Let's talk about back control, what it means, why it's important and why it won the fight for Beebe.
It's not just that Beebe took Easton down. It's also not just that Beebe took Easton's back. One of the most crucial components to taking the back and using it effectively is maintaining control. I cannot stress this enough. Maintaining control is the crux of the issue here. While some suggest the crucial consideration of back control is landing strikes or submission attempts, the reality is that working to stay on an opponent's back is what makes everything else possible. It's a skill set unto itself and doesn't come automatically in the gym. Such a talent, like anything else in jiu-jitsu or MMA, has to be developed over time.
Finishing opportunities against high-level opposition are predicated on the ability to maintain control until openings present themselves or are created. When we further consider that Easton is a Lloyd Irvin jiu-jitsu black belt who has medaled at the Pan-Ams and Mundials, one quickly realizes the notion that Beebe was "doing nothing" from Easton's back is demonstrably false and candidly, an absurd argument. While Easton was working to both defend himself and find an escape (a situation Beebe forced him into), Beebe was constantly pressuring Easton into defensive maneuvering by not relinquishing a hugely advantageous position that essentially renders your opponent's offense nonexistent. That Beebe never finished is true, but neither essential nor important in this case. The punches, hand fighting and choke attempts from Beebe were all the icing on the maintained back control cake that he needed.
Let's look at two different fights that help illustrate my argument and point to a historical precedent of officiating and scoring.
First, Diego Sanchez vs. John Alessio at UFC 60. The first two rounds are not relevant to the present discussion, but the third round most certainly is. Early in the round, Sanchez takes Alessio's back and proceeds to hold it for the entire round. Here's how Sherdog.com described the action:
Sanchez, perhaps feeling urgency after possibly losing the first two rounds, is starting to throw his hands more. After catching a fying knee try from his opponent, Diego finds himself on Alessio's back after a brief scramble. Holding on to the standing Canadian's back for most of the round, this extremely boring fight comes to an end. Diego was able to land some punches from Alessio's back, but was never able to lock in a submission.
Sherdog score: 10-9 Sanchez
You'll notice the score: a round for Sanchez.
But why? He landed virtually no strikes, never threatened with a submission and hadn't hurt Alessio earlier in the round. Why was he awarded the points by the judges? Answer: overwhelming position control. Sanchez's taking of the back and maintaining it forced Alessio into a position where his only option was to defend. His offense was completely muted and while Sanchez didn't land what is conventionally considered to be scoring offense in strikes or submission attempts, the taking and holding of the back is, itself, offensive attacking. Fortunately, referee Steve Mazzaggatti recognized this and despite what some suggest was Sanchez's lack of action, the holding of Alessio's back was the action and that's more than enough to take the round.
It is instructive in this instance that the referee never separated the two. Unlike the clinch or various permutations of the guard where referees of all varieties often separate fighters, back mount is a highly unequal position. In fact, it is such a lopsided position that, by its very nature, is offensive both in the act of taking and maintaining. Not only does the fighter with his back taken have virtually no offensive opportunities, but the defensive liabilities are exacerbated to almost the highest degree possible in MMA. Having your back taken is akin to being in quick sand. Struggling by force or not knowing the proper defensive escapes will fast track you to the end of the line. With your back taken it is your responsibility to find a way out and until such time, you are not only not offering any offensive response, you are being offensively controlled by (in this case) someone else.
Let's also take a look at the first round of Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia from UFC 68. Admittedly, the punch heard 'round the world from Couture played a major part in the scoring of the round, but there's more to the story than meets the eye. Here's how Sherdog.com called the action:
Couture drops Sylvia with a right hand in the opening seconds. Couture takes Sylvia's back. Sylvia is hurt. Couture has both hooks in but the champion controls Randy's wrists. Couture hits the side of Sylvia's head and goes under the arm with an uppercut. Sylvia stays calm and defends well. Couture sinks the choke under Sylvia's chin but the champion continues to defend.
Sherdog.com scores the first round 10-9 for Couture.
Once again, with Couture on Sylvia's back for more than half of the round, why didn't referee "Big" John McCarthy stand them up? Couture never really came close to choking or punching Sylvia out, so why was it allowed to continue? I ask that question because in both rounds two and four of that fight McCarthy stood Couture and Sylvia up after Couture was unable to land anything significant on top, submit or effectively pass.
