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The Robbery Myth

By on August 11, 2012

MMA fans are used to awful decisions, or at least they should be by now. Then again, if we’re so well-acquainted with terrible judges’ decisions, shouldn’t we be able to not only recognize the awful ones when they happen, but also recognize when a decision that we don’t personally agree with isn’t that bad at all?

Three hours after their fight ended, “UFC150”, “Edgar”, “Bendo”, and “Ben Henderson” are the top four trending topics on Twitter. Click on them, and you see nearly unanimous uproar over the decision, with people throwing around words like “robbery”.

I saw a few media members who admitted that Henderson won round one and said that rounds three and four were very close, yet don’t understand a 48-47 scorecard for Henderson. Wait a minute. If rounds three and four were so close, couldn’t they conceivably go to Henderson OR Edgar? If they both went to Henderson, along with the crystal-clear first round, wouldn’t that make a 48-47 Henderson scorecard?

This has become a regular occurrence, now. Every close high-profile UFC fight which has one or more rounds that could reasonably be scored either way leads to predictable, tired, hyperbolic commentary by fans and pundits alike about how awful the judging is and how fighter x was “robbed”.

What’s amazing about all of this is not that people get so fired up when someone else’s opinion is different than their own. That’s expected and represents the norm. What’s ridiculous is that people can’t even be impartial enough to admit that some fights are so close that a “robbery” is literally not possible. This was one of those fights.

I thought that three rounds were clear: round one for Henderson and rounds two and five for Edgar. The official judges agreed with me there, as did most MMA media members, who scored those three rounds the way that I did. The question that ultimately decided the fight was who won rounds three and four.

Here’s how we should look at a fight like Henderson-Edgar II: take the clear rounds and give them to whomever they should go to, and then admit that the close rounds could go either way, giving you a range of scores that are not only understandable, but acceptable. In this case, we would end up with possible scores of 48-47 Henderson, 48-47 Edgar, and 49-46 Edgar. All of the judges’ scorecards were represented in those acceptable outcomes. So what’s the problem?

Don’t tell me that Edgar clearly won round three or four, either. The fact that people are already pulling out Fightmetric to do their dirty work only hurts their position that the decision was a robbery, anyway. Plenty of people eagerly awaited the scoring breakdown even as they claimed that Edgar “clearly” won the fight. If it was that clear, people wouldn’t be waiting to see the stats with fingers crossed that the numbers would back them up.

That’s fine, though. Let’s look at these “obvious” rounds for Edgar:

In round three, Edgar landed two more (!) strikes than Henderson! Apparently that equals a clear round for the former lightweight champ. Never mind that Henderson landed one more power shot than Edgar, or that Henderson landed two more shots to the head than Edgar. Or hey, that a round where the striking output and efficiency is that freaking close could go either way and shouldn’t be a source of outrage.

Surely round four was Edgar’s though, right? Well, in round four, Henderson actually outstruck Edgar 17-15 in significant strikes, and 11-7 in power strikes. Then there was a takedown for Edgar and a guillotine attempt, which we cannot possibly gauge in terms of how “deep” it was sunk in. We do know Henderson hasn’t been submitted before, and he didn’t exactly panic when it was applied.

Before you write me hate mail, rest assured that I am not arguing that Henderson definitively won.

I’m actually arguing that nobody definitively won, and that it would be ridiculous to call such a fight a “robbery” regardless of who the judges had scored the bout in favor of.

With all the legitimately bad scorecards we’ve seen in MMA, how the hell have we gotten to the point where people think that an edge of a couple of strikes over the course of a five-minute round somehow constitutes a clearly-won round? And how did we get to where people can seriously type that this was the worst decision in UFC history? As I told someone on Twitter, this wasn’t even one of the worst 100 decisions. It wasn’t even a bad one.

To me, it’s so simple. You need three rounds to win a UFC title bout, barring 10-10 or 10-8 rounds. Henderson clearly won one and Edgar clearly won two rounds. That means that the outcome relied upon two very close rounds, which in turn means that you cannot pretend that the fight clearly should have gone to either fighter.

Hey, you can score the fight for Edgar. Many people that I watched with did. I even would have scored it 48-47 for Edgar, splitting rounds three and four between the two of them. However, I know that when a decision goes down that I don’t agree completely with, it doesn’t necessarily mean the decision is a travesty or even worth complaining about. That’s the difference here.

Please, can we save the outrage for the fights that actually deserve it?

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  1. Mick says:

    Hey Jon;

    I find myself restating an old adage about title fights from my boxing days. I think it still applies (or should) as a
    solid base of thought for these Judges.

    Unless the challenger decisively and clearly defeats the Champion or if a Draw
    is rendered the Title remains with the Champion. This works for round by round scoring also. ie: 10 point must.

  2. Jon Hartley says:

    Officially, whether one is a champion or not is not a factor in MMA scoring. Now, whether the judges let it affect them (consciously or subconsciously) is anybody’s guess. In some fights, it seems like the champ got the benefit of the doubt (Henderson-Edgar 2, for example), while in others it doesn’t seem the case (Penn-Edgar 1).

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