(Vierra is standing third from the right in the black gi, next to Cesar Gracie. / Photo via MixedMartialArts.com)
Following the conclusion of UFC on FOX 7 on Saturday, many die-hard fight fans switched their dials to Showtime to watch the WBA light-middleweight title fight between rising boxing star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Austin Trout. Though Trout arguably won a majority of the early rounds, the fight’s “open-scoring” system revealed that the judges were in the bag for Alvarez from the beginning. When the match was over, the scores came back unanimously for the 22-year-old ginger: 115-112, 116-111 and a completely batshit 118-109 from judge Stanley Christodoulou. As usual, we MMA types used the opportunity to take potshots at boxing’s endemic corruption.
Alright, so get a load of this shit: Late Saturday night, Ben Henderson’s brother pointed out that Wade Vierra — the dissenting judge in Henderson’s split-decision win over Gilbert Melendez — is a “Master Instructor” for the GracieFighter network, and runs a Cesar Gracie affiliate school in Roseville, California. Considering that Melendez is a well-known Cesar Gracie product, the conflict-of-interest alarms should have been ringing for the California State Athletic Commission, and Vierra shouldn’t have been allowed to judge the fight. But the CSAC didn’t catch it, or didn’t care, or hey, maybe they were in on it. Either way, Bendo’s special night was put in jeopardy.
When judging controversies happen in MMA, fans usually chalk it up to ignorance rather than corruption. But when ignorance from MMA judges and commissions is allowed to exist indefinitely, that is corruption — it’s a corruption of the sport’s legitimacy, even if nobody’s directly profiting from it. Obviously, the UFC lightweight title fight was so close that Vierra’s 48-47 tally for Melendez was much more defensible than Christodoulou’s 118-109 for Canelo. Still, the incident gave the UFC event an appearance of commission malfeasance that reflects very poorly on the promotion and the sport in general. (Was somebody paid off to allow Vierra a spot on the judges’ table? Or is the CSAC just that inept?)
It’s a good thing Henderson won. Otherwise, we might have had a scandal on our hands.