A quick review of the criteria the judges have to work with under the ten point must system. Fighters are judged on the following 4 criteria:
1. effective grappling
2. effective striking
4. octagon/cage/ring control
So if you were the judge, how would award each category for each fighter? Remember that judges don't have those awesome multiple high def camera angles, replays and commentary to rely on to judge the fights. Rather, they are sitting cage side, at floor level (IMO a crappy angle to view) at different sides of the octagon. They don't get to view replays, they don't get to banter back and forth with their buddies and bros on merits of each fighters case for a win. And, BTW, they need to render decisions pretty quickly after the bell. I'm not defending wholesale these judges. They are culpable in the way they judged tonight. All I'm saying is that it is not as easy as it seems.
So, to analyze this quickly, and show you how difficult it is, let get into the breakdown of criteria:
1. effective grappling: Davis scores two late takedowns. People are discounting this as counting for nothing. They should count for something, because a takedown by itself does display effective grappling. the problem is, what weight do you give these two late TD attempts (BTW, doesn't matter if they are late or early - a TD is a TD). on the other hand, Ma-Cheetah stuffed several TD's from Davis, so he should get consideration for this as well, because defending a takedown displays effective grappling. So who wins this criteria? Oh, and to throw another wrinkle in there, you can make the argument that Phil gained some traction in the aggression category because he initiated an offensive maneuver to take the fight to Ma-Cheetah. Neither really threatened with any grappling from the submissions side of the game, so that is a non factor. For arguments sake, let's say that this criteria is ruled a tie.
2. effective striking: I think we can all agree that Ma-Cheetah scored best in this category. he is clearly the superior striker to Davis and it showed in the variety and creativeness of the strikes thrown and landed. Also, damage should be considered here, so Ma-Cheetah takes this criteria again.
3. aggression: this is a tricky one to call as a lot of MaCheetah haters will ignorantly say that "dude just ran away". Well, that dumb ass statement don't compute, but there is a shred of logic in there somewhere, if you will bear with me. Ma-Cheetahs "elusive" game plan (or whatever you wanna call it) does not lend itself to scoring very well in the judges minds and I tend to agree with this assertion. His elusive, counter striking game plan will not win you many points in the aggression category and that makes sense because if you are counter striking, you are not striking - you are waiting for the aggressor to move first, then react. Phil did turn up the pressure late in the fight, so rightly or wrongly, this may have weighed on the judges minds too much, thereby giving Phil the edge in the aggression category. I'm calling this light edge for Phil Davis.
4. octagon/cage/ring control: this criteria, in my opinion, involves the other three criteria above plus your game plan and how you employ it. are you dictating pace and range with your striking combos and jab, are you mixing it up by attempting takedowns and going for submissions, are you being aggressive by pressuring your opponent and being the first to initiate? sadly, and unfortunately for Ma-Cheetah-kun, the perception is that he doesn't do the aforementioned things because of his passive, elusive/counter striking game plan. I give a slight edge to Davis in this criteria.
So if I'm a judge and doing the rough mental tally (and really that is all you have time to do - you don't have hours to debate this fight), I give rounds 1 and 3 to Davis because he was more of the aggressor and demonstrated better octagon control and I call it a wash in the effective grappling, but a slight edge to MaCheetah in the striking. I think a better decision that would have been a little easier to swallow from the fan's perspective would have been a split decision. But as you can see above, there is certainly room for interpretation and nuances within the judging criteria where any of the four judging criteria could have gone to either fighter. A little bit of history is relevant to provide context for this fight and how the judges may have had their opinions colored. Look at the series of close decisions that Ma-Cheetah has gotten (hendo/shogun1) or been on the wrong end of (rampage). One split decision is perhaps an outlier and not a good measure of how you fight. But a series of close decisions is starting to tell the story of how a fighter fights. I think judges look at these fights (or at least know of them) and this, wrongly or rightly, colors their perception of future fights to come.
My conclusion is that although the decision seemed to be controversial, I deem it to be fair. But here are few things I would like to see instituted, to make this a more transparent and fair process:
1. Re-position judges at cage side. They need to be elevated at cage side (kind of like those camera men that stand on those stools to get a great angle) to get a better view of the action.
2. Provide judges with live feed tv monitors, with no volume. We would want to have Goldberg/Rogan to blame for their commentary coloring a judges perception - so no volume, just the live feed on a high def, large monitor. Don't you feel that watching the multiple camera angles will allow the judges to get a better sense of who is winning in the four criteria? I think so. As a side note, also make this the same monitors where a referee can view instant replay (that's a whole diff argument).
3. Education - I'm throwing this out there because everyone says that this is a problem. And no, having former fighters as judges is not the best solution. We've seen time and again that former [X] does not necessarily translate to best [Y]. for example, former NFL quarterbacks don't always make the best head coaches. You would think they do, but there is much more to coaching than just being smart and athletically gifted. no different for the fight game. Set the bar through athletic commissions standards on what constitutes proper education for judges. Until this happens, nothing will happen with the education issue of judges (and again, don't say that they have to have fight experience - that is an idiotic statement, after all, Roger Ebert would've been a terrible actor, but he was a damn good movie critic)
4. Post Fight Write-ups - when a decision is rendered, a judge will be required to write a short synopsis (which should be a matter of public record) on why and how he awarded the decision to a particular fighter. Think about how the legal system works for judges - for example, in the supreme court, when the judges render decisions, the majority opinion is published and the dissenting opinion is published alongside. Why? As a matter of public record, but also as a check and balance. If you see a justice of the supreme court write an absolute nutty argument, then that is a public record and change will occur.
Likewise for these judges. Of course, the written opinions will not be seen right away, but after a fight. You could stipulate that judges must submit their written opinion after the fights. So sequester each judge, in different private rooms, and let them write their opinions on their decisions. Keep it to 250 words or less, and they must address each of the judging criteria. These opinions should then be published in a public forum, or sent to the public via a press release. So lets say this were a requirement for the last UFC. Remember that nuttiness where one judge had one 30-27 for one fighter and another judge had a 30-27 for the other fighter? I would have loved to have read the written opinions of each of these judges and seen what they were thinking to arrive at two disparate conclusions. And it is a PUBLIC RECORD - this is critical! This is important to pierce the oh so secretive veil that so many athletic commissions are these days. it's fighting for gods sake, why do they have to be so secretive? So, like the legal system, these judges will develop a portfolio of written opinions, and the public, the commissioner, the promoters will start to see who is worth it and who is not (here's looking at you Cecil "Kicks Don't Win Fights" Peoples). Sorry for the long rant, but thought the MMA community at large should sympathize (to an extent) with the judges and understand that it is not so easy.
Disclaimer -no, I am not a judge, nor do I work for the commission, the UFC, or anyone fighting related. I am just your average internet/MMA site troll, expressing my informed opinion. Please enjoy.
Donk Donkerson has spoken. Over and out.