At the final horn, the three judges no doubt shifted their gaze from the cage to the scorecards sitting in front of them. And while they were writing "10-9" or perhaps even "10-8" next to Jon Fitch's name, they missed a snapshot moment that truly told the story of the UFC 127 main event Saturday night in Sydney, Australia.
The story of the fight was told when the horn sounded at the end of the third round and Fitch climbed off of BJ Penn, raised his hand high and let out an exultant yell. As he walked back to his corner, his nose was bloodied but he looked strong enough to go another three rounds. Penn, meanwhile, made it to his corner and slumped against the cage, and as his corner men poured water over his bowed head, he looked like a beaten man who couldn't have fought for three more seconds.
But Penn was not a beaten man, at least not in the eyes of two of the judges, who scored the bout 28-28 (the other had it 29-28 for Fitch) to make it a majority draw.
This was not one of those highway-robbery decisions we've so often seen in mixed martial arts, though. Penn surprised Fitch with takedowns in the first and second rounds, and both times maneuvered into dominant position. Both times, however, Fitch reversed him and did some damage from on top. Those rounds were close. But not the third, which was all Jon, all the time. That's not hyperbole, by the way. According to CompuStrike stats, Fitch outstruck Penn by a dizzying 134-0 in the final round -- yes, zero -- including 42 power strikes.
Afterward, Joe Rogan interviewed both fighters in the cage. First he asked Fitch (23-3-1, one no contest) if he thought he did enough to win. "I thought so," said the visibly disappointed fighter. "I mean, I gave up some positioning in the first and second rounds, but I came back, finished out on top, did some damage of my own."
When Rogan posed the same question to Penn (16-7-2), the answer was more blunt. "No," said Penn, the right side of his face bruised purple. Did he expect the decision to go Fitch's way? "Yeah."
That might have been his third-round beatdown speaking. After two close rounds, Fitch connected with a hard overhand right hand just seconds into the third, then shot for a takedown. Penn managed to get back to his feet half a minute later, but it took Fitch around 10 seconds to take the fight back to the mat, where it remained for the final four minutes. Fitch never passed Penn's guard, but the bigger, stronger man blanketed Penn and landed a succession of punches and elbows, with no return fire. It was a thrashing. But it was not enough for two judges.
The decision was not the first letdown Fitch has seen in the UFC. Despite having won his last five fights and 13 of his 14 UFC bouts, he's struggled to win the support of fans. His smothering style is not the most exhilarating form of combat the cageside crowd has ever seen. Perhaps because of that, Fitch has seen a promised title shot snatched away and given to another man. Yet he's still fixing his focus on a title belt.
"You know, I want that title more than anything," he said, "but at the end of the day, I don't make the decision, the guys in the suits do and the fans do." Two things about that: First, has Jon ever taken a look at Dana White's wardrobe? And second, does he really think the aftermath of a draw -- even one in which he pummeled his opponent -- is the time to ask for a shot at the belt?
"I'm here to fight, I'm here to fight the best," Fitch said. "If my 13 wins in the UFC isn't enough to already put me in the spot for a title shot, then whatever, I'm willing to prove myself more."
Maybe against BJ again? Penn, bruises and all, would be up for that. "Since the gods were nice to me and gave me a draw," he said, "if he wants to do it again, I'll do it again."