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.
If Amanda Nunes retired today, she’s the rare athlete that could truly say they’ve done it all in their sport. She’s won championships in two weight classes, cleaned out her divisions, and absolutely run through her most famous peers.
She’s even twice defeated Valentina Shevchenko, her greatest rival. But it’s their rematch at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta, on Sept. 9, 2017, that brings us to our topic of discussion today: As great as Nunes is, should her bantamweight reign have actually ended at the hands of “Bullet?”
(And before anyone mentions it, no, there is no argument that Shevchenko is up 2-0 in their series. Their first fight at UFC 196 was a clear win for Nunes, despite the controversy surrounding the second fight somehow retroactively leading to talk of Nunes stealing both fights.)
There was an immediate uproar after the cards were read at Rogers Place. By the end of the fight, the crowd had become decidedly pro-Shevchenko, and she vehemently argued afterward that she’d won the striking battle.
Our own Jed Meshew has long maintained that Shevchenko beat Nunes at UFC 215, and when asked for comment on this edition of Robbery Review, he offered this statement:
“SHEVCHENKO IS THE RIGHTFUL QUEEN OF 125, 135, 145, THE ANDALS AND THE FIRST MEN. BREAKER OF CHAINS, MOTHER OF DOPE SH*T, AND PROTECTOR OF THE REALM”
It’s safe to say people have opinions about this fight.
Shevchenko made a compelling case both in the cage and on the mic, but whether she was the victim of an outright robber is another story altogether.
What was the official result?
Amanda Nunes def. Valentina Shevchenko via split decision.
How did the fight go?
Right off the bat, it has to be mentioned that in the rematch neither woman was able to muster up much in the way of dramatic, impactful moments, nor sustained offense. It was a solid technical outing through and through, but finding a sequence where either Nunes or Shevchenko truly asserted themselves is difficult.
The first round was a feeling-out process that appeared to favor Nunes as she worked to get the better of the leg kick game. She fought at a deliberate pace, perhaps aware of the skepticism surrounding her ability to go five rounds, something she’d never done before. Nunes set the pace, though it’s one that Shevchenko was content to match. The challenger got her hands going in round two, and while it wasn’t a resounding turning of the tide, it was a clear statement that Nunes had to respect her boxing.
By round three, the pace of the fight stayed steady. Shevchenko was focused on countering and even managed to string together a few short combos. However, Nunes stuck to her game plan, peppering Shevchenko with kicks to the leg and body while hunting for a knockout shot.
Round four was maybe the closest of the bunch, as both fighters settle into a groove, though the bout still lacked urgency (much to the chagrin of the crowd). Shevchenko kept finding ways to get inside, even as Nunes’ counter game began to pick up. The champ’s body and leg kicks paid dividends as well.
We finally saw some variety in the action in round five when Nunes attempted to grapple with Shevchenko, most likely looking to seal the deal. It’s understandable, as her team might have thought she’d won at least two of the first four rounds. Shevchenko defended well, but ended up with Nunes on her back after an ill-timed head-and-arm throw with two minutes remaining in the fight. Little was done with the position. After they got back to their feet, Nunes pursued another takedown, successfully putting Shevchenko on her back in the last minute of the fight. Even then, it was Shevchenko scoring with pitter-patter strokes from bottom position.
There was a tense ending to the fight as the competitors separated, and that carried over to the reading of the scores.
What did the judges say?
Sal D’Amato scored it 48-47 Nunes.
Tony Weeks scored it 48-47 Shevchenko.
David Therien scored it 48-47 Nunes.
Round one was the only round that all three judges agreed on (10-9 Nunes). The other four were all disputed, here’s who had the advantage in each (all scores were 10-9s):
Round 2 - Shevchenko (D’Amato, Weeks)
Round 3 - Shevchenko (Therien, Weeks)
Round 4 - Shevchenko (D’Amato, Therien)
Round 5 - Nunes (D’Amato, Therien)
That looks weird, doesn’t it? Shevchenko won the three middle rounds, but because of the way scores are tallied in the 10-point must system, Nunes got the three 10s she needed by the end of the fight from two of the three judges, and thus, the nod.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
The stats paint a favorable picture for the champion.
Nunes had a 14-significant strike advantage in round one (25-11) and a slight edge in significant strikes in every other round except the fifth. That emphasis on body and leg work paid off at least in terms of volume, and she won the total significant strikes battle 86-72.
