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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 247

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

In its own weird way, Jon Jones breaking Georges St-Pierre’s record on Saturday for most title match wins was strangely apropos.

Jones’ 14th win in bouts where the title was at stake – without any losses – broke one of the least talked about but most significant records in UFC history. St-Pierre had 13, but also had two losses, once to Matt Hughes when he was on his way up, and the other to Matt Serra in one of the biggest upsets in UFC championship history, which he decisively avenged.

Jones broke the record in a fight that many thought he lost. It was similar to title win No. 12 for St-Pierre, a final welterweight title defense against Johny Hendricks that most thought he lost. In Jones’ prior fight, he battled Thiago Santos and won a split decision, a result closer than almost every other fight where he’d clearly won. His only other close call was against Alexander Gustafsson in their first bout.

The fight showed one of two things: Either Jones is not the fighter he once was, or Reyes is a truly special fighter being able to hang with Jones.

The key seemed to be Jones’ experience in going five rounds. Reyes had never experienced a fighter at the level of Jones, nor had he ever fought in a round four or five. Jones had fought plenty of great fighters in his years on top, and during his career had gone into the fourth round nine times and the fifth round seven times.

Even early on, when it appeared Reyes was winning rounds and was clearly landing more, he was expending far more energy. Jones was calmer, and while being hit more, even in the first round where he clearly lost, he seemed to have paced himself better for the long haul.

In the early rounds, Jones was able to start to take over at the end of rounds two and three, enough to, in the classic sense of the word, steal the rounds in the eyes of two judges in each of those rounds. Reyes clearly had the edge for most of both rounds, and landed more, 33-22 in round two and 26-19 in round three. But he lost both frames on two of the three scorecards that counted.

From a media standpoint, Reyes got 48-47 winning scores, based on winning the first three rounds, on 67 percent of media scorecards and 72 percent of fans scorecards as listed by MMA Decisions. The general consensus seemed to be that Reyes should have won, but it was a close enough that it wasn’t a robbery, and people weren’t that upset by it. There is an acceptance that in a close fight, you have to accept either outcome. The only strong viewpoint was calling for the hide of judge Joe Soliz with his 49-46 scorecard for Jones.

Whenever something like this happens, people search for a problem and a solution. There is a lot of talk for a few days and then it goes away. The issue is the human element. Perhaps more judges than three is the answer. But in this case, all three went for Jones, so even if you added two more, a suggestion made often, that wouldn’t have changed this result. Five is better than three, but it’s hard to break tradition.

Years back, particularly in California with John McCarthy’s backing, there was a clamor for a half-point scoring system. It was experimented with, and ended up changing the end result in a small percentage of fights. But in a sport regulated by so many different commissions, change from the status quo is hard. Even though the judges who used it were positive, most states were negative and few gave it a chance. It quietly died off.

McCarthy tried to do the same thing when it came to updating the rules, with pushing for more liberal usage of 10-8 scores, which is actually the same thing as the half-point scoring system, but done in a way that didn’t come in with the same negativity. It’s an improvement, but that played no part in this fight where no rounds were truly dominant at that level.

What happened here is an age-old aspect of judging, and that is the big star has a slight edge based on who he is when it comes to a close fight, or in this case, close rounds in a fight. Whether it’s Ali, or GSP, or now Jones, the adage is that you have to decisively beat the champion. It’s not accurate, and it’s unfair based on what judges are taught. But in practice, it still exists.

After the fight, the Kansas Athletic Commission ruled it would allow promotions to implement open scoring should they desire. Invicta will experiment with the system for its next show.

Open scoring, used in many cases in Europe for boxing and kickboxing, as well as in Japan for kickboxing and some MMA, is that at the end of the round, the scores are announced to the crowd. It doesn’t lessen bad judging, but at least as the fight goes on, the fighters and fans can see how the story is playing out. The reason it’s not done is the argument that if a fighter knows he’s well ahead, he will coast and give up later rounds and avoid risk. In practice, having seen it used many times, it is neither the negative its opponents claim it will be, nor is it any kind of a panacea. It does change the viewing experience for the better, and for the fighters and their corners, they at least know where they stand instead of trying to guess.

