It was admittedly pretty bold on Saturday night when Dana White stood at the podium following UFC 136 and declared Frankie Edgar the second-best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
Then again, if you expected anything less, you must not know the consistently bold UFC president.
“I'm going to say it here tonight," White said, after watching Edgar craft another improbable comeback to defeat Gray Maynard and retain his lightweight title. "I don't care who disagrees, you're wrong and I'm right -- he's the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, period.”
Some may have found this statement shocking, while others likely considered it merely a long time coming. Others probably viewed White's words as a bit of a slap in the face to Georges St. Pierre and still others must have wondered: What about Jon Jones? What about Dominick Cruz? What about Jose Aldo, who at the time was sitting two seats to White’s right and had just defeated a top challenger recently down from a higher weight class? Did White really believe Edgar is better than all those guys? Was he just trying to stir the pot? Or could he be -- gasp -- right on the money?
The answer, of course, is that when it comes to pound-for-pound rankings, there is no answer.
As we all know, MMA rankings in general are exercises in speculative fiction and none more so than the many mythical pound-for-pound lists that currently populate the online environment. Ask 10 writers who all vote on their publications’ P4P rankings and you’ll likely hear 10 different justifications of their votes, 10 different sets of criteria and maybe even four or five different definitions of what the term “pound-for-pound” actually means.
Since the point is to rank a bunch of guys who will mostly never actually fight each other, we’re all navigating our P4P lists far more on feel than on science, more on guesswork than real data. Pound-for-pound rankings exist primarily because they’re fun and their only real function is to spur debate. They are subjective, theoretical and, really, entirely imaginary.
We put them out there just so readers, other analysts and -- in some cases -- the most powerful men in MMA can tell us how off-base we are in our picks. What jerks we are for not agreeing with them. In that goal they're obviously highly effective.
The beauty of it is, you can't really ever be wrong. The curse is, you can't really ever be right, either.
You want to have Anderson Silva No. 1 because he’s undefeated in the UFC over the last five years? Fine. You want to make GSP your No. 1 because he’s only lost one round since 2009? No problem. You want to rank Jones No. 1 because he fights like a video game character and his only defeat thus far came by fluke DQ? Done. You think MFC light heavyweight champion Ryan Jimmo is the best in the world because he’s won 15 straight fights dating back to 2007? By all means, be my guest.
It makes absolutely no difference and you know who cares the least? Fighters. They care exactly as much as any of us would if a group of strangers dropped by our jobs once a month to rank the employees on a ordered list free of both criteria and consequences. Amid all our passion and opinions, we forget sometimes that MMA is something fighters do for a living. Sure, many of them love what they do, but the actual necessity of climbing in a cage and fighting another man over money has a way of making them care a lot more about the physical and a lot less about the theoretical.
Funny how that works. Take Edgar’s opinion -- or lack thereof -- for example, when he learned last weekend that his boss thinks he might be the second-best fighter in the world regardless of weight.
“In all reality, it’s opinion-based,” Edgar said. “That’s Dana’s opinion [and] your opinion might be different and this [other] guy’s opinion might be different. For me, I still have to get in there and fight.”
See? At the end of the day, pound-for-pound lists are a blast. We love them. Fighters ignore them. Ultimately, they mean nothing.
Except mine. Obviously, mine are right. Yours are wrong.