Nearly a week has passed since Georges St-Pierre fought Johny Hendricks, got badly beat up,and yet had his hand raised. Because of a split decision, St-Pierre once again had the UFC welterweight championship belt affixed around his waist.
The decision still is split.
That uncertainty is actually a positive step from where we were last Saturday night when Dana White stomped into the UFC 167 postfight press conference and self-assuredly asserted that a robbery had taken place and everybody knew it. The fight promotion president then proceeded to paint a picture of unwavering consensus -- "Does anybody here think that Johny Hendricks didn't win the fight?" -- and for a while, it appeared that his bluster had a strong gust of righteousness behind it. Twitter exploded with not just fans, but professional fighters calling St-Pierre's slim victory everything from "robbery" to "a [expletive] joke" to "the worst judging decision in the history of the sport."
Wow. Here I had scored the bout the same as the two majority judges, 48-47 for St-Pierre, but with so many voices loudly dissenting, I could feel doubts creeping into my cranium. I'm never confident in my scoring, really, because when I watch a fight that I will be writing about, I don't watch it with judging criteria at the forefront of my mind. I watch through eyes that are trying to take everything in, all the better to generate a vibrant story. I do get a general sense of who's winning and who's losing, sure, but don't hand me a scorecard and ask me to make it official. There are trained professionals for that. I'm watching a different fight.
A full 24 hours after St-Pierre and Hendricks stopped trading punches, though, I sat down and watched their fight again. Rounds 2 through 5 were as I remembered them -- two for Georges, two for Johny -- but the opening round looked a little different. Watching live, I'd scored it for GSP based on his early takedown, his submission attempt, and what I saw as crisper standup. Upon further review, though, I had to give Hendricks more credit for the series of short elbows he landed while defending a mid-round takedown. And while he landed fewer punches overall, his did seem to have more oomph behind them.
In retrospect, would I snatch that round away from the champion and hand it to the challenger? Probably not. But I could understand why others scored it for Hendricks. If ever a case could be made for that detestable thing called a 10-10 round, this might have been it. One thing I will say with all confidence: This was not the worst judging decision in the history of the sport.
In the last few days, I've encountered a lot of like-minded observers. While most members of the MMA media that I've communicated with had Hendricks winning, I saw on the Fox Sports 1 show UFC Tonight that both Kenny Florian and Chael Sonnen scored the bout for St-Pierre. I've also received emails and tweets, lots of them, from readers who either agreed with my scoring or at least saw last Saturday's title bout as a could-have-gone-either-way decision. Let's go to the mailbag ...
That fight was so close, and I really don't get the outrage. In my view, the challenger needs to convincingly take the belt from the champ. And that didn't happen. It doesn't matter how marked up GSP was. That is not part of the scoring system, as you know. For Dana to blow up about the result, and then to blatantly attack one of his biggest cash cows, was extremely disrespectful.
-- Jeff, Edmonton, Alberta
I agree with you, Jeff, and I also disagree. I'm on board with your contention that the scary Halloween mask that was St-Pierre's face by night's end rightfully had no direct bearing on the scoring. How those cuts and bruises got there, however, does go a long way to telling the story of a fight. I think it's within a judge's purview to assess the damage of strikes landed. So in a roundabout way, a battered face can show up on a scorecard.
Where I disagree with you, more vehemently, is in your point -- shared by many others -- that "the challenger needs to convincingly take the belt from the champ." I suppose that statement swings with one's definition of "convincingly." To me, a fighter who is one percent better than his opponent has shown that he's won. You might not agree. But when a football team wins by a point, that counts in the "W" column as much as a blowout does, no? So if Hendricks had won that first round by even the slimmest of margins, I think he'd have deserved the belt.
I've always thought it was absurd that 95 percent of all rounds are scored 10-9, with 10-8 reserved for only the deadliest of beatdowns. Which makes me wonder: Maybe that beatdown should be a 10-7. As a whole fight, we all know Hendricks won the fight, but the way the scoring is set up now, winning three close rounds wins the fight. Am I the only one who thinks 10-8 should be your typical winning round, while 10-9 should be reserved for close rounds?
