UFC Fight Night 29 was yet another reminder of officiating woes of UFC international events. The UFC's hand-picked referees and judges came to the event and yet again it was a comedy of errors. The card was riddled with split decisions and poor stand ups, many of them the result of repeat offenders that are contractually asked back by the UFC and Marc Ratner to officiate their events.
Mario Yamasaki allowed blatant fence-grabbing that radically change the course of a fight; Marc Goddard with very quick stand ups or break ups, some coming at critical moments; and judges making consistent errors in scoring.
All that combined with poor performances and antics by fighters combined for the kind of night that sucks the fun out of MMA.
- Jake Shields received a very tepid decision over Demian Maia, in a decision that was wrong. The first round was clearly Maia's round as he took Shields down, passed guard and then took the back. Shields was able to get a late reversal and finish the round on top, and sadly that is all that matters at times in MMA scoring. I personally scored the second and third for Shields, though the third round was very close, and the last two rounds for Maia. This fight brings up the worst of MMA judging and awarding rounds to fighters who spend part of the round on top trying to pass guard, failing to actually pass the guard, yet being awarded the round because of top position without regard to what is actually happening in the match.
- The first three rounds of the fight were a very fun, technical grappling battle that I think delivered about the best kind of action this match up could provide. It was a very tactical battle with short explosions of action. Shields was game, and engaged with Maia on the ground for much of the fight. But for some judges and fans it really seems like judging grappling just comes down to a simple matter of who was on top longer, simply last. While I did feel Shields got the better for the grappling in the second round, at no other point did I feel he really did enough in a round grappling-wise to justify winning the fight. Getting takedown consistently, your guard passed, your back taken, and then escaping to end up in Maia's guard and then fighting to pass the guard and never accomplishing that does not constitute winning the grappling. It was not a blow out for Maia by any means, but pretty clearly in his favor the majority of that fight. The best way I can express my frustration is to say these two men engaged in an excellent and well contested game of chess, and then it became clear the judges thought they were watching checkers.
- Both fighters suffered from this fight, Shields barely earned a decision and in a way that doesn't convince me he can compete at the upper levels of this division. And for Maia, if he wants to be a contender in this weight class he can't be giving away rounds to a fighter like Shields. Maia is 35 years old and if he wants a shot at the 170 lb title he needs to get another signature win quickly. And for Shields, even with this win, I very much doubt we will ever see him in a UFC title picture again.
- Dong Hyun Kim pulled off a simply amazing knockout of Erick Silva, throwing a powerful left hand while slipping out of the way of an Silva power shot. That should not gloss over the fact that Kim was getting beaten badly on the feet beforehand and was literally just charging forward at times without even an attempt at footwork. But Kim did look excellent on the ground, stifling Silva with strong grappling. Kim is an elite Welterweight in that he will beat the middling guys, but I saw little here to convince me he is a threat to any top 5 fighter.
- Erick Silva has hit a crossroads. He is clearly talented, dynamic, and dangerous everywhere, but that is not translating into consistent success. He has not won back-to-back fights in the UFC, he is turning 30 in less than a year and the clock is ticking as he is no longer a prospect. He is a fighter in his prime who needs to deliver on that talent soon or his time will pass and his career will be one of potential not realized.
- Thiago Silva clearly defeated Matt Hamill in a win that did him almost no good moving forward. Silva was clearly badly out of shape as he missed weight and ran out of energy very quickly. It's unclear what caused Silva to be so out of shape - maybe an injury limiting training or a simple lack of focus - but the Brazilian struggled very badly with a Hamill that clearly should have stayed retired.
- Fabio Maldonado and Joey Beltran had a sloppy brawl that was not a particularly entertaining fight. Maldonado, while pushed as a boxer, is really just a puncher as his defensive skills are non-existent and Beltran is pretty much all grit and heart. Beltran was able to stifle Maldonado's hands with clinch fighting but it was Maldonado walked away with the win in a terrible decision.
- Rousimar Palhares got a quick leglock win over Mike Pierce, proving again how dangerous he is on the ground. But other than that we learned nothing about Palhares. He retreated poorly in the face of Pierce's strikes and his grappling is still based around diving for legs. So while it was an impressive win, this is still likely the same flawed fighter that fizzled out at Middleweight.
- At this point it can be said, Palhares is a dirty fighter. Yet again Palhares continued to torque a submission deeper after the tap and after the ref stepped in. It has happened in both MMA and sport grappling. Maybe he doesn't understand what he is doing, maybe it is a calculated move to intimidate future opponents. But continuing on submissions after the fight has ended in the past has resulted in harsh punishments. Renato "Babalu" Sobral was expelled from the UFC for refusing to release a choke on David Heath until he was unconscious. This isn't quite that serious but Palhares should be hit with a hefty fine - fighters must respect the referee's ability to halt a fight. Not giving him the Submission of the Night bonus was a start, but Dana White promised more punishment and there needs to be follow through here.
- Raphael Assuncao and T.J. Dillashaw put on an excellent scrap. Assuncao showing off improved striking to go with his always-threatening submission game. Dillashaw had excellent scrambles on the mat and made this a razor-close fight.
- Yan Cabral just put on a masterful display of jiu jitsu top game prowess against David Mitchell, slicing through the guard, putting intense pressure down, threatening submissions, and winning basically every transition in the entire fight. Mitchell did well to escape and fight off submissions but it was a very one-sided and impressive win for Cabral. Already 30, Cabral will have to shore up his ability to close distance and wrestle if he wants to contend but everything is there on the ground for Cabral to contend at Welterweight.
- Iliarde Santos got off to an excellent start against Chris Cariaso mostly because of his excellent and smooth grappling, in addition to some strong if sloppy striking. But the wheels fell off for Santos in the second round as Cariaso hurt the Brazilian with strikes on the feet. Santos never seemed to recover, slowing badly in the second round and going completely away from his grappling. Despite the loss Santos could still make noise in the very new Flyweight division as he won basically every scramble, and might need to simply focus more on getting fights to the mat more often and not trying to throw hands on the feet.