Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
UFC 247: Highway Robberies
In the recent UFC 247, light heavyweight challenger Dominick Reyes lost a razor-close decision to champion Jon Jones although Reyes and tons of fans, fighters, and even Dana White believed he won the fight despite the judges scoring the victory unanimously for the champion Jon Jones who retains his title belt.
With the final tallies of 48-47, 48-47, and 49-46 all in favor of Jones, now come the cries of robbery, poor judging, and a need to change the scoring system. The problem is, we’ve heard this all before. Thousands of times for many years this type of controversy began in the sport of boxing. Now it also exists in MMA and the problem is there is no clear cut way to judge a fight.
Unlike other sports where you win by scoring more runs in baseball or finishing with more points on the board in football and basketball, score more goals in hockey, or swing the club for the lowest score in golf, in combat sports, there are several factors that judges must weigh to come up with a winner in a fight that goes the distance.
That is the huge problem with combat sports, specifically in the two major avenues of fight sports boxing and MMA. We had a clear example on February 8 when not just Dominick Reyes lost his bid to hand Jon Jones the first clear cut loss of his career and stay undefeated but Derrick Lewis may have also received a gift win over Ilir Latifi with three identical scores of 29-28.
The problem with judging fights is whether or not it is subjective or do the three sitting at ringside/octagon side follow a script of tracking the factors and using them fairly that are supposed to go into judging? In boxing, you have defense and punches landed. In MMA, you have much more. Control time, strikes, takedowns, defense, submission attempts, kicks landed, and aggression. It’s a lot to consider but in the case of Jon Jones and Dominick Reyes, Reyes believes he won rounds one through three which would mean at the end he had an advantage of three rounds to two making him the new champion.
On the cell phone app TheScore, I give you a breakdown of this fight from one fan named jnicholas70715. If this doesn’t convince you that the right decision was made at UFC 247’s main event then you may want to reevaluate your opinions.
Round 1: Every judge gave it to Reyes because he won on striking, aggression and octagon control. 10-9 Reyes.
Round 2: Jones did not have the same number of significant strikes but he did damage and remember it is quality over quantity. Jones was able to keep going and did not look phased except for the knockdown and was able to take Reyes down. Jones was walking him down in round 2. Reyes got a nice shot with the uppercut was not able to follow up. 10-9 Reyes.
Round 3: It was going well for Reyes but Jon Jones starts to turn it up. They are trading and Dominick seems to be hitting more shots than Jones but Jones’ shots are definitely hitting hard although neither were rocked in the round. Jones was advancing and was able to effectively defend against most of Reyes shots. They were both great so I’ll go the rules of MMA to score it:
- Striking 1-1
- Grappling 1-1 (none had the upper hand)
- Aggression/octagon control 1-0 Jones
- Defense 1-0 Jones
Based on the rules of scoring I give it 10-9 Jones.
Round 4: Gut check time. Reyes still moving but a lot slower. Jones is picking him off. The strikes that Jones is hitting are hurting more. Jones scores a takedown and secures a body lock. Jones ends the round with a left hook and right cross. Jones 10-9.
Round 5: This is it. 2-2 in my eyes based on unified rules of MMA. Reyes comes out aggressive and has a nice lead left on Jones. Jones shoots and gets him down. Jones picks him off the whole round, scores a takedown, advances the whole round. I feel like Reyes believes he has 3 rounds in the bag and took his foot off the gas a bit. He is running near the end of the round and doesn’t want to get hit. I think this is gonna come back to bite him in the butt. Round ends. 10-9 Jones.
Reyes wins rounds 1&2, Jones 3, 4, & 5 and retains via unanimous decision.
The problem with that analysis is not that it’s not correct but that it is opinion and perspective. That’s the whole problem with judging fight sports. There is no clear cut method for judges to be in agreement thus the disparity in scores sometimes such as it was with this fight where one judge did not agree with the other two and scored it three points better for Jones instead of mirroring the first two judges at 48-47.
With the Derrick Lewis fight, Latifi was controlling Lewis nearly the entire fight with this grappling of which many fans did not like because it is not exciting fighting but like Daniel Cormier, that is his primary strategy. With a flurry at the end, Lewis eked out a victory that in my opinion was not deserved.
