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Retro Robbery Review: Rashad Evans vs. Michael Bisping at UFC 78

UFC 78
Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping at UFC 78 on Nov. 17, 2007, in Newark, N.J.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

We’re digging deep into the Robbery Review well this week to take a look at a fight that turned 14 years old this month, a pivotal bout in the careers of 2019 UFC Hall of Fame inductees Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping that I’ve been asked on more than one occasion to take to the lab.

The date was Nov. 17, 2007, and UFC 78 in Newark, N.J., was headlined by the first-ever meeting between two Ultimate Fighter winners back when that actually meant something. Evans was the unlikely heavyweight winner of Season 2, while Bisping jolted the British MMA scene by winning Season 3’s light heavyweight tournament. Both were undefeated light heavyweights at the time and would later go on to win UFC gold (Evans just two fights later, Bisping nine years down the road).

They had a lot to prove with Evans escaping with a draw in his previous fight against Tito Ortiz, and Michael Bisping coming off of a split nod over Matt Hamill (a future Robbery Review subject, for certain).

It was Evans who earned bragging rights on this day though, prompting Bisping to move to middleweight and the rest was history. But would a Bisping win have kept him around at 205 pounds? Would he have been matched up with Chuck Liddell next, as Evans was coming off of this win? And who really deserved the nod?

To the lab we go.

What was the official result?

Rashad Evans def. Michael Bisping via split decision.

How did the fight go?

Every round started off pretty much the same with Evans initiating an exchange of punches, then working to get a takedown. This strategy was most effective in Round 1 when Evans landed first and then forced Bisping to defend a takedown against the cage. Evans made sure not to give Bisping too much room to counter with elbows and knees in the clinch and eventually scored a takedown with half a round left to work with. Evans focused on control, but also sprinkled in ground-and-pound to keep the fight on the mat where he wanted it to be.

The second round was definitely not as clear-cut as Bisping used a busy guard to stifle Evans and prompt a reset from referee Dan Miragliotta. On the feet, Bisping strung together combinations and landed a couple of stiff knees to the body in response to Evans getting in close. Evans continued to land his looping right hand though, keeping the action close.

Bisping stuck with the game plan in Round 3, emphasizing his jab and combinations. However, he just couldn’t get out of the way of Evans’ right hand, which landed cleanly on multiple occasions in the final five minutes. The good news for Bisping is his takedown defense was on point and he even managed to reverse a shot into his own takedown at one point. Evans scored another takedown that he couldn’t do much with and Bisping later landed a clean punch after a sprawl. The fight ended with Bisping landing with an uppercut and a knee, then a late takedown from Evans.

What did the judges say?

Doug Crosby scored it 29-28 Evans.

Romulo Bittencourt scored it 29-28 Bisping.

Eric Colon scored it 29-28 Evans.

Unfortunately for our purposes, round-by-round scoring is not available for this fight. Presumably, Round 3 was the decider.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

Through a modern lens, we can see why there would be plenty of room for controversy.

The numbers favor Bisping here as he won the significant strikes battle 40-23 and edged out each round in that category (11-6, 19-8, 10-9). The head strikes were about even at 23-22 for Bisping, while “The Count” showed more diversity in his attacks winning in body strikes (11-1) and leg strikes (6-0).

Unsurprisingly, Evans won big in the grappling department, being credited with six takedowns to Bisping’s two, as well as 7:42 of control time.

What the stats don’t tell us is how effective Evans’ 23 significant strikes were (almost all of them were solid right hand power shots) nor how effective his control actually was (he is credited with just four ground strikes in the fight and did not attempt a submission).

What did the media say?

As this was in the dark days of 2007, there are only three outlets listed on MMA Decisions and all three of them scored the bout 29-28 Evans.

MMA Fighting’s live blog of the event scored it 29-28 Evans, noting “I’d give this fight to Evans but it wouldn’t shock me if the judges go with Bisping.”

What did the people say?

Let’s take a look at the MMA Decisions fan voting and keep in mind that this is an ongoing vote, not a screenshot of how the fight was scored in 2007. So we’re not able to look back at what the immediate reaction was.

As it stands, 46.7 percent of voters felt that Bisping won the fight 29-28. The 29-28 Evans score isn’t far behind at 35.6 percent.

Going by round, the first two were clear with over 75 percent giving Round 1 to Evans and Round 2 to Bisping. It’s the third that is in dispute, though 53.3 percent felt it was a 10-9 for Bisping.

How did I score it?

Let me first say this was a fun fight to re-watch given where these fighters’ careers went and how dramatically scoring has changed in the years since this encounter.

Even with a close review of the action — one that admittedly favored Bisping given the context in which the bout was previously mentioned to me — I’d still be okay with scoring this 29-28 Evans. This is a classic case of the significant strike stats not telling the whole story as Bisping was landing a lot of good shots here and there, but still getting noticeably cracked by Evans’ power right. It’s that same right hand that would later demolish Chuck Liddell and from the outside looking in it really didn’t look like he was far off from doing the same to Bisping.

But to Bisping’s credit, he was either able to eat those shots or slip them in such a way that the impact was minimal. It’s hard to tell on replay, much less in real time. It’s entirely possible that those Evans rights didn’t hurt as much as they looked, so a Bisping scorecard is perfectly defensible.

Was it a robbery?

Both men were classy after the result was read, acknowledging that the fight was close and that the takedowns were the deciding factor. Evans thought he did enough to win, Bisping thought that he neutralized the takedowns enough to deserve the nod. Either way, there was little controversy in the moment. Boring, I know.

Bisping would probably have a much stronger case if we were scoring by modern rules, but takedowns did appear to have more value in 2007 before the rules were revised nearly a decade later. As can be seen in Section 467.796, subsection (e) of an older version of the rules here (I know, NERD ALERT), the criteria does not make a clear distinction between effective striking and effective grappling as far as how the two should comparatively be weighted.

As far as I can tell, that means the judges were justified in crediting Evans for his takedowns and control time even if he didn’t muster much actual offense off of that. Add in the fact that Evans arguably landed the most damaging strikes in the fight, and we can confidently close the books on this one.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.

Poll

Was Rashad Evans’ win over Michael Bisping a robbery?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Yes
    (193 votes)
  • 65%
    No
    (359 votes)
552 votes total Vote Now