During the 1950s, there was one fighter in the sport of boxing so incredible at all areas that the term “pound-for-pound” was created. It came to be simply because this boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, was the perfect wrecking machine.
He was so damn good that fans and pundits were left with no choice but to compare him with other great boxers from other weight divisions. There were simply no other comparisons to be had. And once the comparisons began, the question arose: “Who would win if…”
If both men being considered could have their skills and abilities—the essence of all that makes them great—encapsulated in equal proportions.
Which would be more potent?
As it is for boxing, so it is for MMA. For all combative sports, pound-for-pound is simply the next question for fighters who dominate.
As men like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Jose Aldo continue their reign as champions, the pound-for-pound debate continues.
They’ve proven capable of dealing with nearly every style thrown at them; all that is left now is to measure them against each other.
Sounds dismissive of all the other fighters in their division, doesn’t it?
After all, not too long ago Anderson Silva was in the same position, only to get knocked out by Chris Weidman. Now, Silva looks all too human, and many doubt he will defeat Weidman in the rematch.
But it’s not dismissive, really; it’s just part of the whole pound-for-pound philosophy. When fighters dominate their divisions for so long or when they destroy great opposition with shocking ease, it’s only natural for fans to begin looking in all directions for any fighter who could give them pause.
It’s also a measuring stick of sorts and, to be honest, it engages the style vs. style debate at its highest degree.
Often I wonder who is honestly the better pound-for-pound fighter between Jones and Aldo. It’s highly doubtful they’ll ever meet, but both men represent the kind of skills and styles needed to defeat the other.
Oddly enough, the pound-for-pound question itself imposes a kind of equality that could never be found if Aldo and Jones did somehow fight. There is a bizarre fairness in the fiction that puts bigger men and smaller men on the same level, leaving only skill, style and their physical gifts proportionally represented.
But why is it so damn important?
One school of thought says this is because many pound-for-pound debates will never be answered by real competition. Jose Aldo will never face Jon Jones and, thus, fans will never really know the answer on a fundamental level. With that comes the attraction of mystery; sometimes it’s not the answer that drives us, but the question.
Another line of thinking says it’s because it inspires these peerless fighters. It makes them want to conquer their pound-for-pound rivals in the only way they can: by accomplishment.
Jose Aldo, for instance, has said he wants to hold every winning record in the sport.
“I’m not focusing on any particular record,” Aldo told Bleacher Report's Damon Martin. “There’s many records—there’s Anderson’s (Silva) record, that’s a really, really hard record to chase and to break. In my mind, I’ll keep trying to break all the records I can, that’s my goal.”
And then he addressed the pound-for-pound question at hand.
“Of course, I keep looking to the pound-for-pound ranking, and when I see those guys I keep chasing to be the best. That’s my main goal. That’s what motivates me.”
To be honest, it is likely a combination of the two. The pound-for-pound ideal is important to both the fans and the fighters. As the fighters continue to strive to be the best, the fans are pulled deeper and deeper into the debate.
And if we have learned anything about the combative sports, it’s that they are all about answering one central question above all others.
Who really is the best?