In 1996, the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary, prompting the league to create a list of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. As with any list of its kind, fans had more fun tearing into it for who was excluded (no love for Dominique Wilkins?) than celebrating those that were included. If there's anything that MMA fans love, it's berating lists and rankings. So on the occasion of the UFC's 20th anniversary, what better way to celebrate than to create a list of the 20 greatest fighters in UFC history?
While the NBA's list was compiled based on voting, the inspiration for this list comes from an unlikely source: the LPGA. Unlike nearly every other pro sports hall of fame, the LPGA does not vote on which players to induct. Instead, players earn points throughout their career. If they earn enough points, they're automatically in the Hall. Players earn points for the things you'd expect: winning tournaments and titles. There's no politics and no votes given based on whether the player was popular or nice to journalists. Winning is the only criteria for induction.
In the same vein, this list defines greatness based solely on achievement, not popularity. This has its pros and cons. On the pro side, you eliminate bias. Any fan can calculate the same rankings using publicly available information. You can debate the number of points fighters get for specific things, but at least the calculation is objective and transparent. On the con side, some truly great fighters will suffer in the rankings because of a shorter UFC career. Nevertheless, the ranking gives a pretty good sense for who the best of the best really are in the short history of the UFC.
In the coming days, we will be counting down the top 20 fighters, five fighters at a time. Along with each fighter will be an explanation for why they rank where they do. In the meantime, here is the scoring system used to rank more than a thousand fighters and arrive at a top 20.
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There are nine categories that factor into a fighter's score:
Regular Wins - 1 point: The most basic factor is wins in regular fights. For every win in a fight that isn't for a title, tournament final, or TUF final, fighters earn one point. Fighters do not earn any points for wins which are subsequently changed to a No Contest.
Title Wins - 6 points: Winning a title (i.e., a weight class belt) is the goal of every fighter in the UFC. Only 58 men and Ronda Rousey can celebrate this accomplishment. While it may seem like a lot to give six times the number of points for a win that claims a belt than a regular win, the high number recognizes the rarity of titles changing hands and ensures that champions get higher representation than lesser fighters who simply win many fights of less importance. Note that Title Wins refers to the win in which a fighter claims a title, not a title defense. If a fighter wins a belt, loses the belt, and reclaims it, he would get credit for each time he won a belt, including any interim titles.
Tournament Titles - 6 points: In the early days before weight belts existed, the highest honor a fighter could earn was to win a UFC tournament. To recognize the pioneers of the sport, a tournament title is worth the same as a regular weight class title. Note that this does not include seasons of TUF or tournament finales which are used to determine an inaugural weight class title holder (e.g., Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez).
Title Defenses - 8 points: It's often said that winning a belt is great, but that you must defend your title to be considered a true champion. The fighters considered the best ever are those that can win consistently after they win the belt. Note that winning a consecutive tournament title also counts as a title defense and that a draw in a title defense situation does not count.
TUF Titles - 3 points: When a fighter wins the finale fight for a season of TUF, they get 3 points. The reasoning behind this bonus is that it takes several exhibition fight wins to get to the Finale in the first place. Since those exhibition fights don't count on a fighter's record, those points wouldn't be recorded elsewhere. While it's true that some TUF winners had to win four times to get the title, three points is all we're giving them.
Stoppages - 1 point: Fighters get one bonus point for earning a stoppage in a fight (KO/TKO or submission). For example, a non-title fight won by stoppage is worth 2 points (one for the win, one for the stoppage), while a stoppage in a title defense would be worth 9 points (eight for the win, one for the stoppage).
Title Fight Losses/Draws - 1 point: Not all title contenders are created equal, but there's no denying that most fighters do something special to earn a title shot in the first place. To recognize the prominence of fighters who compete for titles all the time, we give one point even for not winning (i.e., losing or earning a draw) in a title fight or old tournament fight. Note that this does not include TUF finales.
Stoppage Losses - -1 point: When fighters get finished, it has a greater effect on their legacy than losing a decision; something about seeing a legend unconscious on the ground. For each time a fighter takes a stoppage loss in their UFC career, we deduct one point.
Longest Winning Streak - 1 point per win: This concept is borrowed from the JAWS score used to evaluate baseball hall of famers. A fighter is best remembered for the most dominant period of his career. Stringing together wins is the best way to show how good you were against the competition at the time. A fighter whose longest win streak in the UFC was five wins would get five extra points, while a longest winning streak of 10 fights is worth 10 points. The longer the winning streak, the more points a fighter earns. Note that winning streaks are continued in the case where a fighter leaves the UFC and comes back, even if they lost in the meantime in another organization. A fighter can also only have one longest winning streak, meaning that two different streaks of five wins each would still only earn the fighter five points.
With that out of the way, here's the schedule for the week's countdown:
Tuesday: The Near Misses
Wednesday: Fighters 16-20
Thursday: Fighters 11-15
Friday: Fighters 6-10
Saturday: Fighters 1-5
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