UFC president Dana White is never 100 percent satisfied with anything he does. That's a good thing. Satisfaction leads to complacency, which leads to laziness, which leads to a competitor creeping on your business.
Nobody creeps on Uncle Dana's business. He has a tombstone etched with the names of all his defunct adversaries to prove. Seriously. A literal, albeit paper, tombstone.
But with the UFC's Fox Sports 1 debut, there wasn't much to complain about. The television production was amazing. The fighters, almost to a man, delivered in a major way. Even the ratings were a huge boost, both to the promotion and the network.
And so he turned his eyes toward us. "The media."
His specific beef? Where Chael Sonnen is ranked in the middleweight division. Yes, the same Chael Sonnen who hasn't fought at middleweight in over a year and whose last two bouts were both at light heavyweight. The same Chael Sonnen who is actively pursuing yet another fight at 205 pounds.
In White's mind, despite those inconvenient facts, Chael is still among the top contenders in the division, perhaps only behind the king of testosterone Vitor Belfort.
"'The Media" had him ranked at No. 9 or 10 at 185 underneath guys that he actually beat," White said at the UFC Fight Night 26 post-fight presser in Boston, the first shot in what would be a continuing theme throughout the night.
"He beat, he beat nd the list goes on and on of guys who are ranked above him. He's beat all these guys."
Over and over again White referred to the UFC Rankings committee—a hand-selected group of favored media members the UFC picks from a bevy of applications, as if they were some adversarial body he had no control over. That was kind of funny.
If Chael Sonnen isn't ranked appropriately, the UFC has only itself to blame. When the rankings first went live in February you couldn't have placed Sonnen atop the MW rankings even if you tried.
Believe me, I did.
In my mind at the time, Sonnen was still the top dog in the division. Only the champion deserved to be above him. He passed every other test, earning his position in the cage—and not with his mouth, as many critics claimed.
But Sonnen had already announced his intentions to move to the LHW division in pursuit of champion Jon Jones and was briefly booked in the main event of a the doomed UFC 151. So, per the UFC Rankings panel hierarchy, Chael was a light heavyweight. He was only available to be ranked in that division.
That's right—Dana's own rankings panel wasn't even allowed to vote for Chael as a middleweight when the rankings were in their formative stages.
Eventually that changed. After the first two ballots, the UFC ceded more control to journalists to choose where they ranked fighters stuck in limbo between two weight classes like Sonnen.
Given the opportunity, I made Chael the No. 1 contender. But few of my peers did the same. Sonnen, who would have likely been voted a top contender had that been possible initially, was relegated to the status of afterthought.
Some made him a top contender. With their lists in place already, some let it ride, waiting for a return to 185 before ranking him there again.
The combination ended up with a wonky ranking. If Sonnen is considered a middleweight, he's a top fighter by default. But many on the ranking panel didn't think of him that way—a perception the UFC helped create by initially limiting his ranking to 205 pounds.
Now the question of where he should be ranked is much trickier. While White rails against the system he created, it actually makes less sense than ever to place Chael near the top of a list of middleweight MW. He hasn't fought there in over a year and looks pretty darn comfortable at 205 pounds.
So, what to do?
Not being a complainer by nature, I come bearing solutions, not just problems. How about this:
The media will seriously consider Sonnen for a spot as a top contender at middleweight—but only after you book him in a major fight in that division. If Chael and Vitor Belfort, for example, actually sign on the dotted line, well, then we've got a fight on our hands. And Dana will likely have the ranking for Sonnen he thinks Chael rightfully deserves.
Until then, he's a light heavyweight.
Fair? Let us know in the comments.
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