Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Response to Bloody Elbow: "If Overeem doesn't belong in the top ten, Dana, who does?"

Yesterday BloodyElbow.com published an article regarding Dana White's recent comments to MMAJunkie.com, questioning of Alistair Overeem's place in the world heavyweight rankings. Here's what Dana White had to say to MMA Junkie:

"Listen, I like Alistair Overeem. I see him all the time. Cool guy. But there's no urgency on my part to get him into the UFC.

I actually find it hilarious that he's ranked in the top 10 by some of the websites. I find it hilarious. What has he done in MMA to be ranked in the top 10? I'd like somebody here to answer that question. We've got a lot of media guys here; what has Alistair Overeem done to be ranked in the top 10 of mixed martial arts' heavyweight division?"

All of the major MMA rankings, to include MMA Junkie, Bloody Elbow, and Sherdog.com have Overeem ranked in their top ten. But in their haste to identify a valid reason for Overeem's place among the world's top ten heavies, even Bloody Elbow asks, "Is it warranted? Does he even deserve to be in the top ten?"

The resulting discourse is a brief run down of other possible fighters who could replace Overeem's spot in the rankings: Brendan Schaub, Cheick Kongo, Roy Nelson, Mirko Filipovic, and Ben Rothwell, all of whom apparently do not possess enough "quality wins" to justify a deserving place among the top ten any more than Alistair Overeem should.

So, is there any definite answer to the question of why Overeem is ranked?

Well, not exactly, but what I will say is that the issue boils down to branding. Simply put, Alistair Overeem is ranked because he is the current heavyweight champion of one of the world's leading promotions, Strikeforce.

By now, you're probably saying, "Okay, duh!" But, don't hit the "close" button yet. Here's the deal: if Alistair Overeem had faced opponents of the same quality, would he still be ranked? Better yet, if Cain Velasquez were to leave the UFC today, and decided to fight for "Gladiator Reality Impact Fighting League Championships," wouldn't he eventually drop from the rankings? Of course, he would. But why? Well, because it is assumed that competition outside of the UFC, Strikeforce, or in some cases Bellator and the Japanese variety of promotions does not provide the quality of competition that warrants a place within the top ten rankings. While this assumption is very often an accurate one, we should hesitate to overlook fighters because of their promotional associations.

For example, Josh Barnett has circulated the pro MMA circuit as a free agent for over two years now. During this time he has fought for Sengoku, Affliction, Dream, and finally Impact Fighting Championships, in that order. Up until his most recent bout under the upstart Australian Impact FC banner, Josh managed to maintain a presence in the rankings. However, following his fight with Impact FC, his name gradually disappeared from the rankings. But why? Some of his opponents over that period of time include Geronimo Dos Santos, Gilbert Yvel, Pedro Rizzo, and Jeff Monson, versus Overeem's Brett Rogers, James Thomson, and Mark Hunt as the Dutchman's strongest competiton over the past two years -- a visibly unequal comparison. What that tells us is that promotional association does hold weight when compiling rankings, as it should. But, in some cases, as in the case of Alistair Overeem, promotional association may hold too much weight.

It's all owed to promotional bias. Let's face it, we are all biased, and the Josh Grosses, Jordan Breen's and other nerdy MMA pollsters out there are no different. When the respected minds of MMA journalism compile these rankings, one thing they take into consideration is the promotion a fighter fights for. Naturally, doing so makes compiling rankings much easier and simpler. But in the strange but not unusual case of Alistair Overeem, promotional association means nothing. Alistair Overeem's association with the Strikeforce brand, even as its champion, has had no impact on the quality of opponents that he has faced. So, justifying his spot in the rankings is easily arguable.

The Solution???

Sorry guys, this article is sort of like a bad movie -- I built up the suspense, only to offer a bad ending (like a bad Quentin Tarantino movie minus the cool fight scenes and hot chicks). Unfortunately, there is no one practical solution to this problem. MMA could move toward a computer generated system like the one provided at FightMatrix.com, but then we would eventually face the same issues as Division I college football's BCS system. Or, fan polls could become more prevalent, but that would make too much sense (big, media conglomerate MMA websites would miss out on basking in the glow of their 'coveted' rankings systems). To sum it up, the system is eff'd up! But if you have some good ideas, drop them in the poll below...

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