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Retro Robbery Review: Phil Davis vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 163

Lyoto Machida punches Phil Davis EL MMAF
Phil Davis and Lyoto Machida at UFC 163 on Aug. 3, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro
Esther Lin

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 Friday, Lyoto Machida gets his chance to right a perceived wrong.

Machida meets Phil Davis in the main event of Bellator 245, a rematch from their closely-fought encounter at UFC 163 on Aug. 3, 2013. At the time, both were in the mix for a light heavyweight title shot with former UFC champion Machida coming off of wins over Dan Henderson and Ryan Bader, and Davis riding an 11-1 (1 NC) start to his pro fighting career.

It was Davis who took the win on points in their first meeting, which unsurprisingly drew a cascade of boos from the partisan crowd in Rio de Janeiro.

Reactions to the decision were mixed, with UFC President Dana White seeing it as a clear win for Machida, while analysts like Kenny Florian saw no issue with the scoring.

Let’s take a look back at the fight and see which side of the fence we fall on.

What was the official result?

Phil Davis def. Lyoto Machida via unanimous decision.

How did the fight go?

Machida’s team probably wanted a striking matchup and for the most part, they got one. The threat of Davis’ wrestling loomed throughout, but he had to show the evolution of his striking if he was going to get past Machida.

Right away, Davis made good use of kicks to set the tone and score early against Machida, a slow starter. As active as he was though, it was Machida who marched forward, winning the “aggression” portion of the fight, which may have mattered given that the striking was fairly even. After Machida backed Davis up with a straight left, Brian Stann noted on commentary that Machida appeared to be landing the more significant strikes. Just as he said that, Machida connected with a vintage rush capped off by a glancing knee.

Davis successfully scored a takedown to close out round one and though he didn’t throw much, he wasn’t laying and praying either. It’s possible that he “stole the round with a takedown,” as grim as that sounds.

In round two, Davis’ reactions seemed to indicate that Machida was landing the better shots. However, that could have just been due to awkwardness in his movement and striking as opposed to him being legitimately hurt. What was clear was that he just wasn’t landing much himself. Machida was hitting and making Davis miss. Davis finished the round strong again though. He misses on another takedown attempt, but landed a nice uppercut off of the break. Machida scored with a clean right that Davis animatedly shook off, then Davis got another late takedown and ended with some visually appealing—if not necessarily damaging—ground-and-pound.

The commentary was harping on Davis needing to get takedowns earlier, which gave an indication of who they thought was winning the fight. Machida scored another clean shot to open round three. He had Davis swinging at a lot of air at this point in the fight. The effort took its toll on Davis who was visibly gassed and unable to score a takedown in the third. In fact, it’s Machida who stuffed a takedown attempt and briefly took Davis’ back.

Neither man was able to put an exclamation point on the performance. Both looked confident that they’d done enough to win.

What did the judges say?

All three judges scored the fight 29-28 in favor of Davis, but one judge took a different path to that verdict.

Judges Sal D’Amato and Rick Winter both gave the first two rounds to Davis, while Chris Watts gave rounds two and three to Davis.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

There wasn’t a lot to score here. The final significant strike total was 27-21 in favor of Machida, with Machida taking rounds one (10-8) and three (10-5), and Davis taking round two (8-7). Not exactly the stuff that classic fights are made of.

Both times that Davis took Machida down, he was able to score points, landing two ground strikes in round one and three in round two.

Machida had the advantage in head (12-4) and body strikes (11-8), while Davis landed more leg strikes (9-4).

Davis was credited with two successful takedowns. Neither man scored a knockdown.

One last stat to consider is that Davis threw way more strikes, even if his significant strike success rate was significantly lower. He attempted 98 total strikes to Machida’s 61, connecting at a 23 percent clip (Machida hit 44 percent of his significant strikes).

What did the media say?

According to the media scores tallied on MMA Decisions, this was shutout for Machida. Thirteen out of thirteen media members saw this as a Machida win, with 10 giving Machida all three rounds.

What did the people say?

Believe it or not, fans were strongly in agreement with the media for once. The majority of users on MMA Decisions saw this as a definitive Machida win as 30-27 Machida took 61.6 percent of the vote. The second-highest result was 29-28 Machida at 17.3 percent, which means almost 80 percent disagreed with the judges’ call.

Coming in third was 29-28 Davis at 12.8 percent.

How did I score it?

Like most of the media, I distinctly recall scoring this for Machida in the moment. Upon review, it’s closer than I remember, but this fight still belonged to “The Dragon.”

Credit to Davis for stepping up to the plate and striking with Machida, but as the fight went on it was clear that Machida was outclassing him on the feet. Should Machida have taken risks to more strongly state his striking superiority? Maybe. It’s hard to argue that though when you consider that Machida and his team likely felt that he was winning.

I can’t pinpoint any section of the fight where it felt like Machida was in any danger, though I guess one could argue the same for Davis. This is a tricky one. My eyes (and the commentary, if you put weight on that sort of thing) tell me that Machida’s strikes were more accurate and impactful. And Davis definitely shouldn’t get points for sheer output no matter how badly he beat up the air in front of Machida.

Rounds one and three to Machida on my card.

Was it a robbery?

A slight one. That call may go against the very spirit of this feature, which is meant to dispel the notion that many famously close fights are robberies, but rules are made to be broken so I’m breaking that rule here.

This was unquestionably a close fight. And yet it’s also one where I’m confident in saying that there was more than enough evidence to help the judges make a distinction as to who was the better man in each round. Outside of a late takedown, what did Davis do in round one? And not that it would have made a difference, but how could Watts score round three for Davis?

I’m still trying to figure this one out. The Dragon was robbed.

The final verdict



Was Phil Davis’ win over Lyoto Machida a robbery?

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