No, you didn't misread the title. In his fight against Phil Davis last night, Lyoto Machida only did enough to win one single round, namely the third round of the UFC 163 co-main event. In the last round of the closely contested Light Heavyweight bout, The Dragon's takedown defense was flawless as he shrugged off four attempts from Mr Wonderful, outlanding the American in both power and total strikes along the way. Regardless of your application of the Unified Rules, 10-9 Machida is the only defensible score.
The first two rounds were an entirely different matter, though. While Machida landed some decent punches to the head in the first, his offense was fairly negligible and largely offset by Davis' kicks. In the second, Davis finished strongly with knees to the body on the ground while avoiding the bulk of The Dragon's output. And in both rounds, Davis landed a takedown towards the end of the round. Mike Goldberg and Brian Stann may have made it seem as if Machida was winning clearly but the Brazilian's beautiful movement and control of the octagon belied the fact that he failed to clearly impose his will on his opponent.
I'm sure your pitchforks are well and truly sharpened by now - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of you never made it this far but instead already jumped into the comment section to furiously hurl insults my way - but before you lunge into a passionate tirade, please read on. Machida may not have won more than one round but here's the kicker: that's still one round more than Phil Davis deserved.
Pictured: A young Cecil Peoples puts the final touches on his Bisping-Hamill scorecard (Peoples scored the fight 29-28 Bisping).
B-but ... who won the other two rounds, then? The keener minds will already have sussed out where I'm going with this but for anyone incapable of wrapping their heads around non-10-9 scores, here's an excerpt from the Unified Rules as provided on ABC Boxing's homepage:
The following objective scoring criteria shall be utilized by the judges when scoring a round;
1. A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows dominance in a round;
I dare you to look into my virtual eyes and tell me that the first two rounds are not perfectly summed up by the above 10-10 definition. Whether you feel like Machida landed one or two more good punches per round or that Davis' takedowns gave him a slight edge, there was absolutely no dominance shown by either fighter. Said dominance was however clearly on display in the third round where Machida's moderate output far outdid Davis' non-existent offense.
From the same document on ABC Boxing's site, the following sentence jumps out:
Training should include comprehensive discussions surrounding what constitutes a 10-8 round while also noting that 10-10 rounds are available under the current scoring criteria.
This directly contradicts anecdotal evidence from, among others, BE community member and licensed judge mjanecek and MMADecisions.com, who both state that judges are dissuaded from applying 10-10s by the overseeing commissions, not to mention empirical evidence from MMADecisions.com that shows that only 23 fights in UFC history (around 1 in 100) have included a 10-10 round on a scorecard. With only 3 rounds available in most MMA fights, it doesn't take a great deal of guesswork to arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to the underlying rationale: a deep-seated, highly American fear of the draw.
A fundamental part of the European and South American phenomenon known to Muricans as sawker, draws are nowhere to be seen in the North American sports. Overtime is king and never does a sporting event end without a clear-cut winner. MMA is fundamentally different from stick-and-ball sports, however, from the lack of open scoring to the way more than half of the fights are never even scored because they end before the allotted 15 or 25 minutes. Most telling, perhaps, is the absence of actual, objective points/goals/runs. It does not logically follow that if one accomplishes X, Y points will be awarded. Why, then, this insistence on always finding a winner even in rounds where there is no discernible, measurable, objective difference between the output of the two fighters?
Forgetting the made-up division of fights into five-minute rounds for a moment, can you confidently state that Machida was outfought over the course of the fight? Did the fight leave you thinking that Davis outgunned him? More than anything, I find it impossible to say that Lyoto Machida lost that fight. Yes, the reality is that we live in a world in which fights are judged by three or five 5-minute intervals but the goal of the judging criteria and the application of them should be to qualitatively assert which fighter - if any - was superior. If the current
10 point 10-9 must system does not do the job then it should be changed.
And besides, there's no reason why the application of 10-10 rounds should necessarily lead to a huge amount of draws. For one, it takes opposing 10-9s combined with a 10-10 for a fight to end up as a draw and secondly, the UFC has already shown a willingness to utilise extra rounds in TUF fights as well as in the Flyweight Tournament (unfortunately, the Australian athletic commission was less willing). For a matchup featuring two mid-division fighters, a draw is a perfectly fine result if neither fighter shows dominance but for title fights and #1 contender fights - or simply all main card fights - an extra round would be an exciting and fair way to settle a close scrap.
Any round that could conceivably be scored 10-9 either way should automatically be a 10-10. Forcing a 10-9 means that one jab, one ineffectual takedown or one leg kick can mean a two-point swing, not to mention when vague criteria such as aggression and octagon control are responsible for deciding the outcome of a fight. Commissions and judges need to focus on implementing the 10-10 score, leading to increased fairness in addition to a don't-leave-it-to-the-judges-esque effect on fighters who would have to take more chances in order to assert their dominance or run the risk of not winning a round despite being in control.
Machida vs. Davis was a perfect example of a 30-28 or 30-29 fight. The 10-9 scorecard may be an old friend but it's past time we properly introduced its companion, the 10-10.