Now fighters, MMA officials and fans alike are calling for change. But we’ve heard this all before. Changes to judging fights have been a hot topic for years every time a boxing match or MMA fight ends with a controversy of who the actual winner was. Joe Rogan who with Dominick Cruz called the fight said this afterward:
"It’s unfortunate because it’s one of the biggest sports in the world. It’s, in my opinion, the most exciting sport in the world. Incompetent judging. Incompetent judging and a poor system. If we got together the best minds in mixed martial arts and the best journalists and fighters, and they tried to figure out a way that we could agree on a scoring system that makes more sense. It would be nice. And clearly, there’s a giant issue with people judging that really don’t understand martial arts. They judge boxing. Boxing you’re dealing with two weapons. A variety of different ways to use them, but only two weapons. With mixed martial arts there is just so much more to it."
As for the veteran fighters?
Daniel Cormier: "Not robbery. Close fight, could have gone either way. 3-1 or 2-2 going into 5th. I thought 3-2 Reyes but the fight was so close it could have gone either way."
Max Holloway: "Is our sport the only major sport where you don't see the score until the game is over? What would the harm be in judges showing their scores after each round? Honest question, not a diss."
Chris Weidman: "I had Reyes in the first three rounds. Credit to Jones on coming on strong 4th and 5th but I would of guessed Reyes won that fight on scorecards.”
Sam Alvey: “This is embarrassing for the sport."
Eddie Alvarez: "My initial feeling here is Reyes won this fight I might have to rewatch this one. The decisions tonight were all wrong. They need vet fighters to become judges for our sport."
Jamie Varner: "Wow! UFC like you couldn’t seem more corrupt! Jon Jones did NOT win that fight. 3 rounds to 2, for Reyes and that can’t be argued! TRASH! You stole that from the man the earned it. Terrible!"
Aljamain Sterling: "To be the champ, you gotta beat the champ!"
So where does the sport go from here? I like Alvarez’s suggestion, using retired veteran fighters. Who knows the sport better than them? As far as my take goes, I thought the fight could have gone either way. I would not have been surprised with a Reyes victory, and I’m not surprised that Jones got the nod. I think it was a fair decision for several reasons. What fan jnicholas70715 said on TheScore is DEAD on. Jones was the aggressor and as jnicholas70715 said, it truly is quality over quantity. That’s a true and fair statement.
For the record, while Dominick Reyes landed 12 more strikes than did Jones, and threw 97 more, Jones landed 62.9% of his compared to Reyes’s 45.2 %. Jones landed 62.6% significant strikes hitting on 104 of 166 thrown, while Reyes was at 44.8% on 166 of 259. Takedowns? Two of nine for the champion and none for the challenger. Do you still want to agree that Reyes won this fight?
I believe if Reyes had applied more pressure throughout and taken more chances, he would have won. But the bottom line whether fans like it or not, buy into it or not, it’s a proven fact that to beat the champ you have to BEAT the champion. Dominate a reigning champion throughout the fight and you can’t lose no matter what the judges see. Submit or knockout a champion and they can’t take that away from you. But history will always repeat itself and any very close decision will almost always go to the champion. As long as fights are subjective in judging there will be these types of controversial decisions.
The problem for Reyes in getting an immediate rematch is this…every time Jon Jones has had a close call and then gave his opponent a rematch, the second time around Jones dominated. It’s happened twice and in both rematches, Jones won easily. Those were the second Daniel Cormier fight and the rematch with Alexander Gustafsson. This does not bode well for Reyes. His only advantage is that it appears Jon Jones has in fact slowed down and is not the same fighter has been over the years. But my belief is in a rematch, Jon Jones will be much better and more ready no matter his age or any other circumstance.
In the meantime, expect more and more bad decisions or close calls that some may not agree with going forward in MMA and in professional boxing. It’s the nature of the beast. On a final UFC 247 note, NO ONE is going to beat Valentina Shevchenko. She does have a few losses on her record but she has improved to the point that I think she’s invincible. This woman is a machine. She, in my opinion, is the most well rounded, well-schooled mixed martial arts athlete in the history of the sport.