It's fortunate that UFC 131 ended with only one fight truly marred by judges. Two fights -- Kenny Florian vs. Diego Nunes and Demian Maia vs. Mark Munoz -- featured a 30-27 scorecard despite the losing fighter clearly winning at least one round. Another fight -- the opener between Michihiro Omigawa and Darren Elkins -- featured another 30-27 card. This time, however, it was accompanied by two 29-28s against the fighter most felt won the bout.
Dana White, never shy about criticizing officials, blasted the night's judging following the event, and, in an not unprecedented move, announced that Omigawa, the losing fighter in question, would receive his win bonus anyway.
"I veto, man. I don't think he [Omigawa] lost. We're going to pay you your money," White told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani. "And we're going to treat you like you won."
- Jonathan Tweedale, the Commissioner of the Vancouver Athletic Commission, makes a case for Elkins at SBNation.
In many respects, White's policy is a godsend. The disheartened fighter who hears Bruce Buffer announce his opponent's name can find solace in both his pocket and employer. It's good to know that your fate does not lie in what, at times, appears to be the game of chance.
That said, White's decision to ignore results handed down by the commissions -- the same commissions, mind you, that he defers to on issues like head trauma and drug testing -- opens up a set of question not so easily answered.
For starters, what about those fighters on the short end of the decision who aren't fortunate enough to have the "Dana White Scorecard" in their favor? Lyoto Machida, perhaps not unanimously, is thought by many fans to have beaten Quinton Jackson at UFC 123. The live crowd booed the decision. The crowd at my local Buffalo Wild Wings booed. Jackson looked incredulous as the scores were read. FightMetric, while not siding with Machida, scored the fight as a draw. Machida certainly didn't convince the most important person in the world, however.
"Rampage is slumping down and raising the other guy's hand and acting like he lost. ... That's not the fight I saw," White told Sergio Non of USA TODAY. "I think Rampage was the aggressor. He moved forward the entire fight."
Thus, Machida left Detroit, Michigan, without a win bonus or a chance to avenge the loss in a rematch.
Take, In a more cynical example, Jon Fitch's performance against B.J. Penn at UFC 127. The fight, even from the most anti-Fitch point of view, hinged on the scoring of a close second round. Throw in what should be a universal 10-8 round (Fitch took Penn down three times while outlanding Penn 149-2 in the striking deparment), and you have a score, at worst, as the draw the fight ended up as.
"I didn't think it was a draw. I looked at the scorecards and the two judges who had it a draw scored the first two rounds for Penn and the third round a 10-8 [for Fitch]," White told ESPN. "Personally, I scored the first two rounds for Penn and had him winning the fight. There's no doubt B.J. got pounded in the third round, but that wasn't a 10-8 round."
Due to the ambiguous nature of the decision, the UFC scheduled a rematch for Fitch and Penn, which dissipated when both fighters pulled up lame with injuries.
And what of the "winners" in fights? Let's go back to the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale. Leonard Garcia "defeated" Nam Phan by his patented split decision. Dana White didn't see it that way, and awarded Phan his win bonus. Garcia, according to the official NSAC report, received his win bonus as well.
But if the UFC is treating Phan and his ilk as the rightful winners, how are they treating Garcia in terms of career path? Like Fitch and Penn, Phan and Garcia were scheduled for a rematch before Chan Sung Jung replaced an injured Phan.
We might find some answers in the case of Matt Hamill. Hamill earned a "W" on his record after an unfortunate bit of officiating led to Jon Jones being disqualified for throwing "12-to-6" elbows from the mount. Hamill next fought Keith Jardine, which, at best, would be described as a lateral move, and would more honestly be described as a clear step down in competition.
The issue, again, isn't such a concern in clear cut situations as Hamill vs. Jones or in nearly every fight Leonard Garcia took to the cards. The issue is where the line is drawn. If the judges had awarded the decision to Jon Fitch at UFC 127, would B.J. Penn have received his win bonus and a wink and nod from White? If "Rampage" Jackson sulked in defeat at UFC 123, would he still be scheduled to fight Jon Jones in the fall?
And, join me if you will, on the wonderful ride I call the Slippery Slope for a moment. If White is willing to, openly and brashly, ignore the decision of the judges cageside, why bother with them at all? It's clear that White holds contempt for the lot of them (with reason, as his fanbase shares the sentiment), so why not cut them out altogether? Sure, they can continue showing up and scoring fights and having those results entered into the commissions records, but imagine a scenario where UFC production cuts to White, who, in lieu of Bruce Buffer announcing the official decision, stares into the cage, points to one of the fighters, and awards him (or, perhaps, one day, her) the decision like the Roman emperors of old.
Because, you see, it's not that I'm particularly distrustful of Dana White and the UFC. Rather, I'm distrustful of all promoters in general. Should we not be skeptical of White's ability to remain objective in situations where a popular, drawing fighter (like "Rampage" or Penn) meets a "boring" fighter who is not as lucrative for business (like Machida or Fitch)? White and co. have built up enough goodwill over the years, that it's fair to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to committing truly nefarious acts normally associated with the Shaw family. It's the narrower decisions, however, and the decisions where the stakes are raised that we must watch with cautious eyes.