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.
The UFC resumed operations on Saturday with a highly entertaining UFC 249 card that featured a little something for fight fans of every predilection. Massive knockouts, slick grappling, three-round wars, a retirement, a sensational main event, and, of course, controversy.
This week there was no shortage of content for Robbery Review, with Carla Esparza picking up a split nod over Michelle Waterson in a fight that produced a pair of rare opposing 30-27s and Aleksei Oleinik winning a split call against Fabricio Werdum in a fun and occasionally sloppy contest.
Those verdicts may get their day in court in the future. But today, we’re putting the welterweight rematch between Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone under the microscope. It’s not just because of social media uproar, but because the fight also potentially involved a late foul, and that’s just the kind of juicy point of contention we like to sink our teeth into around these parts.
Even better, when the decision was read in Pettis’s favor, he actually reacted in surprise, while Cerrone made a classic stinkface.
Pettis is now officially up 2-0 in his series with Cerrone. Let’s see if “Cowboy” has an argument for having evened the score.
What was the official result?
Anthony Pettis def. Donald Cerrone via unanimous decision.
How did the fight go?
It didn’t take long to see that this fight was going to be nothing like the first. Maybe it’s because neither man was burdened by a cut down to 155 pounds as in their first meeting, but the pace immediately quickened, and Cerrone made sure to take the center of the octagon. Cerrone, an infamously slow starter, didn’t let Pettis dictate the pace this time.
Cerrone’s muay Thai was on point in round one. He mixed straight punches and leg kicks on offense, while Pettis was comfortable reacting. Pettis’s counter-punching has become a dangerous part of his arsenal as he’s matured, something Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson found out the hard way. When Pettis exploded with a jumping high kick, Cerrone drove through it into a takedown to neutralize “Showtime.” On the ground, Cerrone knew better than to play around with the dangerous Pettis.
It’s impressive how much Cerrone made Pettis miss early here, especially considering Pettis’s coach Duke Roufus’s recent comments about Cerrone’s striking defense being below average. After losing to Pettis in under three minutes the first time they fought, perhaps Cerrone adopted a “fool me once...” mentality.
Still, Pettis adjusted. He put the pressure on Cerrone to start round two, perhaps expecting Cowboy to wilt. Cowboy didn’t. This was the mature version of Cerrone that we only sometimes see, and he didn’t fall prey to Pettis’s flashy attacks. Both men consistently landed in this round. Cerrone scored another takedown with a little less than 90 seconds to work, but again there wasn’t much he could do with it. Overall, Pettis appeared to be the busier fighter in the second round.
There was a lot of back and forth in the third, too, though Cerrone’s combinations looked sharp. At times, Pettis looked to be hunting for a KO kick, allowing Cerrone to get ahead on the scorecards. Then, at the 3:05 mark of the final frame, drama.
Lunging forward, Cerrone was caught by a right hand from Pettis. Or was it a right finger? Whatever it was, it stunned him. There was no reprieve given by referee Keith Peterson, and Cerrone complained, even as he did his best to defend himself against Pettis’s flurry. Cerrone was in survival mode for about 30 seconds, but he composed himself and cracked Pettis with a clean high kick that somehow didn’t even stagger Pettis.
Cerrone marched forward to make a statement in the closing seconds, and you could almost hear the roar of the phantom crowd as the buzzer rang.
What did the judges say?
All three judges, Sal D’Amato, Dave Tirelli, and Troy Wincapaw scored it 29-28 Pettis.
D’Amato’s card differed from his peers, as he gave rounds one and three to Pettis, while Tirelli and Wincapaw had Pettis winning the final two rounds.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
The numbers actually make a good, if not overwhelming case, that the judges got it right.
Going just by significant strikes, Pettis won rounds two (21-20) and three (27-25), which jibes with how Tirelli and Wincapaw saw the fight. Cerrone won round one 17-15. As you can see, neither fighter ran away with any of the rounds, statistically speaking, and the final total was 63-62 for Pettis.
Cerrone did score a couple of takedowns, one in each of the opening rounds, which surprisingly didn’t seem to sway Tirelli and Wincapaw’s scores in round two, despite that move often being the decider in close fights. It’s worth noting that Cerrone was credited with zero ground strikes.
In terms of total strikes, the difference was more noticeable, with Pettis holding an 81-62 advantage with the biggest margin in round two, 33-20 for Pettis.
Pettis won the head strike battle 44-31, while Cerrone was better in body strikes (18-10) and leg strikes (13-9).
What did the media say?
The media scores on MMA Decisions were about even, with six outlets scoring it for Pettis and seven for Cerrone. On the extreme ends, Sherdog.com had the fight 30-27 in favor of Pettis, while the Wrestling Observer scored it 30-27 Cerrone.
What did the people say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)
As of this writing, 41.4 percent of fans on MMA Decisions scored the fight 29-28 for Cerrone. Close behind is a 33.8 percent vote for 29-28 Pettis.
The next highest result is 30-27 Cerrone at 17.8 percent, and then 30-27 Pettis at 3.2 percent.
Just looking at the top four most popular outcomes, that’s 59.2 percent for Cerrone winning and 37 percent for Pettis.
On the Verdict MMA app, this was a clear win for Cerrone.
The Verdict scoring system takes the cumulative total of submitted fan scores (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) for every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.
Verdict users gave all three rounds to Cerrone, though he didn’t win any round by more than 34 points. Regardless, a total advantage of 76 points is a firm indictment of the official decision when you consider the limitations of the 10-point must system. I would consider a final score difference of 50 points or less as indication that a fight was perceived as close, and a difference of 90 points or more as indication that a fight result was considered clear cut.
In MMA Fighting’s own poll that asked for thoughts on the decision, 57.7 percent of voters thought that Cerrone was the rightful winner.
That was everything you could ask for in a rematch. Who won it?#UFC249— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) May 10, 2020
How did I score it?
This was a massively entertaining rematch, and it shouldn’t be marred by the fact that the judges got it wrong.
I had it 29-28 Cerrone, giving Cerrone the first and third rounds. In the first, it looked clear that Cerrone’s aggression was paying off and in the third he took advantage of a too-patient Pettis, capping his performance off with a thrilling flurry. Though Pettis wears damage as well as anyone, it just felt like Cerrone was landing the harder shots, and that stance is at least somewhat supported by the fact that all 62 of Cerrone’s landed strikes were scored as significant.
The takedowns, as well-timed as they were, didn’t register on my scorecard because almost no effective offense was generated off of them. What does warrant further discussion is that eye poke in the third.
Replays made it clear that it was a poke and not a punch, but in real time, there’s a good chance that “staggering blow” had a major effect on the scoring in the third round. All three judges had the fight one round apiece, and if that moment influenced their scores, well...
Was it a robbery?
Based on the impact of that missed eye poke, yes.
There’s no denying the fight was a close one, but Cerrone pressed the action and came on strong in the final round. He’d definitely won at least one of the first two and looked to be on his way to adding an exclamation point when he got eye-poked. The foul and how much it hurt him changed everything.
Even then, one could argue that the way Cerrone ended the fight was more than enough to tip the scales back in his favor. According to the judges, though, it was too little, too late.
Even if none of those arguments compel you, we should go to someone who had intimate knowledge of the fight for his take: Pettis himself.
Here’s what Pettis had to say immediately after hearing he won:
“What the f*ck? I’ll take it.”
Not exactly a stirring self-endorsement.
The final verdict
Was Anthony Pettis’s win over Donald Cerrone a robbery?
This poll is closed