It’s funny, this MMA game. No matter how many fights you watch, there’s always a surprise or two to be found.
Funnier still, with a closer look, you can sometimes see that maybe you shouldn’t have been surprised at all.
This past Saturday in Rio de Jainero, we were treated to a pretty good night of fights courtesy of our friends in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC 163 was headlined by a title fight (like all PPV’s should). This one had “pound-for-pound” entrant José Aldo in a typically dominant performance in a bout where both champion and challenger sustained injury. Aldo couldn’t kick as usual after his foot began giving him problems early in the first, but adapted and continued to dominate the bout. “The Korean Zombie” Chan-Sung Jung ended up injuring his shoulder late in the bout, but found himself pounced upon and overwhelmed.
It also had one feature bout between two of the top ten in the world (again, like all PPV’s should). Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis are undoubtedly among the best light heavyweights in the world, and with the right performance, the bout’s winner would seem to have a good argument for a title shot.
But, it didn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, Davis and Machida didn’t combine for a barnburner of a fight. But, it was a fight which Machida seemed to have won in his typical elusive style. He moved in and out of range as usual, landing the occasional power shot, and avoided all but two takedowns from the former All-American wrestler. Fight Metric statistics show “The Dragon” leading significant strikes throughout the bout — and only losing a judges’ decision due to a pair of takedowns.
And to think, all the pre-fight talk about poor officiating concerned the likelihood of the show’s American, British, and Korean fighters getting robbed of victory in Brazil in their bouts against Brazilians. So much for that idea! As it turns out, UFC brought its own judging team to Rio. One judge, Chris Watts, even scored the third round for Davis, despite the American getting out-struck by an almost two-to-one margin in that stanza. The decision came as a big surprise – even, it appeared, Davis himself.
So, what happened?
Time to just trot out that irritating adage: “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges?”
“Machida definitely won that fight, definitely,” UFC President Dana White would tell Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. “But that’s his fault. He knows MMA judging sucks.”
Well, right now Machida’s style seems unpopular with judges. At least, since he received a controversial decision in his first bout against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2009.
The matter reminds me of Mark Coleman losing a decision to Pedro Rizzo in 1999. Despite Coleman dominating the majority of the bout, Rizzo received the decision, seemingly for a brief stretch late in the fight. It seemed the judges were trying to send a message in that bout, as well as Bas Rutten vs. Kevin Randleman the same year: that, however dominant, grappling which didn’t lead to a finish would not be rewarded.
Maybe something similar is happening here. But then, wouldn’t White be in on it… instead of saying it “sucks”…?
At the end of the day, it’s another bad decision in a competitive fight. They really don’t have any rhyme or reason. There’s no reason for surprise. They just happen, and we move on. It’s cold comfort for the recently screwed “Dragon,” but as Scottish football legend Jock Stein once told his players, “the officials will make mistakes, some for you, some against you. Don’t let it get in the way of what you have to do.”
Until fight fans demand better judging, we’re stuck with it. Again. No surprise.