MMA judging is notoriously bad, never was that fact more at the forefront of my mind than as Bruce Buffer announced the judge's decision at the end of UFC 167. I was lucky enough to have seen the fight on an IMAX screen at my local movie theater, and it made for a unique experience. The crowd was amped, yet polite. I thought: "This must be what it's like to watch fights in Japan."
But that's another topic for another time.
As the words "Winner by split decision" rolled off of Buffer's tongue, I felt a brick drop in my gut. Like most people who's opinions I've heard, I'd scored the fight handily for Hendricks. Not only that, but for once I wasn't blind drunk by the time the main event came around. Sadly, I can't be sneaking flasks into movie theaters anymore, I'm damn near 30. I figured this was the most objective I'd ever been (or was likely to ever be) during a title match.
When Georges St-Pierre's hand was raised, I booed along with 60% of the theater, a very telling statistic in hindsight. I found myself swept up in the emotion of the moment, and screamed that it was "a terrible decision." Without having watched the fight a second time, I thought that it would be difficult to find an argument for giving the fight to GSP, other than judge bias.
Then I examined the fight metric numbers from the first round, which were very close.
Via Fight Metric:
In the first, Hendricks was ahead on total strikes, but not significant strikes. GSP was ahead by one significant strike in the first round. However, in my eyes Johny clearly did more damage with his offense. GSP's face was a mess as soon as Hendricks started landing elbows with his back against the cage, and Georges didn't really gain any significant amount of control with his grappling until later in the fight.
My initial summation was that the 1st round showcased Johny's aggression and cage control more than GSP's movement and positioning. I thought it was a close fight, but not so close as to whether there should be any reasonable doubt that Hendricks won. The only thing I could think of at the time was that GSP had a more impressive takedown and threatened with a submission, it seemed that 2 of the judges weighed that more heavily than the damaging strikes that Hendricks landed.
The whole thing looked really cut and dry from my vantage point, and I still think Hendricks did more damage in the first round, despite the close numbers. It seemed like an argument between damage and activity. Georges was more active, but Johny did more damage, or at least it looked like it. Damage isn't actually scored under the current MMA criteria, however, effectiveness is. Which, in my mind, is kind of stupid. What's a better measure of effectiveness than the damage dealt? I understand the argument that some guys are just bleeders, but it always bothers me when I see the dude with the jacked up face get his hand raised.
Effectiveness and efficiency (clean strikes and volume of strikes) are given priority under the official criteria. With the actual striking numbers being so close, the judges must have looked at who was being the busier fighter. And as far as looking busier goes, that man was Georges. He threw 9 more strikes than Hendricks, attempted one more takedown, and threatened with a submission. If you don't take the actual damage dealt into account, then the round suddenly becomes much closer. Though Johny had a good bit of cage control and aggression, powerful knee strikes, the aforementioned elbows, and a few deadly punches.
So it was still a tossup.
One thing I hadn't considered before I re-watched the fight: anytime Hendricks landed a shot, Joe Rogan screamed about how hard it was. When I re-watched this fight, I'll did so on mute it to see if that made any difference. I was staggered by how much of a difference it made.
Sans everyone's favorite comedian/cage commentator's vocal outbursts and crowd reactions, a very different picture began to emerge. Once I re-watched the first round I could definitely see an argument for GSP winning it.
On the second viewing of the first round, I used the minute by minute scoring system, in which one pays attention to effective and efficient offense on a minute by minute basis. I'm not sure MMA is supposed to be judged this way, but since they copy boxing in everything else, I figured this was a good method to try out.
Using this system, I scored 1st minute for Georges, the 2nd and 3rd for Hendricks, and the 4th and 5th for Georges. He was working more for longer periods of time. He may not have landed the more damaging strikes, and it's very arguable who had cage control for longer because the grappling exchanges in the first were extremely even, but he was definitely throwing kicks at a higher frequency and appeared to be the more active of the two.
I really wouldn't have minded a 10-10 score card for this round. Both guys landed good shots, Hendricks had two powerful strikes that really stood out: an uppercut counter and a knee, while Georges got in a few jabs, some body kicks, and one decent head kick. They had a take down a piece and were nearly equivalent in their control of one another against the cage.
The x factors here are the knee strikes Johny kept throwing while they were clinched, those looked very effective, but I don't think were scored quite as highly as they might have been; as well as the elbow strikes that swelled up GSP's eye. These were hard strikes but they were in response to being caught in a bad position, so that's another difficult situation to score.
And also it's debatable which strikes were judged to have landed cleanly. Many of GSP's strikes could have touched Hendricks without hurting him, and still be called effective. It all depends on the angle the judges were looking from.
Upon silent review, this round was much closer than it first appeared, and can easily be judged for either fighter. Though I don't personally agree with this logic, MMA judging has historically shown that a tie goes to the champion, and thus you have a solid argument for Georges deserving his 9th consecutive title defense.
I'm still not sure it was the correct call, but I definitely think Dana White's outburst during the press conference was a bit premature now. My personal feeling is that Hendricks still "won" the fight. Fortunately though, I no longer feel like it was a robbery. This was a fight that really could have gone either way, and that allows me to feel a few things as a fan that I would have been deprived of before:
- Happy for St. Pierre
- Grateful for an untainted classic
- Excited for a well-deserved rematch (rather than annoyed at having to go through a result I've already seen)
- And irritated at Dana White for completely forgoing any sense of loyalty or empathy for Rush. Seriously? One misstep and you throw the guy under the bus? For shame Mr. White, for shame.
It also doesn't hurt that I was rooting for Georges in the first place. It was quite an emotional burden feeling disappointed by the success of one of my perennial favorites. Mostly, I take this moment in MMA history as a learning experience. If you'd asked me my opinion as I walked toward my car, I would have given you an earful about the inadequacy of NSAC regulations as vitriolic and venomous as ever you heard. Now that I've calmed down and analyzed the results more thoroughly, I find I'm at peace with just about everything, and that I had an awesome night watching some incredible fights.
Final summation? I'm an overly emotional and reactionary fan that should just keep his mouth shut while the blood is running hot... and I probably will continue to do exactly the opposite. But at least I can be optimistic for the moment.