By Zach Arnold
Boxing fans have long put up with controversial judging decisions in their sport. Talk to a casual sports fan and some of the first phrases that pop into their heads about boxing are 'screw jobs' and 'scorecards.'
Last Saturday, UFC fans got a taste of what boxing fans have had to put up for decades.
Michael Bisping, a mega-fan favorite in the UK, faced underdog amateur wrestler and MMA fighter Matt Hamill at the UFC 75 event in London (at the O2 Arena) last Saturday night. Going into the fight, most people expected Bisping to win in relatively easily fashion and make the fans go home happy. Instead, Hamill brought his top-level game and made Bisping look less-than-spectacular in the Octagon.
Hamill dominated the first round of their fight and won the second round in the eyes of most fans. Bisping came back in the third round, but by the end of the fight most spectators thought it was too late for Bisping to win the decision. An upset was ready for the making and Hamill had earned the right to celebrate.
Then came ring announcer Bruce Buffer to read the judges' scorecards.
UK judge Chris Watts scored it 30-27 in favor of Hamill (winning all three rounds). American judges Jeff Mullen and Cecil Peoples scored the fight 29-28 in favor of Bisping (giving him two rounds).
You could practically hear the groaning, moaning, and screaming from UFC fans at home watching their television sets. Bisping looked shocked as the scores were read, and he celebrated by jumping on top of the Octagon to celebrate the decision.
The controversial judges' decision created an uproar with a heavy majority of both casual and hardcore UFC fans. The controversy drew more heat than the actual main event at UFC 75, featuring UFC Light Heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson defeating PRIDE Middleweight champion Dan Henderson in a title unification bout.
Backtracking and spin control
Starting last Sunday night, immediate spin-control and ass-covering began by some parties who were at the UFC 75 event. Jeff Mullens went on The Underground Forum and explained how he came up with his scorecard for the Hamill/Bisping contest, noting that if the scoring system was different than the current 10 point must system, he might have given the fight to Hamill. Once the judges involved in the Bisping/Hamill fight started talking, reader reaction on FightOpinion was swift. Some readers immediately accused the judges of going on a PR blitz for damage control.
Both Mullen and Peoples ended up giving audio quotes to Fight Network Radio on Monday. Mullen, once again, calmly explained his position and gave his reasoning for the scoring. Peoples, on the other hand, was arrogant and dismissive of any criticism leveled his way. He told Fight Network Radio that ‘other than those two weak takedowns,’ he ’saw nothing’ from Hamill in the fight. The only reason Peoples came up with for the uproar about the judges’ decision is that “people like controversy.”
On Tuesday, UFC VP Marc Ratner appeared on Steve Cofield's Las Vegas radio show and defended the judges' scoring by deflecting criticism back to MMA bloggers on the Internet, stating that the Internet gives a large voice to those who normally wouldn't have one. A dismissive tone. Plus, Yahoo Sports writer Kevin Iole labeled critics of the judges' scoring as keyboard warriors after answering some Yahoo Sports reader e-mails.
Conversely speaking, several people including Joe Rogan, Eddie Bravo, and Dave Meltzer focused on the ten-point must system and the flaws that MMA's current scoring system has. All three individuals made constructive comments.
$eeing the dollar $ign$
UFC immediately took notice of the fan reaction about the Bisping/Hamill fight with great excitement. That excitement reached a crescendo with Tuesday's ratings news that the UFC 75 event on Spike TV (tape delayed from 9 PM-12 AM EST) drew a monstrous 3.1 cable rating. Hamill vs. Bisping became the third most-watched fight in the history of UFC on cable television.
Do you think UFC is unhappy about the controversial scoring from the judges of the Hamill/Bisping contest? I didn't think so, either.
I expect boxing fans and insiders to get angry about UFC being able to put themselves in a position to not only re-match Bisping vs. Hamill but to also profit handsomely from booking the fight due to controversy involving judges. Any time this happens in boxing, the industry get crushed for it in the media. In UFC? The media takes notice, but also notices that both the UFC and the fighters involved will likely benefit from the controversy (much in the same way that inane discussion is generated with Top 10 lists involving any sports-related topic).
Is it a double-standard? Absolutely. Should MMA's scoring system be changed? Absolutely.
Saturday's monster TV ratings number for UFC and the company's ability to profit from controversy should put boxing loyalists on a heightened state of alert. UFC is in a position to book the re-match and make significant money from it. There are no sanctioning bodies to get in the way of UFC or dictate what kind of fights they should book. UFC is its own self-sustaining operation.
Instead of insulting the hardcore fans and writers, UFC should acknowledge the controversy at hand and address criticism from both writers and fans with respect.
That's the least they can do before they count the million$ of dollar$ the Bisping/Hamill re-match will likely generate in both live gate and TV revenue streams.