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.
The UFC Vegas 74 main event between Albazi and Kai Kara-France was expected to be a close contest and it played out as such. Over five rounds, neither fighter could assert themselves for long stretches, though Kara-France noticeably upped his urgency as time went on and that strong finish convinced several of his peers that he won the fight.
Also let’s fix the rankings for the flyweight division… KKF won that fight btw.— Brandon (@brandonroyval) June 4, 2023
Kara-France had a much more measured reaction to his loss. In the moment, he looked disappointed but not angry at the call and later said that he was “confident” prior to the decision being read but that he wouldn’t dwell on it.
So how upset should we be for Kara-France? Let’s go to the Robbery Review lab to figure that one out.
What was the official result?
Amir Albazi def. Kai Kara-France via split decision.
How did the fight go?
Albazi and Kara-France opened this one showing a ton of respect for each other, which was understandable given that Kara-France is one of the best in the world at 125 pounds and Albazi was 4-0 in the UFC heading into this contest. After some preliminary jabbing, Albazi shot in for his first takedown and Kara-France expertly defended to keep this one standing, where it remained for the rest of the round. Albazi definitely looked more focused on countering and hunting for a big shot, while Kara-France went to work with leg kicks and in-and-out bursts of activity.
In Round 2, Albazi started to have better luck sussing out Kara-France’s timing. His overall output was still lacking, but he landed several well-timed punches that had Kara-France looking off-balance, which had to leave an impression on the judges. Kara-France’s takedown defense was still on point though.
It wasn’t until about two minutes into Round 3 that Albazi was able to take Kara-France down and keep him there, leading to his best grappling moments of the fight. Albazi methodically worked past Kara-France’s defenses to sink in back control and nearly secure a rear-naked choke. However, the angle wasn’t right and though Kara-France looked uncomfortable, I’m not sure he was all that close to tapping. The round took a twist near the end as Kara-France shook Albazi off, dropped into Albazi’s guard, and fired off a few timely ground elbows.
The championship rounds saw Kara-France decidedly push the pace, though Albazi’s stiff right hand kept Kara-France from completely taking over. Albazi actually landed one punch square down the pipe that I’m confident would have dropped a less sturdy flyweight than Kara-France. But if Kara-France’s corner wanted him to secure the bag in the last 10 minutes, he certainly seemed to have responded, even scoring a beautiful takedown off of an Albazi kick that, admittedly, didn’t lead to any significant offense.
Round 5, Kara-France was all over Albazi, occasionally at his own expense. His aggression allowed Albazi to grapple and push him to the fence, a scenario that didn’t hurt Kara-France all that much as his elite takedown defense allowed him to turn this back into a striking duel quickly. With half a round to go, Kara-France stayed in Albazi’s face, fed him a steady diet of jabs, and appeared to be leading the dance until the final bell.
What did the judges say?
Chris Lee scored it 48-47 Albazi.
Sal D’Amato scored it 48-47 Albazi.
Mike Bell scored it 48-47 Kara-France.
Three rounds were unanimous, with all three judges giving Rounds 2 and 3 to Albazi, and Round 5 to Kara-France. Sal D’Amato was the dissenting judge in Round 1, scoring it for Albazi, while Lee was the only judge to score Round 4 for Albazi.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
The significant striking stats are heavily in Kara-France’s favor, which undoubtedly played a big part in coloring how people judged this fight. He had an advantage in each round, which only became more pronounced as the fight progressed:
- Round 1: 13-6
- Round 2: 16-11
- Round 3: 9-3
- Round 4: 27-5
- Round 5: 34-18
It wasn’t all leg and body work either, as Kara-France also had the edge in head strikes in each round, according to the numbers.
As for the grappling, Albazi was officially credited with one takedown in nine attempts, while Kara-France was two for two. Kara-France was also credited with eight ground strikes in Round 3 to Albazi’s three (Albazi had the lone submission attempt of the fight in that round).
What did the media say?
