(Photo courtesy of Sherdog)
Juanito Ibarro is mad. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s trainer told Sherdog that his fighter “was robbed” on Saturday night. He even plans to protest the decision — one of those great and entirely symbolic acts on par with kicking dirt on the umpire’s shoes or voting for a third party presidential candidate.
At the heart of Ibarra’s complaints, it seems, are two points: 1) the first round should have belonged to Jackson on every judge’s scorecard, perhaps even as a 10-8 round, since the most significant action of the round was a knockdown from his right uppercut, and 2) you have to beat the champion.
On the first point, Ibarra has something of a case. Calling it 10-8 for Jackson is a stretch, but knocking Griffin down in a round that saw no other major action should be enough to win the opening frame. On the second point, well, this is where it begins to get tricky.
The conventional wisdom in the fight game says that you can’t win the title with a close decision. You have to go out and really take it away from the champion, either by finishing him or absolutely dominating him. Griffin didn’t do that. Whether you think the decision was the right one or not, the fight was certainly very close. But should the title change hands via razor-thin decision?
The question really asks us to consider whether there should be a different judging criteria for championship fights than the one we use in non-title bouts. This would mean that as they sit watching the fight at cageside, judges would be expected to take into account that there’s a belt on the line. As a result the challenger would need to do more to win than in any other fight.
It’s a strange logic, and one that privileges the champion a little too much. It’s easy to see where it comes from. Watching the title change hands on a close decision is always going to be unsatisfying, mainly because any close decision is going to upset someone.
But that doesn’t mean that the champion should necessarily get the advantage in any close contest. That makes him an incumbent who can hang on to his title as long he doesn’t get demolished. That will lead to champs who fight not to lose. It will also lead to challengers who are forced to fight with a sense of desperation.
The irony is that the champion is the guy who should require the least help from the judges. He’s supposed to be the best in the division, so why can’t he win on a level playing field?
As much as I can understand Ibarra’s frustration with how the bout was scored, the outcome seems justified, though the scoring of it also seems like a good indicator that MMA judges don’t always know how to translate what they see in the cage onto their ten-point must system score cards. When no one knows for sure what a 10-8 round really looks like in MMA, trouble is always right around the corner. Asking judges to take into account who is the champion and who the challenger is essentially asking them to change the rules based on the situation.
It may feel right to insist that you have to really take the title from the champ, but I don’t think it’s something we really want to see in practice. A bad decision will always be a bad decision, no matter who benefits from it. Just like a close decision will always leave someone feeling like they were robbed.