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MMA Fighting’s 2022 Robbery Review Rundown: Paddy Pimblett, Sean O’Malley, and why judging isn’t as bad as you think it is

UFC 282: Pimblett v Gordon
Paddy Pimblett
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

After a 2021 that only had a handful of what I would consider genuine robberies (Maycee Barber vs. Miranda Maverick, I’m looking at you), and even less that registered on a wider viewership scale (Gleison Tibau vs. Rory MacDonald, anyone?), I was optimistic that 2022 would not only feature few judging controversies, but that fans, fighters and media would get even closer to being on the same page when it comes to scoring a fight.

My mistake.

Just when it looked like we might be in the clear, the final stretch of 2022 saw two of the most controversial scorecards in recent memory, as Sean O’Malley earned a split nod over former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan and Paddy Pimblett won a unanimous decision over Jared Gordon just seven weeks later. The state of the art equipment at Robbery Review nearly went haywire breaking those fights down, let me tell you.

As I prepare to once again head into a new year with blind hope, let’s look back with clear eyes on the top 5 fights that caused houses to crumble, friendships to be torn asunder, and plenty of innocent betting slips to be shredded in rage.

1. Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon (UFC 282)

UFC 282: Pimblett v Gordon
Paddy Pimblett and Jared Gordon
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Paddy Pimblett arguably was the breakout fighter of 2021 just based on buzz alone. Then he kept winning fights. And then the Jared Gordon fight happened.

On paper, Gordon was the perfect test for “The Baddy” at this stage of his career: A well-regarded veteran who’s tough to submit but not a top-ranked contender guaranteed to derail the Pimblett hype train. In practice, the bout served its purpose for Pimblett, though maybe not in a way that anyone could have expected.

Pimblett and Gordon threw down in an entertaining fight, one that saw Gordon push the pace for most of the contest outside of a mostly uneventful third round. There’s no question that Pimblett’s chin was tested as Gordon landed plenty of power shots while navigating Pimblett’s busy offense. At the very least, Gordon put on a much better performance than Pimblett’s first three UFC opponents, and it felt like he’d done enough to pull off the upset.

All three judges disagreed, leading to an immediate uproar on social media and calls for justice, especially from one Doug Crosby, who had just issued an egregious scorecard the night prior at Bellator 289 (more on Mr. Crosby later). No matter who you thought won or how justified the judges were in making their decision, it’s obvious that the public perception is that Gordon got mugged.

Upon review, I broke out the robbery stamp for this one, and I stand by it, even as I’ve struggled a bit with that call since given that it downplays a lot of the good work that Pimblett actually did. In the end, I feel comfortable with it, primarily because two of the judges gave Pimblett Round 1, which by my evaluation shouldn’t be possible. So even if a 29-28 Pimblett scorecard doesn’t seem egregious, the way Crosby and Ron McCarthy got there definitely is.

The UFC definitely isn’t complaining, though, as this guarantees that Pimblett enters 2023 as one of its most talked-about fighters and there just so happens to be a London pay-per-view on the horizon.

My verdict: Robbery

2. Sean O’Malley vs. Petr Yan (UFC 280)

MMA-UFC-UAE-MALLEY-YAN
Sean O’Malley and Petr Yan
Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

Given the stakes, you could make a strong case that Sean O’Malley eeking out a win over Petr Yan should be No. 1. But I’m hoping that someday this fight is better remembered for its sheer awesomeness rather than the overblown judging controversy.

I honestly think that this fight missed out on “Fight of the Year” consideration due to how shocking the outcome was, and I’m including the media in this discussion, as I know plenty of my colleagues expected Yan to run through O’Malley. The truth is that O’Malley looked like he belonged in there with one of the two best bantamweights in the world, and there were several moments where he was clearly winning the fight. Round 2 featured a particularly thrilling sequence where both men staggered each other, sending the Abu Dhabi crowd into a frenzy.

For most of the fight, much of the conversation online revolved around how well O’Malley performed, but that turned quickly when the split decision was announced in his favor.

All but one of the 26 media scores submitted to MMA Decisions had the fight for Yan, though several media members acknowledged the closeness of the fight, including MMA scoring guru Seán Sheehan.

I too had it 29-28 Yan, but to me this fight is the perfect example of a dramatic back-and-forth contest that both men had a strong case to win. That ain’t a robbery, folks.

My verdict: Not a robbery

3. Valentina Shevchenko vs. Taila Santos (UFC 275)

UFC 275: Shevchenko v Santos
Taila Santos and Valentina Shevchenko
Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Taila Santos did just about everything she could to do the impossible and dethrone Valentina Shevchenko – except for much damage.

This fight kicked off a referendum on whether the mixing of the martial arts is being scored properly, with Santos clearly controlling Shevchnko with her grappling for the majority of the bout but rarely looking to land meaningful strikes. The official stats had Shevchenko winning the significant strike battle in every round.

