UFC 160: UFC Wrongly Scored Nurmagomedov's Mat Returns as Takedowns

Esther Lin for MMA Fighting

Takedowns factor hugely in MMA judging, and the UFC faithfully maintains takedown statistics, in spite of the fact that neither the Unified Rules nor the UFC actually define a takedown. This problem was illustrated at UFC 160 where stats showed Khabib Nurmagomedov converting a record number of takedowns despite the fact that any sensible definition of a takedown would not have included Khabib's mat returns.

If the UFC, and MMA in general, is going to keep track of takedowns, they should at least look into employing a reasonable definition of what constitutes a takedown. It's bad enough that in the process of judging a fight, takedowns are heavily overvalued, but both the world's leading MMA promotion and athletic commission judges who are scoring fights aren't employing an objective set of guidelines for what a takedown is, and what it isn't.

This problem is on display whenever Mike Goldberg identifies a wrestling sequence as a "takedown", though no control was ever established (I fear judges may do the same). It was particularly on display at UFC 160 where Khabib Nurmagomedov was awarded a UFC record for takedowns, in spite of the fact that most of what he was doing should never have been considered a takedown.

I think the task of keeping stats in combat sports to prove the worth or lack of worth of a combatant is largely an idiotic pursuit. The whole beauty and allure of combat sports is that stats are irrelevant because somebody gets their hand raised at the end. As a wrestling coach, I've had parents of my athletes vilify me for not placing importance on the numbers of escapes, reversals and takedowns they score throughout the year. Many of these parents didn't get it when I informed them that the only stat that really means anything is how many medal stands they stand on at the end of the season, and how high on them they stand. I always maintained a very faithful register of that statistic.

[Note: If you keep stats for the purpose of keeping track of what techniques work and what don't, with the intention of better preparing a fighter for future competition, then that is clearly not idiotic.]

Returning from my digression, the UFC seems like it's going to insist on keeping track of takedowns and takedown conversion ratios. I find this troubling as neither the UFC nor the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts promulgates a definition of what a takedown is (the Unified Rules allude to takedowns but don't define them). When they get around to it, such a promulgation should be modeled on the standards already set by the takedown experts- NCAA wrestling or Olympic styled wrestling.

FILA (international wrestling's sanctioning body) defines a takedown in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling as the following:

  • To the wrestler who brings his opponent to the ground by passing behind him, and while in this position holding him down with control (three points of contact: two arms and one knee or twoknees and one arm or the head).

The NCAA wrestling rule book defines a takedown thusly:

  • A takedown shall be awarded when, from the neutral position, a contestant gains control by taking the opponent down to the mat in bounds and beyond reaction time. When a significant portion of the defensive wrestler’s weight is borne on a hand(s), it is considered control.
Both of these definitions are fairly vague, but this rarely poses problems as referees in all these styles of wrestling rigorously apply well established conventions which answer any questions left open by the official rules. There are slight differences between what is conventionally called a takedown in the Olympic styles and the American scholastic style, and the UFC and athletic commissions should pick one set of conventions and use them as their official takedown definition.

Differences aside, the conventions and rules of all three styles of wrestling discussed in this post would conclude that the UFC should not have credited Khabib Nurmagomedov with many takedowns against Abel Trujillo at UFC 160. Neither Greco, freestyle, nor scholastic wrestling rewards a wrestler with a takedown for lifting and returning his opponent to the ground when his opponent stands up from underneath him, in a belly to back position, after a takedown has already been established. This is known as a "mat return", and in college wrestling scores no points. The most preeminent of the world's wrestling styles, do not score this as a takedown, nor should any. The concept of a takedown is predicated on achieving control, not on maintaining it.

Against Abel Trujillo, the UFC claims that Khabib Nurmagomedov set a takedown record in spite of the fact that it uses no objective definition of a takedown, and those objective definitions that are already established by various wrestling styles would exclude Khabib's mat returns. This is a problem. To fix this, the UFC and athletic commissions need to turn to the scoring conventions of a widely practiced wrestling style to produce a definition for a takedown. That which has no definition can mean anything, that which can mean anything means nothing; a take down in MMA ought to mean something.

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