Pound For Pound: Statistically Speaking

Matt HCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2009

Sherdog recently released their newest pound-for-pound rankings after Fedor's stunning KO over Andrei Arlovski and Georges St. Pierre's utter domination of BJ Penn. Their rankings have caused quite the stir amongst many in the MMA community.

For most people, the pound-for-pound rankings represent a sort of who's who of the MMA world. The athletes that frequent the top of the list represent the upper echelon of mixed martial artists in the world.

It's not about who has the best professional record. For many, it's who is able to utterly dominate their competition, as long as their competition is actually good.

Unfortunately, these rankings tend to be highly influenced by the subjective views of the one who does the rankings. A perfect example is BJ Penn, who moves up in a weight class to face another top pound for pound fighter in GSP.

Everyone thought this fight was going to be close, even the betting lines reflected this. Yet BJ Penn got beat, and not just beat, but utterly defeated. The fight was not even close by anyone's standard.

Penn's loss signifies that he is not as good as everyone thinks, if he were he could have at least put up a decent fight. He should have plummeted in the rankings because of his poor performance, but he did not.

Instead, he maintained the exact same place on the pound-for-pound list despite decisively losing a match that literally is the measure of a top pound-for-pound fighter, fighting outside your weight class.

This BJ Penn loss would then suggest that BJ's high ranking in the pound-for-pound list was and is inflated because of the subjective nature of the list.

Lucky for us, there is already a system in place to objectively rank fighters within, and across, weight classes and currently and all-time. This system is called Elo-Chess.


Fully understanding Elo-Chess is unnecessary. Instead, what's important is understanding that if a fighter wins, he gains points and if a fighter loses, he loses points. A simple philosophy with crystal clear results.

All fighters start at a ranking of 1500, so the farther above 1500 a fighter is, the better the fighter. Fighters with rankings of 1500-1700 are considered entry-level or journey fighters, fighters with rankings between 1700-1900 are considered mid-range fighters, and fighters with rankings above 1900 are generally considered the top fighters in the world.

Let's look at a fighter and see how they are. Chuck Liddell is a perfect example a fighter who at one time was considered one of the best fighters in the world, and by many, still is. Let's see if the numbers still show this. His current ranking is 1998 and the maximum ranking he had at one time was 2170. He definitely was and still is an elite fighter.

Another example is Travis Fulton, who has over 200 professional fights. Travis Fulton's current ranking is 1734 and his maximum ranking was 1853. He is just where we would expect him to be. This is because the number of points a fighter gets for winning or losing is dependent on the competition.

Beating a fighter with a higher ranking gives you more points and losing to a better fighters makes you lose less points.

Pound for Pound

The first table shows the top 10 fighters in the world, regardless of weight classes. These fighters have the highest rankings currently. Notice that BJ Penn is not on this list and remember, the ratings take into consideration a "strength of schedule."

So Fedor's submission of HongMan Choi was worth 0 points. Yes, he literally got nothing for fighting Hong Man Choi.

Fedor Emelianenko2285
Georgest St. Pierre2203
Anderson Silva2196
Thiago Alves2115
Rashad Evans2107
Shinya Aoki2089
Quinton Jackson2087
Jake Shields2086
Lyoto Machida2081
Josh Barnett2080

As we can see, Fedor is clearly ahead of the next two top fighters and we have a great mixing of weight classes. We have two heavyweights, three light heavyweights, one middleweight, four welterweights, and one lightweight.

We can also see interesting matches that are going to take place in the near future. Fedor and Josh Barnett are scheduled to face off soon. GSP and Thiago Alves. and Rashad and Lyoto Machida. That's three fights in the next year between top pound for pound fighters.

All-Time Pound for Pound

All-time pound for pound fighters are another great way of looking at fighters in their prime. I often hear people say things such as, "If only he had fought so and so in his prime." Lucky for us, we can look at the top fighters of all time.

FighterMax RatingCurrent Rating
Fedor Emelianenko22852285
Georgest St. Pierre22032203
Anderson Silva21962196
Chuck Liddell21701998
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira21592072
Mirko Crocop21261970
Quinton Jackson21262087
Takanori Gomi21211971
Matt Hughes21201972
Wanderlei Silva21181915

The top three all-time pound for pound fighters have remained the same, but the rest of the list looks very different. Notice that BJ Penn is not on this list (again!), which brings up a very interesting question: If BJ Penn is not on the current or all-time, where exactly is he?

BJ Penn and the Problem with Subjective Rankings

BJ Penn is the perfect argument against subjective ranking systems. BJ Penn's current rating is 1993 and his all-time rating is 2022 (he lost 29 points for losing to GSP).

Currently BJ Penn is not even in the top 25 Pound for Pound. Notable fighters who have higher ratings than him include Yushin Okami, Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk, Andre Arlovski, and John Fitch.

In terms of all-time pound for pound, BJ Penn doesn't rank in the top 25 either.

But Penn is a lightweight, so let's take a look at how he stands in the that division. Currently, he ranks seventh behind Shinya Aoki, Kenny Florian, Satoru Kitaoka, Sean Sherk, Gesias Calvancanti, and Jamie Varner in that order.

As far as an all-time lightweight, BJ Penn ranks 8th. BJ Penn is not even the best lightweight to ever fight.

This is the problem with subjective ranking systems and the problems with perception, and the storylines we are fed. We are constantly bombarded with tag lines like "The Most Important Fight EVER!" and "The Most Decisive Matchup of All Time!" and "The Fight of the Year!"

In the last three months, the UFC has billed three of it's cards as having the greatest fights of all time.

You see, promotions have to sell pay-per-views to stay afloat. And in order to do that, they have to convince us that what we are paying for is actually a product we should buy.

They do this by hyping the fight and the fighters up. The UFC does this, DREAM does this, Affliction does this, every promotion, large and small, hypes their fights and fighters.

Unfortunately, we were all victims of the hype machine in the BJ Penn/GSP fight that took place this past weekend. Penn/GSPII was to be the fight of our era, both of the fighters are to be heading to the UFC Hall of Fame, the most important fight of the year, ad nauseum.

And instead, we got a fight that went exactly as it should have because BJ Penn should not have even been in the ring with GSP again. The numbers don't lie. Thiago Alves and Jake Shields both represent fights that have larger implications than BJ Penn could ever offer.


For those who say that Fedor does not fight top competition, the average rating of his opponents has been 1757. The average rating of Anderson Silva's opponents has been 1760.


    Report: Machida, Bellator Have Multi-fight Deal

    MMA logo

    Report: Machida, Bellator Have Multi-fight Deal

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    Mavs Get a Quality Big Man in Raymond Spalding

    MMA logo

    Mavs Get a Quality Big Man in Raymond Spalding

    The Smoking Cuban
    via The Smoking Cuban

    Miocic: I’d Fight Lesnar, ‘but Not Right Away’

    MMA logo

    Miocic: I’d Fight Lesnar, ‘but Not Right Away’

    Bloody Elbow
    via Bloody Elbow

    Edwards Says Cerrone Is ‘Past His Sell by Date’

    MMA logo

    Edwards Says Cerrone Is ‘Past His Sell by Date’

    Bloody Elbow
    via Bloody Elbow