The UFC’s Featherweight Division has long served as the pinnacle of the sport of MMA. With Pound for Pound staples such as Alexander Volkanovski leading the pack, the division has promised a consistent flow of contenders and showmen. However, one of these contenders has become a mystery in the division’s picture – that mystery being Brian Ortega.
Following his dominant win over Josh Emmett last weekend in Jacksonville, Ilia Topuria cemented himself as a true contender in the action-packed division. The Georgian rose to an impressive 14-0 record and moved up to a ranking of #5 in the division. However, amid this frenzy following ‘El Matador’s victory, many fans began to question the integrity of the ranking system, specifically pointing fingers at Brian Ortega.
Ortega who is 1-4 in his last 5 fights has become an enigma in the division largely due to injury and inactivity. ‘T-City’ was famously mere moments away from defeating the champion Volkanovski at UFC 266. However, following his ‘TKO’ loss to Yair Rodriguez last year July, the American’s #3 ranking has received an increase in scrutiny amid the recent success of rising contenders such as Topuria. While one may argue that Ortega’s performance against the champion warrants his status as a top 3 contender despite the eventual loss, the question of merit comes into play, asking whether fighters – similarly to Colby Covington – should be rewarded for their close contests against the champion and if those performances are enough to offset the tangible wins of other contenders.
This is not the first case in which the ranking system has been questioned. Earlier in the year at UFC 284, Alexander Volkanovski retained his Pound for Pound #1 status despite losing to Islam Makhachev after agreeing to put the title on the line. While much of the MMA community saw ‘Volk’ as the rightful victor of the matchup and believed that he should retain his title due to the circumstances of the fight, the ranking body’s agreeance with this narrative only intensifies the controversial question.
If a fighter is inactive, should the competitiveness of their previous bouts be a factor in how they are ranked going forward? And if so, what do rising contenders have to do in order to offset them from the top of the division if they can’t fight them?