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.
This past Sunday marked the six-year anniversary of a momentous occasion for historians of controversial judging. That’s right everyone, it’s time to take a look back at the worst decision in UFC history: Diego Sanchez vs. Ross Pearson.
Always highly respected for his technical striking, Pearson was hovering around the top of the (then-theoretical) contender rankings, but finding it difficult to break through. A potential barnburner against Melvin Guillard ended in an unceremonious no contest when Pearson was caught with an illegal knee, but little did the Ultimate Fighter 9 winner know that the worst was yet to come in his next fight.
Anyone who saw Pearson’s fight with Sanchez on June 7, 2014, can distinctly remember how Pearson completely outclassed “The Nightmare”... and then lost a mystifying decision. It was an outrageous call at the time and to commemorate it—for lack of a better phrasing—we’re now going to look back at just how egregious it was.
Be warned: My usual cold objectivity may be absent on this occasion.
What was the official result?
Diego Sanchez def. Ross Pearson via split decision.
How did the fight go?
It went Pearson’s way, that’s how it went!
To Sanchez’s credit, nothing Pearson did deterred him from his game plan of coming forward and getting in Pearson’s face. Unfortunately for Sanchez, that also meant getting in the way of Pearson’s fists. For a fighter with Pearson’s counter-striking acumen, Sanchez was easy pickings and the Brit used the first round to find Sanchz’s rhythm. It didn’t take long. He stuck and moved and sniped. Add in the body work, and it was a clear-cut first round for Pearson.
It’s worth noting that it’s not like Pearson was burying Sanchez with constant offense, but the majority of the exchanges in this fight were so obviously in Pearson’s favor. He consistently caught Sanchez off-balance and at no point did he appear to be threatened by Sanchez’s striking. The biggest shot of the fight came with a little over a minute remaining in round two as Pearson caught Sanchez with a clean straight right that dropped Sanchez to his knees. Keep this in mind when we look at the judges scores.
Sanchez had his moments, attacking Pearson with his trademark reckless abandon. However, Pearson’s defense looked great and he turned most of Sanchez’s offense into glancing lunges. In the third, he lit Sanchez’s body up with short uppercuts while continuing to land pinpoint counters. As much as Sanchez is known for pushing the pace in the third, it was Pearson who closed this one out strong.
What did the judges say?
Jeff Collins scored it 30-27 Sanchez.
Marcos Rosales scored it 30-27 Pearson.
Chris Tellez scored it 29-28 Sanchez.
Jeff Collins scored it 30-27 Sanchez. 30-27 Sanchez. 30-27 SANCHEZ.
UFC Albuquerque was the only card to ever feature Tellez’s judging, while Collins was actually regularly used as a judge at UFC events up until 2014.
In what is surely unrelated news, Collins and Tellez never judged another UFC fight again.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
Pearson in a blowout.
The total significant strikes alone paint a dire picture for Sanchez, as Pearson out-struck him by a margin of 18 (51-33). Going round by round, it only gets worse for the original Ultimate Fighter.
Round one was Sanchez’s “best” effort as he only lost 13-8. Round two was statistically closer at 17-13 in favor of Pearson, but it was also the frame in which Pearson wobbled Sanchez and actually had a successful takedown, which made it a no-brainer for anyone not named Jeff Collins or Diego Sanchez.
Pearson increased his lead in round three, winning 21-12. A reminder, two judges gave Sanchez the third round.
As far as strike location, Pearson won the head and body battle convincingly by margins of 27-18 and 23-13 respectively, while Sanchez technically doubled him up in the leg strikes category 2-1. So there was at least one area of the fight in which Sanchez can statistically boast he was the better man.
What did the media say?
Of the 14 media member scores tallied by MMA Decisions, all 14 picked Pearson as the winner with only one outlet giving Sanchez a round.
I can’t speak for my peers, but I’m assuming their scoring was based on the fact that they have functioning eyeballs and reasoning skills beyond a second-grade level.
What did the people say?
On MMA Decisions, 84.3 percent of voters scored it 30-27 Pearson. In second place, 4.7 percent had it 29-28 Pearson and in third is 30-26 Pearson with 4.4 percent of the vote. That’s over 93 percent for Pearson.
The actual 29-28 score for Sanchez received 1.9 percent of the vote, which is so small that it can be dismissed as being comprised as friends and family of Sanchez, trolls and bots, and people who accidentally clicked the wrong option.
How did I score it?
I’ll be the first one to tell you that scoring fights isn’t always easy and you can look back on my history of live blogs to find scores that were probably left of center. Add in the fact that the judges don’t have the benefit of instant replay or even clear sight lines depending where the fight goes and some room for error is understandable.
That said, I can’t imagine how anyone could give a single round to Sanchez here. Never has octagon control been more meaningless as Sanchez’s forward movement was met over and over again with a straight shot to the face or a halting body blow. I’d go as far as to say that it was Pearson who dominated the octagon control as he had Sanchez dancing to his tune, his footwork and spacing dictating where and when the exchanges happened.
Generally, when a fighter so clearly demonstrates his superiority over another, I tend to score the fight for that fighter. I don’t know. I’m not a professional MMA judge. Then again, neither are Collins or Tellez anymore apparently.
Was it a robbery?
After the fight, Pearson said that broadcasters Kenny Florian and John Anik assumed he’d won all three rounds and his team filed a protest to the New Mexico athletic commission that—shocker—resulted in nothing happening.
“This has nothing to do with the UFC or Diego, it was the judges, the two judges on the night,” Pearson said at the time. “I have nothing bad to say about anyone on the night except you should have the two judges who made that decision on there explaining themselves. Why was Diego scored 30-27? Why did you have Diego winning that fight? I don’t know how, what did he do to beat me in that fight?”
This is the kind of result that should keep any fight fan up at night. Pearson’s relative restraint addressing the situation was admirable.
The judging was so bad that Dana White flat-out declared that “Diego lost that fight” and he actually gave Pearson his win bonus.
“The judge who judged that fight should never be judging fights again,” White said. “He never should be judging fights of this caliber, he needs to go back down into the amateurs and really learn how to judge a fight.”
White might be prone to hyperbole, but he was spot on there. Afterwards, Pearson was essentially booked as if he won the fight, drawing Gray Maynard and an up-and-coming Al Iaquinta in his next two outings.
Sanchez definitively lost the striking battle from a statistical standpoint. He was visibly more damaged than Pearson. Pearson scored the only knockdown of the fight, while Sanchez appeared to land almost nothing of consequence. This was Pearson’s fight from beginning to end.
If anyone can reasonably justify Sanchez winning two or three rounds of this fight, please leave a comment down below, delete your account, and then get your head examined.
The final verdict
A robbery of the highest order. This one might never be topped.
Was Diego Sanchez’s win over Ross Pearson a robbery?
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