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Robbery Review: Dwight Grant vs. Stefan Sekulic at UFC 261

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UFC 261: Usman v Masvidal 2
Stefan Sekulic and Dwight Grant at UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday
Photo by Alex Menendez/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.

By the time UFC 261 was over, it felt like two cards had been mashed together.

Early in the evening, the preliminary portion of the card had already produced its fair share of storylines with several exciting fights, a trio of prospects from the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai making their debuts (unsuccessfully, though all three showed great potential), and some screwy scorecards (29-27 Molina? 30-26 Vargas? 30-27 Sabatini? A 10-8 first round for Carnelossi???) that fortunately did not affect the end result of those bouts. With one possible exception.

When Dwight Grant’s name was read as the winner over Stefan Sekulic in the penultimate prelim bout, the crowd reaction at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena was tepid at best. After all, Grant had been matched up with an opponent seeking their first win who hadn’t competed in over 950 days, so this should have been his chance to style. Instead, Sekulic battled him for 15 minutes and arguably won the bout, though only one judge saw it that way.

After the insanity of the main card, this controversial call may have been forgotten, but not here at Robbery Review headquarters. Let’s give Grant and Sekulic their time in court.

What was the official result?

Dwight Grant def. Stefan Sekulic via split decision.

How did the fight go?

There wasn’t a lot to score in round one. Sekulic took the center of the octagon right away, but it’s Grant who led the dance, using his speed and agility to keep Sekulic guessing. Grant landed a nice combo to start, but then settled into using his length to land single punches from range. It was a feeling-out process and Sekulic’s offence consisted mostly of quick outside leg kicks until he landed a good kick to the body midway through the round. A jumping knee from Sekulic got a reaction from the crowd, but Grant stepped into it and blunted much of the impact with his body. Sekulic snagged a late takedown that he managed to get some ground-and-pound off of before the end of round one.

In round two, Grant kept pumping his jab in Sekulic’s face, but it failed to back Sekulic off much. When he lunged in with his left hook, that’s when he had Sekulic thinking twice about firing back. Sekulic stuck with low kicks, which Grant was content to just take. Grant avoided a takedown and nearly caught Sekulic with a couple of good punches. Moments later, he walked right into a big right hook from Sekulic, who followed up with another jumping knee and a spin kick that both whiffed. Both guys were almost mirroring each other. Grant threw a 1-2, then Sekulic threw a 1-2. Sekulic hit a leg kick, so Grant answered with a leg kick.

Another takedown for Sekulic and even though he landed in good position in Grant’s half guard, Grant easily pushed him off when Sekulic attempted to pass. Neither guy committed to much, though Sekulic again ended the round strong with a clean straight left into a failed takedown attempt. Early in the third, analyst Din Thomas said that Grant was backing up too much after landing. Moments later, Grant got a takedown of his own and snuck in some punches, but stood himself up not wanting to deal with Sekulic’s grappling. Commentators Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier thought that Grant needed a finish to win the fight.

Sekulic scored another successful takedown, but got no offense off of it. He hit Grant with another solid straight left, though Grant countered with a check left hook. When Grant doubled up on his punches, he had success, so you can see why his corner was advising him to ramp up his attack. A minute left and Sekulic landed another left hand and Grant again countered with a right. The tradeoff decidedly went in Sekulic’s favor when one more left wobbled Grant. He followed with a flying knee, which just allowed Grant to tie him up and take him down. Sekulic didn’t settle for waiting out the fight on bottom position, attacking with a guillotine that he hung onto until the final buzzer.

What did the judges say?

Derek Cleary scored it 29-28 Sekulic.

Chris Lee scored it 29-28 Grant.

Howard Reichbach scored it 29-28 Grant.

The difference came down to the second round, which both Lee and Reichbach scored for Grant.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

The significant striking numbers are favorable for Grant as he won that category by a comfortable margin of 49-33. Statistically, he landed more significant strikes in every round (14-7, 18-12, 17-14).

Grant also won the head strike (28-14) and body strike (10-5) battle, while conceding leg kicks (11-14) to Sekulic.

Though accuracy is typically not a major factor in the judging criteria, the slower-paced Sekulic landed 63 percent of his significant strikes to 31 percent for Grant.

Sekulic had three successful takedowns to Grant’s one and both were credited with just two strikes on the ground. No knockdowns were scored in the fight.

What did the media say?

The majority of media members scoring on MMA Decisions had Sekulic in this one. Thirteen picked Sekulic as the winner, while six scored it for Grant.

All the Grant scores were 29-28s, while Sekulic had a pair of 30-27s and a 30-26 from Wrestling Observer.

What did the people say?

Fans on MMA Decisions were heavily in favor of a Sekulic win as the top-two results of 29-28 Sekulic (43.4 percent) and 30-27 Sekulic (31 percent) combine to give the Serbian fighter almost 75 percent of the vote (86.2 percent when counting all the scores in Sekulic’s favor). In third place, 12.4 percent voted for 29-28 Grant.

Several fighters voiced their displeasure with the call, including Alan Jouban, who lost a close decision to Grant at UFC 236.

In MMA Fighting’s own poll that asked fans to pick a winner, Sekulic was again the clear choice at 71 percent.

How did I score it?

The best shots of the fight were landed by Sekulic, so I give him the edge.

Ignoring the commentary that seemed to think Grant was down 20-18 going into the third (based on the media and fan scores above, the majority had it one round apiece to that point), I lean towards Sekulic’s more damaging punches as opposed to Grant’s greater volume. Make no mistake, Grant was the busier fighter and for stretches of the fight he was controlling where it went. But Sekulic’s right hook and his late straight left were the most impactful shots in the second in my view, and there’s no arguing that he took the third with the punch that stunned Grant near the end of the fight.

Grant put points on the board, but never seemed to string together any meaningful or particularly effective offense. His best moment in the third was when he took Sekulic down the first time only to simply stand up after landing a couple of punches on the ground. And then his second attempt resulted in him almost getting choked out.

I still consider this to be a close fight, but Sekulic won on my card.

Was it a robbery?

This is a tough one because if people know anything about me, it’s that I love stats almost as much as I love rules (rules rule!). When it comes to fighting, perhaps it’s more respect than love, but what I mean is that generally when there’s such a gap in significant strikes and it’s backed up by what I see in the fight, then I’ll agree that whoever won the fight probably did enough to convince or at least fool the judges.

But this is one case where the stats definitely don’t tell the story, nor do all of Grant’s fakes and feints. Sekulic’s power punches don’t tell the whole story either, but you can’t ignore that he had Grant in danger at the end of the fight, so he’s at least taking this one under PRIDE rules. Even under the unified rules, I pick him as the winner, because I just can’t see how the two big punches he landed in round two were outweighed by Grant’s less effective strikes.

I’ll leave it to all of you to decide the degree to which this was a robbery (they can’t all be Sanchez-Pearson, after all). For myself, I have to make a binary ruling, so it’s a yes or no to the question of whether Sekulic was victimized by the Jacksonville judges.

The final verdict

Robbery.

Poll

Was Dwight Grant’s win over Stefan Sekulic a robbery?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Yes
    (405 votes)
  • 12%
    No
    (56 votes)
461 votes total Vote Now