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Click Debate: Was Michael Bisping-Dan Henderson an indictment of MMA judging?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Michael Bisping retained his UFC middleweight title last weekend against Dan Henderson at UFC 204 in England. The history book will say he won by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46). But the viewpoints of what the scoring should have been and who should have won run the gamut.

Some people think Henderson was the true winner. Others maintain that it was a draw. A few, including one judge, think Bisping won every round except for the first.

The only thing I haven't seen from fans is that referee Yves Lavigne was the true winner by doctor's stoppage. Everything else seems to be at play here.

I didn't get a chance to watch UFC 204 last weekend, because I was on vacation. I sat down to watch it this week, trying to push out of my head everything I heard about the Bisping decision victory and with the sound muted. The latter part is key. The commentary and crowd noise can absolutely subconsciously affect your scoring.

After taking it all in, I scored the fight for Bisping 49-46. But I also understand the myriad of arguments out there. The first round could have been a 10-8 for Henderson, who also could have won the second round. Honestly, you could also make a solid case for Henderson in the fifth round. The only two rounds you can say with any real confidence either way were the third and fourth for Bisping.

So, let's start from the beginning. Henderson landed a gigantic right hand with about 40 seconds left on the clock in the first. Bisping took a shuffle-step back and fell to the mat. Henderson pounced and landed some ground and pound, too. Bisping's face was an absolute mess afterward.

The new judging rules, which go into effect officially Jan. 1 but are already being widely used, specify that a 10-8 round must have at least of these characteristics: damage (or impact), dominance or duration. Clearly, Henderson had damage. No doubt. But did he dominate the round? No, Bisping was winning it up until the big right hand — that's about 4:20 out of five minutes. Henderson didn't have duration for the same reason. Since Henderson only had one of the "Ds," I gave him a 10-9, rather than a 10-8.

On the other hand, I can't fault those who want to say that was a 10-8, because there was a significant amount of damage done. If you say Bisping won the third and fourth rounds by 10-9, how could you score the first round the same thing for Henderson, right? The differences in damage are stark.

Interestingly, Jeff Mullen, the judge who scored the third round 10-8 for Nate Diaz at UFC 202, also scored this fight. He did not give Henderson a 10-8 in the first, going with 10-9 instead. Judge Andy Roberts had Bisping winning 49-46, while Mullen and Andreas Gruner had it 48-47 Bisping.

The second round was actually somewhat similar to the first without the level of damage done by Henderson. Henderson dropped Bisping with a big right hand with 1:11 left. It was the most significant blow of the round, without a doubt, but there wasn't much of a a follow-up. Bisping was winning the round, yet again, up until that point.

The reason why I leaned toward Bisping in the second is because just before the Hendo overhand right, Bisping landed a flurry and seemed to have Henderson in trouble. Now, I know some are going to say that a kick to the groin that Lavigne missed played a part in that and it certainly did. But it seemed like even before the low blow that Henderson was being affected a good amount by those Bisping punches.

Those scoring the round for Henderson will say that the big right hand with 1:11 left was the biggest sequence of the round and hardest strike. It's true. Those people are not wrong and giving Henderson the second round is absolutely acceptable. I just thought the damage Bisping did previously right before that, plus his effectiveness throughout the round, should be weighed heavier than that big Hendo punch.

Worth noting: Per the rules, the impact of one major blow should be weighed heavier than cumulative damage. So again, if you want to score the second round for Henderson, I would not argue.

When I was reading about the fight this week, before I watched, I did not see much being written about the fifth round. There should be. It was close — just as close as the second, in my opinion. Anyone giving it to Henderson would not necessarily be wrong. I had it for Bisping, because I thought he landed just slightly more of the damaging blows throughout, including that last knee that landed pretty cleanly. If not for that knee, I might have given the round to Hendo.

The one thing that I think is important about judging this fight and all fights is that if you're looking at someone's face at the end or the counting stats — significant strikes, etc. — you're already heading in the wrong direction.

Bisping landed way more strikes, but if you watched the fight you know that it was way closer than those numbers would indicate. Henderson destroyed Bisping's face, but, again, if you watched the fight you know it was closer than that, too.

Henderson won the rounds in which he did that damage. Bisping's volume is great, but damage is weighed heavier. Just like at UFC 202 when Diaz might have had more volume in some rounds, but McGregor was hitting him harder.

I'm starting to feel the same way about people posting pictures of stats as a means to score a fight as I do about my good pal "Octagon control." Please, just stop.

The thing about judging in combat sports, maybe more in MMA than boxing, is there is gray area. That's always going to be the case, no matter what the scoring criteria is, especially when you're mixing in striking and grappling. It is called "judging" for a reason. Keep in mind the nuance.

There are plenty of bad decisions in MMA. Remember Diego Sanchez vs. Ross Pearson? I still don't know how two judges gave Ashlee Evans Smith the first round against Marion Reneau earlier this year. And can you believe no one scored a 10-8 in that crazy fight between Neil Magny and Hector Lombard?

Those were inarguably terrible scores. This one was not. It was just a close — and wildly entertaining — scrap between two legends.

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