Only two out of the 21 media scores on MMA Decisions had it 48-47 Albazi, with nine having it 48-47 Kara-France and 10 having it 49-46 Kara-France.
Bloody Elbow was one of the outlets to score the fight for Albazi, writing, “Win or lose, Albazi took a huge step up and competed” and “Won’t be at all surprised with any [Kara-France] scores. He definitely finished strong.”
Noted scoring expert Seán Sheehan of SevereMMA.com had it 48-47 Kara-France, but wasn’t overly convinced that either man had left their stamp on the fight.
“Extremely close fight in all but one round,” Sheehan wrote. “Not a whole lot of high scoring immediately impactful work.”
WrestlingObserver.com’s Ryan Frederick had it 49-46 Kara-France, but he also noted that the fight “was closer than that score indicates.”
What did the people say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)
Fans scoring the bout on MMA Decisions saw this as a clear win for Kara-France, with over 85 percent having it for the New Zealander (48-47 Kara-France at 43.6 percent, 49-46 Kara-France at 41.5 percent). A 48-47 score for Albazi comes in third at 7.9 percent.
Fans were particularly inclined to give Kara-France the final two rounds, with 94.7 percent scoring Round 4 for Kara-France and 97.4 percent scoring the fifth for him as well.
The Verdict MMA scorecard told a similar story, with heavy support in Rounds 4 and 5 for Kara-France pushing him to a comfortable victory.
How did I score it?
Like most, I saw the fight as close, though I felt most confident about giving Round 2 to Albazi and Rounds 4 and 5 to Kara-France. That’s not to say that there isn’t a case to be made the other way in any of these rounds, but after having closely watched the fight twice, those frames are a tad more definitive to me than Rounds 1 and 3. Round 1 is a toss-up and Round 3 is open to interpretation for its own reasons.
Before anyone jumps on me about giving Round 3 to Kara-France despite Albazi having back control of most of the period, I agree that Albazi was cruising to a 10-9 until the last 30 seconds or so. Simply put, he let his guard down (figuratively speaking, because Kara-France was literally in his guard) and allowed Kara-France to score with some damaging elbows. Those weren’t glancing shots, Kara-France was hitting clean ground-and-pound. That won the round for me as Albazi barely did any damage from back control, as impressive as his submission setups were. Effective ground-and-pound trumps a failed submission attempt in my eyes every time.
As for Round 1, I just thought Albazi landed the bigger shots of the round, though even after two viewings it was difficult to tell who had the advantage over the first five minutes. Again, a toss-up.
So 48-47 for me, with Kara-France winning the last three rounds.
Was it a robbery?
I mean, did you really feel that either fighter ran away with this one? At any point, were you saying to yourself, “Oh man, this dude is just smashing right now?” No, right?
That’s not to say that total domination should be the only path to a decision because I agree in theory that if you’re a veteran judge (as Lee, D’Amato, and Bell are), you have a responsibility to correctly parse the nuances of a fight that may have lacked statement moments. I honestly think that’s what these three accomplished here, for the most part, with Lee’s Round 4 score being the only real head scratcher.
It’s not even about the numbers (your mileage may vary with those significant strike stats. For me, they didn’t accurately reflect what I was watching), but even if you wanted to make a case that Kara-France wasn’t doing all that much in Round 4, I’d strongly argue that Albazi was doing even less. That, to me, is what makes Lee’s scorecard so tough to defend. I would love to know what significant strikes were scored for Albazi in Round 4 outside of one or two solid counter punches (though maybe those were enough?).
On the flip side, I can easily see scoring Rounds 1, 2, and 3 for Albazi. So as much as we’d all like to reward Kara-France for putting an exclamation point on the ending (and definitely winning by PRIDE rules), the fact that the rest of the sentence arguably belonged to Albazi has to mean something.
The final verdict
Not a robbery, because 48-47 Albazi is a perfectly acceptable score. I just don’t agree with how Chris Lee reached it.
Was Amir Albazi’s win over Kai Kara-France a robbery?
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