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.
A couple of weeks back, we wondered if Khabib Nurmagomedov’s unbeaten mark should have actually been blemished by his fight with Gleison Tibau. This week, we put his rival Tony Ferguson’s lengthy winning streak under the microscope ahead of Ferguson’s upcoming interim lightweight title fight with Justin Gaethje at UFC 249.
Back at UFC 177 on Aug. 30, 2014, Ferguson was in the early stages of his 12-fight unbeaten run when he ran into the gritty Danny Castillo. “El Cucuy” had his hand raised in the end, but the Sacramento crowd—already soundly behind local favorite Castillo—immediately called foul and showered Ferguson with boos.
Castillo believed he controlled the fight and said in his post-fight interview that “If we were in jail, he’d be in trouble.”
Did Castillo actually derail the Ferguson hype train before it got going? Let’s go to the tape.
What was the official result?
Tony Ferguson def. Danny Castillo via split decision.
How did the fight go?
There wasn’t much controversy regarding the first and third rounds.
Round one saw Ferguson fighting with the style that we all know and love, just advancing and scoring and making Castillo miss. It’s the variety of Ferguson’s attack that’s impressive here as he chipped away at Castillo with kicks to the legs and body to set up straight punches. Castillo responded with winging power punches, but most of them were blocked. It’s Castillo’s counter game that yielded some success.
In the grappling department, Ferguson took the early advantage with a D’Arce choke off of a takedown counter. He willingly fights off of his back, which proves to be a running theme throughout this encounter.
In round two, Ferguson’s striking opened up further as continued to stifle Castillo’s wrestling, allowing him to load up with a head kick and a jumping knee that had Castillo retreating. Halfway through the second round is where the action completely shifted as Ferguson attempted to counter a back take with a forward roll, only to end up with Castillo on top of him.
Castillo was relentless in hanging onto the slippery Ferguson and he spent the rest of the round holding Ferguson down. Even when Ferguson briefly kicked off of the cage and scrambled into mount, Castillo refused to accept that position and regained control. Inside Ferguson’s guard, he barely threw any punches though.
Castillo wisely shot in to start round three, determined to get it back to the mat where he’d been able to neutralize Ferguson for the most part. He was also still throwing out heavy right hands. Wild as ever, Ferguson rolled for a knee bar and Castillo took advantage by snagging a leg and dropping down to wrestle. The majority of the round saw Castillo in control, focusing on avoiding Ferguson’s strikes and submissions from bottom. He scooped Ferguson up for a semi-slam, but outside of that, there wasn’t a lot of impact to his offense in the final round.
An arm-triangle submission attempt by Castillo closed things out and he seemed satisfied with having outwrestled Ferguson.
What did the judges say?
Michael Bell scored it 29-28 Ferguson.
Derek Cleary scored it 29-28 Ferguson.
Larry Landless scored it 29-28 Castillo.
As you’d expect, round two was the decider as rounds one and three were scored the same by all three judges. Landless scored round two and the fight for Castillo.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
Scoring just significant strikes, Ferguson and Castillo are knotted up at 23 apiece. Not helpful, numbers!
In terms of total strikes, Ferguson is way ahead by a margin of 71-30, which can be explained both by Ferguson’s sheer volume and also his attacks from bottom position. If you’re like Landless and saw this fight for Castillo, those strikes might be considered negligible, so that 41 total strikes differential isn’t as bad as it looks.
Ferguson officially completed two successful takedowns, both in the third round, so him achieving top position in rounds one and two was attributed to Ferguson pulling guard or Castillo pouncing on Ferguson during submission attempts. Top control time is not logged, but it would essentially be a shutout for Castillo in that category.
What’s damning for Castillo is that even in the round all three judges thought he won, the third, he was credited with ZERO significant strikes landed and just four total. He wasn’t throwing much on the ground and whatever he did apparently did not register as particularly effective. That’s in contrast to rounds one and two in which Castillo battled Ferguson to a near standstill in significant strikes (R1: 11-11, R2: 12-10 Castillo). Ferguson was credited with two significant strikes and 18 total in round three.
On the feet, it does look like Castillo was going for the finish, at least early on. All 23 of his significant strikes landed on Ferguson’s head, while Ferguson spread out his attacks with 10 to the head, three to the body, and 10 to the legs.
What did the media say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions)
Of the outlets tallied by MMA Decisions, 10 scored it for Ferguson, six for Castillo, and one saw it as a 29-29 draw. The decisive scores were 29-28 in either direction with the exception of Bloody Elbow, who gave all three rounds to Ferguson.
What did the people say?
Viewers at home did not share the outrage of those in attendance.
Fifty-two percent of voters on MMA Decisions agreed with the 29-28 Ferguson call, with another 6.9 percent going 30-27 Ferguson. There was a contingent of Castillo supporters though as a 29-28 score garnered 32 percent of the vote.
Regarding the divisive second round, 58.3 percent saw it in Ferguson’s favor.
How did I score it?
Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not planning to go to Sacramento anytime soon (though wouldn’t it be weird if I did and they were still mad about this decision?).
As much as I respect how hard it is to control a raging bull like Ferguson, there were just so many long stretches of this fight where Castillo didn’t make any visible attempt to finish. Oddly, he said afterwards that he felt he was constantly pursuing the finish and while that may have been the case when the two were standing and trading, it couldn’t be further from the truth on the ground.
Ferguson was far more active from the bottom and even in the third round it could be argued that he was initiating the action just as much as Castillo was. I can’t blame Castillo for thinking he was in control here, but for observers the optics of him holding on and doing little else are just bad. It’s 29-28 Ferguson for me.
Was it a robbery?
That depends. How much do you value uneventful top control?
That may sound harsh given how deadly Ferguson can be, but Castillo really needed to show the judges more here. Ferguson’s aggression and varied arsenal shined at a glance, while Castillo’s offense required a more keen eye to appreciate and even then that’s only if you favor control over effective striking.
What’s ironic is that statistically Castillo wasn’t doing badly at least as far as significant strikes goes. He may actually have been better served letting his hands loose and turning this one into a dogfight. Instead, he went with what worked for him so many times in the past and was left empty-handed.
The final verdict
Not a robbery.
Was Tony Ferguson’s win over Danny Castillo a robbery?
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