Fortunes changed for five at UFC 167

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Amidst all of the furor over the decision in the Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks welterweight title fight, and Dana White asking for the Governor of Nevada to intervene when it comes to the athletic commission, the controversy comes down to the limitations of the 10-point must scoring system.

The system, as it's applied today, with judges almost never giving 10-10 rounds, and a 10-8 round only comes from either total domination or someone on the verge of being finished, has its clear weakness in a certain type of fight. The prototypical problem fight would be a three-round fight where there are two close rounds that could go either way, one round where Fighter A dominates clearly but not enough for a 10-8. Fighter A should win the fight, since he's the guy who beat the other guy up, but there will be a percentage of times that two judges will give the close rounds to Fighter B. It's not biasness or bad judging, but limitations of a system in place.

St-Pierre vs. Hendricks is the five-round version of this example.

When it comes down to looking at Saturday's judging, whose face looked like what when the fight was over, who landed with more force or even overall statistics of a five-round fight (which, as it turned out, were not one-sided at all with St-Pierre having edges in both takedowns and significant strikes, but without question Hendricks did more overall damage), based on the way the fight went, they all end up thrown out the window.

The fight came down one thing - who won round one and what happened in that round. Nothing else.


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It's a clear consensus that St-Pierre took rounds three and five. Hendricks won rounds two and four, in both cases significantly stronger than St-Pierre's two rounds that he won. St-Pierre was in real trouble in the second round, and took a bad beating in the fourth, but no judge, nor nearly anyone, scored either of those rounds 10-8.

The stats for round one are the only stats applicable. No matter what advantage either fighter would have in adding up rounds two through five, the fact each won two of those rounds negates all of those stats based on the system in place. Any takedowns, hard punches, elbows, facial marks that occurred in rounds two through five are negated by those rounds being split evenly.

In round one, based on Fightmetric.com stats, Hendricks landed 27 strikes to 26 for St-Pierre. However, St-Pierre landed 19 significant strikes to 18 for Hendricks. Hendricks had a 9-5 edge in strikes to the head, but St-Pierre had a 16-4 edge in strikes to the body. Each had one takedown. Hendricks had the most powerful striking flurry with his elbows. St-Pierre was moving forward the most, and had the lone submission attempt, although it wasn't very close.

In the end, it was a close round that could have gone either way.

There are robberies in judging in all adjudicated sports. This, based on the scoring system the game was being played under on that night, wasn't close to one of them. There were really only two viable scores, 48-47 for St-Pierre or 48-47 for Hendricks. All three judges had one score or the other.

In the end, like with a number of high profile fights this year, from Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler to Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson to Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez, one guy was going to be lucky and one was going to be unlucky.

A rematch is clearly warranted. Unless St-Pierre isn't willing to fight for more than eight months, in which case UFC will have hard decisions to make, that rematch will happen.

The reaction after was like with Jones vs. Gustafsson in September, where, given certain rounds being close, any score from 49-46 for Jones to 48-47 for Gustafsson would have been fair. Hendricks has a stronger case than Gustafsson as far as winning, but most of the post show points being brought up in his favor regard rounds two and four, which didn't decide the fight.

The 10-point must system as far as judging boxing or MMA is akin to a tennis scoring system and not a football scoring system. If Saturday's fight had been a tennis match, rounds two and four would be Hendricks 6-2 and 6-2. Rounds three and five would be GSP 6-4 and 6-4. It would come down to round one, which was a 7-6 round, although the debate would be who gets it. The point being, yes, Hendricks was the better fighter on that day, but the nature of the scoring system didn't allow for showing it as best as it could.

Football would be different. If we play five quarters, the first quarter really was a 7-7 score. Hendricks would score two touchdown in the second and fourth, St-Pierre one touchdown in the third and fifth. Based on that scoring, Hendricks wins the game.The latter is a better representation of who should win.

There are three different scoring systems that can be used that I've worked with. The first, known as "Pride scoring," although UFC actually used this system from 1996 to 1999, before Pride, is that judges at the end of the fight simply pick the winner. Judging the fight as a whole, Hendricks should take it. That system, which has its flaws but is the best in the sense the person the judge believes won will always win on his card, will also never be put in place in an athletic commission-regulated sport.

In a scoring system like we have now, there are going to be a small percentage of cases, and Saturday was almost a perfect example where a judge whose scorecard read for St-Pierre may very well have believed Hendricks won the fight overall.

Immediately people will point to that being a bad judge, but that's anything but the case. A bad judge would be one who scored the first close round for St-Pierre, and after rounds two through four go the way they did and his card is even at 38-38, if he believes Hendricks should win, would decide to score five for Hendricks no matter what happened to compensate. None of the three judges thought this way.

