The Edgar-Penn decision: insane or un-insane?
Scoring Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn's championship bout 50-45 in favor of Edgar, despite Penn's clearly effective counterstriking campaign in the first two rounds, is as poor a judgment as we've seen recently. It'd be a shame, however, to let this cloud an otherwise fair victory for Edgar. To explain, we'll have to crunch some numbers, so brace yourselves, we're going to get dry and mathematical-like.
Fightmetric, which tracks effective striking and grappling maneuvers, offered some interesting statistics for the fight. Having examined tape and taken into account punches and kicks to the body, legs, and head, they conclude that Penn out-struck Edgar in rounds one and two by scores of 18 to 10 and 17 to 6, respectively. As such, the first two rounds appear clearly in Penn's favor. The bout's final, fifth round is also easy to score, with Edgar outstripping Penn's 13 strikes with 23 of his own, plus a takedown. The real bone of contention, then, lies in the fight's third and fourth rounds. By Fightmetric's reckoning, round three should be scored for Penn, who out-struck Edgar 11 to 10. Strangely, they consider the fourth round a draw, despite the fact that Edgar landed 14 strikes to Penn's 13. So, Penn edges ahead by one more punch, and wins round three, but Edgar does the same in the following five minute period and isn't given the nod. The confusion generated by such a troubling double-standard is compounded by the fact that many seem to be ignoring the full judging criteria.
While effective striking and grappling should be held in the highest regard when judging a fight, we can't forget that a victory in the UFC is defined by other qualities as well. Foremost among them is "Octagon control" (read: controlling the space of the fight, and the pitch of its flurries and scrambles). In rounds as closely contested as the third and fourth, then, surely a fighter's ability to dictate the pace of the fight can be weighed as a sort of tie-breaker. And, given Penn's extreme passivity in the fight's latter half, a razor-thin victory for Edgar based on his initiative and engagement in the last three rounds seems appropriate.
Anderson Silva, man, what in the hell?
In a full room at my parents' house, Anderson Silva's antics throughout the first five or so minutes of his title fight with Demian Maia were regarded with amusement, delight, and anticipation. As in "What a showman," and "Boy, is Demian Maia gonna catch a beating, or what?" As the fight wore on, however, dragging into minutes eight, nine, twelve, and so on, there was a change; an almost palpable, collective shift from admiration to confusion, irritation and, ultimately, a sort of caustic apathy. Those of us with something riding on the fight-not a financial investment, but an emotional one-were plunged even deeper. A sense of betrayal remains fresh.
I feel for Anderson Silva the same sort of bitterness we might reserve for a new friend acting a total shit: expecting much, having invited friends and family to meet him, we're horrified when he displays none of the wit or grace for which we'd begun to love him and, instead, seems to make a dedicated effort to embarrass us. We didn't know him well enough, and liked the guy too well, too fast. It's in this way that Silva's record sixth title defense-in which he taunted Maia, and essentially taunted the audience, for 25 straight minutes-is so disturbing. Following the virtuosity of his early title defenses we thought we had a good estimation of Silva, but it turns out maybe we didn't know him much at all. And post-fight interrogations have done little to clarify or contextualize Silva's seemingly malicious, pointlessly spiteful performance that night.
When asked why he treated the ritual of the title fight and the stoic but hapless Maia with such apparent contempt, the middleweight champ could only shrug. In the hours and days that followed, Silva would offer a nest of explanations so tangled, so contradictory, flimsy, and nonsensical, as to be painful. Imagine, if you will, that someone's words could kick your heart in the testicles, and you have a fair idea of how Silva's disinterested, blasé reaction to the whole thing feels for a dedicated fan. Anyway, with no real explanation forth-coming, the only thing we can really conclude is that UFC 112's disaster of a main event was, more than anything, a function of Anderson Silva's mercurial character. He has become, like many great and volatile artists and athletes, MMA's l'enfant terrible.
With Silva's temperamental nature now apparent, what can the UFC do? Nothing, really, except go about their business as usual. Trying to punish Silva with poor match-ups and crumby venues would constitute a game of chicken from which nobody would walk away unscathed (consider: the fans are bored by a poor match-up, the UFC suffers financially as a result, and Silva's remaining years in the sport are wasted. Nobody wins). At the same time, giving him some big opponent (big in name and size) would almost reward Silva's behavior. At this point, it seems like the only thing to do is refrain from letting such an unpredictable fighter anchor a high-profile event. As for the fans, maybe we should do our blood pressure a favor, and exercise a bit of Silva-esque detachment ourselves.
For champions new and champions infuriating, what next?
While a wealth of interesting lightweight bouts spring up in the wake of Frankie Edgar's upset victory, it looks like his first fight as champion will come as a re-match with B.J. Penn. Given that neither fighter looked especially dominant in their 25 minute affair, I guess this makes the most sense. Edgar approached last Saturday's bout with great verve, but didn't look as much of a destroyer as we'd probably like in a champion, and an immediate second fight with Penn would go a long way to establishing the title one way or the other.
As for Anderson Silva, a permanent move to light-heavyweight seems obvious. Indeed, given how much people clamor for Georges St. Pierre to pack on the pounds, I'd think that, for Silva, the jump in weight would be almost mandatory. Before he does, though, Silva has one last middleweight problem to solve, albeit an unexpected one. Chael Sonnen, claiming merciless victories over middleweight frontrunners Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt, is a true number one contender (a hundred times more so than Vitor Belfort, by the way, who has approximately zero wins over any ranked middleweight). Sonnen has earned the right to test his iron against the UFC's best fighter, and the fans are owed such a quality fight. Afterwards, pending Silva's success, let him move to 205 and deal with the Thiago Silvas and Quinton Jacksons of the UFC. It's long overdue.