The Method To Our Madness: FIGHT! Rankings Explained

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(MMA fans react to the release of FIGHT!’s updated rankings.)

Much-maligned and almost universally misunderstood, FIGHT!’s Computerized Ranking System has been the source of controversy and consternation since the magazine launched in 2007. Though some of the most commonly-raised concerns are answered each month in the magazine, there is still an obvious need to explain the logic and calculations that underpin our rankings system. Once we do that, we think our critics will have a better understanding of and appreciation for our rankings and what we hope to accomplish with them.

The first step towards understanding FIGHT!’s rankings is to understand how our fighter database works. Our database was not created with the goal of offering every result from every fight card; Sherdog and Mixedmartialarts.com already do a good job of that. Our database exists to feed information into the rankings formula. That’s why our database is “missing” fights; we only enter fight cards promoted by what we call Qualifying Organizations. These are organizations which consistently book top-level talent or, in some instances, have a track record of developing talent for top-level shows. Once results from a qualifying fight are entered into our system, a calculation is made based on the strength of the organization in which the fight took place, the quality of opponent, and the outcome of the fight.

The strength of organization is the only element of our rankings where subjectivity factors in. When creating an event in our database, FIGHT! staff determine the value of the card: 1.5, 2.25, or 3. The lowest value is typically assigned to regional shows and developmental leagues. The middle value is assigned to national and international promotions that fill undercards with third-tier fighters and prospects. Like the top of a pyramid, the highest value is reserved for a handful of promotions that are historically home to the very best fighters in a given weight class.

The relative value of a win or loss is also dependent on the quality of a fighter’s opponent. If a fighter beats a more highly ranked opponent, his or her value will increase greatly. A fighter will not benefit as much from a win over a lower-ranked or unranked opponent. Conversely, a loss to a lower ranked, or unranked, opponent will damage a fighter’s value significantly. The only way a fighter can lose points after a win or gain points following a loss is if a highly-ranked and lowly-ranked competitors fight to a split decision.

The third factor in our rankings calculation is outcome. A stoppage is worth more than a decision but there artificial ceilings and floors built in to account for so-called fluke knockouts or submissions; the most a fighter can gain or lose after a fight is one full point.

Does our system have flaws? Sure. Since it is bound by results, Jon Jones’ value suffered following his DQ loss to Matt Hammill even though he was clearly the superior fighter. Does our system have anomalies? You bet. But there is always underlying logic.

For example, some of our readers lost their minds when Chael Sonnen was installed at #1 over Anderson Silva in our Middleweight Rankings. He temporarily took the top spot by a razor-thin margin after his dominant decision win over Nate Marquardt. But that was a function of matchmaking – from 2008 to 2010, Sonnen beat three top-10 guys (Paulo Filho, Yushin Okami, and Marquardt) and lost to another (Demian Maia). Over the same period of time, Silva beat one top-10 guy (Dan Henderson) and took several lower-ranked fighters to decision (Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Maia). But the beauty of our rankings is that anomalies work themselves out over time. When UFC 117 was in the books, Silva returned to #1 and Sonnen’s performance actually validated his high ranking.

This year FIGHT! invested a lot of time and energy in expanding our pool of Qualifying Organizations so that we could provide our readers with broader, deeper, and more accurate rankings. In 2011, FIGHT! will roll out rankings for the men’s flyweight and strawweight divisions as well as five women’s divisions from 105 to 145 pounds and you’ll see greater representation in the rankings from emerging MMA scenes like the U.K., Europe, and Australia.

FIGHT!’s Computerized Rankings System isn’t perfect, but we prefer its cold math over pundits subjectively shuffling names around on paper. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, at least our loyal readers care enough to take a stance.

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