A middleweight showdown will be featured in tonight’s episode, as Team Edgar’s Ian Stephens will do battle with Team Penn’s Roger Zapata.
Team Edgar’s Corey Anderson successfully evened the overall score with his decision win over Josh Clark last week, and the ledger now stands at two victories apiece.
Stephens and several teammates have gathered around the fire pit at the fighter house, and Stephens tells his roommates that his father -- a professional installer of air conditioners -- was electrocuted during one job that went horribly wrong. Stephens, who was six at the time of his father’s untimely death, says that growing up without his dad inspired him to compete as hard as he could, a mentality that his stuck with him to this day.
Frankie Edgar expects Stephens’ superior wrestling ability to pay dividends come fight time, and he instructs his fighter to take his opponent’s back and go for a quick finish if possible.
Meanwhile, Zapata is missing his newborn daughter, whom he only saw for a few days before packing up to compete on “The Ultimate Fighter.” Zapata says that his daughter is providing him with additionally motivation to fight even harder in the competition.
Later, B.J. Penn introduces a special guest coach, UFC Hall of Famer and two-time welterweight champion, Matt Hughes. Though Penn and Hughes fought three times in their careers, they have since become buddies. Penn’s fighters are grateful to have Hughes in the gym, and the former champ works with Zapata specifically on his wrestling against the fence.
Stephens and Zapata make their final pre-fight preparations and then hit the Octagon. Edgar’s man feints from the outside for about a minute before driving hard for a takedown. Zapata sprawls against the cage and works his way back up, but Stephens hits a colossal gut-wrench and slams him back to the mat. Referee Steve Mazzagatti warns Zapata several times for throwing 12-to-6 elbows. Penn’s fighter tries to scramble and shuck him off, but Stephens is all over him, riding him every step of the way. Stephens finally manages to sink in both hooks, but Zapata rolls into his guard with just 10 seconds remaining. Stephens quickly explodes to his feet, and the men finish the round in a neutral clinch.
Stephens launches a right hand and immediately shoots a takedown to begin round two. Zapata initially stuffs it, but his diligent opponent eventually drags him down and climbs on top. Edgar’s fighter threatens with an arm-triangle setup, using it to take Zapata’s back. Stephens cannot find the rear-naked choke, however, and Zapata does his best to land punches as his corner screams at him to explode up. Zapata works his way to his knees and tries to roll his opponent off, but Stephens stays sticky and maintains his control. Penn’s fighter finally manages to pull out one of Stephens’ hooks and squirts away, but Stephens is right back on him. Zapata works back to his feet and lands a few punches and elbows, but Stephens will not break his grip on a body lock as the round comes to an end.
The judges are apparently split in their appraisal of the two rounds, and so a third period will be required to decide a winner. The men briefly exchange standing, though Stephens soon drives for a single-leg takedown once again. Zapata gives up his back, but a fatigued Stephens allows him to escape and land several nice elbows on his way back up. However, Zapata is once again playing fast and loose with the controversial 12-to-6 elbow rule, and Mazzagatti warns him to control his techniques. Zapata lands more elbows, and the referee suddenly steps in and penalizes him a point.
“You give a warning for downward elbows. You don’t take a point,” says UFC President Dana White, who apparently did not hear Mazzagatti warn Zapata multiple times throughout the contest.
Stephens takes a minute to compose himself as White walks away, announcing that the middleweight is “milking it.” Stephens is certainly weary, but his hair is also soaked in blood due the elbows, several of which did look questionable.
The action resumes, and Stephens immediately shoots for a takedown. Zapata hits him with a few clean elbows to the temple, but Stephens nevertheless drags him down to the canvas and gradually works his way to his back. Stephens has a bad habit of crossing his feet in this position, and Zapata has been trying to exploit it with an ankle lock throughout the bout, but he just can’t find the leverage. Stephens is doing virtually no damage, but he does manage to finish the round with a nice flurry and land his cleanest punches of the fight.
In the post-fight breakdown, White reiterates his frustration about the point deduction, emphasizing that Mazzagatti should have been clearer and given a definitive final warning before taking the point and potentially altering the bout’s outcome. This is a more defensible argument.
Mazzagatti announces “Ian Zapata” as the winner by decision, much to the delight of the blue corner. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense, since Zapata’s first name is Roger, and he was penalized a point, meaning he would have needed a 10-8 round in order to win the third frame. If they scored it 10-9 Zapata, then it would have been a 9-9 round, and there should have been another “sudden victory” period at the very least.
After Team Penn explodes with jubilation, Team Edgar pleads their case, which appears to be a sound one. White is also mystified at the verdict, which is apparently not going to be overturned.
At the fight pick, White explains the method behind the decision. One judge gave the final frame to Stephens, resulting in a 10-8 round for the Team Edgar rep. The other two judges scored the third round 10-9 Zapata, which became 9-9 scores due to the point deduction. However, instead of sending the majority draw to a fourth round, procedure apparently dictates that the two judges who scored the fight 28-28 simply circle the name of the man they felt won. Both judges circled Zapata’s name, and the Team Penn fighter was declared the winner.
The verdict results in Team Penn regaining control of the fight pick, and “The Prodigy” selects light heavyweight Anton Berzin to lock horns with Team Edgar’s Patrick Walsh next week.