There was a moment in the UFC 277 main event where the commentary narrative changed from the truthful and honest view that Amanda Nunes was dominating the fight to the fantasy version that Julianna Pena was seconds away from grabbing the win thanks to her dangerous guard game. That moment came in the early going of the fourth round of the UFC women’s bantamweight title fight.
Seconds after praising the performance of Nunes, who had knocked down Pena three times in the second round and was dominating the fight on the feet and on the mat, UFC commentator Daniel Cormier added, “Julianna Pena is showing very good herself.”
The instant those words left Cormier’s mouth, Nunes scored a takedown. Fifteen seconds had expired in the fourth stanza. From that point, the focus turned from Nunes’ domination to Pena’s perceived advantage in the grappling department.
That fact that Pena did have a legit armbar locked in with three minutes left in the fourth round seemed to embolden the commentary team for the rest of the fight. It didn’t matter that Nunes escaped the submission hold. After Pena applied the technique it seemed as if any offensive move she made while she was on her back was noted with effusive praise from the commentary team.
I’d liken what we heard from Cormier and his commentary partner Joe Rogan to an athlete or a corner that cannot make an adjustment during a fight even though they know they need to do so.
Cormier and Rogan — and to a lesser degree the third member of the commentary team, Jon Anik — became obsessed with what they saw as the dangerous guard of Pena from the opening moments of the fourth stanza and they could not be shaken from that belief. After that armbar, Pena registered zero additional submission attempts for the rest of the fight.
As the fight ticked down, Rogan offered, “You can’t count Julianna’s guard out. Here she is, 1:15 to go and she’s still throwing up armbars.” That wasn’t happening, but Rogan believed it was and his commentary reflected that belief.
The notion that the one submission attempt from Pena was equal to, as Cormier later said, “25” submission attempts was fantasy and it tainted the commentary. Cormier and Rogan were stuck unable to adjust to the reality of what was happening in the cage right in front of them.
I don’t think favoritism came into play during the Pena vs. Nunes 2 fight, but there might have been some “underdog bias” at work. By that I mean, Nunes was so dominant throughout the fight that the commentary team latched onto that small glimmer of hope from Pena and refused to let go, no matter the reality of the situation.
This is not the first time the UFC commentary team has stuck with an incorrect narrative of misrepresented how a fight was playing out.
Was the call from Cormier and Rogan as misleading — and wrong — as the call Rogan had of the UFC 223 bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Al Iaquinta where Rogan’s commentary (again. possible underdog bias?) forced him to apologize? No, but it wasn’t that far removed.
It was no surprise that Nunes swept all three of the scorecards for the unanimous decision win.
Fans should expect the commentary team to call the fights correctly. A little bias will creep into a call, that’s just the nature of the game, but to completely misrepresent the reality of what’s happening directly in front of your eyes? That should never be acceptable — and that’s what happened at UFC 277.
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