As long as there are close fights, MMA is going to be faced with cries of robberies.
Most of those times those cries are about judgment calls that could have gone either way. Outright robberies do exist, such as the Ross Pearson loss last year to Diego Sanchez, a decision simply impossible to justify. But usually what seems to be bad calls are a result of a flawed scoring system grandfathered in by boxing commissioners, a points system that doesn't even work all that well in boxing.
Saturday's Michael Johnson vs. Beneil Dariush bout from Nashville was not based on a systematic issue. This decision was on the judges themselves.
Dariush's shocking win had all three judges, Richard Bertrand, Sal D'Amato and Douglas Crosby, in agreement that Johnson won the first round and Dariush won the third. Most watching agreed with that assessment, although round three was close enough that you could argue Johnson won it.
So the decision came down to round two. Bertrand and Crosby gave the round, and the fight, to Dariush. After repeated watching of the round, while Johnson did not blow Dariush away, he also clearly won the round. He landed 35 significant strikes to 22 for Dariush based on fightmetric.com numbers. His strikes were also harder and did more damage. He also stuffed every attempt by Dariush to take the fight to the ground.
While blocking takedowns is not scoring under the current judging criteria, Octagon control, clearly in the favor of Johnson, is. He was also the aggressor for most of the round.
But when you deal with the human element, these things will happen. Judging from media scorecards, everyone of which went for Johnson, it was a significant minority viewpoint that Dariush took the fight, but two of the judges had it for him.
Having judged fights in the past, there are a number of things to note. First, the judges don't have any access to statistics. Second, there are line of sight issues at cage side, and sometimes the television viewer has a better viewpoint then a judge, although in states where judges have monitors, that helps. The big advantage judges have over television viewers is they are right there, and they can see visual damage with a better perspective, and they can hear the sound of the blows with more clarity than a television viewer. But in this case, when it's clear that Johnson's blows were harder and did more damage, that only makes the final verdict even more confusing.
There is also an elephant in the room regarding Crosby.
Back in April, he was the subject of significant controversy during a fight with Al Iaquinta against Jorge Masvidal. Iaquinta won a split decision, although Crosby's card was 30-27 for Masvidal. Ironically, a lot of people, myself included, felt he was the lone judge to have the right winner. But the issue went deeper. Iaquinta noted that Crosby has had issues with Iaquinta's camp, and in particular, his trainer, Ray Longo. In an interview on the MMA Hour, Iaquinta felt when he saw Crosby judging his fight, that he was already one judge down.
Crosby had no business judging the Iaquinta vs. Masvidal fight. This is not meant to say he is a good or bad judge overall, as, like any veteran judge, you have your ups and downs but overall his record is closer to the high end than the low end. But he should have excused himself because of past issues with the trainer of a fighter on the show. He didn't do that, but given that Iaquinta won the fight, it wasn't a major issue, as it was here. But if the fight had been even closer, and his opinion decided the verdict, it would have created a far more embarrassing situation.
The problem is that wasn't the end of it.
Crosby later went on Chael Sonnen's podcast and did what appeared to be an Andy Kaufman routine of playing a character, while Sonnen, working with him, went off on how he was the worst guest in the history of his show, as the show was going on. Clearly Sonnen didn't mean it, since Sonnen had him back on. But during the show, Crosby made fun of Longo on several occasions. Again, whether he's competent as a judge or not, a judge probably shouldn't be playing a role on a podcast, and he surely shouldn't be insulting a well-known trainer of a fighter that he had just judged after it had already come up that there were past issues between the two of them.
Since that incident, his name seemed to have disappeared. He hadn't rendered a decision in a UFC fight since that show. It was hard to believe a commission would bring him in, but there he was and in the center of controversy. Again, this isn't saying there was any bias involved in this specific decision, but a judge shouldn't be a guy publicly cutting promos on people involved with the sport in the position of Longo.
The positive out of all this is Dana White made it abundantly clear he believed Johnson won the fight.
