The WEC 42 showdown between bantamweights Jeff Curran and Takeya Mizugaki drew some criticism earlier in the week regarding the judging in the fight's split decision outcome. Most notably, many fans pointed out that the American judging criteria and system set up to judge these bouts hasn't conformed to the techniques of jiu-jitsu, nor does it help any fighters who can punish opponents from their back with strikes and/or submission attempts. Frank Mir's commentary during the fight pointed this out as well, although he did manage to draw a lot of criticism over his bias toward Curran in the match-up.
I've noted in the past that there are some fighters that are at a true disadvantage to the current system. It seems that judges, in general, award top control more so than the fighter on the bottom battling for escapes or submissions. It even seems to award the top-controlling fighter in cases in which a fighter on the bottom is landing more strikes. The WEC's Phil Cardella has been a victim of this as well (see Castillo vs. Cardella), but he's also managed to win an action-packed battle with Rafael Dias due to the judges actually seeing the amount of damage he was laying on Dias from the bottom.
More times than not, we'd see a decision based on top control and takedowns rather than a fighter damaging an opponent while on their back. I meticulously reviewed the Mizugaki vs. Curran battle, and I came to the conclusion that a 29-28 decision in favor of Mizugaki was warranted.
The first round easily went to Mizugaki as he defended the takedown for nearly 4 minutes of the opening round while landing elbows and punches to Curran's torso. He was slightly unbalanced at one point, but escaped Curran's attempt. Curran actually gained a takedown late in the round around the 1:45 mark, but Mizugaki reversed it and proceeded to land some solid shots. Easily a 10-9 round for Mizugaki.
The third round was easily Jeff Curran's best round. Mizugaki took down Curran at about one minute into the round, but he was unable to work any ground and pound as Curran worked sweeps, kicks, and elbows from his back. Mizugaki had a few solid shots, but Curran's triangle attempt at the end of the round solidified the round for Curran.
The second round is where the controversy truly shines through, and it's a very tough round to score. From the opening minute of the round, the striking portion was fairly even. Curran landed a solid combination early, but Mizugaki landed two hard combinations later with one of those combinations connecting in a three-punch sequence. Once both fighters hit the clinch, Mizugaki managed to get the takedown into top control.
This is where many fans have some different views regarding the action. Curran did work an effective guard with some heel kicks to Mizugaki's back, but Mizugaki landed some hard shots at around the 2:30 and 2:10 mark while Curran's hammerfists were easily ineffective in stopping Mizugaki. Mizugaki was caught in a guillotine attempt toward the end of the round, but there was a huge problem at this point in the fight that probably weighed on the judge's decision.
Curran's chokehold was in place, but he surely wasn't trying to choke out Mizugaki immediately after he grabbed the hold. Most notably, Mizugaki tried to pass Curran's guard to side mount to relieve some pressure, but it's evident that Curran isn't grimacing in trying to lock down the choke with full force because there is some space in between Mizugaki and Curran. Furthermore, Mizugaki almost worked a hand in between Curran's arms, and it was visibily relieving the hold during the attempt. It's tough to say Curran was close to finishing the choke when he almost seemed content with holding it until the end of the round while he rested near the fence.
Regardless of that attempt, Mizugaki did manage to control more of the round. He was winning the round up until around the two minute mark. The striking was likely even once they hit the floor, but Curran wasn't doing enough from the bottom in this round to sway a judgement in his favor. The choke attempt didn't look genuinely dangerous at the end of the round either, and the view of Curran sort of resting near the fence couldn't have swayed a judge to believing that hold was a legitimate attempt to end the fight.
I had the fight barley going to Takeya Mizugaki. If Curran had actually locked guard and put a lot of power into that choke, he surely gets the decision if judges were looking for an attempt to end the fight. The debate still remains though. How do we judge escapes versus submission attempts? How does each fighter get credit for those attempts, and how does Curran build up points for punishing Mizugaki from the bottom? They obviously aren't powerful shots, but they do add up. Does a powerful shot from Mizugaki in top control nullify all the short shots of Curran? There are a plethora of questions to ask, but I feel that the judges did get the fight right on Sunday evening at WEC 42. It wasn't robbery by any means, and the fight probably could have went either way. But from looking at the bout with a keen eye for bottom damage, I still believe Mizugaki edged out Curran.