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Robbery Review: T.J. Brown vs. Kai Kamaka at UFC Vegas 25

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UFC Fight Night: Kamaka v Brown
Kai Kamaka and T.J. Brown
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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.

On a UFC Vegas 25 card light on star power, it looked like preliminary featherweights T.J. Brown and Kai Kamaka were set to steal the show, but their three-round thriller instead became shrouded in controversy after Brown earned a split nod.

Immediately following the call, Brown admitted that he wasn’t 100 percent confident he would get the decision, though he felt good about his effort. Kamaka’s coach Eric Nicksick was less understanding and it wasn’t long before he took to social media to decry the judges’ scorecards.

On Sunday, Kamaka’s manager Brian Butler released a statement to MMA Fighting in which he revealed that his team is planning to file a formal appeal to the Nevada Athletic Commission in the hopes that Kamaka will at least receive an explanation as to how he lost the fight in the event that the result is not overturned.

While it’s extraordinarily rare for decisions to be overturned in these situations, this fight is certainly worth discussing, so let’s get ahead of the conversation here and decide for ourselves whether Kamaka has a case for a robbery.

What was the official result?

T.J. Brown def. Kai Kamaka via split decision.

How did the fight go?

Brown came out showing great hands, pumping his jab in Kamaka’s face as he set up his attack. However, Kamaka scored first blood with a right hand across the jaw that Brown just ate. Kamaka also made good use of leg kicks to offset the success Brown was having with his jab. There were few moments in the first round where Brown and Kamaka weren’t throwing something out there to score.

Midway through the round, Brown landed a right-hand uppercut and then a pretty straight right as he slipped a Kamaka left hook. Kamaka made an adjustment to close the distance, at one point simply shoving Brown to the mat as Brown attempted a high kick. Kamaka sneaked in a few punches on the ground before Brown was able to get the fight back to the feet. Watching it again, one can see a narrative developing as the busier Brown attempted to navigate Kamaka’s counters.

Kamaka cracked Brown with a head kick to start the second and it became apparent that he was making better use of his legs than Brown. Brown wobbled Kamaka with a straight right and caught him with another shortly after, but Kamaka stayed on his feet. Moments later, a counter right by Kamaka clearly hurt Brown and sent him to the canvas. Kamaka dove into Brown’s guard for more ground-and-pound. We got a nice kimura attempt from Brown, which Kamaka defended against perfectly. Brown was able to stand up during that sequence though. Brown continued to show excellent boxing with Kamaka standing right in the pocket with him. Brown scored a late takedown, but didn’t do much with it.

The third round was a close one. Kamaka had an early Brown takedown attempt scouted and he ended up in top position again, but Brown’s grappling made him a threat on the bottom even as he defended against Kamaka’s short punches. Back on the feet, Brown maintained a high pace, rarely settling for throwing single strikes and varying his attacks to the head and body of Kamaka. Kamaka got another takedown, leading to more grappling against the fence, which Brown had to be warned not to grab several times. Brown got up again and they traded shots on the separation. There was a pivotal moment for Brown with just under a minute left as he hit Kamaka with a right hand while also catching a kick, which put Kamaka on his back. Brown went to the ground and attempted a leg lock, but Kamaka broke the hold and wrestled his way back on top. He stayed there and defended against another kimura attempt as the fight came to a close. A highly enjoyable contest.

What did the judges say?

(Official scorecards per UFC.com)

Mike Bell scored it 29-28 Brown.

Sal D’Amato scored it 29-28 Brown.

Adalaide Byrd scored it 30-27 Kamaka.

Bell and D’Amato had identical scorecards, giving Brown the first and third rounds, while Byrd saw all three rounds for Kamaka.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

If it looked to you like Brown had the advantage in volume while Kamaka was the more accurate striker, the numbers bear that out. Brown won the significant strikes battle 34-22 in round one and 24-13 in round three, and had a total advantage of 82-61. Kamaka won the second round 26-24 and a had a higher striking percentage in the fight (47 percent to 38 percent).

More importantly for Kamaka, he scored the lone knockdown of the fight in round two. His fall late in the third was determined to be a slip.

The grappling statistics aren’t as clear. Brown scored two takedowns to Kamaka’s one, but Kamaka consistently earned the better positions and had a 9-2 advantage in ground strikes. It’s worth noting that in the third round, which featured the most top control from Kamaka, he was not credited with any ground strikes; in fact, Brown scored his two in that round.

Brown landed more punches to the head (54-38) and body (19-14), while the leg strike numbers were even at nine apiece.

What did the media say?

If we’re going by the media scores, this was a big time robbery. All 15 media members listed on MMA Decisions had the fight for Kamaka, with six seeing it as a 30-27 decision victory for the Hawaiian.

What did the people say?

On MMA Decisions, the fan support for Kamaka was also one-sided, with almost 80 percent of voters believing he did enough to win (40 percent voted 29-28 Kamaka, 39.1 percent voted 30-27 Kamaka). In third place was 29-28 Brown with 16.4 percent of the vote.

Rounds one and three, the two dissenting rounds across the judges’ cards, were both voted to be Kamaka rounds by about 65 percent of fans.

Several fighters expressed their confusion over the official verdict:

Kamaka himself was gracious in defeat.

In MMA Fighting’s own poll that asked who won the fight, 70.5 percent picked Kamaka.

How did I score it?

Upon my first viewing, which was nowhere near as thorough as the second, I had it for Kamaka all the way.

I loved the improvements in Brown’s standup game, but in my eyes it did look like Kamaka was landing the better shots. The image of Kamaka cracking Brown in the second lingered in my mind until the end of the fight and may have colored my opinion of the final round. It helped that Kamaka was in top control for much of the third, even if he wasn’t able to do much damage. I just felt that he neutralized Brown for the most part in round three, so seeing the actual striking statistics afterwards is a surprise to me.

I’m assuming Brown’s stats were bolstered by his late flurry, which again it should be noted did not contain an actual knockdown. Otherwise, I thought Kamaka was the more effective fighter in the third outside of that last minute.

29-28 Kamaka on my card.

Was it a robbery?

It was. And I wouldn’t even object to Byrd’s 30-27 Kamaka card.

Yes, Byrd has been an easy target for combat sports fans ever since the egregious 118-110 card she issued for Canelo Alvarez in his split draw with Gennady Golovkin in their first meeting in 2017. She’s issued some other questionable cards since, but on Saturday I think she made a fair call, even if I would have given round one to Brown. From a viewer’s perspective, Kamaka’s punches were crisper and cleaner for much of the fight, though I can see how his counters may have been overlooked by Bell and D’Amato in the moment. Again, I’m making this assessment with the benefit of replay.

The striking numbers just don’t override the eye test on this occasion and if you considered the standup to be even, then effective grappling should be the next criteria and Kamaka clearly won there. And let’s not even get into the possible point deduction Brown could have been tagged with in the third for grabbing the fence.

With apologies to UFC Stats, I have to join the chorus of complainers on this one.

The final verdict

Robbery. But the commission overturning the result would be a shocker.

Poll

Was T.J. Brown’s win over Kai Kamaka a robbery?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Yes
    (443 votes)
  • 24%
    No
    (144 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now