by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Throughout sports there has always been the interesting phenomenon of a top ranked entity, whether it be a team or individual, losing and remaining top ranked. In college ranks especially, while rare, a top ranked team in basketball, baseball, or other team sports may lose a game and in the next polls still be top ranked due to playing multiple games in one week.
So if this happens in other sports, is it possible it can happen in MMA? The answer is in one form, yes. From time to time a fighter may change divisions for a bout and lose either at a higher or lower weight and still remain the top ranked fighter in their normal weightclass. For instance BJ Penn lost this year to Ryoto Machida in a heavyweight bout, but still remains for the most part the top ranked welterweight in the world.
But what about a fighter fighting in their normal weightclass, what if they lose a bout at their regular weight, do they still remain the top ranked fighter in that division or drop in the rankings? We may fight out on New Year’s Eve when consensus number one ranked fighters Fedor Emelianenko and Takanori Gomi face off in individual bouts at Pride’s Shockwave 2005 event.
In Fedor’s case his opponent is not a ranked opponent, in fact Fedor will not be defending his Pride Heavyweight Championship when he faces off against Zuluzinho. For all intents and purposes this bout could be very much labeled an exhibition because Fedor is such a heavy favorite against an obviously less skilled fighter.
Let’s say however that Zulu can pull off a major upset, would that mean that Fedor would fall from the top of the heavyweight rankings? There could be arguments for a “yes” and “no” to that question.
If Fedor loses it could be seen as a major blow to the hierarchy of MMA. A virtually undefeated and utterly dominating champion such as Fedor losing to someone who wouldn’t legitimately have a title shot if it the belt was on the line like Zulu could be embarrassing enough to warrant voters to drop the champion down in rankings. In basic, how true of a champion is someone if they cannot dispatch of someone they are supposed to?
However on the flipside, Fedor could remain the top ranked heavyweight because he is so head and shoulders above other fighters in the division, including a champion of another highly regarded promotion. Over the past year Fedor has placed himself a noticeable distance from the fighters below him, having defeated the majority of them in devastating fashion. So the argument could be, he may slip a little, but not enough for those behind him to catch up.
Conversely on the other side of things is Takanori Gomi’s situation. Unlike Fedor, Gomi is facing the consensus number two ranked fighter in the division, Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai in their Pride Lightweight Championship match. Is it possible that Sakurai may win the fight and still not be viewed as the best fighter in the division?
It could be hard to believe that Mach may not ascend to the top ranking if he wins, but it is possible it could happen. Like Fedor, Takanori has placed himself far enough ahead of the competition in the rankings that should he lose a close decision, he may not fall from the top spot.
Sakurai’s only hope to possibly not only take the title and top ranking may be to defeat Gomi in decisive fashion, such as by submission or knockout. Only then could possible on-the-fence voters be swayed without question to not let one loss wipe out all the dominance that Gomi has achieved over the past year and a half.
There in lays the conundrum that befalls the entire question of if a fighter loses, should they lose their top ranking? Do voters cast their votes based on the last performance or over an entire body of performances? That may very well be the deciding factor in how voters place both Fedor Emelianenko and Takanori Gomi after Shockwave 2005 should they lose.
Granted this is all speculation, both are favored to win their fights by professional odds makers, MMA insiders, and the general public. But still, stranger things have happened and in a sport like MMA where anything can happen, nothing is a sure bet, even the rankings.