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Retro Robbery Review: Demetrious Johnson vs. Miguel Torres at UFC 130

Miguel Torres Photos
Miguel Torres (top) and Demetrious Johnson (bottom) at UFC 130 on May 28, 2011, in Las Vegas
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

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 all know the Demetrious Johnson story by now.

“Mighty Mouse” made his UFC debut in February 2011, when the flyweight division was just a twinkle in then-matchmaker Joe Silva’s eye. A World Extreme Cagefighting transplant, Johnson was at the time one to watch at 135 pounds and he lived up to that promise with a convincing decision win over Japanese legend Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto in what was the first UFC fight for both men. Even though it was widely accepted that Kid was no longer the holy terror that he had been in his prime, the win gave Johnson a ton of cred with the hardcores well before his legendary run at 125 pounds.

It gave Johnson in cred in the eyes of the UFC too and for his next fight he was matched up with former WEC champion Miguel Torres. For ages, Torres was regarded as the best bantamweight in North America, if not the world, having won 37 of his first 38 pro bouts (Torres often said that his win total would have been even higher if there were records kept of some of his more obscure fights) and successfully defended his WEC title three straight times. Torres was one of MMA’s best-kept secrets while Johnson was just starting to make a name for himself.

The two fought at UFC 130 in Las Vegas on May 28, 2011, meaning this weekend we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of this forgotten duel that closed out the Spike TV (!) prelims. Looking at the big picture of Johnson’s career, it’s easy to just see Torres as another marquee name on Johnson’s hit list, but at the time his decision win over Torres was seen as contentious.

So let’s take the time machine way, way back and see if we can figure out whether Johnson robbed us of a UFC championship dream match between Torres and Dominick Cruz.

What was the official result?

Demetrious Johnson def. Miguel Torres via unanimous decision.

How did the fight go?

Scramble, scramble, scramble.

As versatile as Johnson and Torres both were in their careers, this turned out to be a grappling battle on paper as advertised. There was some thought that Torres’ huge size advantage would give him the edge on the feet, but we didn’t get to see that aspect of the fight thanks to Johnson’s speed and wrestling.

After opening up with leg kicks, Johnson drove through a couple of knees to the body to take Torres to the mat. Torres swept him and aggressively worked to pass, which would be a theme of the fight for both men. Johnson avoided a choke and got busy from the bottom, eventually scoring a reversal of his own with just under two minutes left in round one. Torres attacked with a leglock and they ended up in 50/50 position. Then it was Johnson’s turn to scramble on top and Torres’ turn to fight from the bottom. A Torres triangle briefly threatened Johnson, but he scrambled out of danger and stayed on top. An energetic first round of grappling.

The same could be said of rounds two and three, which saw Johnson have success on the feet before reverting to his wrestling. A left hand served as Johnson’s entry to a takedown in the second round, which kicked off another stretch of spirited grappling. Torres threw a lot of elbows from the bottom, some of which were blocked, and later in the round he attacked Johnson with a reverse triangle. Johnson escaped and focused primarily on staying on top in Torres’ guard, doing enough to not get stood up (and possibly score points as well?). There was a fun sequence where Johnson gave up position to attack Torres’ leg, but Torres also snatched HIS leg. Johnson ended the round with some light hammerfists on the ground.

One corner note: Johnson’s coach told him that he should keep the fight standing, but Johnson said that he was having issues with one of his legs. That conversation foreshadowed the opening sequence of round three as DJ scored on the feet before again putting Torres on his back. Torres attacked the arm, which Johnson used as an opening to pass to side control, a rare successful pass given Torres’ defense. Torres then managed a beautiful sweep that put him in mount with about two minutes to work, but Johnson did an excellent job of tying him up from the bottom. Neither fighter could muster much significant offense. Johnson fought off a late guillotine attempt and then closed with a flurry on the feet and one last takedown.

What did the judges say?

