UFC 93 Notebook: Judging Judges

By Brian Knapp Jan 19, 2009
The subject of judging fights has become a sore spot for the UFC and its fan base, and two split decisions on Saturday did nothing to soothe matters.

Two-time Olympian Dan Henderson defeated former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin by split decision in the UFC 93 main event at the O2 Arena in Dublin, Ireland. Two judges scored the bout in his favor by identical 29-28 counts. British judge Chris Watts, however, rendered a baffling 30-27 verdict in Franklin’s favor that left both men dumbfounded.

“I normally try and stay away from judges’ decisions,” Henderson said. “That’s why they’re there -- to judge the fight. There’s no way I would’ve ever thought of Rich winning all three rounds. It was a little bit odd for me to hear that.”

Henderson (24-7) appeared to win the first round rather decisively, as he grounded Franklin early and delivered a number of unanswered punches while the two men fought against the cage. Round two felt much closer, though Henderson again scored from top position after a takedown. Franklin (24-4, 1 NC) seemed to control the third with kicks to the body and other effective strikes.

“At the worst, I would’ve given him the third round,” Henderson said. “I was out there fighting, and for some reason, [Watts] must have had the bad angle every time.”

Watts has now been involved in at least two controversial decisions overseas. He was cage-side for the UFC 75 match between Michael Bisping and Matt Hamill and was the only judge to score the bout in Hamill’s favor -- he ruled it 30-27. That night, however, the two American judges who sided with Bisping -- Cecil Peoples and Jeff Mullen -- came under fire.

The Henderson-Franklin verdict was not the only one under the microscope at UFC 93.

Welterweight slugger Marcus Davis captured a split decision from Chris Lytle in another televised bout. All three judges saw the match 29-28, two of them in Davis’ favor.

Perhaps no fighter in the mixed martial arts world has a bigger beef with judges than Lytle (26-17-5). Five of his fights have ended in draws, and 15 of his 17 career defeats have come by decision -- five of them of the non-unanimous variety. That includes his narrow split decision loss to Matt Serra at “The Ultimate Fighter 4” Finale in November 2006, which cost him a shot at the welterweight title.

“When I fight, I never can tell what exactly they’re looking at,” Lytle said. “I could win all three rounds, and sometimes, I have no idea if I won the fight. I’ve lost a lot of split decisions I thought I won.”

Lytle expected the decision at UFC 93 to go to Davis (16-4), but he admits he sees judging MMA fights as an inexact science.

“I thought there was a good possibility he’d won, but you just really don’t know,” he said. “That happens a lot in fights.”

‘Shogun’ Under Fire

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was left to answer his critics in wake of his sloppy technical knockout victory against Mark Coleman at UFC 93.

In two appearances inside the Octagon, the dynamic 27-year-old Brazilian has shown little of the flare that made him a superstar in Japan during his days with the Pride Fighting Championships promotion. Rua (17-3) -- who appeared exhausted by the second round in his rematch with Coleman -- blamed a lengthy layoff that resulted from two surgeries for his subpar conditioning.

“I stayed sidelined for a year and a half,” he said. “I went through surgeries, and that was not easy. That took a lot of my conditioning.”

Rua finished an equally worn out Coleman (15-9) with a third-round combination against the fence. The 44-year-old UFC hall of famer went to his knees after absorbing a brutal uppercut and was not afforded an opportunity to continue. The action was halted with 24 seconds remaining in the bout.

“It’s one thing to train, another thing to fight,” Rua said. “When you get back to fighting, you’ve got to get back in rhythm, so I paid a price because of that. I’m sure that by my next fight I’ll be more prepared, in better shape and in better condition.”

The 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix winner will square off with former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell at UFC 97 on April 18 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Despite two lackluster performances, Rua still considers himself a contender for the UFC’s 205-pound title.

“My dream is to have the UFC belt,” he said. “I know that my weight class is full of great fighters; it’s likely the toughest weight class in the world right now. I’m a guy with many dreams. All I have to think about is my next fight. I have to focus on my next fight, train for my next fight and take on step at a time.”

UFC Awards $240K in Post-Fight Bonuses

Davis and Lytle promised the “Fight of the Night” at UFC 93, and they delivered.

The two welterweights earned matching $40,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses after they engaged in a three-round stand-up war on Saturday. Davis earned a split decision from the judges, as he won for the 12th time in 13 fights.

“We both said we wanted to do this because we knew we could bring it out of each other and have an exciting fight,” Davis said.

The 34-year-old Lytle agreed.

“I thought the fight was fantastic,” he said. “It was kind of the reason I wanted the fight. I knew we’d stand, we’d hit each other a lot, and that’s the kind of fight I’m into right now.”

The thrill of fighting in front of nearly 10,000 Irishmen left Davis overwhelmed with emotion after he returned to his locker room. The UFC has played up Davis’ Irish heritage during its European stops, including two of them in Ireland. He knocked out Jason Tan at UFC 72 back in June 2007.

“This was a very emotional moment for me,” he said. “I can count how many times I’ve cried in my life on one hand, and I went back to my dressing room and bawled my eyes out. Some people don’t get to accomplish anything they dream about, and I’ve been able to do it twice.”

The UFC’s post-fight generosity did not stop with Davis and Lytle.

Rua and Coleman were also awarded identical $40,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses. Meanwhile, Alan Belcher banked $40,000 for “Submission of the Night” after he coaxed a tapout from Denis Kang with a second-round guillotine choke, and Dennis Siver earned a $40,000 “Knockout of the Night” bonus after he finished Nate Mohr with a spinning back kick and punches in the third round of their lightweight tilt.

This & That

Polish light heavyweight prospect Tomasz Drwal has posted 14 wins in 15 fights. His last seven victories have come in the first round, including his TKO win against Cage Rage veteran Ivan Serati at UFC 93. The 26-year-old wrecking ball has not gone the distance since September 2004 … Jeremy Horn has lost three consecutive fights since he returned to the UFC last year. It marks the first time in his 104-fight career that he has lost more than two in a row … Once an afterthought in the light heavyweight division, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Eric Schafer has rattled off four straight victories since his loss to former training partner Stephan Bonnar at UFC 77 … Henderson’s 13 decision victories are the most by any of the world’s elite mixed martial artists. In fact, only eight of Sherdog.com’s other 74 ranked fighters across eight weight classes have double-digit wins by decision: flyweights Yasuhiro Urushitani (12) and Mamoru Yamaguchi (10), featherweight Jeff Curran (10), lightweights Sean Sherk (12) and Satoru Kitaoka (11), welterweight Jake Shields (10) and middleweights Chael Sonnen (11) and Yushin Okami (10).
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