The official UFC rankings are a common topic of discussion for fans and media alike. But why are they taken so seriously?
I think you know me by now - I'm Tim Burke, member of the official UFC rankings panel. I usually pop in here every couple of weeks to rip other panelists for their lack of judgement, or I rail on about some insignificant ranking that grinds my gears. Today, I'm not going to do any of that. Instead, I'm going to tell you why I don't give a damn about Nate Diaz or any other fighter being dropped from the rankings. The reasoning is simple - while I care about performing a task to the best of my ability, the overall mechanisms behind the system aren't worth getting in a huff about in my eyes.
The UFC rankings were created for one innocent purpose according to the UFC - to give casual fans more of a rooting interest in a lot of fighters. When they're flipping through channels and they see # 3 vs. # 4, it looks important. Much more important than just two names they may know in passing, or not at all. So maybe they stick around Fox Sports 1 for more than a fleeting second and check it out. Seems pretty simple, right?
Obviously there were other real reasons for the creation of the rankings though. One, as my esteemed colleague John Nash pointed out to me, is the effect of devaluing the credibility of fighters in other promotions if the fans are just focused on official UFC rankings. Another is the "help" it could potentially give to the matchmakers. And the final reason is perhaps the most important - it can be used for political purposes. Putting guys in the dog house, perhaps. Or for contract negotiations and such. Like it is here.
The final reason has been apparent for a long time now and didn't just kick off with Nate Diaz being bounced from the rankings because he wants a new contract. Many fighters have been removed from the rankings over the past few months - Martin Kampmann, Alan Belcher, T.J. Grant, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are just some of the names. They ostensibly did this for transparent reasons - fighters going into semi-retirement, or being out for a long time due to injuries. But one was removed from the rankings a few days after he fought, basically because he had the audacity to say he needed some time off - Georges St-Pierre. That was strictly political, despite what the powers that be might tell you.
So where am I going with this? Well, biggest thing that people like to focus on is that the rankings are ultimately controlled by the UFC itself, which is seen as a conflict of interest. It's why a certain batch of media members won't participate in it. That's their prerogative. It's also why a lot of fans don't like the rankings - they think they're a joke.
Well guess what, folks - you shouldn't have taken them that seriously in the first place!
That probably sounds stupid and hypocritical coming from me considering how much I write about them. But I generally write from the perspective that if you signed up for them, at least try to do your damn job correctly. That's just how I am. In the overall picture though, I know and understand that it's overseen by the promotion and they ultimately make the rules. I'm not conveniently ignoring that. I know I'm participating in a tool that Zuffa can use for whatever purposes they see fit. And I'm okay with that, and will continue to be a panelist as long as they'll have me. You know why?
Because it's not that important to me in the grand scheme of things.
I don't get paid to do it. I don't get free tickets, or face time with fighters, or Pride shirts. I don't get anything out of doing it other than entertainment value. I do it because I enjoy it. That's it. If you feel like I'm damaging my credibility by admitting all of this, that's up to you. If you think I'm being a Zuffa shill by not wanting to burn them at the stake for playing politics with something, that's your right. But I'm just trying to be honest.
If you didn't understand how the system worked before, for better or worse, you should get it now. So if you want to spend your time shouting down the UFC in support of a Diaz brother, have at it. I won't be out on the picket line with you though, because I ultimately can't find the energy to care about something so irrelevant.
It's just politics.