All three judges, Dave Hagen, Glenn Trowbridge, and Tony Weeks scored the bout 29-28 for Johnson, giving Johnson rounds two and three.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

Normally, we start off this section with a look at significance strikes, but control time is probably worth mentioning first given how little damage we saw.

Johnson was credited with 8:40 of control time on the ground, while Torres was credited with 4:33 of control time. Torres scored two reversals to Johnson’s one, and three submission attempts to Johnson’s none. Despite both being busy off of their backs and in top position, only one significant ground strike was scored, and it was for Torres in round one.

In fact, only 23 significant strikes were tallied between the two fighters, with Johnson holding a slight 13-10 edge. The round-by-round significant strike scores were as follows:

Round 1: 5-4 Johnson

Round 2: 5-5

Round 3: 3-1 Johnson

You can see why scoring this fight was a nightmare. For what it’s worth, Torres had one submission attempt in round two, and two in round three.

So how about that wrestling? Johnson was credited with five successful takedowns in the fight, one in the first, and two in each of the last two rounds.

Torres had a big lead in total strikes, 95-63, but given that there was a lot of pitter-patter stuff from both men, we’re probably better off not factoring that into the scoring.

What did the media say?

Only five media scores are available on MMA Decisions and all five saw it for Torres. Two of the media judges on gave all three rounds to Torres.

What did the people say?

On MMA Decisions, Torres is resoundingly viewed as the winner with 50 percent of the participating fans believing he deserved a 30-27 decision victory. In second was 29-28 Torres, meaning over 75 percent of fan voters thought Torres won the fight.

The actual 29-28 Johnson score only received 17.4 percent of the vote.

As this fight happened in 2011, a time before the majority of pro fighters were regularly sounding out their opinions and beefs on social media, there isn’t much information as to how the MMA community saw this, but might I direct you to a forum thread filled with expert keyboard warriors making a case for Torres to give you a sample of the sentiment following the fight?

How did I score it?

Doing my best to view this through the lens of how to score a fight 10 years ago as opposed to today, I’m still leaning towards Torres. I actually really liked what I saw from Johnson on the feet and it’s a shame he couldn’t stick to his striking because it would have made this call a lot easier to make. As it stands, without much effective striking to speak of, effective grappling has to be the decider here.

Torres showed an outstanding guard and at a glance, it did look like he was both landing elbows from the bottom and dictating where the action on the ground went even with Johnson’s constant top pressure. It’s Torres who initiated the scrambles, Torres who tried to finish the fight, and Torres who achieved the most dominant position even if he couldn’t do much once he mounted Johnson.

As one of the commenters in the aforementioned forum thread brings up, this was such an effective display of grappling from the bottom that if this doesn’t count as a win, then the judges were essentially saying you can’t win a fight with an opponent staying in your guard.

I don’t know if I’d go that far (and fortunately the judging of today seems to have great respect for activity from bottom position), but I do give this fight to Torres by the narrowest of 29-28 scores (rounds one and three).

Was it a robbery?

There’s a stronger case to call this a robbery by today’s standards than the standards of 2011. A glance at an Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports report from a couple of years prior to UFC 130 shows us a few key differences in language as far as how grappling is scored.

Check out the first sentence of this section (emphasis mine):

Effective grappling is judged by considering the amount of successful executions of a legal takedown and reversals. Examples of factors to consider are takedowns from standing position to mount position, passing the guard to mount position, and bottom position fighters using an active, threatening guard.

There’s several other factors mentioned there, but the fact that the mere execution of a takedown was a key component of effective grappling is important. It’s a factor today too, but has been strongly deemphasized in favor of actions that do damage or threaten to end the fight. But back then, Johnson was racking up points with his takedowns.

Add in the optics of the smaller Johnson foiling some of Torres’ sweeps and submission attempts, and you can see how they all came to the same conclusion, even if I personally disagree with it.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.


Was Demetrious Johnson’s win over Miguel Torres a robbery?

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