Ross Pearson was robbed in the eyes of many. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Two fighters walk into a cage. Everyone knows and loves the first guy, and rightfully so. The other is a better all-around fighter, though less popular or, should I say, less recognizable. The athletes put on a show for 15 or 25 minutes -- whatever you prefer -- and, after a one-sided performance, the more familiar fighter gets the nod from the judges.
Oh, you’ve heard this one?
I guess everyone here is a pretty dedicated MMA fan, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Oh, you’re here because of our new boxing coverage? Change the 15 or 25 minutes to 30 or 36 minutes, and it’s a pretty common narrative, too, I imagine.
So how did we come to a place where Ross Pearson’s dominant win over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez on Saturday could remarkably turn into a split decision loss for “The Real Deal” in an Ultimate Fighting Championship co-main event?
No need to be schooled in Aristotelian philosophy to understand that there was fourth judge on the grassy knoll or that UFC President Dana White really, really, really wanted Sanchez to win or any of the other nonsense that splatted my inbox and Twitter feed in the hours following the -- hell, let’s call a spade a spade -- atrocious-by-any-standard decision.
How veteran MMA judge Jeff Collins could come up with a three-round shutout in favor of Sanchez baffles the mind; and Chris Tellez, who had it 29-28 for Sanchez, shouldn’t be getting off the hook, either.
Now that we have identified the problem, what are we going to do about it? It’s not like this is the first time this has happened. Is anyone going to step up and do something about judging in MMA before we end up with more fans claiming the fix is in before tuning out because they don’t feel there’s any integrity once a fight goes to the scorecards?
The people with the most to lose in this are nestled in the executive suite of Zuffa LLC in Las Vegas. The billion-dollar behemoth of the MMA world was the promoter of Pearson-Sanchez, as well as most significant bouts in the sport; and despite the fact that it was the New Mexico Athletic Commission sanctioning the Albuquerque fight card, its inability to get this decision even close to remotely right is going to have an effect on how people view the UFC.
We’ve heard White go off in the past about his views on some of the more controversial decisions, but what we haven’t seen is the world’s biggest MMA promoter push -- at least publically -- for some of the most egregious scorecard butchers to be sanctioned for their transgressions.
With that said, although the UFC is hurt the most, along with the fighters who are losing up to half their pay and a chance to advance their careers, it really doesn’t fall upon the promoter to fight this fight single-handedly. Regulators who oversee this sport have to come up with a way to ensure the people to whom they are entrusting fighter’s livelihoods understand what they’re doing.
There just doesn’t seem to be much accountability at the athletic commission level in a lot of states. Perhaps it’s time to figure out a way to incentivize these bodies to start holding their people’s feet to the fire when they turn in an indefensible scorecard. Unfortunately, we usually get a deflective response at best from commissions when their judges or referees are questioned. It’s almost like combat sports officials get the lifetime tenure reserved for Supreme Court justices and university professors. It’s almost like these people don’t want to admit they were wrong for putting suspect officials in position to fail in the first place ... or second, third, fourth, etc., for some of the most notorious offenders.
Maybe we’re on to something here. If there were a body that oversaw these commissions, then maybe there would be some accountability, some of you might say. Well, I give you the Association of Boxing Commissions. Oh wait, it’s too busy being embroiled in petty politicking to get much done. It also lacks the federal mandate for MMA that it has for boxing. Not that it matters much considering the United State Department of Justice has not moved on one complaint ABC members have forwarded. I guess it has understandably had a few more important things on its plate.
I’m guessing we won’t get a real response to this or many more bad decisions until it really starts to hurt people, namely on the bottom line. If enough fans get fed up with the chicanery that is MMA judging, they aren’t going to light the torches and head to their state athletic commission offices; they’re going to change the channel or stop ordering the pay-per-views. This isn’t an attractive option, but until it happens, it seems the powers that be will just keep trucking along, headed for the proverbial cliff.
As the UFC and MMA continue to proliferate to states and countries that really don’t do a ton of -- or any, for that matter -- high-end MMA regulation, I fear things are only going to get worse. Sadly, we’re probably going to hearing the one about three MMA judges walking into an arena again and again and again.
Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of Sherdog.com and can be reached via @TheSavageTruth on Twitter.