One of the sports’ cliché sayings is “Don’t leave it in the judges’ hands, finish the fight.” The phrase is synonymous with the ongoing problem of poor judging in the sport of mixed martial arts, always on the tongues of fans due to the consistent threat of a judge’s horrible interpretation of the unified rules. We’re constantly reminded of the problem as evident in Saturday night’s main event showdown between B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch.
Penn came out strong in the first round, implementing an unusual, but nonetheless effective strategy of taking down Jon Fitch. Once Penn was able to gain top control, he worked quickly to transition to Fitch’s back and threaten with the submission. It was an impressive feat considering Fitch’s NCAA Division I wrestling credentials and Penn’s propensity to strike with his opponents over grappling. By all accounts, B.J. Penn won the round.
The third round was the definition of a 10-8 round. Jon Fitch wrestled Penn to the floor and beat on him for the majority of the round, never allowing him to set his legs up to kick out and escape. For brief moments, Penn looked like he may be able to take advantage of small gaps in Fitch’s smothering ground and pound, but the weary former UFC lightweight champion was simply too tired. Following the fight’s conclusion, Penn was visibly defeated, and he confirmed his thoughts in the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. When asked whether he felt he won the fight, Penn answered with a short, honest reply of “No”.
The second round is the focal point of the entire fight. A round that will garner the most scrutiny from fans because it will serve as supporting evidence to the ongoing problem with mixed martial arts’ judging. While we’ve seen “highway robbery” decisions such as Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia that can only be explained by sheer stupidity, Penn vs. Fitch is a tough fight to call, mainly due to the unclear scoring criteria.
Penn took down Fitch in the second round, transitioned to the back, and gained a dominant position with the potential to end the fight. Fitch slyly reversed the position, gained top control, and landed some choice punches to Penn’s dome before Penn kicked out and escaped. The exchange was repeated a second time. What holds more weight? Fitch’s reversals with light damage or the fact that Penn gained a very dominant position in back control for a period of time.
It’s a debate that has been ongoing for a number of years, and the draw decision at UFC 127 is a perfect example. From all indications, the judges felt that Penn’s dominant positions from the back scored more in the round, giving the round to Penn 10-9. Some fans believe the reversal should nullify the value of that position. Others believe it should hold more weight as it takes more skills to attain that position versus top control in guard. The real problem is that judges are held to their own personal interpretation of the rules, thus creating these horribly differing scores in particular fights.
I personally scored the bout 29-27 for Jon Fitch. I felt that he edged out Penn in the second round with his ground and pound damage, but it’s hard to say that the decision was utterly disgusting. If a judge is putting more weight on Penn’s back control, it isn’t unfathomable to see a 28-28 score in this fight. But we all knew who won the fight in the end. Penn looked defeated as he slowly walked up to the referee to hear the official decision, and Jon Fitch looked like… well, Jon Fitch.
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