"OMFG!!! That is HORRIBLE!!! That's why u can't leave it to these judges!!!!" he wrote after Johnson's four fight win streak was shockingly over in.
Then he wrote, "The main event better be ready if they leave those 2 judges in there!!! Hopefully they are being sent packing RIGHT NOW."
There was nothing said about Johnson getting his win bonus. White has given fighters win bonuses in the past when he felt they had won a fight that judges ruled against them. But in the position Johnson is in, a division with a long line of title contenders, if the company treats this as a loss, can derail his career.
The ratings themselves will be interesting. Johnson came in as the No. 5 ranked contender. Even had he won, he was not going to leapfrog Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone or Khabib Nurmagomedov for a top three spot, but he could have beaten out Eddie Alvarez was No. 4.
But he didn't win. As a loss, it would drop him down and bring Dariush, who was No. 12, into the top ten as he would normally be elevated for beating No. 5? That's an issue right there, because if you rate based on who was judged the winner of the fight, Dariush has to go way up, and Johnson has to go down. But one would think most voters would disagree that the decision on who won.
If he is booked by UFC as if he was the No. 5 ranked contender who has won his fifth in a row, he should be in line for a big name and not be far from title contention. If they book him like he's coming off a loss, and put him in with a lower ranked fighter, it will take a number of wins to make up for this loss.
Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday's show.
GLOVER TEIXEIRA - Teixeira (23-4) finished Ovince Saint Preux in the third round in his most impressive performance since knocking out Ryan Bader two years ago. With everyone ranked ahead of him already scheduled to fight, he may have to sit and wait for Oct. 3 to roll around, with Daniel Cormier's title defense against Alexander Gustafsson and the Rashad Evans vs. Bader top contenders match.
He'd have to face one of the two losers since the winners would likely go against each other. If he's looking for a fight now, his best bet would be Mauricio Shogun Rua (23-10) or Patrick Cummins (8-2), both coming off wins the previous week in Rio de Janeiro.
OVINCE SAINT PREUX - Saint Preux (18-7) looked like a rising star with stoppages of both Rua and Cummins in his previous two fights.
But at 32 years old, Teixeira exploited a significant weakness, in that he can be taken down, and the top people in the division, with strong wrestling and fighting backgrounds seem out of his reach.
If he's a lucky man, he can get Rampage Jackson (36-11), which would be a big name potential television main event that will allow Saint Preux a shot at a major rebound. But Jackson didn't want to fight him on this show, so a more likely opponent would be Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-7).
MICHAEL JOHNSON - If Johnson (17-9) is booked as if he won his last fight, he'd be in line next for big names, like Anthony Pettis (18-3), Benson Henderson (22-5) or Eddie Alvarez (26-4). By all rights he should get one of those three.
If booked like he lost the fight, his next opponent could be Al Iaquinta (13-3-1) or Tony Ferguson (19-3).
BENEIL DARIUSH - Dariush (12-1) is in a similar situation. Coming off his performance with Johnson, he'd look like a good next opponent for Iaquinta, Ferguson or Edson Barboza (16-3). Getting the win can't hurt him, as he does have an official five-fight winning streak. Dariush looks like he's a solid opponent for anyone in the division, but didn't show signs of being a top five fighter on Saturday.
AMANDA NUNES - In stopping No. 4 ranked Sara McMann in just 2:53 of the first round, Nunes should come out of it as the highest ranked woman's bantamweight that hasn't yet faced and lost to Ronda Rousey.
The win makes her a strong title contender, and one would argue, the logical next in line after Miesha Tate provided the Cris Cyborg fight doesn't materialize.
The best opponent would be Cat Zingano (9-1), who beat Nunes on Sept. 27 in an exciting fight. Short of that, Sarah Kaufman (17-3) would be a potential opponent as far as someone who would be a strong win, if he were to do so, in earning a title fight. There are also two other women who have been mentioned as future contenders, Holly Holm (9-0) and Julianna Pena (6-2). A win over any of those four would put Nunes in the discussions for a title bout.