You couldn't help but feel for Josh Thomson on Saturday night as he fought back from a broken thumb, and was crushed far more by the judges than anything the former UFC lightweight champion could do to him.
The post-fight reaction Saturday night after the Benson Henderson vs. Josh Thomson
at the United Center in Chicago, was predictable, probably even before the scores were read.
Whenever there is a close fight, and make no mistake about it, that was a close fight, all the dissenters bombard social media with talks of robbery and horrible judging. Like with Georges St-Pierre
vs. Johny Hendricks
in November, if you look as objectively as possible at each round, and understanding the nature of how the current scoring system is in place, this was a fight that either man could have won.
When the fight ended, I had Thomson up 48-47, and figured it came down to how round two would be scored. I even had a hunch Henderson would get the decision, based on moving forward. I was ready for 48-47, in either direction, the likelihood of a split decision, and a night of outage at judges.
The first two scores were read. Exactly as figured. Then Sal D'Amato's 49-46 was read. Some people apparently thought for sure that meant Thomson, and were shocked when it was for Henderson.
While this was an entirely different fight than St-Pierre vs. Hendricks, and certainly than Mark Hunt
vs. Antonio Silva
, a close fight that nearly everyone was happy ended up as a draw, to look at the judging, you have to look at the key rounds and not the overall fight, because that is how a fight is judged.
The GSP vs. Hendricks judging, for all the criticism, was solid. It was clear who won rounds two through five in that fight. Nearly everyone agreed, as did all three judges. The question was a close round one. After the initial outrage died down, a lot of people recognized that fight came down to the first round, which was close enough to go either way. The respective facial damage comparisons, which had to do with later rounds, didn't matter given the scoring system as it's currently used.
And this fight appeared to be the same, although in a grappling heavy fight with cautious striking, there was none of the facial damage to further inflame fans.
Who won the fight overall is a different subject than who got the decision based on round-by-round scoring. And it was very clear there were no 10-8 rounds here.
Having watched the fight a few times, I felt four rounds were obvious, one and four for Thomson, three and five for Henderson. Round two was close at first, and on repeat viewings, remained close. I still think Thomson won it, but it was not conclusive and I couldn't argue it being scored evenly or for Henderson.
A post show poll taken on the Wrestlingobserver.com web site had it 51 percent for Thomson, 39 percent for Henderson and 10 percent even. That's a close fight that could go either way, not a robbery.
And then I saw the scorecards. D'Amato gave rounds two through five to Henderson. He got most of the criticism, but his round two score was acceptable. Round four was the only problem.
Thomson had the early edge with the takedown, but Henderson struck with elbows from his back, and had tied Thomson up from the bottom at one point. Thomson did break free and do some damage from the top. The stand-up was close enough, and I had it very close until Thomson's takedown and back control as the round ended. But throwing in how the round ended, I thought it was really hard to see that round for Henderson.
Yet, both D'Amato and judge Brian Puccillo had it for the former UFC lightweight
champion. Puccillo gave Thomson the close second round, to come to his 48-47 score.
Even the 48-47 for Thomson from judge Gabriel Sabaitis was bothersome. That card gave Henderson the close second, but gave Thomson round five. Even though I had an identical final score, I felt round five was pretty clear for Henderson.
You can't have a heart if you didn't feel for Thomson while watching him talk retirement after the fight. He went through the frustration of training far too hard, for far too long. His fight was moved back six weeks. He signed for a title shot, then had it changed to a different style fighter.
And he is 35, and he'd seen all the guys that grew up with him in the sport either retire, move off, and fall off from the top. His body has a lot of mileage. He's had long periods of time where he's had to sit out due to recurring injuries during his career. Given how early he started and his injuries, he would not seem the best bet to be a fighter who was still a top title contender at his age.
But he clearly is. And then minutes into the fight, his thumb was broken bad enough that the commission asked if he wanted to stop it. Corner man Javier Mendez
considered throwing in the towel.
The vast majority thought a healthy Thomson would probably fight a close, action-packed fight, but likely lose a decision to Henderson. His less than opportune camp situation and fighting without an almost useless right hand, with punching power and gripping power limited, he would figure to have very little chance.
In some ways, maybe it would have been less disappointing if he couldn't overcome the disadvantage. That would
have made the decision easier to swallow.
As a television viewer, the way the show ended probably also left a bad taste.
With a five-round main event, they were 23 minutes past the scheduled 10 p.m. ending when the score was read. Given that FOX stations around the country had already delayed their nightly newscast, they rushed off the air a minute later.
With such a close score, this desperately needed analysis. Much of the audience thought the wrong guy won. Because of the sympathy factor in the fight story, Thomson surviving and fighting evenly with the broken hand, I'd surmise that vast majority of viewers were hoping he would get the decision. Certainly, for better or worse, they wanted to hear what he had to say, and have the analysts give their opinions.
"My opinion doesn't matter, as you can tell," he said backstage at the press conference when asked about his thoughts on the decision. "I lost. That's the opinion. The only ones that matter are the (opinions of) the three people around the cage."
As he went through the frustrations of his last four months, and even more, of his last four rounds, he said, "This might be it."
