Japanese Lightweights Getting No Love from MMA Landscape

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Cory Brady over at FiveOuncesOfPain.com has one of the most absurd articles I’ve read in quite some time that screams the sentiments that I’ve had about the overall MMA fanbase to this day. It lacks depth, knowledge, and the voice of the hardcore fan. It isn’t just blogs like FiveOuncesOfPain either or writers like Cory Brady, it’s the overall direction that the MMA blogosphere has pushed itself… to the Zuffa side.

No matter what the reasoning may be… more hits, more Google searches for UFC, the fact that people associate MMA with “Ultimate Fighting”, whatever you may want to push as the reason why the Japanese MMA scene gets no love from some of the biggest MMA blogs on the Internet, it’s clear that some of these writers need to take a historical course on Japanese MMA. More importantly, they need to stop the pro-UFC stance and give the fans of MMA a fair shake at all the action. 

That’s a story for another day. One of the problems that set off a bomb in my brain as to what the massive problem is in the MMA blogosphere when it comes to Japanese MMA came with Cory Brady’s story about the Lightweight rankings and the involvement of Japanese MMA fighters. There is really only one thing I need to excerpt from his article to prove my counterpoint to his absurd elaboration that UFC fighters should be dominating the Lightweight rankings because they are “more active”:

1. B.J. Penn
2. Kenny Florian
3. Sean Sherk
4. Gray Maynard
5. Frankie Edgar
6. Tyson Griffin
7. Josh Thomson
8. Diego Sanchez
9. Shinya Aoki
10.Clay Guida

This is Brady’s top ten list of Lightweight fighters after he made his points about how most of the Japanese scene MMA fighters haven’t done squat. Yes, riddled with 8 UFC fighters, 1 Strikeforce fighter, and only 1 DREAM fighter in Shinya Aoki. Interesting, huh?

Let’s do a little comparison, and I’ll make my counterpoints. I’ll use BloodyElbow.com’s Lightweight Meta-Rankings:

1. B.J. Penn
2. Shinya Aoki
3. Kenny Florian
4. Eddie Alvarez
5. Joachim Hansen
6. Sean Sherk
7. Gesias Cavalcante
8. Josh Thomson
9. Satoru Kitaoka
10. Tatsuya Kawajiri

So, what are the likely knocks on guys like Eddie Alvarez, Shinya Aoki, Joachim Hansen, Gesias Cavalcante, Satoru Kitaoka, and Tatsuya Kawajiri? Well, Brady makes a case that inactivity is one of the biggest culprits.

I won’t knock on the fact that Aoki shouldn’t be #1 or maybe even #2, but I won’t delve past that as he has the potential. However, rankings aren’t about potential. They should be about results. There in lies the problem with fans in general. If Aoki was dropped off the top 10 list, potential thrown out the window, many writers, fans, anybody actually ranking these fighters would have a problem. That’s where a mix of results/potential/past wins come into play.

First on the list, Eddie Alvarez. Brady claims that since he merely brawled with two highly-overrated fighters in Kawajiri and Hansen, he shouldn’t even be in the top 10 according to his list above. There is one reason why Alvarez is in the top ten. Not only did he prevail against tougher competition, but he also ran through Amade (outside the bubble, but a solid striker), Hansen (at least top 10), and Kawajiri (also top 10) in a matter of FOUR months. I can see, however, how he may be left off the list due to a differing opinion on Kawajiri and Hansen.

Hansen and Cavalcante are an odd drop from the top 10. The problem with Brady’s offense here is that he’s basing all his assumptions on the assumption that none of these guys belong in the top 10. Therefore, if any of them fought each other and won, it really doesn’t help them get back into his own personal top 10 list. That’s where Cavalcante and Hansen come in.

I won’t completely disagree that Hansen is ranked too high. He is, but Cavalcante is the most absurd argument I’ve heard. He’s currently ranked at #7, and yes, those are past bouts that are his reason for being ranked, but isn’t that the reason why ALL of these fighters are within the rankings. Most of the top ranked fighters have earned their spot, but most of the mid to low tier top 10 have past fights putting them in those places with a few up-and-comers in the mix.