The other, is the more controversial half-point scoring system, which has at times been used in boxing and kickboxing. It was heavily tested out in California over a two-year period on smaller MMA shows. Nelson "Doc" Hamilton, one of MMA's most experienced judges, as well as John McCarthy, best known as a referee, but also a judge, were strong and vocal proponents of the system. Hamilton also advocated a tie-breaker system that would eliminate virtually all draws.

As someone who thought St-Pierre squeaked out a very close first round, I'd give a 10-9.5 for him. Rounds three and five would be 10-9 for St-Pierre. Rounds two and four would be 10-8.5 for Hendricks. By that system, Hendricks wins the fight close. But that's not the system that was in play. Obviously, for those who thought Hendricks won the first round, he's taking the fight no matter what the scoring

Whether Sal D'Amato or Tony Weeks, who both gave the fight to St-Pierre, would agree with that scoring is an unknown.

In California, after a couple of years of experimenting, about three percent of judged fights had a different outcome with half points, and about 11 percent had at least judge with a different winner on their card as the current system in place. This was the almost prototype of a fight that falls into that category. In the end, when the results were presented to the Association of Boxing Commissions, the feeling was that percentage of changed results was too low to overhaul a system. Whatever momentum changing the system had is pretty well dead now.

From his comments after the show, it appeared Hendricks thought he had the decision in the bag going into the fifth round. That's where his corner did him a major disservice. Even if they believed he had won the first round, there is no way you can count on a round that close. They needed to tell him as he went out for the fifth that it could be even and he needed that round. If Hendricks won the fifth round, there would be no controversy.

Hendricks can also be second-guessed in round four when he had St-Pierre on the ground and was doing the most damage he did the entire fight. He voluntarily let St-Pierre up. If he had continued to hammer away with elbows that had cut St-Pierre under both eyes and left the champion bleeding badly, perhaps he'd have gotten a 10-8 round. But that would have only got him a majority draw, and not the championship.

As for White's tirade about the Nevada State Athletic Commission in regard to saying this was a robbery and an example of commission incompetence, there are a few notes to consider.

UFC runs far more often in Nevada than anywhere else. Because of that, it is inherent there will be far more close fights in Nevada, and thus, more controversial decisions. Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley was a robbery. Keith Kizer, the executive director of the commission, did end up with egg on his face for assigning C.J. Ross, who scored for Bradley, to the Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez fight. She scored that one a draw, in a fight where Alvarez really didn't appear to be in the same league as Mayweather.

>White, who brought up both decisions in his tirade, was also already mad about a fight earlier in the week. The 19th season of Ultimate Fighter is currently being filmed in Las Vegas at the UFC Gym. There was a fight that White was fuming over the decision. It's impossible to comment on that until that fight airs months down the line. White an exception to the consensus, in that he had this fight 49-46 for Hendricks, saying he believed Hendricks even won found five.

However, in this case, all Kizer and Nevada can do is assign judges.

In the case of D'Amato, he has judged more UFC fights than any judge over the past several years. Why? Because not only is he a regular judge in a number of states, but when UFC goes overseas and chooses the judges themselves, D'Amato gets picked all the time. It doesn't hold up to criticize the choice of D'Amato as a judge when, if UFC itself was picking the judges, D'Amato would be picked more often than any other judge for a big fight. In 55 fights that have gone to a decision that he's scored this year, he's picked the winner 52 times.

Weeks, a Nevada judging mainstay, has judged the fourth-most fights of any judge in recent years. While he is not called by the UFC when they appoint judges as often as D'Amato, he was picked by the UFC in the past for several international assignments. In 2013, on his cards, he had the winner 12 of 13 times, only missing by picking Max Holloway over Dennis Bermudez at UFC 160.

If Kizer had assigned a judge or two who UFC itself had never touched, or had a track record for frequently botching scoring, this would be a commission issue. That isn't to say White doesn't at times have valid points when he clashes with the commission. But in this case, had UFC picked the judges themselves, there is a solid chance they'd have picked the same or similar people, and gotten the same result in the end.

In the end, if you thought the wrong guy won based on the beating St-Pierre took in rounds two and four, the flaw is with the system. If you thought Hendricks won because you were comparing faces at the end, again, the problem is the system in place, because the key facial damage to St-Pierre did not come in round one, the only round that mattered when looking back and deciding who won the fight.

As for Fortunes changing, let's look back at some of the stars of UFC 167, focusing on the welterweight division, since that was Saturday's focus.

GEORGES ST-PIERRE - On the night St-Pierre (25-2) broke his one-time idol Matt Hughes' all-time UFC record, scoring his 19th Octagon win, he left the cage with a more questions than at any time in his career.

