The weeks leading into UFC 127 revealed brilliant match making by Joe Silva and the UFC. Pundits, fans, and fighters alike were split down the middle on who would win the welterweight number one contender’s fight between Jon Fitch and BJ Penn. The media-crafted narrative was an intriguing one. Penn would use superior boxing to win on the feet and a dangerous grappling to attack and defend on the ground. Meanwhile Fitch would clinch up, tire BJ out, and use conservative ground and pound after completing take downs.
What actually transpired is a testament to the growth and development of the sport as a whole. BJ took Fitch out of his element with successful takedown attempts in the first and second round, while Fitch deftly reversed each time Penn took his back. Fitch managed several decent punches on his feet. While Fitch clearly won round three by a large margin, this fight joins a growing list of closely contested fights like Rampage vs. Machida, Machida vs. Shogun I, and BJ vs. Edgar I. As a fan, these are the types of matches I want to see. They let me know that the sport is growing, that fighters are becoming more skilled and well-rounded.
Each of these fights mentioned above share a commonality in addition to impressive displays of an elite MMA games from each competitor. Without fail, there is little to no consistency in scoring during these tight match ups. A popular inclination is to blame the judges – but I’d rather save my vitriol for Ring vs. Fukuda. It is simply a reality that at the highest levels of competition, the unified rules softer than we would like. While Luke Thomas scored the fight for Penn (I assume 10-9 P, 10-9 P, 10-9 F), Penn himself succinctly stated he didn’t believe he won. I scored the fight 29-27 Fitch, with the second round as a draw, and the third round a 10-8 in Fitch’s favor, and several variations of the theme with rounds one and three split between the pair and round two given to either or neither man would have left me feeling just fine.
With opinions ranging drastically from person to person, it is clear that the system needs augmentation or reconsideration. What is worth more points, Penn attaining back mount and searching for subs, or Fitch reversing position and offering some Ground and Pound? If a fighter gets points for a last minute take down – imposing his will – should his opponent be rewarded the same amount, or even at all if he stops the attempt? I don’t know the answer to all these questions, but they are things we need to carefully consider. Our sport is young, our fighters evolve, and the rules should too.