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UFC 144 Parting Shots

By on February 29, 2012

UFC 144 made more out of the UFC’s first trip to Japan in over 100 events than a mere nostalgia trip (though there was plenty of that, too). Besides a great title fight, there were some superb finishes and a couple of surprises, too. Anyway, let’s face it: not a UFC event goes by these days without some controversy, and UFC 144 certainly fit the bill.

What place do damage, stats have in judging

I love Bendo-Edgar for the same reason I loved Diaz-Condit: it’s a great lightning rod for some important discussions about how the sport should be judged. There is a lot of room for interpretation, even within the actual judging criteria that judges have to us. By the way, the phrase “the actual judging criteria” disqualifies at least half of the people that have complained about MMA decisions from entering the discussion, since they invent their own criteria and live in a fantasy world where everyone else must follow it). If you don’t know the criteria, please learn it before you criticize the judges, start spouting your scores off on Twitter, or creating “_____ was robbed” threads on MMA forums.

Just as Diaz-Condit launched important conversations about what should be considered effective aggression, what Octagon control really constitutes, and the value of different types of strikes (i.e. leg kicks), Bendo-Edgar has sparked discussion over what place damage has in judging fights, how much facial bruising or cuts should be weighted by judges, and whether you can really justify a decision with stats after the fact.

These talking points could be a whole column themselves, but with two events this weekend that’s just not going to happen, and by next week everyone will have moved on and started discussing the newest Ronda Rousey or Chael Sonnen quotes. Therefore, like Jake Shields being forced to stand and trade, I will come out of my comfort zone and try to be brief. Let’s hope I fare as well as he did last weekend.

Regarding damage, it’s stated that “heavier” strikes should be scored as more effective than a higher number of lower power strikes. Obviously, this leads to the question, “where does that line get crossed?” If Fighter A out-lands Fighter B 40-30, but does so almost exclusively with jabs and leg kicks thrown with his lead leg, does that get scored as more effective than Fighter B’s 30 strikes landed if 2/3 of those are power shots?

While damage can’t be quantified easily unless someone gets rocked or visibly hurt, “power shots” have a specific meaning. Lead arm or leg attacks are not power shots, though if you throw a hook with your lead arm or a switch kick with your lead leg, that obviously changes things. The problem is that even knowing this, “power shots” are very subjective. For some fighters, a jab is just used to stay busy and keep your distance. For others, it’s thrown to hurt the other guy, and we’ve seen fighters get rocked and hurt badly by jabs. At the same time, a Thiago Alves leg kick is not the same as a Jake Shields leg kick. At some point, you have to ignore the stats a bit and actually watch the fights and understand them.

The problem for Edgar backers is that Henderson not only landed a lot of quality shots, he also out-worked him and landed more shots in total. If you want to talk about Edgar’s takedowns, please don’t. The criteria states that when a fighter gets up from a takedown without the offensive fighter actually doing anything with the takedown, the two events basically cancel out. In other words, Edgar taking down Henderson, only to have Henderson immediately stand up means very little, if anything.

Anyway, where stats can be used is to validate your initial thoughts on a fight in a number of ways. If you told your friends that Henderson landed more shots than Edgar, you can point to the stats to back your claim up. After that, I’m afraid that the stats themselves aren’t enough to back up your argument that one fighter or another won a close fight. The stats will also tell us that Edgar landed a number of takedowns. The stats will tell us that Henderson attempted a submission, but won’t tell us how close it was or whether it allowed him to improve his position in the end. They won’t tell you that someone was visibly rocked after a strike or that someone was limping and changed lead legs after a number of leg kicks.

One final note regarding damage: it’s really hard to define other than to compare it to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous pseudo-definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it”. Damage, however, presents a problem that the Nevada State Athletic Commission obviously tried very hard to avoid with their detailed criteria; it encourages judgment calls.

All around the world, policies are set, rules are made and inconveniences are endured because no one trusts anyone else to use their judgment anymore. It’s why the first person who answers the phone when you need customer service can’t really do anything to help you, it’s why you get carded when you buy beer even if you’re clearly a senior citizen, and it’s why the judging criteria is unnecessarily detailed. The athletic commissions don’t trust judges to actually judge. Therefore, the effort in setting the criteria was clearly to make judging a fight as objective as possible.

The problem is that in many areas of judging a fight, objectivity is impossible. Such is the case with damage. How much should a cut mean? Are all knockdowns created equal? Are those leg kicks making a difference? How do you weigh facial bruises and other visible marks of damage?

I will say this- even as someone who thought Henderson won the fight, you shouldn’t use “look at his face!” as your main argument that someone won a fight. If you’ve watched enough fights, you know that some fighters simply “wear their damage” more than others. Someone like Nick Diaz marks up and cuts very easily, whereas other fighters may not. Furthermore, if a cut happens and it doesn’t really bother the fighter it happens to or threaten a stoppage, why should it be weighed heavily? BJ Penn famously thought he beat Georges St. Pierre the first time they fought because he made him bleed. However, the glory of slow-mo illustrated that the blood came from an uppercut that glanced the tip of St. Pierre’s nose, and happened in the midst of a fight where Penn landed very little of consequence.

