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Building a Better MMA Ranking System

The above chart is a visual representation of the light heavyweight division in mixed martial arts. I came across it a few days ago at Bloody Elbow, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

It comes from a guy named Mike Fagan, who previously ran a site called Fight Lines, which is similar to Beatpaths for the NFL, which we've discussed before. Basically, it is an objective ranking produced by feeding every fighter's wins and losses in the past three years into software that creates hierarchical graphs.

When you look at the graph, you instantly have a basic idea of how the light heavyweight division has played out in recent years. Fighters who haven't lost at all in the last three years, like Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, come out on top. Fighters with multiple losses in the last three years, like Keith Jardine and Vitor Belfort, come out at the bottom. The graph isn't a perfect ordering with the best fighters on top and the worst on bottom, but it's helpful at a glance.

I've been thinking about it so much because I'd really like to see someone build a better ranking system for boxing and MMA, and I like the way this graph can help me to think about ranking fighters. I also like the meta-rankings at Bloody Elbow and the computerized rating system at Fight Matrix. I don't think any one of these tools is the perfect ranking system -- and I don't really think the perfect ranking system will ever exist -- but I think all of them taken together are very helpful.

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