some of their guys in these things”

This was taken by many MMA journalists including Josh Groves and Zach Arnold as Dana White accusing unnamed journalists of receiving bribes in return for being highly ranked. However, I think this misinterprets White’s comments as I don’t believe he was suggesting that  journalists were directly receiving kickbacks from managers or promoters. Instead he seemed to be saying that as many of the websites that produce rankings do a lot of business with smaller promotions including such promotions directly buying advertising on the website, that this relationship distorts their rankings. This may happen by creating pressure on the journalists to self-censor to avoid disrupting an important business relationship or simply by making journalists feel so positively towards a helpful manager or promoter that they subconsciously view their fighters in a more favorable light.

While it’s true that he has absolutely no evidence for this and is also ignoring similar links that that the UFC has with several MMA websites, to me it’s quite clear that White has not accused anyone of personally recieving bribes. Instead this is merely in line with his frequently made criticism that in their rankings too many websites view non-UFC promotions overly favorable and don’t take into account the difference in the level of competition between the UFC and their competitors. What makes White’s frequent criticisms of media rankings slightly bizarre is that they are almost entirely irrelevant. Indeed, it’s not wrong to say that the emphasis so many in the media place on ranking fighters is yet another concept that MMA has taken from boxing without first considering the differences between the two sports.

Rankings have a played a huge part in the business side of boxing for decades, first helping the sanctioning bodies decide who would fight their champion next and latterly helping fans decide which of the multiple world champions is actually the best boxer in a weight class. Rankings don’t play either role in mixed martial arts as no promotion uses publicized rankings to determine who receives title shots and the vast majority of fans accept the UFC championships as the sport’s undisputed world titles. Indeed, the UFC actively mocks the idea that media rankings are significant with many in the organization absolutely incredulous when Rashad Evans turned down a fight with Randy Couture due to the Hall of Famer’s low status in most rankings. And with the UFC set against co-promotion, comparing the different world champions is less meaningful as it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see champions from the two North American-based promotions fight each other. Indeed when you consider that there are significant differences between not only the Unified Rules and those used in Japanese promotions, but between those used in the UFC and Strikeforce then it becomes even clearer that comparing fighters from different organizations is something of a parlor game.

Even pound for pound rankings are less significant in MMA than in boxing, with the more defined weight divisions giving fans more reason to care about who is the champion in a specific division rather than speculate on which fighter can best lay claim to a mythical moniker. What’s more the UFC encourages fans to be disinterested in who is ‘pound for pound king’, determined to place the focus on their championships and fearful that should too many fighters lose when trying to move up in weight it’ll permanently damage the marketability of the lighter weight classes.

The UFC’s business model renders the rankings put together by so many websites utterly irrelevant. Dana White is happy to complain about them and argue with journalists about who should be number one but his organization is utterly unwilling to pay much attention to them. In a recent seminar for their fighters the UFC explicty said that the only rankings that matter are their’s and that fighters should stop paying attention to where the media ranks them. Indeed this is the strange thing about White’s frequent tirades about media rankings, because no matter how astutely a website puts together its rankings the only rankings that matter are the ones that he and Joe Silva put together behind closed doors.

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