Still, does one deserve the nod in a championship fight where they spent a large portion of it on defense? As of 2022, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see if Santos gets another shot at Shevchenko as she first has to get past wunderkind Erin Blanchfield on Feb. 18.

My verdict: Not a robbery

4. Daniel Rodriguez vs. Li Jingliang (UFC 279)

UFC 279: Li v Rodriguez
Daniel Rodriguez and Li Jingliang
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

This one made people so mad.

I’m not entirely sure what Daniel Rodriguez and I did to draw the ire of the Monday morning quarterbacks, but apparently Li Jingliang dominated him at UFC 279 and still didn’t get the win, which is only a true statement if you, like, didn’t actually watch the fight?

Look, we all love the free-swinging style of “The Leech,” but I implore people to watch the fight again and see just how many of his haymakers actually landed. He came forward a lot, which is what you want to see when someone is trying to win a fight, but he also got his face jabbed off, which is counterproductive to winning a fight in my book. Jabs count, people!

I don’t have a problem with a scorecard for Li or Rodriguez. I wish more people could put on a more critical cap and understand why.

My verdict: Not a robbery

5. Andrei Arlovski vs. Jake Collier (UFC Vegas 53)

UFC Fight Night: Arlovski v Collier
Andrei Arlovski and Jake Collier
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

He can’t keep getting away with it.

It’s the year 2022. America is a country divided. Mark Zuckerberg has invested billions in the metaverse. Electric cars can be found on every street in every major city on the planet. And Andrei Arlovski is still winning decisions.

The former UFC heavyweight champion (is there a statute of limitations on this?) went 2-1 this year, ending up on the right side of both split calls that he was involved in. He beat Jared Vanderaa to start the year and then won a far more contentious decision over Jake Collier in April.

Collier did everything in his power to not get Arlovski’d, pressing the action for the majority of the bout, only to be denied on the scorecards (where one judge gave him a 30-27!). I get that Collier isn’t exactly a household name, but Robbery Review doesn’t play favorites, and this should have been a loss on Arlovski’s record.

Justice for Jake!

My verdict: Robbery

Honorable mention:

Judging, it’s better than you think!

The last few months have seen plenty of vitriol aimed at the judges, but is it misguided? While we might not always agree with the scorecards, I’m guessing most of us would agree that it’s the scoring system that truly needs an overhaul.

Criticize the judges all you want – most of them are doing the best they can with the criteria that’s given, a criteria that favors damage over control or volume. The emphasis is always supposed to be on who is doing a better job of actually trying to finish the fight. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, there’s a ton of room for interpretation there. Judging a close fight is hard!

Just looking at UFC fights, there were 511 in 2022 and 240 went to a decision (h/t Andy Hickey). Off the top of your head, how many of these fights can you name that you’d consider controversial? Ten? Twenty? Let’s say it’s 20, that would still mean that you think judges get it mostly right 92 percent of the time. If you believe there were more than 20 debatable scorecards, then I’d be concerned, but anything around the 90 percent range is pretty good, in my opinion. And the remaining fights in question aren’t even necessarily robberies.

We slam a handful of irresponsible judges (I’m getting there) over and over again, but rarely do we praise the reliable ones like Mike Bell, Ben Cartlidge, David Lethaby, Bryan Miner, Dave Tirelli, Clemens Werner, and others.

If you really want to see change, then argue for tweaks to the scoring system: More 10-8s. A greater emphasis on grappling control. Expanding to a 20-point system (allowing for 9.5s, 8.5s, etc.). It might not make for better fights, but it could at least lead to less complaining.

My verdict: The judges are alright. The scoring not so much.

Doug Crosby has to go

Doug Crosby was lambasted for being one of the judges that awarded Pimblett a win at Madison Square Garden, but that wasn’t even his most egregious card of the weekend.

A day prior, at Bellator 289, he somehow saw fit to award Danny Sabatello with a 50-45 score in a fight that saw the other two judges score it 48-47 in favor of Sabatello’s opponent, Raufeon Stots. It was a completely bizarre card for anyone with basic understanding of the scoring criteria and a functioning set of eyeballs, both of which Crosby seems to lack.

UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling called Crosby’s Sabatello card “ignorant.” The California State Athletic Commission handed down a new rule stating that CSAC judges and referees would not be allowed to travel across the country to work events on consecutive days, and the Mohegan Athletic Department has called for a formal review of the Bellator 289 cards. Stots has requested that Crosby be banned from judging his fights, and Chris Curtis called Crosby’s recent attempts to explain his judging philosophy “ridiculous.”

Suffice to say, this is the latest in a long line of questionable decisions from MMA’s worst judge, and something has to be done about it. Enough is enough.

My verdict: Keep Doug Crosby away from the scorecards.

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