How do the UFC rankings work?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 13: UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones interacts with media during the UFC 247 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on December 13, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 13: UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones interacts with media during the UFC 247 press conference at T-Mobile Arena on December 13, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC) /

There wasn’t such a thing as a rankings system when the UFC was created, but these play a role in deciding matchups and title shots, despite some criticism and skepticism around them

For the first two decades of its existence, the UFC didn’t have such a thing as a ranking system. Unlike the sanctioning bodies of boxing, the UFC simply paired fighters in a division up against one another and that was that. These MMA fighters simply seemed to be separated based on their winning and losing streaks, name value, past and current successes.

Today in the UFC, however, each division has its own rankings that state who the best fighters are — though they are far from perfect and have actually received a lot of criticism from fans, fighters and pundits alike.

First created and seen in February 2013, the UFC rankings see a committee of media members rank who they feel are the top fighters in each weight class (excluding the champion, who is always listed as such in the rankings), as well as a combined pound-for-pound ranking group for the promotion’s champions and other top fighters.

The rankings themselves have gone through a number of changes over the years. Each division originally only ranked its champion and the 10 top contenders as determined by the participating media members. Today, the number of contenders and pound-for-pound ranking spots are now at 15.

In addition, fighters originally could not be ranked in more than one weight class — that rule has since been ousted. For instance, as of the weekend of March 21-22, former UFC champ-champ Conor McGregor is ranked at both lightweight and welterweight. And last year, fellow former UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis also found himself in this boat upon a successful welterweight debut against Stephen Thompson.

Finally, since the women’s divisions’ rankings were first introduced, the men and women were ranked together in the pound-for-pound. Today, the pound-for-pound category has been split into two: one for male fighters and one for female fighters.

The UFC rankings system, of course, may not be perfect and prone to human opinion; however, it has also been the source of plenty of controversies. Fighters themselves sometimes express disappointment or outrage at their standings (just search “UFC rankings” in Google and see how many headlines come up in regards to this). In addition, fans and pundits question why fighters move up or down and are placed where they are.

For example, going back to McGregor, the Irish superstar is consistently been ranked as a top lightweight contender since being stripped of the championship in April 2018 — despite the fact he made no defenses of the belt in favor of pursuing a fight with Floyd Mayweather, was soundly defeated in his first fight since November 2016 by current champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and didn’t fight again until defeating Donald Cerrone at UFC 246…in a welterweight bout.

More recent controversies have seen the rankings ignored in regards to deciding title shots — which kind of goes against the purpose of the ranking system. McGregor has been promised a lightweight title shot despite the circumstances previously mentioned. Yoel Romero recently had a middleweight title shot despite two straight losses. Jose Aldo, whose ranked No. 6 at bantamweight, lost his divisional debut but is scheduled to challenge champion Jose Aldo despite guys like Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan ahead of him.

The media folks who vote in the UFC rankings used to be displayed on the UFC’s website; however, that has since been removed. Multiple reports (and Reddit posts) have dug into those people behind the system and their roles as media members — MMA or otherwise. Some have even designed their own alternative rankings — either with just UFC fighters or ranking them together with fighters from other promotions such as Bellator and ONE.

The UFC rankings system is far from perfect; however, they do play a role in deciding matchups, in deciding title contenders and in the debates as to who are the best fighters in the promotion.

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