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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Reebok deal would mean more money for fighters -- based on flawed ranking system

From left, Matt O'Toole, Swizz Beatz, Frankie Edgar,

From left, Matt O'Toole, Swizz Beatz, Frankie Edgar, Ronda Rousey, Chris Weidman, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta appear at Reebok and UFC Announce Long-Term Partnership at Industria Studios on Dec. 2, 2014 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Brad Barket

UFC fighters likely will have plenty of questions to ask of their bosses about the new exclusive apparel deal with Reebok announced Tuesday in Manhattan.

They will center on sponsorships, what's allowed where and when and how much dollars they actually will earn from this deal where "every penny goes to the fighters," as UFC president Dana White said.

But here's another not-so-fine-print detail that should concern fighters: UFC fighter rankings.

At Tuesday's event with Reebok, White said champions will get the bigger portion of the "outfit money" each time they step into the Octagon to fight. Fighters ranked one through five will earn a certain number, with those ranked six through 10 earning a lesser amount. Fighters ranked 11-15 get a set dollar amount, and unranked fighters earn less. The amounts are the same within each group, so, for example, the No. 1 and No. 5 ranked fighters will receive the same money for wearing Reebok apparel in the cage.

UFC's fighter rankings are determined by media members from around the world who vote in the 36-hour window after each fight card concludes. (Newsday had a vote when the ranking system debuted in February 2013, but hasn't been a part of the voting process since the March 23, 2014 fight card.) The number of voters casting their ballots can change from one fight card to another, creating potential swings in the rankings.

Until now, such changes in the rankings could be pushed aside with a tweet or headline-grabbing quote. Until now, there was nothing truly tangible about the rankings other than a number next to a name on websites, on-screen graphics and marketing collateral for an event.

Now, there are real dollars attached to those rankings.

"I'm gonna get real serious on the rankings," White told Newsday. "I want to do a smaller group of legitimate guys, smart guys, who know what they're doing and what they're talking about, and very ethical guys. Those are what I'm looking for right now."

The UFC's ranking system has its flaws, to be polite. Some fighters have been removed from ranking consideration based on inactivity, such as Nate Diaz last May, while other fighters who were injured and out of action for more than two years still were included (Dominick Cruz).

In its current iteration, fighters can be ranked in multiple weight classes. The most recent rankings (Nov. 24), determined by 51 voters, have Vitor Belfort listed as No. 3 at middleweight and No. 15 at light-heavyweight. Two of Belfort's last three fights were at middleweight. His next scheduled fight is against UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman on Feb. 28, 2015, at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. How would Belfort get paid if the payout system were in place by then? Presumably as a middleweight, sure, but why deal in a system that creates such opportunity for confusion and, perhaps, negotiation?

"How about when the rankings come out and guys didn't even fight and they go up two points or down?" White said. "I'm like, 'How is that happening when they didn't even fight?'"

Thales Leites, who last fought in August, dropped from No. 11 to No. 12 in the latest rankings. Costas Philippou, from Massapequa, moved up to No. 11. His last fight was in May. No fighter ranked above or below them has fought in at least three weeks. Under the planned payout structure, these changes wouldn't affect the dollars Philippou and Leites would receive for their fight since they both remain in that 11-15 range. But it's one spot away from earning more money.

The Reebok deal goes into effect in July 2015, and White said he wants to have a new structure for rankings in place well before then.

"I want guys who won't have bias," White said. "Whether they like a fighter or don't like a fighter, you go by his talent and what he's accomplished."

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