Cavalcante still holds one of the most impressive lightweight destructions we’ve seen in the division in some time. He destroyed Rani Yahya and Caol Uno in ONE NIGHT, then turned around in 2007 and beat a veteran in Nam Phan in June, arguably top 5 at the time Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, and on the bubble Andre Amade in the same night, then was putting it to Shinya Aoki before the illegal elbows. He then loses to arguably a top 3, but at least top 10 fighter. So, he’s now off the list?

Past fights still hold water for at least a couple of years in the rankings. I don’t understand this view that rankings should change dramatically from month to month. I also don’t understand the pro-Zuffa sentiment to the Lightweight division.

Let’s take a look at Brady’s list:

1. B.J. Penn *justified*

2. Kenny Florian *at least top 5*

3. Sean Sherk *at least top 10*

4. Gray Maynard

– Who has Gray Maynard beat, Brady? That’s my question. If this is all about inactivity and opinion, how does Gray Maynard suddenly catapult to #4? Is Rich Clementi or a one-dimensional Frankie Edgar better than Eddie Alvarez, Shinya Aoki, Joachim Hansen, Gesias Cavalcante, Satoru Kitaoka, and Tatsuya Kawajiri? I would bet against Maynard in nearly ALL of those fights. In fact, I would push Ishida to beat Maynard, but it’d be close.

5. Frankie Edgar

I imagine Frankie Edgar is the main reason why Maynard is #4. Once again, Maynard beating Edgar wasn’t a huge surprise. Edgar is fairly one dimensional, and he beat who to be worthy of a #5 ranking? If so many of his wins were worth this ranking, where is Spencer Fisher and Hermes Franca on your listing?

6. Tyson Griffin

Griffin’s only solid blemish is Edgar. Losing to Sherk doesn’t crush you, but the main reason most rankings don’t push him higher is because of disappointing performances and opinion. Griffin at #6 is ridiculous because Edgar at 5 and Maynard at 4 are absurd.

7. Josh Thomson *Between 7 and 10*

8. Diego Sanchez

He’s had one fight at Lightweight. How is this even justifiable at all? Because it’s all based on potential, that’s why. This is another ranking that shouldn’t be here. Sanchez shouldn’t be in the picture, especially with Joe Stevenson’s massive dropoff.

9. Shinya Aoki *top 5 at least*

10.Clay Guida

Does not have the wins to even remotely justify a top 10 ranking. Sure, he doesn’t have the losses to drop him, but he was never there to begin with.

I’ll push my opinion here as Brady has as well. He’s entitled to what he believes is the true rankings, and I do see his logic, but it’s flawed in that he moves to push out inactivity and substitutes unjustifiable wins that are perceived as top ten wins because he believes all of these guys are top ten. The problem is that these guys don’t have the wins to even justify those rankings.

If we go through the list of wins that Maynard, Edgar, and Griffin all have… there isn’t any specific win I can point at and say WOW! Top ten fighter.

In the end, rankings all come down to opinions. You can rank by all sorts of criteria, but nearly everyone bases rankings on talent and skill, whether they say they don’t or not. All rankings are based on those pieces of criteria intertwined with who fought when, who, how often, if it was a title fight, etc. Opinions on who is better than who is what most rankings go by with activity and depreciation as minor tweaking mechanisms.

You can’t convince me that Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, or Tyson Griffin can beat even a non-top ten guy like Mitsuhiro Ishida, let alone even Kitaoka or Kawajiri. To be perfectly honest, the article screams pro-Zuffa bias, and it’s a bit unsettling that Japanese MMA isn’t getting a fair shake.

I truly believe that the MMA landscape is becoming too pro-UFC and Zuffa. It isn’t an anti-Zuffa stance either. I love the fights, love the landscape of the sport, but I think Japanese MMA gets an unfair shake due to its obscurity from the casual fans and even fans who have followed the UFC for a long time.

Just because the UFC is the biggest promotion in town, and there hasn’t been any crossover bouts between Japanese and UFC fighters, does that suddenly mean that we should DUMP all Japanese fighters from the rankings because the perception is that the UFC is king and that they must have the top fighters? That’s ridiculous.