The strongest evidence for a Shevchenko win is a notable advantage in head strikes, 30-16 in total. She also won the last round 14-4 in significant strikes, a round that two of the judges gave to Nunes.
That’s probably because of the Nunes takedown, though she generated zero ground strikes from it. She was also credited with a takedown in round one, which is a little confusing given that there was only a brief trip in the last few seconds that Shevchenko immediately recovered from.
Nunes won the body strike battle 14-9 and the leg strike battle by a wide margin 56-33.
What did the media say?
Of the 22 media member scores tallied by MMA Decisions, 10 scored the fight for Nunes, 10 for Shevchenko, and two went with a draw verdict.
Unsurprisingly, our own Jed Meshew strayed the farthest from the actual scores, giving the win to Shevchenko 49-46.
What did the people say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)
It wasn’t quite a majority, but 45.2 percent of voters on MMA Decisions scored the fight 48-47 Shevchenko. In second place was 48-47 Nunes, with 26.3 percent and in third 49-46 Shevchenko at 15.3 percent. So that’s a little over 60 percent who saw this one for Shevchenko, a smaller percentage of whom thought she won the fight definitively.
Of the disputed rounds, 84 percent of voters thought Shevchenko took round two and 87.6 percent thought she took round four. Rounds three and five were closer, with 67 percent giving Shevchenko round three and 65.9 percent giving Nunes round five.
Voters on the Verdict MMA app gave Nunes rounds one, three, and five. Round three was a dead heat with Nunes winning by just five points.
Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko competed in a razor close fight two years ago today.— Verdict (@VerdictMMA) September 9, 2019
Here's the Global Scorecard data. pic.twitter.com/VBH9XzUN0g
The Verdict MMA scoring system takes the cumulative total of every submitted fan score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.
According to voters, Nunes started and finished strong, winning round one by 73 points and round five by 57 points, which was enough to overcome the combined 108 points that Shevchenko registered in rounds two and four. It was close though as Nunes’ final score victory came by only 26 points.
How did I score it?
For Amanda Nunes. Just.
Prior to UFC 215, Nunes had only been to the scorecards twice (including the first Shevchenko fight). I didn’t know what “point-fighting Nunes” looked like, so when she exhibited this more measured and methodical style, it threw me for a loop. That said, upon my first viewing of this match, I remember thinking she’d done enough to keep the title, or to frame it another way, Shevchenko didn’t do enough to convince me that her post-fight outrage held weight. My feelings are mostly the same after giving the fight a proper review.
It’s tempting to give the smaller Shevchenko credit for getting the better of Nunes strictly in terms of boxing, but I can’t ignore how consistent Nunes was with targeting the body and legs. There was never a stretch where she wasn’t chipping away at Shevchenko. “Bullet” is right that she had the less damaged face after, but that one aspect of the fight doesn’t tell the whole story.
As far as the late takedown goes, that may have secured the fight for Nunes, mileage may vary. I admit, before looking at the stats, I fell into the old “steal the round with a takedown” trap, which isn’t something that should be taken into consideration unless the fighter manages to generate offense after the takedown or completely neutralizes their opponent with it.
I gave rounds one, four, and five to Nunes, and I don’t blame the judges at all for struggling to get this one right.
Was it a robbery?
What’s important to remember about Robbery Review is that we’re not here to determine who won. We’re here to figure out if a fighter was robbed of a clear-cut win. As strong as her performance was, we can’t say that’s what happened to Shevchenko here.
This is not a criticism of Shevchenko’s inability to get the finish. Forget “never leave it in the hands of the judges” (another adage that never needs to be brought up again). When you’re going five rounds with a champion as dangerous as Nunes, you do whatever you need to do to win, and if that means having a strategy to win a decision if you can’t find a knockout or submission, then you stick to that strategy. It’s arguable that Shevchenko won on points.
Arguable. It’s that word that de-fangs Shevchenko’s protest. If there were a knockdown, a flurry, or a round where she absolutely lit Nunes up on the feet or on the ground, we’d at least be able to point to something as an example of Shevchenko’s self-proclaimed dominance. And yes, those factors apply to Nunes too, who didn’t exactly put a stamp on her first post-Rousey title defense here.
This was a competitive and close championship bout, no matter who you scored it for.
The final verdict
Not a robbery. Deal with it, Meshew.
Was Amanda Nunes’ second win over Valentina Shevchenko a robbery?
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