There were a lot of dour faces on the dais at the UFC 150 post-fight news conference in the bowels of the Pepsi Center, about an hour after Benson Henderson won a hotly disputed split decision over Frankie Edgar to retain his lightweight title in the show's main event.
For the second week in a row, the UFC put on an outstanding show. If last week's card in Los Angeles was an A-plus, Saturday's card would probably grade out as an A-minus, highlighted by Donald Cerrone's hellacious knockout of former teammate Melvin Guillard in the co-main event.
The sombre moods were clearly the result of how the main event was judged. Though the Henderson-Edgar fight lived up to its billing as a quality match, few were happy with the split decision outcome.
UFC president Dana White refused to give his score, saying only that he had it 2-2 after four rounds. Most media scored the fight for Edgar. Fans on social media favoured Edgar, though by a lesser margin than the media.
As Edgar dejectedly said when asked if he felt he won, "It doesn't matter at this point."
Judge Tony Weeks had it 49-46 for Edgar, giving the ex-champion the final four rounds. But Weeks' partners, Dave Hagen and Mark Van Tine, each had it 3-2, giving Henderson Rounds 1, 3 and 4. Yahoo! Sports had it 49-46, scoring it the same as Weeks.
Even though it was an excellent fight and both men acquitted themselves well, there was a general sense of unhappiness about the verdict. White didn't want to say how he scored the fifth round, and repeatedly said, "I'm not a judge." When Henderson lifted the belt from Edgar at UFC 144 in February, White was public about his belief that Edgar won.
The fact that he declined to say how he had the fifth round Saturday is a fair indication he had Edgar again. That would mean he twice thought Edgar beat Henderson and he didn't want to do anything to diminish Henderson in the eyes of a public which is still getting to know him.
"Again, it was one of those controversial decisions," White said. "I'm just going to say this: I'm not a judge. I'm not a judge. Benson Henderson won the fight, he retained his title and that's the end of it. A lot of people scored it differently, but I say this all the time: If you don't like the way the judges score, don't let it get there."
Edgar said he felt he won. Henderson said he thought he had done enough and said after the fourth, he felt he needed to win the fifth to win the fight. As it turned out, though, he had the decision sewn up after four.
All three judges gave Edgar the final round, which Henderson believed might have been decisive.
It was that kind of a fight.
"I thought I was ahead," Henderson said of going into the final five minutes. "At worst, I thought it was even and I had to win the fifth round. Again, I have the same sentiment as Mr. White over here, you can't leave it in the judges' [hands]. You can't. You never know. I've seen some – you guys have – seen some very suspect judges' decisions. Any time you leave it to a judge's decision, no matter how badly you beat the guy up, you never know. You never know.
"And as close as our fight was, I just knew I had to get after that fifth round and go get him."
The problem for White, fans and fighter camps who bemoan such decisions, is that it is likely to become a bigger issue, not smaller, as time goes on. When two evenly matched, technically skilled fighters are paired, close bouts are going to result and fights that are difficult to score are going to happen more frequently.
As MMA matures as a sport, there will be more technically proficient fighters and they'll produce quality, but even harder to score matches.
This was no situation like the June 9 boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, where it seemed to virtually everyone but the three persons scoring the bout that Pacquiao had won going away.
In this case, one could make a reasoned, passionate argument for either side.
"Ben's a great fighter and he fought a great fight," Edgar said.
"Frankie did a great job tonight," Henderson said.
And though mixed martial arts judges are routinely excoriated, they did their jobs well, too.
Henderson clearly won Round 1. Edgar clearly won Rounds 2 and 4. Rounds 3 and 5 were close, with the third being the tighter of the two. It just came down to what judges prefer and, also, what angle they were seeing the fight from, because this was the type of fight where the scoring blows weren't always easily apparent. It was difficult from certain angles to tell if punches were blocked or landed, and that makes the task of the judges exponentially more difficult.
Fighting isn't scored like stick and ball sports. It is a much more nuanced, subjective process. And though the Internet abounds with conspiracy theorists, no tangible evidence has ever surfaced to support any claims of corruption.
But being upset after leaving Saturday's fight card was like the nerdy kid in the class being upset about scoring a date with the Homecoming queen. Fans shouldn't be disappointed.
The hero's welcome native son Cerrone received as he walked to the cage was tingling. And the fight bordered on sensational. Cerrone ended it at 1:16 of the first when he hit Guillard in the head with a kick and then finished him with a brutal right hand.
That match won both Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night, stealing the KO honors and the $60,000 bonus that went with it from Erik Perez. Perez blasted Ken Stone with a counter right and knocked him out in just 17 seconds of their bantamweight fight.
In the next match, Michael Kuiper stopped Jared Hamman at 2:16 of the second in a bout that easily could have gotten Fight of the Night honours.
Once again, up and down the card, there were fun fights to watch, including the main event.
That should be the takeaway – Was it a fun show and can the decision be justified? – rather than angst about the way the judges scored the main event.
Because for those who get all bent out of shape about such instances, get ready. As the sport matures and evenly matched fighters continue to be paired, the number of those upsetting decisions is only going to climb.
- Frankie Edgar
- Benson Henderson