By the conclusion of the fifth round of the main event of UFC San Antonio last Saturday night, one thing was clear: Cory Sandhagen had defeated Marlon Vera. The Elevation Fight Team talent had out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled his foe for the majority of five rounds on his way to what must surly be a unanimous decision victory.
Then the scorecards were read.
Sandhagen still got his hand raised in the end—the only thing that really matters—but local judge Joel Ojeda turned in a mind-bending 48-47 Marlon Vera card to make it a split decision in a fight where the vast majority of fans and media had the fight sitting at a clear 50-45 or 49-46 for the victor. MMA is no stranger to wild decisions. In a sport with only a few rounds and a somewhat antiquated 10-point must-system refitted from boxing, small discrepancies in judgement from round-to round can create major shifts in the end result. But, even by that standard, this felt like a wild aberration.
So much so that at least one longtime UFC veteran is calling for an investigation. Welterweight top contender Gilbert Burns sat down with TMZ in the days following the event. When asked about the controversial scoring, ‘Durinho’ had a strong solution: Call in the FBI.
“I think this judge needs to be investigated,” Burns said of Ojeda (transcript via MMA Mania). “We need the FBI on this judge. Because those judges may be working with the betting company, getting a third person to bet. I just think it’s not real, I think those guys are being dirty and maybe try to get money out of this. Chito’s my guy and I want him to win, but there’s no way he won that fight. It’s clear to anyone. What’s wrong with that judge? It’s not the first time. What bothers me is that it doesn’t stop. We have to do something or I dunno, nothing changes.”
While commissions will regularly debrief officials after events and sometimes go over controversial scorecards or officiating decisions, those kinds of conversations are rarely ever made public. Commissions have also generally proven disinterested in taking on disputes over things like adjudication—perhaps unsurprising considering the number of fighters every week who might feel hard done by any number of decisions.
However, that leaves athletes, coaches, and managers in the unfortunate place of feeling practically powerless when it comes to filing any kind of official complaint. Ojeda’s scorecard was definitely bad, and seems like it would be hard to defend, but it also seems very unlikely that he’ll ever have to do so in any kind of public forum—even if Burns does get the FBI on the horn.
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