That's the situation for Evan Dunham following his split decision loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 119. Dunham may have got the worst of the early going, but he came back strong against the former UFC lightweight champ and appeared to have the win in the bag when the fight went to the judge's scorecards.
But then, there's a reason you don't want to leave it in the judge's hands in this sport, and it's not just because going the distance might make you late for your after-party.
Depending on your perspective, the judges either robbed Dunham that night or else merely shortchanged him. Regardless, now everyone from UFC president Dana White to Dunham's next opponent, Melvin Guillard, claims the 11-1 fighter is really undefeated.
"I know for a fact Evan Dunham won that fight," Guillard told MMAFighting.com. "Sherk even told him in the back that he really won that. I don't even know what the judges were watching."
Of course, Guillard has some incentive to make that claim, since it would mean more to beat an undefeated opponent than one coming off a loss.
The funny thing is, Guillard finds himself in almost the exact opposite position. 2010 should have been the biggest year of his fighting career. After relocating to Greg Jackson's team in Albuquerque, he went on a three-fight winning streak -- the longest in his UFC career.
But again, it's not just what your record says at the end of the night that matters, but how you got there.
In his most recent victory over Jeremy Stephens, Guillard may have ended up on the more profitable side of the split decision, but he took heat from fans for what many considered an overly cautious fighting style. He used his speed to dart in and out, scoring on Stephens without ever looking to finish him.
Not that it's difficult to understand why. As Guillard pointed out, you only need to look at Stephens' one-punch knockout of Marcus Davis at UFC 125 to know why it's not a good idea to stand in front of him for too long, even if you're ahead on the cards in the final round, as Davis was. One right hand from Stephens not only ended Davis' night, it ended his UFC career as well.
With that in mind, wasn't getting in and out the smartest possible approach for Guillard? Absolutely. Is it going to make him a fan-favorite? Probably not, but most people would prefer continued employment to popularity in this economic climate, and it's hard to blame Guillard for feeling the same way.
When Guillard and Dunham meet at the UFC's Fight for the Troops event at Ft. Hood on Saturday night, it's Guillard who has the most to gain. Even though he's the one coming off a victory, he's still the one who has more to prove.
A win over Yves Edwards -- the man Guillard was originally slated to face before an injury to Kenny Florian left Dunham without an opponent -- would have done relatively little for him. A win over Dunham, a 2-1 favorite who's still undefeated in the eyes of many, and suddenly he's in the conversation about potential title contenders.
Then again, if Guillard employs the same style he used to beat Stephens, you have to wonder if his stock will rise so significantly. It's true that enough wins in a row eventually equals a title shot in the UFC, but if the top brass doesn't enjoy the way you get those victories, the wait could be very, very long.
It's a choice Guillard will be forced to make on Saturday night. The dynamic fighter he used to be wasn't terribly consistent, but he was always exciting. Now that he's learned virtues like patience and the ability to stick to a game plan, the wins are beginning to pile up, even if some of the popularity might be fading.
To hear him tell it, that's fine with him. And maybe it is. But if MMA history has taught us anything, it's that the only thing worse than winning with a conservative approach is losing with one.