COMMENTARY | That Lyoto Machida was involved in another closely contested fight Saturday, August 3 at UFC 163 did not come as a surprise to anyone, but that he lost said fight by unanimous decision did.
The light-heavyweight tilt against Phil Davis was a largely technical affair, with Machida controlling the standup, and his opponent managing to make the first two rounds close with last-minute takedowns.
FightMetric, a comprehensive statistics and analysis provider for MMA and the UFC, scored the fight 30-27 decisively in Machida's favor. A poll on MMA Torch has 75 percent of fight fans siding with Machida.
After the controversial decision was announced by Bruce Buffer, the partisan crowd at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro reigned down boos, and UFC President Dana White went to Twitter to voice the company line: "I had Machida winning all 3 rds. But that's what happens when u leave it up to the judges!"
This often-echoed sentiment is too simplistic for a number of reasons.
This article isn't meant to critique the quality of the judges or the logic of their scoring system, but rather to explain why fighters shouldn't be blamed for "leaving it in the judges' hands."
1. Fights are meant to be competitive. It's one thing to criticize GSP for not doing more against overwhelmed competition, but asking a fighter to decisively beat an opponent who is equal is unrealistic in many cases.
2. Fighters shouldn't feel pressured into finishing fights they are (should be) winning. "The Dragon" came into the fight with a logical game plan (keep the fight standing, and out-strike "Mr. Wonderful"), and he executed it well. Over-committing to a finish wouldn't have been a statistically smart decision, and shouldn't have been his path to victory in this specific fight. A fighter shouldn't have to change his or her style based on judges not understanding what they are judging.
3. There will always be great fights that go to decision. Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson did everything they could to finish one another in their epic 2011 war at UFC 139, and it just didn't happen. Neither fighter deserves blame for failing to finish, only credit for providing a tremendous spectacle. Great athletic contests are frequently highly competitive affairs. Only in sports that involve judging are athletes critiqued for not dominating their competition. In football, winning a close contest is often a seen as a sign of a team or player being "clutch."
4. More finishes would mean more fighter punishment. Fights are stopped because something bad has or is about to happen to a fighter. Long-term health of mixed martial artists is contingent upon them not sustaining too many brutal finishes. If every MMA bout were to be finished, it'd mean more head trauma, injuries, and a shorter shelf life for fighters.
The UFC doesn't deserve the all of the blame for the poor officiating that runs rampant in MMA, but shifting all of the blame on to the fighters is unfair. That would be the equivalent of a wronged fighter telling the UFC, "You can't leave the judging in the hands of the officials." Which, unfortunately at this point, is a more truthful sentiment than the one Dana White issued on Twitter on August 3.
Joe Napoli has been following MMA since the dark days, and is in the process of getting his Master's in Communications at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Lyoto Machida
- Dana White