But perhaps the key stat is he broke B.J. Penn's record for most total UFC fight time for a career with five hours, 28 minute and 12 seconds. Even though St-Pierre is only 32, and didn't take that much punishment in a lot of his fights, the odds are that the wins aren't going to come nearly as easy going forward.

St-Pierre met his physical match for the first time. When he lost to Matt Hughes, he was 23, inexperienced on the big-time stage, was years from reaching his fighting prime, and going against a legend. The Matt Serra loss was something that happens in MMA, but the rematch showed it wouldn't happen often.

This Hendricks has a solid chance to beat St-Pierre, even at his best, any time they meet. He's two years younger, but more importantly, his body is less beat up. Even with the verdict against him, Hendricks will go into a rematch with more confidence and St-Pierre will go in with more doubt.

Given that nobody really knows what is mentally plaguing St-Pierre, it's impossible to know what is next for him, past a rematch, that figures to be every bit as tough for him as the first fight.

JOHNY HENDRICKS - Hendricks (15-2) didn't win the title, but he did everything else. People had seen St-Pierre dominate everyone for more than six years and dismissed Hendricks' wrestling credentials on the guise nobody can out wrestle or out muscle St-Pierre. Well, that is not the case. And the idea St-Pierre's movement and skill wouldn't enable Hendricks to land was also proven not to be the case.

Hendricks went from just another title contender expected to lose and be forgotten, to having to now be viewed as one of the best fighters in the world. Many, probably most, view him as the uncrowned champion. Hendricks should capitalize on this momentum. And he needs to push St-Pierre's buttons publicly and stay in the public eye to not let the fire extinguish for public clamor for a rematch.

I've never felt St-Pierre would be like Chuck Liddell, in the sense that when he was no longer the fighter he once was, he would keep going. When St-Pierre is no longer competitive at the top, I don't see him hanging on. But for Hendricks, it's important St-Pierre doesn't leave right now, because a title match or win over St-Pierre would mean significantly more than being involved in a backup plan.

And really, it's just as important for St-Pierre. Unless he feels it's time to retire, and if he does, we should respect that decision, the questions from UFC 167 need to be answered.

ROBBIE LAWLER - The 12-year pro is now closer to a UFC title shot than at any point in his career after a split decision win over Rory MacDonald. That makes Lawler 3-0 since coming to UFC and moving to welterweight and removes all doubt that he's a genuine contender.

Lawler (22-9, 1 no-contest) is much like Hendricks in that he has the firepower to hurt people who may have more technical skill, which was really the story of Saturday's fight. Lawler won a close split decision that, like the main event, came down to how one scored the first round, with MacDonald clearly winning the second and Lawler the third.

While he, like the rest of the division, will have to wait for GSP vs. Hendricks to play itself out, Lawler's next test should be either Tyron Woodley, Hector Lombard, or the winner of the Dec. 14 fight on FOX with Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown.

Lawler's style and knockout power also gives him a slight edge if there is a close call among several when evaluating who gets a title match. That's why the Condit vs. Brown winner should be in his future.

RORY MACDONALD - MacDonald (15-2) had been on a roll, coming into the fight with five straight wins. At 24, he is a legitimate star whose momentum was hurt, but still has more time on his side more than anyone near his level in the division.

It's a deep division with a lot of intriguing match ups. In one way, Jake Shields looks like a good next opponent. Right now, neither is going to be getting a title shot soon, so no immediate contender is killed off by a non-contender. The flaw in that matchmaking is Shields vs. MacDonald has the potential to be a boring fight. Demian Maia is another candidate as a legitimate test. But probably the best candidate for the spot would be the loser of Condit vs. Brown, because both would force MacDonald to open up and increase the odds for an exciting fight.

TYRON WOODLEY - Woodley, who seemed destined for stardom when he showed up in 2009 in Strikeforce with only two fights under his belt, is an All-American wrestler who was rapidly picking up the striking and submission game.

At 12-2, he's done well, but had yet to score a signature win over a big name.

After finishing Josh Koscheck, knocking him down three times en route to a first-round win and a knockout of the night bonus, Woodley scored his biggest career win. This also may help negate the memories of a boring split decision loss to Jake Shields at UFC 161.

With it ending in the first round, Woodley wasn't able to prove doubters of his ability to go strong for five rounds, which is necessary to be a viable main eventer. But he should be in the mix near the top, and the aforementioned names like Lawler, Condit, Brown, MacDonald, Lombard as well as Dong Hyun Kim, are all names he could go in with next as he tries to emerge from the logjam underneath the big two.

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