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Retro Robbery Review: Beneil Dariush vs. Michael Johnson at UFC Nashville

UFC Fight Night: Johnson v Dariush
Beneil Dariush and Michael Johnson at UFC Nashville on Aug. 8, 2015
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/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.

If you’re wondering how this forgotten lightweight bout between Beneil Dariush and Michael Johnson made its way to the Robbery Review lab, all you have to do is watch this clip of the scores being read out to understand why we had to put this disputed decision under the microscope:

Johnson shaking his head in disbelief before Bruce Buffer even finishes reading the official decision. Dariush looking completely surprised. The crowd in Nashville, Tenn., loudly voicing their displeasure at the judges’ cards. All the ingredients of a textbook robbery.

Post-fight, Johnson offered a more measured reaction, but was still confident that he did enough to win.

“I thought I had it won but at the same time it was up and down,” Johnson said. “I definitely thought I pushed the pace a lot more the whole fight, I stuffed every one of his takedowns, and I think I landed more, so I don’t see how they could have gave him the win. Not to take anything away from Beneil, he fought a very good fight, but at the same time I controlled the whole fight and it is what it is. That’s why you don’t leave anything to the judges.”

Dariush and Johnson both saw mixed results in the years following this fight, but Dariush has since emerged as a lightweight title challenger currently on a seven-fight win streak while Johnson’s loss to Dariush was the start of what has become a 3-9 slump for Johnson since 2015.

With the sixth anniversary of this controversial call having passed just last weekend, we figured it’s as good a time as any to look at a verdict that remains a relevant touchstone in the careers of both fighters.

What was the official result?

Beneil Dariush def. Michael Johnson via split decision.

How did the fight go?

There shouldn’t be any controversy regarding the first round. Dariush came out employing a low kick-heavy attack, with Johnson looking to string together punching combinations. With about a minute left in Round 1, Johnson smacked Dariush with a right hand that put him survival mode for a few seconds. That moment was the clear deciding factor in what had been a back-and-forth round up to that point.

In Round 2, Dariush stuck with kicks to the body to start off. He landed a nice clinch knee to and appeared to have recovered from whatever damage he took late in the first. Dariush went to the well for another knee, but ate a counter left for his troubles. Johnson pressed forward and landed straight punches while continuing to stuff Dariush’s takedowns. There was a definite advantage in volume for Johnson, but Dariush had success with his counter-punching as well. In real time, it was difficult to gauge who was landing the cleaner shots. Johnson finished the round strong again with punches that had Dariush bending back in exaggerated fashion to avoid or roll with the strikes. You have to wonder how that affected the fan perspective of this fight.

Johnson’s hands were as fast as ever in Round 3. However, it looked as though Dariush had figured out the right range to stay at the edge of Johnson’s punches while landing his own. The best strike of the round belonged to Dariush as he hit Johnson with a jumping knee to the chin as Johnson lunged in for a left hand. Dariush still couldn’t score a takedown, but his Thai plum was effective in slowing Johnson’s aggression. Good third round for Dariush.

What did the judges say?

Richard Bertrand scored it 29-28 Dariush.

Sal D’Amato scored it 29-28 Johnson.

Douglas Crosby scored it 29-28 Dariush.

All three judges agreed on Rounds 1 and 3, giving the first 10-9 to Johnson and the third 10-9 to Dariush. This decision came down to Round 2, with Sal D’Amato being the lone 10-9 score for Johnson.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

Unsurprisingly, Johnson won the significant strikes battle 84-75, with 24-20 edge in Round 1 and a 35-22 edge in Round 2. Dariush won Round 3 by a 33-25 score.

Neither fighter was credited with a knockdown, which is worth noting with Dariush having been staggered near the end of Round 1.

Dariush actually had a large advantage in head strikes 52-32, while Johnson easily won the body strike battle 49-12. That makes sense given how many combinations he threw that appeared to land short, but apparently landed on Dariush’s chest. Dariush was a perfect 11-11 on leg strikes to win that category (Johnson landed three leg strikes).

Johnson stuffed all seven of Dariush’s takedown attempts, which is impressive, but should not factor into the scoring.

What did the media say?

All 12 media scores on MMA Decisions were in Johnson’s favor, including a pair of outlets awarding him a 30-27 victory.

What did the people say?

On MMA Decisions, the leading fan vote is 62 percent for 29-28 Johnson, with an additional 15.4 percent giving Johnson all three rounds. The 29-28 score for Dariush comes in at 17.4 percent.

On Twitter, a number of notable names took umbrage with the decision.

How did I score it?

First off, let me just say that scoring the third round for Johnson is more outrageous than scoring the second for Dariush. So anyone calling for a 30-27 is way off base. Based on the initial eye test and how many solid head strikes Dariush landed in Round 3, he took that one on my scorecard and I don’t see how anyone could make an overwhelming case for Johnson there.

Round 2 is certainly up for debate and I understand how Johnson’s volume would give him the edge in the eyes of many observers, but I would implore anyone re-watching the fight to not overlook Dariush’s counter-striking. Though he wasn’t as busy as he would be in Round 3, Dariush was hitting Johnson hard and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that his clean counters were more valuable than several pitter-patter punches to the body. Were it not for Dariush’s dramatic flinching, I’m not sure there would have been as much of an uproar as there was for this fight.

I’ll be the one to say it: 29-28 Dariush.

Was it a robbery?

No, but you can understand why Johnson and his team would be upset.

The game plan for Johnson was constant pressure and he did just that, making Dariush circle and back away on multiple occasions as he invaded his personal space with his fists. If we were just counting points and who landed more strikes, Johnson is the clear winner. He fought his fight.

But there has to be room for nuance when it comes to reconciling what we see and what the numbers say and this is one occasion where I’m willing to defer to the cageside judges who had a much better feel for the immediate impact of the strikes. In this case, their read was that Dariush was hitting Johnson harder in rounds 2 and 3. Even from a far more distant vantage point, I’m inclined to agree.

It was a tough break for Johnson, who could have added Dariush to his list of signature wins that now includes Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza, and, of course, Artem Lobov.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.


Was Beneil Dariush’s win over Michael Johnson a robbery?

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