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Retro Robbery Review: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Gleison Tibau from UFC 148

UFC 148 Photos
Gleison Tibau and Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 148 on July 7, 2012, in Las Vegas.
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.

For a brief, fleeting moment, it looked as though fans would finally get to see Khabib Nurmagomedov face the biggest challenge to his 28-0 record, Tony Ferguson. UFC 249 saw Nurmagomedov and Ferguson — an equally indomitable lightweight on his own impressive 12-fight win streak — once again booked to duel before a series of events related to the coronavirus pandemic led to the bout being cancelled for a fifth time and the card itself eventually being postponed indefinitely.

But was Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten status ever truly on the line? On more than one occasion, fans have brought up Nurmagomedov’s July 7, 2012, encounter with Gleison Tibau as the point where “The Eagle” should have rightfully taken his first loss. Tibau has mentioned that he feels he controlled Nurmagomedov in their fight, while Ferguson has also said he believes Tibau was the better man at UFC 148.

In this week’s Retro Robbery Review, we’ll take a look at just how close Tibau was to being the 1 in 27-1.

What was the official result?

Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Gleison Tibau via unanimous decision.

How did the fight go?

It’s worth noting that this was just Nurmagomedov’s second UFC appearance, while Tibau was making the walk to the octagon for the 16th time. That goes to show you how high the matchmakers were on the then-23-year-old Nurmagomedov at the time (his overall record was 17-0).

The first thing that jumps out at you watching this one is that yes, Tibau blocked every single Nurmagomedov takedown attempt. At one point in the third round, an on-screen graphic showed that Tibau was 11/11 on stuffing Nurmagomedov’s takedowns. Believe it or not, this was actually the first of two consecutives fights in which Nurmagomedov wouldn’t score a takedown, though that’s only because Nurmagomedov knocked out Thiago Tavares in under two minutes in his next outing.

Nurmagomedov is the one pushing the pace and controlling where this fight goes for the most part. It’s actually shocking to see how wild he is in some of these exchanges with Tibau, a winging right hand his weapon of choice for the most part. On Tibau’s side, he spends much of the fight looking to counter and to snuff out Nurmagomedov’s shots. He’s more successful at the latter than the former.

On a superficial level, Tibau’s reactions to getting hit are a lot less dramatic than Nurmagomedov. He does have a cut develop around his right eye, evidence of how effective Nurmagomedov’s striking was, but Tibau also has moments in the second and third round where he appears to catch Nurmagomedov with punches that have the future lightweight champion hurt. However, there are no knockdowns on either side, so Nurmagomedov’s reactions could just be a result of being off-balance or awkward in his defense.

Tibau initiated the wrestling as well, scoring what appeared to be a couple of takedowns though the first led to such a brief moment of control that it’s unclear if the judges recognized it. In close, Tibau fired knees to the body, while Nurmagomedov was active on the breaks, consistently throwing punches to the head before resetting.

In the final round, it was Nurmagomedov with the deeper gas tank and while Tibau stuck to his counter-heavy game plan, it doesn’t look like he did enough to put a stamp on a possible win. As we’d find out afterwards, Tibau was even further down on the scorecards than his team thought.

What did the judges say?

All three judges, Jeff Collins, Mark Smith, and Glenn Trowbridge scored it 30-27 Nurmagomedov.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

It’s fascinating to look over the stats for this fight because even re-watching it with the benefit of being able to pause and review every exchange, it’s still difficult to tell what punches were scored as having landed.

According to the numbers, not that many!

Tibau won the significant strike battle by a narrow margin of 28-25. He also had the advantage in total strikes, 46-33.

Going round by round isn’t particularly helpful in separating these two as one round was a tie in significant strikes and Tibau had the edge in rounds one and three. How much of an edge? 10 strikes to eight in round one, and nine strikes to eight in round three (for what it’s worth, Nurmagomedov had the advantage in total strikes in round two 14-12). Neither man was credited with more than 10 significant strikes in any round. Oy.

In regards to takedowns, Nurmagomedov was officially 0-13, while Tibau was credited with one takedown, which occurred in round three.

Tibau won the head strike battle 15-13 and the body strike battle 13-7. Nurmagomedov had a shutout in leg strikes, 5-0.

What did the media say?

Only seven outlets are listed on MMA Decisions and the majority scored it in favor of Tibau. Five media members went 30-27 Tibau, the other two 30-28 Tibau and 29-28 Nurmagomedov.

What did the people say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions)

Per MMA Decisions, this is about as confusing as it gets. The top two results are tied at 36.1 percent and they’re of polar opposite views, 30-27 Tibau and 30-27 Nurmagomedov.

Going to the third, fourth, and fifth-place results doesn’t help much as the 11.8 percent who scored it 29-28 Tibau are nearly matched by the 11.6 percent who said either 29-28 or 30-28 Nurmagomedov.

Thanks a lot, people.

How did I score it?

I swear watching this fight that Nurmagomedov was throwing and landing more. Seeing the official stats threw me for a loop.

Not to harp on the numbers too much, but Nurmagomedov’s aggression definitely convinced me he was throwing more when in actuality the total attempted strike count was only 112-110 in his favor. He did neutralize much of Tibau’s offense by pressing him against the cage (a strategy we’ve seen wrestlers use to win many decisions), but clearly he wasn’t sneaking in as much clean offense off of the separations as I thought. At the very least, I may not have given Tibau credit for some of the short counter-punches he was using to back Nurmagomedov off of him.

What I’m trying to say is I scored this 30-27 for Nurmagomedov and I’m not feeling great about it.

Was it a robbery?

One aspect of reviewing fights I haven’t brought up is the effect of commentary, but it’s an important factor in understanding how fans view fights in the moment and historically. Joe Rogan was on color for this one and he was fully on the Tibau train, which I imagine is one of the reasons this verdict was considered controversial. He and Mike Goldberg are both stunned when it’s announced that Nurmagomedov swept the scorecards.

Up until the decision was read, Rogan was selling the narrative of Nurmagomedov being a spirited go-getter that was assuredly headed to a loss. Rogan was enamored by Tibau’s takedown defense, which was superb, and he seemed to gloss over most of Nurmagomedov’s successful strikes. It’s easy to see how the commentary could influence a viewer to go 30-27 for Tibau.

The math backs up Rogan’s assessment to some degree, but I still feel that Nurmagomedov deserves a lot of credit for his constant pressure and the fact that, if anything, the striking was a virtual stalemate. This was a close, close fight, and by that measure, it cannot be considered a robbery.

The final verdict

Not a robbery. But scoring it for Tibau definitely wouldn’t have been one either.


Was Khabib Nurmagomedov’s win over Gleison Tibau a robbery?

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