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Scouring the scoring: Who deserved the UFC Vegas 32 win, Cory Sandhagen or T.J. Dillashaw?

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UFC Vegas 32 put a spotlight on MMA judging, no fight was more high stakes than Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw

Heading into Saturday’s UFC Vegas 32 main event, T.J. Dillashaw had not stepped into the UFC octagon since December 2019 thanks to a two-year doping suspension. Dillashaw, who surrendered the UFC bantamweight title after his failed drug test for EPO, faced the No. 2 ranked 135-pound UFC contender, Cory Sandhagen in that fight. Dillashaw left the Octagon after 25 minutes of action in very different shape from how he entered it, but he also left with a win. Was his victory the correct call?

I’ll discuss the outcome and the scoring of the five-round matchup between Sandhagen and Dillashaw in the latest edition of “Scouring the Scoring”

For background on the “Scouring the Scoring” series and details on the review process, GO HERE.

The judges for the bout were Derek Cleary, Sal D’Amato and Junichiro Kamijo. All three scored the first three stanzas in the same manner, 9-10, 10-9 and 9-10 in favor of Dillashaw. Their scoring differed in the fourth and fifth rounds. With those two rounds making the difference, that is the 10 minutes of action I focused on.

The fight had close to zero grappling and because one of the two men had the better striking in each round, there was no need for me to look past the first scoring criteria in the priority criteria. That is to say, the only thing to look at in this fight was the “Effective Striking/Grappling.”

Effective Striking/Grappling

“Legal blows that have immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute towards the end of the match with the IMMEDIATE weighing in more heavily than the cumulative impact. Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match, with the IMMEDIATE weighing more heavily than the cumulative impact.”

It shall be noted that a successful takedown is not merely a changing of position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown.

First, I would implore those who rewatch this fight to mute the commentary. One reason to do so is because the judges do not hear the commentary. The second and much more important reason is that the commentary lent nothing but confusion to those trying to adhere to the scoring criteria in the Unified Rules of MMA. To be blunt, the UFC commentary team at UFC Vegas 32, contributed to the uncertainty around the scoring of this fight and others on the card.

In the fourth round, Dillashaw landed some hard leg kicks and perhaps those kicks might have had some cumulative effect on Sandhagen, they did not have an immediate effect. I could not say the same of Sandhagen’s strikes. Those had an immediate impact on the fight. Sandhagen re-opened the cut above Dillashaw’s eye and more tellingly, his strikes, especially his straight punches, either stopped Dillashaw in his tracks or snapped his head back on impact. Sandhagen also landed a significant spinning technique in the closing seconds of the round.

Junichiro Kamijo was the judge to score this round for Dillashaw. Going strictly by the priority scoring criteria, this is the wrong score.

The fifth round was closer as Dillashaw upped his striking output, increased his head strikes and landed with power that had an immediate effect on the fight. However, that power did not score as strongly as that of his opponent.

Like the fourth round, Sandhagen was the more effective striker and like the fourth round, striking was the only criteria that could be used for scoring this round according to the Unified Rules of MMA.

D’Amato scored the final round for Dillashaw. I will say the fifth stanza was closer than the fourth, but I still think Sandhagen was the clear winner of both rounds and therefore I believe he should have won the fight.

For those wondering why I made no mention of Dillashaw’s control or his pushing the action, it’s because according to the priority criteria those things are only considered when:

“Fighting Area Control” shall only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling and Effective Aggressiveness is 100% equal for both competitors. This will be assessed very rarely.

With that, there was no reason to look at Dillashaw’s control or moving forward because Sandhagen had dominated the striking.

Sandhagen was disappointed in the scoring, “I know I had him hurt more times than me,” Sandhagen told ESPN. “I think I was landing the way cleaner shots. I was picking him apart. I guess I should’ve done more. That’s on me. … I told myself I was winning the fifth round. I thought that I did. I don’t know. What can you do? I thought I made really good adjustments as the fight was going on. What can you do? I guess I’ll learn from it. I’ll still be world champ. I’ll still do all the things I said I was going to do. I just have got to learn and get better, I guess.”

One thing that was shocking was this was not the worst scoring of the night, that was reserved for the Maycee Barber vs. Miranda Maverick fight, which went to Barber.