As the shock over Anderson Silva's unprofessional behavior in his middleweight title defense against Demian Maia the MMA community has started to turn it's attention to the other big news coming out of UFC 112: B.J. Penn losing his lightweight championship to Frankie Edgar.
As I watched the fight it felt that I was watching a surprisingly close fight but one that was still going in B.J. Penn's favor. So, when the official scorecards were read and I heard scores of 50-45, 49-46 and 48-47 all for Frankie Edgar, it was a shock. The 50-45 and 49-46 scorecards in particular stood out as it means that one judge scored all five rounds and one judge scored four of the five to Edgar.
Upon my initial viewing of the fight I found the first two rounds to be quite lopsided in favor of Penn. Edgar did a nice job of moving a lot and avoiding large firefight exchanges but wasn't landing much by way of meaningful strikes while getting hit with big counters by Penn and was losing every striking exchange that did take place. Repeated viewings of the fight left me even more confident that Penn won the first two rounds at the very least. The third round was closer but still a Penn round. In fact, the only round that Edgar clearly won in my eyes was the fifth and final round.
FightMetric (a much better system than compustrike for examining fights after the fact) released their report on the fight which broke down their "effectiveness score" for each round and how they would translate that into scoring the bout using the ten point must-system. Here's how it came out:
Clearly Penn won rounds 1 and 2. There really can't be much debate of that. Assuming that one scored every round that was at least somewhat close for Edgar the most justifiable score one can come up with in his favor is 48-47 Edgar.
Douglas Crosby is the judge who handed over the Edgar shutout scorecard decided that he would go on The Underground and make rambling cryptic posts about zombie MMA fans surrounding his hotel and wondering if he had any reason to defend his scoring to fans. The tone and behavior came across as juvenile and insulting but eventually Crosby did offer some insight into how he could butcher the scoring so badly (pieced together from consecutive posts):
It is a Judge's obligation to interpret the fight and use the criteria as guidelines. But a fight is an observed event that does require interpretation, observation, wisdom. And, in my considered opinion, Edgar dictated the tone of the fight, successfully implemented and executed a strategy, landed better strikes, and basically outworked Penn. And that is an interpretation by a ringside observer with an understanding and appreciation of MMA, who has Judged numerous (hundreds) of fights.
Somewhat predictably Crosby does fall back on the ambiguous and undefinable idea of "ring generalship" or "Octagon control" as a defense. He references "dictating tone" and "executing strategy" and "outworking Penn" when you will not find ideas such as strategy execution or workrate in the scoring guidelines. The idea that Edgar landed better shots is also completely absurd in the context of the early portion of the bout. Doug even goes as far as to wrap his explanation up with a good ol' fashioned argument from authority by using the fact that he has scored many fights to imply that he has scored this (or any) fight correctly.
There is much concern for me over the idea that Crosby feels it is the judges responsibility to interpret strategy execution. For example, while Edgar was clearly working on the idea that he wanted to get in and out with speed and try to pick a few points up with quick punches, Penn was using a counter-striking style that was using the moments when Edgar came in to counter with much more powerful shots of his own. Looking at the information we have available from the fight it is very clear that Penn was much more effective in his implementation of this strategy for at least the first two rounds. Rather than scoring the action, Crosby makes it sound as though he was attempting to score the idea of gameplan implementation.
Add to this the idea of workrate. Crosby claims that Penn was simply "outworked" but there is no definition of what that truly means. I assume it means that Edgar was more active. But we do not score fights in favor of a wrestler who shoots and shoots and shoots and clinches but never gets a takedown while eating several punches on his way in despite the energy output being higher for that wrestler. Crosby here implies that he scored every round for Edgar based on the idea that he was "working more" but energy output is not a criteria on which a fight is scored. By this logic a patient counter-striker is always at a disadvantage to an attacking fighter when Crosby is scoring a fight.
I've always been a staunch defender of the ten point must way of scoring, but it only works when those in charge of scoring the bouts are not using their own on-the-fly criteria.
Finally, while Douglas Crosby has no obligation to the sport or fans to be in public defending his scoring of the bout, it would seem that he has an obligation to the promotions and athletic commissions that he works for to A) judge fights by established criteria and B) not go in public when fans disagree with his opinion and act so fractiously. The sport deserves better from the men in charge of deciding the outcome of it's most important events.