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This is why the “Greatest of All Time” discussions will never make sense

UFC 280
(Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

This is why the “Greatest of All Time” discussions will never make sense

Every sport has its “greatest of all time.” The NFL has Tom Brady. Baseball has Babe Ruth. For the NBA, it’s usually a debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Prizefighting has the same “GOAT” classification, but it also has a “pound-for-pound” ranking. It’s a self-explanatory list consisting of top fighters deemed to be the best across any weight class.

That pound-for-pound angle was the major storyline of UFC 284, 2023’s biggest event, so far. It featured a battle between featherweight champion and No. 1-ranked Alexander Volkanovski, who was moving up in weight in an attempt of chasing further greatness against No. 2-ranked fighter and lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. 

At the end of what turned out to be a five-round thriller, it was Makhachev who had his hand raised via the judges’ scorecards. And after toppling the guy who’s held the big seat for a while now, the Dagestani fighter expected to take the reins. Makhachev felt deserving of that coveted top spot, even if Jon Jones – the man who previously held the said distinction – went on to defeat Ciryl Gane to become the heavyweight champion in March. 

Unfortunately for him, Volkanovski remained the UFC’s No. 1 pound-for-pound athlete despite his unsuccessful bid at a double-championship. Makhachev, of course, wasn’t happy about it, claiming bias against Russian fighters. 

Now, let’s stop right there. This is the part where I say that the pound-for-pound rankings don’t make sense. The “GOAT” discussions don’t make sense, either. None of them ever did. 

Let’s go back to that Jordan vs. LeBron debate. Try to listen to a couple of your friends have these absolutely inane conversations. They try to break down and compare game stats, accolades and awards and championship rings. It even comes down to “who did it better?”

They fail to realize that Jordan played in an era when games were more physical. Simple hand checks don’t automatically equate to a foul, unlike today. Not to mention the tremendous evolution in the level of athleticism of current players, the facilities, technology and manner in which injuries and recovery are handled. 

Shifting gears to prizefighting, you will never see Demetrious Johnson fight Francis Ngannou. The UFC will never book Brandon Moreno against Jiri Prochazka. Floyd Mayweather vs. Tyson Fury? Not in this lifetime. 

Weight classes exist to allow for a more even playing field and gone are the days of early MMA where David vs. Goliath fights were commonplace. Some of them still happen today, but they border more on “freakshow” contests than legitimate sporting events. 

The only way to settle these conversations is if prime Jordan got to play against prime LeBron. Or perhaps if Max Holloway got to challenge Alex Pereira for the middleweight title. But that’s what video games are for, right?

Sure, these are fun playground parleys. Something along the lines of “between Batman and Superman, who would win in a fight to the death?” But to have serious conversations about it? I think many of us can agree that we can save all that energy for something more fruitful and productive. 

***

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