Fans were up in arms last Saturday after what they considered inept judging in the Ultimate Fighting Championship bout at the Palms Resort & Casino in Las Vegas between Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan.
Most fans felt Phan won, but judges Tony Weeks and Adalaide Byrd each scored it two rounds to one, 29-28, for Garcia.
Imagine, though, what the scene will be like this coming Saturday if the judges make what fans perceive to be an error in the main event of UFC 124, which pits welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre against Josh Koscheck at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Koscheck is the UFC's top villain and is despised in Montreal, where he taunted fans at UFC 113 by saying that the Pittsburgh Penguins would beat the Canadiens (they didn't) and that he would come back and beat up St. Pierre.
It won't be a pretty scene if that match goes to a decision and the judges score it for Koscheck.
With that, let's move on to this week's edition of the MMA mailbag, where I answer questions and comments about a variety of subjects.
Take action to correct judging woes
Do you think that the judging for mixed martial arts is so bad it's getting out of control? After watching the Ultimate Fighter Finale on Saturday and seeing Nam Phan lose a fight to Leonard Garcia that he deserved to win, do you think that they need to do something about the judging in the UFC?
The simple, short answer, Chris, is that the quality of judging needs to be improved. The problem, though, is that there is not a simple solution to the situation. I, like many fans, felt Phan deserved to win the fight. I scored it 29-28 for Phan, giving him Rounds 1 and 2 and giving Round 3 to Garcia. Was it the most egregious decision ever? No. It's not even close to being in that realm. However, there has been a loud outcry over this call, no doubt fueled in part by television announcer Joe Rogan's tirade against it and the judging. It's not like there are qualified judges just sitting around unused. This is a relatively new sport and, as it matures, people who have judged amateur fights will eventually work their way up to the big show and take over, improving the overall quality of judging. For the time being, the judging criteria needs to be: a. Clarified, so that those who work the fights know what they should be scoring and b. standardized, so that a fighter doesn't have to change his style depending upon what state he's fighting in. Lastly, I will offer this: A lot of time when there is fan outrage like there is in this case, it comes down to one round. The general perception, if you're not scoring round by round, is that after 15 minutes, Phan won. When you look at the rounds individually, Rounds 1 and 3 were very close; Round 2 was obviously and clearly for Phan. At the end of the first, both John Morgan of MMA Junkie and Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who were seated next to me, said the round could have gone either way. This was long before there was controversy. So, if you give Garcia that round and the third, which many people believe he won, it's not such an outrageous decision any more.
Better judges needed more than better referees
Kevin, I thought the judging was bad going into Saturday night's fights, but after seeing the Garcia-Phan fight, it seems to be far worse than we thought. It seems we need better judging more than we need better referees at this time.
Matt, referees are far more important because they have a direct impact upon the safety of the fighter. Two examples of this could be seen on Saturday, one at the UFC card and another at Strikeforce. In the Robbie Lawler-Matt Lindland fight on the Strikeforce card, referee Mike England did a horrendous job of getting in and stopping the fight after Lawler knocked Lindland down. England hesitated and Lawler was able to get a hard punch from the top in onto an already out-cold Lindland. Lawler could have landed another, as England still hadn't gotten in, but he realized the situation and England finally stopped it. That late stoppage could have caused a very bad situation but, thankfully, it did not. In the UFC card, Pablo Garza knocked out Fredson Paixao with a knee. In that match, the referee – a much-maligned Steve Mazzagatti – dove in and hip-checked Garza away from Paixao, saving Paixao from taking another punishing, potentially lethal blow. Judges can get the winners and losers wrong; a mistake by a referee will have much more dire consequences.
What should score?
Hi Kevin, if you were a judge, would you rather give a round to a fighter who throws punches to keep his opponent at bay, but who, in the process, does not actually hit his opponent with anything significant? Or, do you give it to the fighter who may be moving forward but can't get inside? I was just curious after watching Gerald Harris stink up the Octagon in UFC 123 in his fight against Maiquel Falcao. It was a very disappointing match, as both of them seemed eager for a knockout win, but did not actually deliver anything.
The fighter who is doing the most damage should get more credit. The power of the punches counts. Now, in the scenario you describe, Fighter A is jabbing and keeping his opponent at bay, but not hurting him much. Fighter B is trying to move forward and get inside, but Fighter A's jab prevents it. In that case, you have to go with Fighter A, 10-9, simply because of volume.
Give St. Pierre credit
I don't get why you have been so anti-Georges St. Pierre throughout your career. It seems like you can never say a good word about him and always jump on him at a moment's notice. What are you going to say on Saturday after he routs your boy, Josh Koscheck? I imagine you'll find a problem with it even if he knocks him out in the first round.
I would hardly say I'm a critic of St. Pierre, Benoit. It's difficult to say much negative about him, considering he'll fight anyone, he wins just about every time and he's as respectful and professional of a big-time athlete as exists in sports.
Crazy suggestion about Bonnar and the Hall
Stephan Bonnar a UFC Hall of Famer? Give me a break. Now you're really going out on a limb.
Jason, I didn't expect a lot of people to agree with that take. And I am not advocating Bonnar's induction based solely upon his fighting, but rather as an overall significant contributor to the sport. Obviously, his first fight with Forrest Griffin remains one of the most memorable in UFC history and holds a special place in the sport's history. He's been in many other exciting fights, he's been a great ambassador for the sport and he's made significant contributions as a ringside analyst and doing studio television work. He's spread the gospel, so to speak, and has helped advance the sport. He's been a relentless promoter of MMA and that, combined with the Griffin fight and his generally exciting style, should be enough to land him in wherever it is the UFC Hall of Fame is.
Make all main events five-rounders
The Lyoto Machida-Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fight at UFC 123 last month brings back to the surface the discussion of making all main events five-round fight, even if they're non-title matches. I'm all for it. There are too many top tier guys who are more than capable of fighting five rounds. Machida-Jackson would have been a great five-round fight; instead, it was an OK three-rounder. Machida had a great third round. Five-round fights give things time to develop. I know you are against five-rounders as it is one of the special things about a title fight. Maybe that was a good reason in the past. Now, I believe there is too much talent not to let us see these fights go a bit longer.
Long Island, N.Y.
There have been a lot of times when a three-round fight ended that I wished it had been a five-rounder. But I hope the tradition does not change. Having the five rounds reserved only for championship bouts makes them a bit more special. It adds a variable, i.e., can the challenger go the championship distance? When boxing title fights were 15 rounds, most main events were 10 rounds. Some were 12 if they were really special fighters who didn't happen to hold titles and the championship bouts were 15. Now, 15-round bouts have been eliminated and about 99 percent of the main events on major shows are 12 rounders. To me, it diminishes the title. I'd prefer to keep three rounds and if the fight was so good, pressure the promoter to make a rematch.