"The Gilbert fight (a split decision loss to Melendez in a Strikeforce title mach on May 19, 2012), that was a close fight, but I can see it," he said. "I think I beat the former UFC champion with one hand. That's what I can't stomach. I'm a better fighter. That's what p***es me off."
FOX has to serve a number of masters and decisions are made on the fly, They wanted to get out as soon as they could, but with two more minutes viewers could have been given more of the story of what they saw. Instead, it felt like, instead of the show being a big deal, it was something they were rushing to get away from, even though the final score was the biggest story of the night.
Here's a look at how Fortunes changed for five:
JOSH THOMSON - Thomson (20-6, 1 no contest), came out of the show as the biggest star. The fact is, he was considering retirement before the fight. Even if he won, he said after that it wasn't a lock he'd take the title shot with Pettis. Now, with the loss, in theory, there is no title shot in reach.
Anyone who has paid attention to UFC knows that a lot goes into the decisions of who get title shots. The perception of what the public wants to see plays a huge role in it. The betting line was the decision put Gilbert Melendez
or TJ Grant, who has been out for months with a serious concussion, in the catbird seat as opponents for Pettis, who hopes to return in July after knee surgery. It would not be unheard of to give Thomson the shot, if the key people believe he won the fight.
It's more likely he'd be put in a position where a win over someone, perhaps Donald Cerrone
, could get him a shot. But only he can make the decision of what he'll do next and he made need some time to make that decision.
Usually when guys want out before they take those inevitable beatings at the end, you should be happy for them. Going out on top is wonderful. Going out when you're clearly done is another thing. But this is neither, and leaves far too many unanswered questions for a guy whose last two losses have come in title fights that came down to one judge scoring one round differently, and controversially.
BENSON HENDERSON - In theory, Henderson (20-3) should have at least moved himself up the ladder with another win on network television.
But all wins are not created equal. Henderson was already behind the eight-ball, having lost twice to champion Anthony Pettis
. And while there is little questioning Henderson is overall one of the better all-around fighters in the sport, it hurts him to have people think that he was gifted wins over Frankie Edgar
(in their second meeting), Thomson and perhaps Gilbert Melendez as well.
Unless there are a slew of injuries, the nature of this win, if anything, put him farther away from a title shot. Henderson has a good name, but there is no momentum for him coming off this win.
Worse, he's getting near that Rich Franklin
spot after the second Anderson Silva
loss. That is, the challenger who may be able to beat almost everyone in the division, but nobody will buy him or wants to see him against the champion. As Urijah Faber
showed, there is a way out of that purgatory.
The problem is, if you put Henderson against someone on the rise, whether it be Khabib Nurmagomedov
, Rafael dos Anjos
, Grant or Cerrone, all you can do is risk knocking off a contender who could face Pettis. He's really going to need a Faber-like run, with a fighter of the year level performance, with decisive wins over top guys to change that perception.
DONALD CERRONE - The show's highlight was the perfect shin-to-neck knockout kick Cerrone (22-6, 1 no contest) hit on Adriano Martins.
Cerrone has a lot of potential opponents in a lightweight division filled with depth. There was talk of a third fight with Henderson after. Their first was an all-time classic, another of those Henderson decision wins that many thought could have gone the other way, in 2009. But Henderson submitted Cerrone the next year in just 1:57 in a rematch.
Cerrone may also be the right opponent for Nurmagomedov, Thomson or Grant. Cerrone's UFC career has told the story of being one fight from a probable title shot, and losing, whether it be to Nate Diaz
, Pettis or dos Anjos. He looks to be close to being in that spot again.
Miocic's is 4-1 in UFC with his only loss to Stefan Struve
. With the platform, on FOX, and positioning, as the No. 2 fight on the show, it was a nice win for exposure. But he didn't turn heads either. Heavyweight isn't the world's deepest division, and with injuries to top guys, there aren't a slew of potential opponents.
He's nowhere near ready to be thought of for a title shot. Junior dos Santos does need an opponent and if he would have scored a more explosive win, perhaps he'd be thought of for that spot. Other potential opponents that could get him up the ladder are out for a while, like Mark Hunt (broken hand) and Antonio Silva (steroid suspension).
From a timing standpoint, he could face the winner of this coming Saturday's Alistair Overeem
vs. Frank Mir
fight. My gut says if Overeem wins, they go directly to Overeem vs. Dos Santos. If Mir wins, given the way Dos Santos went though Mir, a Miocic vs. Mir match would be at least a decent fight on the card. Brendan Schaub
is also a possibility. Although he was beaten decisively last time out, Josh Barnett
is a bigger name than Miocic and really the best of the group of the likely opponents he could face as far as putting Miocic in a spotlight position.
His combination of good stand-up and strong takedown defense makes him a solid opponent for anyone. The timing seems to work out for a fight with T.J. Dillashaw
, after his Jan. 15 win over Mike Easton
. The match is a viable main card fight where a win would be a strong step. A secondary choice would be Takeya Mizugaki
. Both have been around the division for years, and have been legitimate contenders the entire time, but somehow their paths have never crossed.