Jones, Khabib and the confusion around P4P vs. GOAT

As the dust has settled on UFC 254, there’s been quite a lot of discussion around Khabib Nurmagomedov’s legacy in the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts in general. During his post-fight interview, “The Eagle” expressed hope he would be ranked as the #1 pound for pound fighter, and after the votes were tabulated, the media members responsible for those rankings agreed. Khabib Nurmagomedov is currently the top pound for pound fighter in the UFC. And that’s where the confusion begins.

Almost immediately, members of the media, fighters, and fans argued whether or not Khabib should have surpassed Jon Jones in the pound for pound rankings. Jones himself at first seem insulted at the idea. The truth is, emphatically, that Khabib is the number one pound for pound fighter in the UFC…right now. P4P for rankings are subjective of course. They are a hypothetical ranking of athletes in different weight classes and where they stand against each other in terms of accomplishments at a given point in time. What is not subjective, is that they are for a given point in time. They are no different in that regard to an athlete’s position in divisional rankings. Anderson Silva for example is not a top ranked middleweight because he won thirteen title fights and sixteen fights in a row in the UFC.

P4P rankings are not a determination of who is the greatest fighter of all-time (GOAT), which is an all-together different argument. I would be hard-pressed to argue against Jon Jones in that argument, but cases can be made for Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson, and Fedor Emelianenko, especially if you look at the asterisk next to Jones’ accomplishments. A case can be made for Khabib as well (if he’s your favorite fighter).

So why does Khabib deserve to be the current pound for pound best fighter? You have to look at recent accomplishments to understand. Jon Jones and Khabib have both had exactly four fights each in the last two years. Khabib captured the lightweight title against Al Iaquinta and then defended it three times by finishing the next three contenders: Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor, and Justin Gaethje. Not only did he finish those three fighters, he only lost two rounds in those four fights. By comparison, in that same time frame, Jon Jones defended his lightweight title four times, only finishing Alexander Gustafsson and squeaking out a split decision win over Thiago Santos. The Santos fight and his most recent defense versus Dominick Reyes were far from dominant performances.

Forget that Khabib is 29-0, forget that Jon Jones has never lost either (legitimately), and forget that Jones has thirteen world titles in his career. 4-0 in world title fights with 3 finishes is better than 4-0 in world title fights with three (two controversial) decision wins. Case Closed.

So who is the GOAT? That would take more time than anyone has in a day to argue.

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