In the wake of Shinya “The Man In Tights” Aoki’s TKO loss to “Mach” Sakurai at Dream.8, a lot of MMA pollsters are debating what this does to Aoki’s status in the lightweight division and his pound-for-pound ranking. As we’ve said in the past, rankings are mostly useless speculation, but fun nonetheless, so we’ll entertain for the moment the idea that this is worth debating.
When determining how Aoki deserves to fall in the rankings, you have to take a few different factors into consideration:
1) Quality of Opponent
The simple rule is, if you lose to a guy you were expected to lose to, you don’t suffer much from it. It basically means you, like the Chicago Bears, are who we thought you were. But if you lose to a guy you were expected to beat, like a Paulo Thiago, it can hurt you bad. Sakurai is a solid fighter. He’s been around forever, has beaten some good fighters and lost to some great fighters. He consistently hangs around the perimeter of the welterweight top ten, so there’s no shame in dropping a fight to him, at least if you looked like you belonged in there with him. Which leads us to our next variable…
2) The Nature of the Loss
Whether we admit it or not, how you lose means a lot. A hard-fought decision loss might mean you don’t drop in the rankings, or, in the case of a heavy underdog like Takeya Mizugaki, it might even move you up a notch or two. On the other hand, a quick knockout loss like the one Aoki suffered never really helps, especially when you didn’t show much of a chin in the process. But then, it’s not as simple as if he lost to another lightweight…
3) Fighting Out of the Weight Class
Aoki went up to welterweight, at least technically, to take this fight. He didn’t see fit to put on much weight for the move, and we’re guessing he might have regretted that at around the same time Sakurai was sweeping him with all the effort required to get out of bed in the morning. Still, he gets some points for going up and accepting the challenge. Just like B.J. Penn didn’t lose his spot as the top lightweight after losing to the top welterweight in GSP, you have to cut Aoki some slack because of the difference in size. Then again, Penn hung tough for four rounds before throwing in the towel, so we’re back to our first criteria, or possibly…
4) The Fluke Factor
The only way you get a break on a quick knockout loss is if people are willing to believe that your loss might have been a freak occurrence. Urijah Faber’s status following his loss to Mike Brown is perhaps the best example of this. Brown moved ahead of Faber in most people’s featherweight ranks, but Faber is still a fixture in the pound-for-pound rankings and Brown doesn’t always get mentioned. So how is a guy considered a better pound-for-pound fighter than the dude from the same weight class who beat him? The answer is, we’re not completely sure he could do it again.
For Aoki, the Fluke Factor is probably no help. This is his second loss to Sakurai, and by far the less impressive of the two. You could potentially argue that Sakurai is to Aoki as Dennis Hallman is to Matt Hughes, but if you’re going to make that argument you’d better be a relative of Aoki’s. Otherwise you just look stupid.
So what, if anything, have we learned here? Aoki deserves to fall in the rankings. Maybe not as a lightweight, since he technically didn’t lose as a lightweight (although Sakurai could probably make 155 with a week’s notice if he had to, which makes Aoki’s WAMMA title even more ridiculous), but he showed that if he is still a top ten pound-for-pound fighter, he’s hanging on to the tenth spot by his fingernails.