By Ben Fowlkes
I don’t expect anyone to agree with what I’m about to say. I’m not even sure I agree with it, at least not a hundred percent, but something about Saturday’s decision didn’t sit well with me. Is it because I find Michael Bisping a little more likable than Rashad Evans — whose nickname, “Sugar”, could not possibly be less fitting? Maybe. It could also be because I hate seeing wrestlers win decisions for doing very little besides taking people down. I’m not sure, but just for the sake of a spirited argument, here are my reasons why Bisping deserved to win that fight.
1. Simple Mathematics
I’ve gone on and on about how I don’t think the ten-point must system is working for three-round MMA fights, so I’ll spare you that lecture this time around. But even within that system I think Bisping deserved to win. Evans took round one. He landed a couple of shots on the feet and took Bisping down, even if he didn’t do much after that. Bisping, on my scorecard, won round two. Round three was close, and I think it belonged to Bisping for stuffing most of Rashad’s takedown attempts and landing with greater frequency on the feet.
But the reason I think Evans won round three on two of the judges’ scorecards was because of the way the round finished. It almost looked as if Evans was about to mount an effective offense, but that last takedown (kind of) meant nothing. Bisping controlled the majority of the rest of the round, and what happens last in a round shouldn’t influence the judges any more than what happened one minute in.
At the very least, the third round was even, 10-10.
2. Takedowns Do Not Necessarily Equal Offense
Bisping made a point of saying that the reason he thought he won was because he negated Evans’ takedowns by getting back to his feet without sustaining damage. When he first said that, I thought it sounded like a man trying to rationalize things to himself. As I thought about it, however, the idea grew on me.
A takedown is, in some way, like a submission attempt. It is a step in the direction of an effective offense. But it is not, by itself, a significant offense. KO-inducing slams aside, fights have never been ended by takedowns. A takedown is a way of getting your opponent into a position more favorable for you to mount an offense from. If you take a man down and land in his guard, then do nothing to hurt him before he stands back up (note the difference between him standing up on his own and him waiting for a referee standup), why should that decide a fight?
If a fighter preferred to fight in the clinch and was successful at forcing one upon his opponents, even if he couldn’t damage them from the position, should that gain him a victory just for imposing his will?
Think about it: after the first round, what did Evans do well besides take Bisping down? If we reward takedowns that lead to nothing, we’re essentially rewarding a stall tactic. That’s not a strategy I want to see become widespread in MMA.
3. The Pride Edict
I’m not one of the people who believes that Pride was in all ways superior to the UFC. Not at all. But I will admit that I preferred their scoring criteria. Not only was it free of the phrase “Octagon control”, but it took into account attempts made to finish the fight. Sure, an attempt to finish a fight isn’t the same as finishing one, but it does encourage fighters to actively look for the victory rather than doing just enough and then holding on for a judges’ decision. Under that criteria (which is not the UFC’s criteria, I know) Bisping deserved to win. He was looking to damage Evans throughout the fight, not looking to stall his attack.
I also liked the way Pride scored the whole fight and not individual rounds. Especially in MMA, where fights are only three rounds, the ten-point must system is deficient (damn, now I’m back on that sermon). A fight can be drastically different in round three than it was in rounds one and two, but the ten-point must system isn’t equipped to compensate for that. A fighter can just coast through the third if he’s confident he won the first two, and the worst that’s likely to happen is a draw, assuming the final frame is scored 10-8.
What we’re asking judges to do is tell us who won the fight, and how can they do that until the fight is over? I realize that will shift even more focus to what happens last, but fighting should, to some extent, be about who can last the distance and not just who can do enough to win individual rounds. To make a terrible analogy that I will later deny ever making, which part of a war would you rather win: the beginning or the ending? There. Glad that’s over with.
Now, having made all these arguments, I’m still not sure I really believe that Bisping should have won. The fight was close no matter how you look at it, and judges’ decisions are always going to be maddeningly unpredictable. I suspect that a lot of people wanted to see him lose a close decision because they felt he stole one in his last fight. It’s kind of like what’s going on with O.J. at the moment, only Bisping isn’t at fault for what the judges did in his last fight and O.J. is, well, really at fault for a lot of stuff.
I guess what I’m really trying to get at here is what I see as a flaw in the scoring system. MMA isn’t boxing, so why are we using boxing’s scoring system?
The answer (or, for Spike TV fans, the “manswer”) probably has a lot to do with state athletic commissions and their requirements for regulation, but sooner or later MMA is going to reach a critical mass in terms of popularity that will allow it to dictate what form it takes. When that day comes, I hope the scoring system is one of the things they’ll take a long look at.