There's a handy rubric in mixed martial arts (MMA) that fortunately provides numerical, data-driven clarity in the days after major fights as controversy swells about judges' decision: FightMetric. After last night's UFC 127 main event between Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn - officially scored a majority draw - I was curious to see how FightMetric tallied the data. The conclusion? Jon Fitch didn't draw B.J. Penn, he outright defeated.
- Fitch outscored Penn 47 to 12 in significant strikes, 231 to 48 in total strikes landed. Fitch landed 18 leg kicks to Penn's 6 and a dizzying 76 body shots to Penn's 5.
- Even if we talk non-ground striking data (only striking distance and clinch), Fitch outlanded Penn in every category except strikes to the head in the clinch. Penn bested Fetch 23 to 6 there.
- Fitch achieved 4 of 11 takedown attempts. Penn did take Fitch's back twice, but both of those positions were neutralized by Fitch.
- FightMetric scored the striking 187 to Penn's 58. Because of the back-takes, Penn edged Fitch 101 to 87, but the overall effectiveness score goes to Fitch: 273 to Penn's 159.
- FightMetric scored the bout 29-27 for Fitch.
Unlike the Riki Fukuda vs. Nick Ring fight, this isn't the clearest case of judging incompetency. Sketchy judging, yes, but not outright incompetency. Penn clearly won the first round, the second is a toss-up and the third is Fitch's heavy, but I don't think it merits a 10-8. It's more a testament to the limits of the 10-round must system and unclear scoring criteria. The question of judging competency is admittedly ubiquitous. And there are other institutional limits, namely, the lack of television monitors for judges. But that's not the defining flaw in how this fight was adjudicated.
The scoring of this bout is more an illustration of the limits of the 10-point must system. I've never been one to easily look to alternative methods of scoring to substitute in, especially since the competency of judges will taint any system. But Fitch's third round is not 10-8, yet was significantly more dominant than Penn's first round. There's a weird inconsistency there that is usually ironed out with other factors in the course of a MMA fight, yet defined the outcome last night. There has to be some kind of mechanism to more accurately reflect reality. Short of destroying someone in a 10-8 round, a fighter can still work over an opponent to claim a 10-9 round. If a fighter can also claim a 10-9 round without doing nearly the level of domination, then we have problematic method of awarding points.
I'd also make the case that when a main event of serious significance - the winner here is supposed to fight for the welterweight title - ensuring the bout be flushed out is paramount. Make main events, title or no title, where key divisional changes are on the line. These fights deserve to be five rounds. Period.