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Retro Robbery Review: Paul Felder vs. Edson Barboza 2 at UFC 242

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Paul Felder and Edson Barboza at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on Sept. 7, 2019
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

With this past weekend’s UFC event free of controversy, we look ahead to this Saturday where Paul Felder meets Dan Hooker in the lightweight main event of UFC Auckland. Riding a five-fight win streak at 155 pounds (Felder lost once during this streak when he stepped up on short-notice to fight Mike Perry in a welterweight bout), Felder seems poised to earn a title shot. However, his most recent victory was a split nod over Edson Barboza at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi last September and there was room for interpretation after the scores were read.

So let’s give it a proper look-over in this Retro Robbery Review.

What was the official result?

Paul Felder def. Edson Barboza via split decision (29-28, 27-30, 30-27)

How did the fight go?

As in most of his fights, Barboza is the quicker man out of the gate. Almost every leg kick he throws lands (an ongoing theme in this one) and he doesn’t seem rushed at all even as Felder initiates most of the offense. Clean counters by Barboza, including one that catches Felder as he comes in to clinch.

Both fighters have great success going to the body (again, this holds true throughout the fight) and Felder’s pressure is starting to yield results as there is some swelling over Barboza’s right eye early. Barboza doesn’t let it distract him and he rips Felder with a kick to the body. Later, we see blood over Felder’s eye, apparently from a headbutt, and he wisely signals to the judges that the cut on his hairline did not come from a scoring strike. Still, Barboza looks to be ahead after consistently beating Felder to the punch through the first five minutes.

Round two is incredibly close as both men continue to punish each other’s bodies. Felder is having a better time of landing strikes to the head, but Barboza always seems to avoid the end of Felder’s combinations. About a minute in, Barboza surprises Felder with a successful double leg takedown and we have a major turning point; however, it’s in favor of Felder, not Barboza. Felder slices Barboza up with elbows from the bottom and even throws up an armbar that is well-defended. The ground exchange has to be scored in Felder’s favor here. Back on the feet, Barboza’s counter game remains strong, but Felder is landing more than he did in the first.

Interesting note: Between rounds, Barboza’s corner tells him that he is up 2-0.

Does this lead to Barboza taking his foot off the gas at all?

One thing that is for certain is that Felder is fighting like he’s behind, coming forward as much as possible. He lands a clean right hand in close, but Barboza doesn’t show signs of being hurt. Felder’s jab is on point in round three. Barboza later lands a whipping spinning backfist right across Felder’s chin. It holds up. Felder’s volume is racking up points, the problem is that Barboza is responding with more visibly powerful punches.

A great fight and the outcome is anything but obvious as they go to the scorecards.

What did the judges say?

Howie Booth scored it 30-27 Barboza.

David Lethaby scored it 29-28 Felder.

Maria Makhmutova scored it 30-27 Felder.

These scorecards were something else.

While the fight was close, you can understand Barboza’s frustration given that somehow one judge saw the fight go entirely his way and another not even give him a single round. As for Lethaby, he gave Barboza round one and scored the last two for Felder.

In speculating on what the judges may have seen, Booth appeared to favor Barboza’s accuracy and the impact of his counters as well as the takedown he scored in round two even though that led to more significant offense for Felder than Barboza. Makhmutova was likely won over by the volume and aggression of Felder as he marched forward for almost the entire fight and threw plenty of combinations.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

In total strikes, this one was as close as it gets. The final tally was 77 to 75 in Barboza’s favor, with Barboza holding a 60-56 advantage in significant strikes. Breaking the significant strike count down by rounds, Barboza won the first by 11 (24-13) and the second by one (21-20), while Felder won the third by eight (23-15).

Felder was far more active in round three, throwing 57 strikes (including 52 to the head) to Barboza’s 26.

Barboza had the lone takedown of the bout in round two. His late takedown attempt at the end of round three was not scored as successful.

What did the media say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)

Of the 16 outlets tallied on MMA Decisions, three scored the fight for Felder, 13 for Barboza.

What did the people say?

Per MMA Decisions, 60.8 percent of voters scored the fight 29-28 for Barboza, with the next highest result being 27.7 percent in favor of the 29-28 Felder score.

Verdict MMA’s scoring system, which takes the cumulative total of every submitted score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in each round divided by the amount of submitted scores, resulted in Barboza winning by a narrow margin of 28.61 to 28.45.

While users felt that Felder edged out rounds two and three, Barboza’s wider margin of victory in round one led to him receiving a higher total Verdict score.

How did I score it?

I’m going rogue.

With respect to Booth, Lethaby, and Makhmutova, I don’t think any of them scored all three rounds correctly. I saw Barboza having the clear striking edge in round one (10-9 Barboza), Felder doing most of the damage from bottom position in round two (10-9 Felder), and Barboza landing the cleaner shots in round three (10-9) despite losing the statistical battle. On that last point, what I mean is that Barboza’s crisp counters registered as more significant in my mind than Felder’s jabs. Incredibly close fight to call though.

Was it a robbery?

Nah.

In a strange way, the wildly diverging trio of scorecards accurately reflects just how difficult this fight was to judge. Even if you’re not giving Felder points for just advancing (which you shouldn’t), he stood in the pocket with Barboza and threw mostly head strikes (he attempted nearly twice as many head strikes as Barboza during the fight, 137-74), which is a tried and true way to positively influence scoring.

Barboza was cut up in round two, but he may have been rewarded for the takedown and on the feet he continued to give Felder problems. His corner did him a disservice by telling him that he was up on the scorecards heading into the final round as their strategy allowed Felder to look like the fresher and more active fighter.

Where Barboza has a legitimate grievance is Makhmutova scoring the fight 30-27 for Felder.

Neither the stats, public opinion, nor my own evaluation found any solid justification for giving Felder round one. So if you want to say that one judge robbed Barboza, that’s fair, but there’s enough tangible evidence for Makhmutova to defend her scores for rounds two and three, which would change her score to a more reasonable 29-28. Still a split decision loss for Barboza.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.

Poll

Was Paul Felder’s win over Edson Barboza at UFC 242 a robbery?

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  • 31%
    Yes
    (221 votes)
  • 68%
    No
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703 votes total Vote Now