It’s not a very sexy point of view, and it won’t be controversial enough to start a fiasco in the comments, but I think it’s pretty accurate to say that when it comes to evaluating fights based on stats or how a guy’s face looks, you have to be moderate in your approach. Neither one is something you can rely on all of the time, though it’s tempting to do so because both represent shortcuts that allow you to argue about fights that you maybe didn’t even pay any real attention to.

What should Edgar do next?

Well, here’s what he shouldn’t do next: drop to 145 pounds. Let me ask you this- why is it that in MMA, we’re so crazy about switching divisions? If a guy wins a title and defends a few times, he needs to move up. If someone loses a fight or two, they should move down. Somehow, this talk persists no matter how many cautionary tales to the contrary crop up.

Brandon Vera should have dominated at light heavyweight, right? Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin would be better at featherweight, wouldn’t they? Urijah Faber had to drop to bantamweight or he was through, right? Hey, how about Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin after their division swap? They’re setting the world on fire, right?

The idea that changing divisions is the answer to everything or that someone who has defended his or her title a few times needs to move up in weight is silly, and is yet another horrible idea that came over from boxing and makes little sense for MMA. Never mind that from 125 pounds up, there are about twice as many weight classes as boxing, right? Hey, let’s just forget that cutting an extra ten pounds or moving up in weight is a lot bigger factor when you’re not just standing and trading, but wrestling and grappling.

Sure, Edgar doesn’t fit that bill, as a guy who by all accounts wouldn’t have to cut much to make it to featherweight. However, he fits the bill in my other argument regarding changing divisions: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Edgar just had a successful title reign and lost his title in a very close bout. Henderson couldn’t hurt him badly and even Gray Maynard, who could probably fight at 170 if he wanted to, couldn’t knock him out. He isn’t getting out-muscled, taken down and laid on by these supposedly massive opponents. So why should he change weights?

This idea that dropping a weight class will suddenly make you an even better fighter simply isn’t backed up by real evidence. You know where a lot of this comes from? Randy Couture. He was near retirement before dropping to light heavyweight and revitalizing his career, and since then everyone thinks that dropping in weight is the best thing to do whenever one suffers a tough loss. I’m just not buying it, and thankfully, Edgar isn’t, either.

Quick Shots

–You have to hand it to Jake Shields. If you had told me beforehand that he would be largely unable to take Yoshihiro Akiyama to the mat, I’d have picked Akiyama for sure. However, Shields used his rather rudimentary kickboxing to carve out a solid win over an opponent who should have been licking his chops and going for blood. Shields has clearly worked on his standup and even if it will never be world class, it got him a win when his wrestling wasn’t getting it done.

–Is Rampage done? No, but maybe he should be. I question whether his heart is really in it, but then again that’s been a question since his days in Japan. He loves to fight, I don’t doubt that, but BJ Penn has showed that no matter your talent level, you have to train hard to even compete these days. The sad thing is that Rampage had Ryan Bader hurt early in the fight, but appeared to be too concerned about his cardio to rush him and try to force a finish. Rampage can remain in the top ten for a long time yet if he can be disciplined in his training, but that’s just too big of an “if” for me.

–What can you say about the continued success of Mark Hunt (other than, “You’re crazy if you think he deserves a title shot,” of course)? Good for him, and even if he didn’t appear too thrilled about his impressive win over Cheick Kongo, you know it meant a lot for him to extend his career yet again in front of a Japanese crowd. Please, please give him Pat Barry next. I know that this streak eventually has to end against a wrestler of some sort, but I’m not ready yet.

Beautiful Loser Award

Who else but Yushin Okami can win this? I’m shocked that Joe Rogan apparently already forgot about Barry-Kongo (how else can you explain him calling Okami-Boetsch the greatest comeback he’s seen?), or even Russow-Duffee, for that matter. However, this was a legitimately impressive comeback against a guy who is a very tough nut to crack. Good for Tim Boetsch, but heartbreaking for Okami.

Movin’ On Up Award

Bader and Hunt made nice leaps with their impressive victories, but no one had more to gain and took advantage of it quite like Anthony Pettis, who once again threw caution to the wind with a titanic head kick very early into his fight with the dangerous Joe Lauzon that landed flush and put Lauzon away. Pettis now stands to fight for the UFC Lightweight Title against a man he has already beaten in the past.

Holy $#!% Award

I could have gone a couple of different ways with this one, but the Boetsch comeback beats some other great momentum changes and finishes. Still, watch Barry-Kongo again and tell me how the Boetsch comeback was better. Come on, now.

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