Rory MacDonald was comfortable with his night’s work—until the stunning verdict was read.
Gleison Tibau sprang a shocking upset under the Professional Fighters League marquee when he claimed a controversial split decision from the former Bellator MMA and King of the Cage champion in the PFL 5 headliner on June 17 at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28: Eric Colon for MacDonald, Dave Tirelli and Cardo Urso for Tibau. In an instant, Sherdog’s 2021 “Robbery of the Year” was born.
“I’m very disappointed,” MacDonald said afterward. “I believe… everyone I talked to, everybody online scored the fight for me. Even three rounds to zero, and I think it was a clear robbery. I thought I was dominant in this fight, but it was a hard fight. Gleison brought it, and respect to him, but I believe that I clearly won that fight and I think that this should be looked into.”
MacDonald entered the cage as a prohibitive favorite and appeared to control a majority of the action with deft footwork, a sharp jab and front kicks to the body. He did some of his best work in Round 1, where he scrambled onto Tibau’s back and threatened with a rear-naked choke. To his credit, the American Top Team-trained Brazilian refused to yield to those advances. Tibau fought through two inadvertent eye pokes, relied heavily on his left hand and grew increasingly effective at staving off the Canadian’s bid for takedowns. It was enough to sway the judges.
MacDonald—who had made a successful PFL debut two months prior when he submitted fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Curtis Millender with a first-round rear-naked choke—was stunned by the outcome, along with the vast majority of the mixed martial arts community.
“I was totally sure I had [won]. I was so surprised when the first judge they announced scored it for [Tibau]. I was shocked,” he said. “When I heard the split decision that he got, I was blown away. I mean, what do you say? I just didn’t see it that way at all.”
The result impacted MacDonald’s seeding in the welterweight tournament later in the year and forced him into a semifinal showdown with Ray Cooper III, the heavy-handed Hawaiian who won the 2019 PFL championship. Cooper defeated MacDonald by unanimous decision to advance to the 170-pound final, where he knocked out Magomed Magomedkerimov to become a two-time PFL tournament winner.
MacDonald views the Tibau decision as part of much wider problem in the sport.
“We shouldn’t have to [worry about decisions] as fighters, as competitors,” he said. “We should be able to fight and rest easy that we have competent, fair, truthful judging in our sport. It shouldn’t be something that we have to worry about and stick our necks out on the line and our health to do something stupid. It’s just crazy. We don’t have this in any other major sporting event. It just seems like over and over and over again we’re getting this in our sport, and it’s just a real shame.”
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