The controversy surrounding the UFC 204 main event between middleweight champion Michael Bisping and living legend Dan Henderson does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Opinions have varied about who should have had their arm raised in Manchester, but one thing is for certain: many opinions will likely never change.
On Saturday night, just north of Toronto, I sat in a living room at a friend’s place enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with our families. The anticipation for the pay per view to get started reached an all time high when a few mutual friends arrived during the final prelim bout.
Believe it or not, I do not often get these opportunities. To sit and watch MMA with friends and family is an extreme rarity for yours truly, as I’m either covering the event in person or at home in my work bubble, taking notes and studying as the fights take place.
When I do get the chance to watch with others, I am often bombarded with a wide array of questions ranging from who I believe will win a bout, is GSP coming back, how was this event or that event, etc, etc. What I rarely get asked, is anything related to refereeing and judging. It’s as if, everyone understands the nuances that make up these two elements of MMA, but in my experience, those who do know and understand, are actually few and far between.
It was on this evening that it was brought up once again, that my certifications as a referee and judge would be called into action … or day I say, challenged for their worth and merit.
I’ll be honest … I used to be bothered when someone would question why I believed a ref should or should not have done something or why I scored a round or fight the way I did, but after a few months from certification, I understand certain things to be true: people will have their opinions no matter what I say, whether I am backed by knowledge and experience. And to be honest, that’s perfectly fine.
Judging is still a subjective profession. It always has been and likely still will be. You can teach (and in my case it was Big John McCarthy for both courses) someone the exact criteria for reffing and judging, have them pass the stringent course, but in the end, when they are inside of a cage/ring or sitting outside of it, it’s still a human being officiating or scoring. And thus, subjectivity is human nature.
As the Bisping vs. Hendo II began, it was evident that round one went to the American. There was no argument there yet in fact, I actually believe there was a serious one to discuss. Was the round a 10-9 or was it a 10-8.
Without getting to in depth as to what the C.O.M.M.A.N.D. course teaches judges, the basics are simple. If one fighter, based on the Unified MMA Rules scoring criteria wins a round, even in the slightest, it is scored 10-9. But, if one fighter does enough to nearly have the bout stopped, the argument can easily be made, that it is a 10-8 round. In my opinion, that fight was fairly close to being halted, so I scored Round One, 10-8 for Hendo.
In Round Two, Bisping did much better, throwing and landing way more punches than Hendo, but he was dropped yet again, despite riding that fine line between scoring points with his effective striking and surviving for his life. The fact the bout wasn’t as close to being stopped as it was in round one, I believe Hendo dropping Michael yet again, swung the momentum in his favour, winning the round 10-9.
At this point, “The Count” was a bloody mess. Unfortunately, judging is not based on damage, be it visible or not. And if there is damage incurred, it (and everything else before it) is erased when the next round starts. Each round, is considered a new beginning. Nothing is to be carried over from previous rounds. Here lies the difficulty with most MMA fans who do not understand the scoring system.
Like it or not, the purpose of MMA is to knockout or submit your opponent. That’s the most important aspect of judging. Who is doing what to finish the fight? Who did more (or what) to nearly have the bout stopped? Who spent more time defending themselves than causing offense? These are just some of the key attributes when determining who wins a round.
When no clear cut finish presents itself, judging then becomes somewhat of a numbers game. It is based on things like effective striking and effective grappling. If no one is in real trouble, the visual calculations begin to be added up, broken down by the minute. Scoring minute one to minute five can seem challenging, but in practice, it becomes fairly routine.
In round three, Bisping landed 33 of his 76 significant thrown punches according to Fight Metric. Hendo landed 10 of his significant 38 punches thrown. Nobody was ever in real trouble so I scored it 10-9 for the champ.
In round four, the same thing happened in round three. Bisping threw 67 significant punches, landing 23, while Hendo landed 21 significant strikes, while throwing 41. Hendo’s landing percentage was better, but Bisping’s volume was higher and he landed more. I gave round four to the champ, as well, 10-9.
In the final frame, Bisping out threw and out-struck Hendo again: 22 of 67 vs. 16 of 48. No one was in real trouble so “The Count” earned that round 10-9 on my unofficial scorecard.
Before the official judges scorecards were announced, the room I was in, was divided, with everyone make the case for their fighter. I heard “Hendo did more damage” (yes, in round one and two), he got the takedown (but didn’t do anything with it), Bisping did more to win the fight (only in round 3, 4 and 5), etc.
Despite me explaining to everyone that I had the fight scored 47-47 (a draw) and that there was going to be a chance that Michael would win, the room was in an uproar. When the official announcement was made, mayhem ensued. And to be honest, from their perspective (echoed online via social media) I completely understand it. It kind of makes sense. Take one look at the two fighters and you could easily see who won the fight. But the reality is that it wasn’t a fight. It was a mixed martial arts bout, scored under the unified rules of MMA.
Hendo may have won the fight, but Bisping won the bout. Then again, according to my unofficial scorecard, they should do it one more time, to truly settle their bitter score.