In this fight, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Reyes got tired in round four. Even if he knew he had to win one of the next two rounds, instead of perhaps just having to make sure he didn’t get dominated or finished, he was not winning either of those last two rounds due to the expense of energy early.

Other arguments have included that, like in other sports, there should be defined criteria and points, such as with amateur wrestling. Knockdowns would be worth so much, takedowns with ground control worth so much. Time in dominant positions would be factored, as would significant strikes with actual point scores. The negative is that fighters would try to fight for scoring points instead of to finish. But unless a system is used, and put in practice, you really don’t know.

It would also be a nightmare to come up with a fair system, and twice the nightmare to try and get it implemented in the current state commission regulatory environment. But it would remove much of the human element of judging.

If UFC 247’s headliner was judged wrong and Reyes should be champion, there isn’t a modern judging point system that would correct this. There will always be bad decisions in close fights, and on occasion, really bad decisions in not so close fights.

One could argue this is the case for better judges, and that should always be the goal. You should have only the best judges, particularly when you are talking about UFC championship fights with the world watching and millions of dollars at stake. And that is the best answer for now. To have people grading judges’ work, and the best judges, no matter where they live, be the ones that are in the pool when you have fights of this magnitude. The system of trusting the outcome to local judges, some of whom are unknown and even have bad reps in their own state among insiders, simply have no business on shows of this level, particularly in title fights.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars from Saturday’s show.

JON JONES - The aura of Jones (26-1, 1 no contest) as unbeatable was cracked on Saturday. But he’s still champion, and still the most enduring star in the sport. He had talked about moving to heavyweight, but that division is in a holding pattern right now with Daniel Cormier waiting for Stipe Miocic to return and the winner of the March 28 Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Francis Ngannou fight deserving a shot as well. Based on the controversy of the decision, they should run the Reyes fight back immediately. And it will be a different fight. Jones now knows how good Reyes really is, and Reyes knows what going five rounds is like.

DOMINICK REYES - If for some reason that rematch isn’t next, Reyes (12-1 ) should face the winner of Saturday’s fight with Corey Anderson (13-4) vs. Jan Blachowicz (25-8). But really, that serves no purpose. The money fight at light heavyweight is Jones vs. Reyes, and all Reyes fighting the winner of Saturday’s fight can do is risk the fight people want to see.

VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO - To the surprise of nobody, flyweight champion Shevchenko (19-3) completely dominated top contender Katlyn Chookagian (13-3), as she’s done with every fighter she’s faced in the last four years except Amanda Nunes.

There is a real problem in UFC right now on the women’s side in that outside of the strawweight division, Shevchenko and Nunes are so far ahead of the field that there is nobody for them to face. They could face each other, but Nunes, the bigger of the two, has won both of those fights.

The next contender at this point should be Joanne Calderwood (14-4), but she doesn’t figure to have a better shot than Chookagian or Liz Carmouche, who both mounted no offense of note and were controlled in every aspect of the game.

DERRICK LEWIS - Lewis (23-7, 1 no contest) took a decision over Ilir Latifi, who was a short powerhouse at light heavyweight, and showed up 40 pounds heavier in moving up a division.

Lewis is one of the most popular heavyweights, because of his demeanor, and because, as the Alexander Volkov fight showed, no matter how much he’s being toyed with and outclassed, he’s always got a shot if he lands the big punch.

The next fight for Lewis should be the loser of the March 28 bout with Ngannou (14-3) vs. Rozenstruik (10-0).

LAUREN MURPHY - In a battle of ranked women flyweights, Murphy (12-4) took a split decision over Andrea Lee (11-4). This was closer to a robbery, as 100 percent of media scores and 92 percent of fan scores had it for Lee.

Murphy called out Roxanne Modaferri (24-16) next, and after Modaferri got her huge upset win over Maycee Barber, that’s a good next fight for both.