Saturday's Al Iaquinta vs. Jorge Masvidal fight was the textbook fight showing the flaws of the ten-point must system of judging.
Masvidal (28-9) clearly won the fight as a whole, and you could make a strong argument that he should have won it no matter the judging system. But the current system can miss its mark when you have one guy taking somebody apart in one round, and the other two rounds are close enough for argument. In this case, Masvidal won the first strong, but no judges gave him a 10-8, although one could make a case for that score since Iaquinta (12-3-1) was in bad shape as the round ended.
Rounds two and three were close. Either man could have won one or both of those rounds. In this case, Iaquinta was lucky, getting the nod from two judges in both close rounds and Masvidal didn't get a 10-8 first, giving the Long Island native a split decision win.
Masvidal landed more blows in all three rounds, having a 29-12 edge in the first, a 20-17 edge in the second and a 34-26 edge in the third according to Fight Metric stats. He also landed far more of his blows to the head, having a 62-18 edge, whereas Iaquinta landed more to the legs.
But it was not a robbery. It was more like a lucky decision for Iaquinta in a fight that the majority seemed to go the other way in, but that the judges scores, all three, even though they appeared totally divergent, were understandable.
Iaquinta was the aggressor in the second and third rounds, and even though Masvidal landed more, Masvidal seemed in the third to fight like a guy who wasn't trying to win the round, but felt he had the fight in the bag. That was a grave mistake because even though he did far more damage in the fight, the second round was close enough that it was possible the third would decide it, and that's what happened. And it's hard to win a round when one appears to be coasting and the other fighter appears to be pressing the action.
But if this was judged with definitive scoring criteria when comes to a point system for offensive moves, Masvidal wins easily. He landed the strikes and blocked the takedown attempts. With a half-point scoring system, Masvidal would get a 10-8.5 first and even if Iaquinta got the second and third rounds, he'd only win 10-9.5, so Masvidal's worst case scenario scorecard would have been a 29-28.5 win. Judging based on the fight as a whole without breaking it down to rounds, Masvidal wins as well.
But this fight could have been very legitimately scored anything from 30-26 for Masvidal to 29-28 for Iaquinta, the latter score being what two of the judges had.
Both fighters had freak out moments after, with Masvidal seeming shocked at the very possibility he could have lost a fight that he fought like he felt he had clinched after two. He stormed out of the cage after the decision was read, seemingly in disbelief.
Iaquinta, who was booed for his win by the live crowd at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., who seemingly felt Masvidal won, was so upset at the booing after he survived a first-round that would have finished many, and came back, fighting his heart out, that he started swearing at the crowd.
It was probably Saturday's best fight, but didn't get any announced bonuses. It could be that UFC is moving away from fight-of-the-night bonuses, and instead of two individual performance bonuses and two more for the participants in the best fight on the show, it's now been four individual performance bonuses the last few shows. But if the bonus decision was a close call, neither did themselves any favors afterwards.
Let's look at how fortunes changed for five fighters on the show.
CHAD MENDES - Mendes (17-2) came into Saturday's show as its biggest star. He came out even bigger. Ranked as the No.1 contender for the featherweight title, Mendes dropped No. 4 ranked Ricardo Lamas with the first punch. He ended up with two more knockdowns and was ground and pounding Lamas until it was stopped in just 2:45.
What happens next depends on a number of moving parts. If Conor McGregor beat Jose Aldo solidly for the title and Urijah Faber beats Frankie Edgar when they fight on May 16 in the Philippines, Mendes should get the title shot at McGregor.
If not, things are more difficult. If Aldo retains and Edgar wins, Edgar would get the next shot most likely, and Mendes would have to find an opponent. If that was the case, McGregor would make the most sense. The two have already had words in the past. Even though McGregor would be coming off a loss, he's the money opponent and facing McGregor would guarantee Mendes be in a high-profile situation.
If something happens where McGregor and Aldo need a rematch, and Edgar beats Faber, Mendes vs. Edgar is the obvious top contender fight. But if Faber beats Edgar, that would make the winner of the April 18 fight with Cub Swanson vs. Max Holloway the most viable opponent for Mendes.
Ultimately, his best bet is to root for McGregor because that's his best next opponent, whether McGregor wins or loses.
AL IAQUINTA - Having won four straight, and seven of his last eight, a best case scenario opponent as far as the potential to move up would be Michael Johnson (16-8), who is ranked No. 6. Other potential opponents could be the winner of the April 18 fight with Beneil Dariush (10-1) vs. Jim Miller (24-5), Dustin Poirier (17-4), who just moved to the lightweight division from featherweight, or a second meeting with No. 8 ranked Myles Jury (15-1).
Iaquinta vs. Jury would be a rematch of their fight during The Ultimate Fighter season 15, which Iaquinta won via split decision.
Iaquinta came into the fight ranked No. 15, one spot below Masvidal. With the win, he'll move up at least a spot in the rankings, but it wasn't the kind of a win that would get him into the top ten. And of the two, Masvidal came across as the fighter who would have the better shot to win against higher-level competition.
JORGE MASVIDAL - The same list of fighters mentioned for Iaquinta would be the most likely next foe for Masvidal. Johnson is probably out of reach right now. Dariush, Jury or Poirier would all be viable, as would Edson Barboza (15-3), coming off the loss to Johnson.
Based on the nature of the loss, this shouldn't hurt Masvidal too severely. If he can win his next fight, the perception of this loss may be completely erased given most felt he won to begin with.
JULIANNA PENA - Pena (7-2) was the star fighter coming out of season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, in late 2013, which she won. She tore up her right knee shortly after, and her first round win over Milana Dudieva after 16 months off put her back in the spotlight.
Pena has enough notoriety, both from winning the show, and her recuperation from the nasty injury, to be on the short list of what many think is the next victim for Ronda Rousey.
There are a slew of potential next opponents, including the winner of the Apr. 25 fight in Montreal between Sarah
Kaufman (17-2) and Alexis Davis (16-6). She could also face Liz Carmouche (10-5), who scored a controversial win over Lauren Murphy on Saturday, Holly Holm (8-0), Marion Reneau (6-1) or Amanda Nunes (10-4)/
Pena has the potential to be a star personality in fighting, and there is the seeds of a good rivalry with Rousey coming off the reality show. But there are so many women bunched up in the pack, that she'll need an impressive showing against a ranked fighter next, before anyone will talk about her getting a headline spot.
DUSTIN POIRIER - Poirier (17-4) took apart Diego Ferreira (11-2) in the first round, answering the question about whether or not he'd be able to compete as a lightweight.
Ferreira was looking like a prospect until running into Dariush, but Poirier blitzed him like nobody ever had. Poirier looked both stronger and healthier as a lightweight than as a starved-down featherweight.
The problem is that lightweight is an incredibly deep division. There are endless potential quality opponents. But it's a far longer journey to get to the top as compared to his prior weight class. Someone like Iaquinta or Masvidal would be a best case next opponent to break him into a top-15 ranking.