UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida Controversy Shows Fans and Journalists Still Need to be Educated

Posted on November 21, 2010


Honestly, I’m surprised at the controversy.

I sat with my roommate and watched the main event and remarked at how you could see in Lyoto Machida’s stance how much confidence he’d lost. He used to avoid getting hit as a strategy, but now it looked he was just plain tentative and scared of getting hit.

It was one of the concerns I had about Machida going into that fight. The cliche goes that the true mark of a champion or a legend is how he recovers from losing, and I wasn’t sure how Machida would respond to his loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, particularly since it was so decisive.

In the third round, Machida was on top of Jackson and looked up to view the clock as if to say “how long do I have to ride this out?” Seeing he had a full two minutes left, he went for a submission and narrowly avoided another legendary powerbomb slam from Jackson as a result. He, unlike so many other fighters, let go once he was lifted into the air.

It was the only smart thing I thought he did that entire fight.

I thought the fight was an easy 29-28 for Jackson, so imagine my surprise when I got home from the fight and saw the controversy on the internet. I figured if anything people would take issue with one of the judges scoring it for Machida. Yet here were people – even some people that while not working in the industry I would consider experts – using terms like “robbery!”

Then I realized what the problem was: for all the things that people have come to known about the sport, they still don’t know what the judging criteria are.

Perhaps some of the hesitation and hostility was held over from previous controversies. Earlier that night, journalists and fans in attendance noted a very controversial split decision ruling for Nick Lentz over Tyson Griffin in the opening bout.

Certainly there are issue with MMA judging and with specific MMA judging (crosses arms, taps foot and looks over at Cecil Peoples). However, if we’re going to take the judges to task for educating themselves on the sport, we should also know what the actual judging criteria are.

The judging criteria in MMA are:

  • Clean strikes
  • Effective grappling
  • Cage (or ring) control
  • Aggression

What’s amazing is that the UFC actually tells this to viewers on literally every single card on a graphic that explains the rules of the bouts, and yet still people will call the decision to give both the 1st and 2nd rounds to Rampage a “robbery.”

Maybe they’ve just seen the graphic so many times they tune it out, but I think moreso it’s that people think the UFC are just explaining their view of things. They’re not. Those are the actual judging criteria as defined by the Unified Rules of MMA.

In other words, having a slight edge in the number of clean strikes landed alone does not – and can not – give a fighter a round. Which is why Machida did not win either the 1st or 2nd round of his fight last night.

The only round Machida had the edge in grappling was the 3rd round. In the first two rounds, Jackson out-grappled him. Machida’s elusiveness also worked against him in the first two rounds, as he would often retreat from Jackson. This allowed Jackson to indicate everything about the fight: the pace, the placement, whether it was standing or on the ground. There’s your Octagon control.

Last but not least, aggression. Sure, Jackson is a counter-puncher and last night was no different. But he went in after Machida several times in the first two rounds. Machida simply evaded and waited for his opening, landing a few clean strikes here and there.

Fight Metrics will show that he had a slight edge in kicks landed, but that’s not enough. It’s not enough for the judges, and it’s not enough for the sport.

You can perhaps make the argument that the criteria themselves should be changed. I disagree. There’s too many different facets of this sport to start trying to develop a simple mathematical formula to determine a winner. You can only do that with a combat sport that only allows striking and limited takedowns, and even then you’re going to have your problems.

This sport is what it is, and those are the criteria. And by those criteria, Jackson easily won that fight.

For more on this subject, read my post from last April on why I felt the first Edgar/Penn fight was scored correctly.

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