Ever-Changing Guidelines Make Scoring MMA Fights a Challenge

November 15, 2023
4 months

Depending on your biases, there is a case to be made that either Valentina Shevchenko or Alexa Grasso won the UFC Flyweight title on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas. But thanks to MMA judge Mike Bell scoring the fifth round of the fight 10-8 in favor of Grasso, the fight was ruled a split draw. Sal D’Amato scored the fight as a Shevchenko victory, while Junichiro Kamijo scored it as a Grasso victory.

While there is a criterion for scoring fights, not every judge sees things the same way. So sometimes scorecards produce some head-scratching results. When it comes to MMA breaking news,  the result of a poor decision quickly spreads across social media and can leave a sour taste in people’s mouths. Here’s a look at some controversial decisions across MMA history.

Yan Can’t Catch a Break

Russian fighter Petr Yan has had horrible luck in the octagon. A lot has gone wrong for Yan since he won the UFC Bantamweight title with a knockout victory over Jose Aldo on July 12, 2020, to improve to 15-1 in his career. Scanning his career record on MMA news sites shows many bizarre results.

Yan lost his title in his first title defense at UFC 259 after he hit Aljamain Sterling with an illegal knee. But it was Yan’s fight with now-champion Sean O’Malley at UFC 280 that had people talking. Many people thought Yan was leading the fight entering the third round and O’Malley would need a finish to win.

O’Malley did respond with a flurry, outlanding Yan 40-15 in the third round to win the third round. When the scorecards were read, O’Malley was announced as the split-decision winner. Despite Yan landing six takedowns and holding a 97-91 edge in strikes, he would be on the wrong end of a split decision again.

Paddy the Baddy Wins Not Great Decision

Jared Gordon thought he had won a decision over Paddy Pimblett at UFC 282. Turns out that none of the people who mattered agreed with him. Despite outlanding Pimblett 100-97 in total strikes, Gordon lost on all three judges’ scorecards. 

Gordon was also able to take down Pimblett three times, while all three of Plimblett’s takedown attempts were turned away. Looking back at the fight, the MMA latest updates show that Gordon’s strategy in the third round may have cost him big. Gordon opted for a wrestle-heavy approach and mostly pushed Pimblett against the side of the cage.

Neither fighter landed many strikes in the final round, leaving many people disappointed in the fight’s result overall.

One of the Original Difficult MMA Decisions

There are usually three Ds associated with modern MMA judging: damage, duration, and dominance. But back in the early days of the UFC, only a few people knew what they were looking at. The fight between Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman for the heavyweight championship became a lightning rod for criticism.

At the time, the format for the title fight was one 15-minute overtime, followed by two additional overtime rounds of three minutes a piece. The fight scored a draw after the first 15 minutes, forcing the overtime. Randleman would continue to score takedowns. He finished with six on six attempts but wouldn’t land any ground and pound.

With Rutten more active from the bottom position, the judges felt he was doing more to try and win the fight. In a fight that only featured a combined 38 significant strikes, Rutten would be given a controversial decision. Rutten did land more total strikes, holding a 181-56 edge.

Kattar Drops Tough Decision

Calvin Kattar thought he had scored a decision during a main event fight against Josh Emmett on June 18, 2022. In three of the fight rounds of the fight, Kattar landed more strikes. He also wasn’t impacted by Emmett’s wrestling, stopping all four of Emmett’s takedown attempts.

Kattar also finished the fight with a 130-107 edge in significant strikes. One of the judges agreed that Kattar won three of the fight rounds. Two of them, however, sided with Emmett. This was a difficult loss for Kattar, who watched Emmett get a shot at an interim championship in his next bout. 

Kattar fought again several months later against English prospect Arnold Allen and suffered a knee injury in the bout on Oct. 29, 2022. Kattar hasn’t fought since. Many MMA news sites believe Kattar may not find a path to a title fight now.

Jon Jones Survived Scare

There is little American Jon Jones hasn’t accomplished inside a UFC octagon. Having a controversial split decision victory is part of his resume. Jones is 27-1 in his career, but the most formidable challenge of that career may have come at UFC against Thiago Santos.

Jones, the current heavyweight champion, played it safe against Santos when trying to defend his UFC Light Heavyweight title. Santos had a higher volume of strikers thrown in the bout, but Jones landed at a higher accuracy rate. Santos was able to land some heavy strikes, but the judges would give the decision to Jones. 

Hendricks Nearly Takes Down GSP

Georges St-Pierre’s title fight against Johny Hendricks would end up being his 9th consecutive defense of the UFC welterweight title at UFC 167. But more than a few people thought that GSP may not have earned the decision. Hendricks held a 142-125 edge in total strikes.

However, GSP did land more significant strikes and finished with a 3-2 edge in takedowns. The result of this fight would create a rift between UFC President Dana White and GSP. GSP wanted time off to rest, while White thought he should rematch Hendricks after the fight was ruled a split decision. 

GSP would decide to step into retirement instead of returning to defend his welterweight belt. Hendricks would return to beat Robbie Lawler for the vacant belt in a fight that was ruled the best of 2014. GSP would return for UFC 217 to beat Michael Bisping to win the UFC Middleweight championship four years later.

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