Think about that for a moment. On Sylvia's back Couture never landed significant punches nor came close to choking Sylvia out. In Sylvia's guard and even half guard, Couture was twice stood up for not making effective headway. Why such radically different responses from the referee? Because back mount - unlike guard, on top or in the clinch - at all times it's properly maintained means the situation is very precarious for the opponent with his back taken.
Couture's first round with Sylvia also forces us to revisit the idea that Beebe never finished. Unlike Sanchez who could neither punch nor threaten with the submission, Couture was at least hand fighting and working for something. However, neither Couture nor Sanchez were ever able to really come close to finishing from that position. But is that what really matters? Not if you take maintaining control as seriously as you should. Let's look at the numbers.
So, how dominant was Beebe's control of Easton's back? Pretty dominant: in rounds 1, 3, 4 and 5 Beebe maintained control for at least 2:30 in each of those rounds. In rounds 3, 4 and 5 the Chicago native did so for more than 3 minutes. While Easton was the far better striker of the two, the notion that Easton's effective striking was more dominant than Beebe's effective grappling is false. Easton did land effectively (and if you haven't seen his head movement it's a thing of beauty), particularly in the second round. Round two is incontestably Easton's. However, Easton never rocked Beebe, never knocked him down and never clearly had him hurt to where he avoided the fight or defensively retreated. By contrast, Beebe's control of Easton's back for those prolonged periods of time had Easton in the MMA grappling equivalent of backpedaling.
MMA fans and judges think of offense as individual units of action: a punch, a kick, a submission attempt or takedown. Of course, those are all efforts that score points and should. In fact, we should not overlook Easton's fantastic stand-up in this bout where he landed beautiful shots to the body and thudding leg kicks. But MMA offense is more than the sum of its parts. Beebe isn't awarded points solely for taking Easton down and subsequently putting his hooks in on Easton's back (to say nothing of the hand fighting, punching and choke attempts). He should be awarded points for maintaining such a highly advantageous position for what can only be considered dominating amounts of time. To Easton's credit, he never allowed Beebe an opportunity to finish, but he also took far too long to shake him from his hugely superior, stifling perch. The story would be different, perhaps, had Easton rocked Beebe on the feet even with all the amount of time Beebe spent on Easton's back. But while Easton's stand-up was very crisp and impressive, it never reached a level where Beebe was sufficiently hurt or even slowed. By contrast and in my judgement, for the entire duration of Beebe's stay on Easton's back, Easton was trying to not let the flood gates spill open while he searched for dry land. That is where this fight was won and lost.
UWC 7 was overall a fantastic event and I am proud to have been a part of it. If you have not seen Easton vs. Beebe yet or Runez vs. Dodson, I cannot encourage you enough to go do so. I cannot possibly tell you how much fun I had calling the action cageside. For me personally, it was a career highlight and the best MMA event I've ever been a part of. It's not even close.
I have to confess this situation has placed me in a strange position. I spoke to Mike Easton last night to tell him that I hope he understood why I have to speak out against the judges' decision even though I consider him a friend. Easton, who might genuinely be the classiest and friendliest person I have ever met through MMA, never once said he had an issue with my disagreement even if he sees the decision differently. All he said he wants to do is compete. He had nothing but kind words for the UWC or for Chase Beebe and was just looking forward to fighting again. I am humbled by Easton's professionalism as it stands in stark contrast to the arrogance and incompetence of Virginia's athletic commission.
Our responsibility is to the fighters first. For their safety, for their careers and for their efforts, we have a responsibility to talk to them candidly, oversee their efforts with proper medical supervision and either reward their victories or acknowledge their defeats. When the state regulatory agency in charge of handling these latter responsibilities cannot faithfully meet those requirements, we have an obligation to speak out.
The UWC did it's part by making the fight. The fighters did their part by training and laying it on the line. The fans did their part by showing up and supporting the UWC and it's fighters. It's time the state of Virginia do it's part by acknowledging just how badly their judges botched the scoring.
To the Virginia Professional Boxing and Wrestling Program: you have committed a grievous error and you must take action to rectify the situation. This must be done for the benefit of the UWC, for it's fans, for the integrity of the sport itself, and most importantly, for Mike Easton and Chase Beebe. You owe those men who make this universe operate nothing less.
We expect action and we expect it now.