When Saturday night's Quinton Jackson-Forrest Griffin match ended, there were two big unanswered questions:
Who is going to get the decision? Was this the fight of the year?
Considering it was a match for what has been for the last decade and is still today the sport's marquee belt, the UFC light heavyweight title, it was guaranteed, no matter what the decision, the controversy would shortly take center stage ahead of what the match itself delivered.
What made the fight even more controversial is that Griffin clearly delivered more offense, and just as clearly, Jackson's punches, when they connected, hurt Griffin worse. Griffin's face was a mess, as he joked after the fight he lost track of the number of stitches needed, and said, "Every punch hurt."
Jackson's left leg was in bad shape by the end of the first round. Griffin had superior footwork and cage generalship, but whenever they traded, Jackson more often that not came out the better.
In scoring from ringside, I had the fight 47-47 at the moment the fight ended. That was based on giving Jackson round five, which I thought was close to an even round. If 10-10 scores weren't frowned upon by the athletic commissions, to me, that's what the round should have been, and with that score, it's Griffin's fight 48-47.
When announcer Bruce Buffer declared a unanimous decision and read the scores, before saying who won, I was certain it would be Griffin. When Griffin was announced as the winner, I made sure to look at the crowd for the reaction. Eighty to 85 percent people at Mandalay Bay standing and cheering, with a large percentage practically dancing and celebrating the title change.
In those situations, boos are always louder than cheers, but this was very clearly a decision most of the crowd agreed with, no matter how it may have sounded on television. That's not indicative necessarily of who should have won, because from the start of the show, Griffin was the clear crowd favorite. Griffin lives in Las Vegas, and the UFC crowd has seen him start as a nobody, work his way himself up, greatly improve his game, stumble along with way, and get right back up again.
Now, almost implausibly, the guy with the heart of a lion and, in his own words, no special jiu-jitsu skills or great punching power, is suddenly the champion in the company's deepest division where most would feel there are a plethora of fighters with more actual talent.
Griffin was winning almost all of round one, but Jackson decked him late in the round for the most damaging blow, so I gave Jackson the round. The most clear-cut round was No. 2, which all three judges, as well as it seemed most in the press gave 10-8 to Griffin. I had Griffin winning round three and Jackson winning four.
The only question marks were rounds one and five. But the knockdown clinched one, and five was splitting hairs. Griffin was winning most of the round, but Jackson had a strong flurry late and even with the bad wheel and nearly 25 minutes of fighting, his punches continued to have significantly more velocity. After rewatching the fight on television, where you don't get the same impact of the power of the blows that you get from being there live, I'd have given the five to Griffin, still close, and ended with a 48-46 score. And I'd still favor Jackson in a rematch.
What made the fight so exciting, is that really from round three on, it appeared Griffin was going to likely take the decision, but at no point in the fight was he safe, because Jackson rocked him many times, and there the feeling that a Jackson could finish Griffin via knockout at any second, right until the buzzer sounded. With Griffin, the feeling was more he was winning the point game, but was also en route to winning the championship.
Judge Adalaide Byrd scored it 48-46, giving Griffin the first three rounds, including the 10-8 second, but giving Jackson rounds four and five. Judge Nelson Hamilton had it 48-46, giving Jackson rounds one and four. Judge Roy Silbert had it 49-46, with Jackson only taking round four.
Those who complain make the most noise, but a Wrestling Observer Web site poll after the fight had 47.5% saying Griffin won, 27.6% saying Jackson won, and 24.9% having it even. That indicates a close decision, but not a decision that the majority would have had a problem with.
In the ring, after the match, Jackson conceded defeat saying, "He just whooped my ass. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Forrest is tough. He worked hard."
But at the post-fight press conference, he was questioning the outcome, saying he knocked Griffin down in the first round and power bombed Griffin in the fourth round. Griffin escaped the power bomb before impact and while it was a great visual, and it enabled Jackson to escape a triangle, it didn't really damage Griffin.
In the aftermath, a few misconceptions and lack of understanding when about judging need to be put to rest.
In many cases, fight fans think anyone who doesn't see a fight exactly like they do are wrong, stupid and incompetent at judging. In reality, every perspective is different and this was a fight where you can make arguments about several of the rounds, including the first and the last. Sometimes the view on what is and isn't connecting is better on television, but television does not translate as well the power of the individual blows.
The crowd response isn't supposed to make a difference with judges, but with such a pro-Griffin crowd, in a close round, it could have. I have always believed from observing judging in boxing and MMA that stars get an edge, although that wasn't a factor in this case.
There is the argument that you need to take convincingly take the title from the champion. In fact, that was expressed by many after the show, saying perhaps Griffin did win the points game, but did he really beat the champion enough to take the title?
The fact is, that's irrelevant. It's a saying from boxing that has been repeated for decades, and isn't the case in boxing either. Rounds are judged when they are over, and once you turn in your score for a round, there is no going back. There are often fights where I've believed the person who had the most points on my scorecard actually lost the fight overall if I had to just pick a winner without having to assign a point value to the win.
In three-round fights, this is frequent when a guy wins two close rounds, but gets dominated in a third round that isn't enough for a 10-8. The guy who should have been the loser of the fight overall won based on the points. That was my problem from day one when UFC switched from a system where judges would render a decision when it was over based on who they thought won, without a points system, to the boxing system of 10-point-must. Whoever has the most points at the end wins, and a split-decision one-point win, which this fight wasn't, still means the title changes hands.
Another misconception is looking at a fight like this and saying, "Well, Griffin won, but the scores were wrong because it was a close fight," or "it should have been a split decision." Judges have no inkling what the other judges are voting on. They are stationed at different parts of the cage and can't discuss it. If a guy squeaks ahead in all three rounds, he could easily win 30-27 across the board in what was a very close fight. In fact, that happens all the time. And there have been 29-28 scores that are actually one-sided.
As far as what happens next for Griffin and Jackson, it is most likely no decision will be made on whether there will be a rematch until after the Sept. 6 Chuck Liddell-Rashad Evans fight in Atlanta. If Liddell scores a convincing win, and comes out of the fight without an injury, Griffin vs. Liddell has a strong chance. The condition of Jackson's left knee and how soon he will be ready to fight is the other major factor.
If Liddell stumbles, either losing or not looking impressive in winning, and Jackson's knee injury doesn't require major down time, Jackson will probably get a rematch. If both are injured when it comes time for Griffin to defend, Lyoto Machida could move into the spot, although UFC is in the process of putting together a fall match for Machida right now. If Evans beats Liddell solidly, he could maneuver into the spot, although most likely not ahead of a healthy Jackson. With Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua back in the mix by the end of the year, those would be potential opponents for Jackson, if he's healthy and Liddell gets the shot. A win by Jackson there should guarantee him the next shot. But since both have wins over Jackson in the past, they could knock him off before he gets a rematch.