-- Dan, Brooklyn, NY
I'm not buying your assumption, Dan, that "we all know Hendricks won the fight." You might not like the way fights are scored, but that was the system in place when St-Pierre and Hendricks stepped into the octagon, so those are the rules of the game.
I do like your suggestion, though, that the sport should add nuance to the scoring. I think it would take a major rethinking of the 10-Point Must System to redefine what constitutes a 10-9 round versus 10-8 or even 10-7. And one complicating factor is that this system was brought over from boxing, where it works much better as is, thanks to the forgiveness built into that sport's bouts lasting as long as 12 rounds. There's less margin for error in MMA, where the majority of fights are scheduled for just three. But it would be confusing for combat sports fans if a 10-9 round in MMA were different from a 10-8 in boxing.
If only there were another way to distinguish degrees of how a round is won. Oh, yeah, there is ...
I think the GSP-Hendricks fight could open a discussion for a half-point scoring system. That would allow judges to distinguish between really close rounds (the first, third, and fifth) and rounds that were not so close but didn't meet the 10-8 threshold (the second and fourth). So, the scoring of the GSP-Hendricks fight might have looked something like this:
Round 1: GSP 10, Hendricks 9.5
Round 2: Hendricks 10, GSP 9
Round 3: GSP 10, Hendricks 9.5
Round 4: Hendricks 10, GSP 9
Round 5: GSP 10, Hendricks 9.5
Total score: Hendricks 48.5, GSP 48
That score more accurately illustrates how the fight went. What do you think?
-- Brian, Marysville, Calif.
What do I think, Brian? I think you have a lot of time on your hands. Like, maybe 9.5 times more than I do.
Joking aside, I agree with you that adding more flexibility to scoring would be a positive step. I don't think it would steer us clear of controversy, though. You gave Hendricks 9.5 points in the third round? I don't think he deserved more than 9!
Any time you assign something as concrete as a number of points to something as fluid as a sports performance, there's going to be room for argument. Still, that system would be better than one that's too narrowly defined.
We get that the fault lies with a scoring system that isn't capturing the degrees of dominance. Is there any prayer that Nevada or another major commission will move to change system?
-- Jason, Baltimore, Md.
Not to go all libertarian on you, Jason, but government never seems to act on anything until a situation adversely affects the politicians in power or starts costing money. So we must ask: How are the athletic commissions harmed by having questionable judging decisions in boxing and mixed martial arts? Having charges of corruption or incompetence thrown their way means little to them, I suspect. But what if commissioners began seeing state revenue diminish as fight promoters took their business elsewhere? That might stir things up.
But what is the state going to do? Change the scoring system and then implement the new one with the same old judges? It seems to me that unless rules changes are accompanied by a significant upgrade in the quality of judging, it'll be much ado about nothing. The answer is not simply a matter of bringing in retired MMA fighters as judges, either. Critics complain that too many MMA judges are ex-boxing guys, as if that should disqualify them. No. Whatever your background, you just have to be trained to look for what the rules call for you to look for.
Great article on Dana White's harsh criticism of GSP. At what point should the UFC step in and have Dana replaced or at the very least put in a less public role? He can't think that acting the way he does is bringing credibility to the sport or the organization.
-- Steve, Lethbridge, Alberta
The UFC replace Dana White? Are you kidding me? That's not going to happen -- nor should it. The guy is not only the face of the organization, he's the power generator. The enthusiasm that White brings to his job goes off the rails on occasion, but that same energy is what propels the UFC forward. Yes, I came down hard on his antics last weekend, and he deserved every harsh word. But don't think for a second that White is some loose cannon who continually backfires on the company he runs. Every once in a while the UFC has to clean up his mess, but for the majority of the time, Dana White makes the world's leading fight promotion look golden.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the next SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.