The 10 Most Controversial Judging Decisions in UFC History
To say that mixed martial arts judging is one of the sport’s most pressing issues is about as uncontroversial a statement as one can make.
Between the ill-fitting scoring system and the total absence of quality control in training and selecting judges, controversy is almost a guaranteed byproduct of every UFC event. Indeed, death and taxes appear unreliable by comparison.
With that said, the most controversial decisions are not always the worst decisions. Some of the most contentious judging in recent memory has resulted from fights that could have been scored either way.
Read on for a rundown of some of the most controversial decisions in UFC history.
UFC 119: Sean Sherk vs. Evan Dunham
There have certainly been worse decisions in the UFC’s short history, but Sean Sherk’s win over Evan Dunham at UFC 119 provoked a particularly hostile reaction from the audience.
The pair actually staged a compelling contest for the most part, but its high points were almost entirely down to Dunham. Whenever he managed to create some distance, the 28-year-old repeatedly put together eye-catching combinations, hurting his opponent on more than one occasion.
Perhaps what is most strange about this fight is how heavily the judges scored Sherk’s wrestling. With the exception of an elbow that sliced Dunham open in the first round, the former lightweight champion did very little besides hold his foe against the cage and fend off a series of tight chokes.
The fact that the live crowd drowned out Sherk’s post-fight interview with a chorus of boos spoke volumes.
UFC 75: Michael Bisping vs. Matt Hamill
Michael Bisping’s win over Matt Hamill at UFC 75 in London is often cited as an egregious example of hometown judging.
But having recently rewatched the fight, I think the decision looks more reasonable than it did on initial viewing.
Who deserved the nod really comes down to how one scores Rounds 2 and 3. The first clearly belonged to Hamill, who came out like a man possessed and battered Bisping for the full five minutes.
The second was a much closer affair, with Hamill’s pace slowing and Bisping getting on his bike and scoring points from the outside.
The final round was particularly difficult to judge. Positionally, Hamill dominated most of the round, taking the Brit down and keeping him on his back for a significant portion of the final frame. However, Bisping scored heavily on the feet as Hamill began to drop his hands from fatigue.
Despite taking place in “The Count’s” backyard, boos could be heard from the live crowd after the decision was read.
It was an extremely close contest that could have been scored either way, but I actually saw the fight for Bisping the second time around. Be gentle, commenters.
UFC Fight Night 2: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall
Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall at UFC Fight Night 2 was the first flyweight bout in UFC history, scheduled as part of a four-man tournament to crown the organisation’s first 125-pound champion.
The controversy in this fight didn’t actually stem from a bad decision—the fight could have reasonably been scored for either man. It stemmed from a monumental tallying error that was later corrected.
A majority decision was initially awarded to Johnson, but officials discovered that the bout should have been ruled a draw.
Since the contest was part of a tournament, a sudden victory round had been implemented in the off-chance that the judges couldn’t separate the pair after three rounds.
The officials’ inability to do basic math robbed everyone of a fourth round of what was already a compelling fight and delayed the completion of the tournament by several months.
UFC 143: Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz
The contest between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz for the interim welterweight title at UFC 143 needs very little introduction.
The Stockton, California, native’s rabid fanbase guaranteed that the bout would go down as one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history.
How you scored the fight likely depends on how much emphasis you place on aggression. Diaz pressed the action for five rounds, while Condit generated most of his offence off the back foot.
Although Condit clearly outstruck Diaz, according to fight statistics, whose strikes were more effective remains up for debate.
Condit’s critics argue that he was guilty of point-fighting and doing very little damage to Diaz. His supporters argue that he and Greg Jackson put together an outstanding game plan and stuck to it admirably for 25 minutes.
UFC 112: BJ Penn vs. Frankie Edgar
The bout between BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 for the lightweight title was expected to be a blowout. The undersized Edgar wasn’t considered a credible threat to Penn’s crown, having looked solid but unspectacular up until that point.
The rounds were extremely close. Penn stalked and landed the heavier shots, while Edgar ducked in and out of range, scoring with combinations.
Not unlike the previous entry on the list, many felt that Edgar was guilty of simply playing for points against the more aggressive Penn.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the fight was that one judge scored every single round for Edgar.
UFC 31: Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo
Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31 is considered one of the most entertaining championship fights in UFC history, but its appeal is perhaps equalled by the debate it tends to generate.
Interestingly, based on my modest research, a significant number of fans didn’t score the fight particularly close. People tend to see it one way or the other, strangely.
With the exception of Rounds 1 and 2, which the pair clearly split, how you score the fight depends on one’s own biases.
Personally, I saw the bout for “The Natural.” Like many fans, I wasn’t in any doubt as to who won the fight, scoring Rounds 1, 3 and 4 for Couture.
Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section. I’m interested in how others scored this fight in particular.
UFC 20: Bas Rutten vs. Kevin Randleman
The heavyweight title fight between Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 remains topical to this day as a result of its scoring.
Fans and media continue to debate how to weigh positional dominance versus offence. Conventional judging wisdom appears to suggest that the fighter on top is winning the fight, with very few exceptions.
While the scoring system was different at the time of the fight in question, the principle was generally the same. Only this time it wasn’t, with the judges awarding the contest to Rutten for effective striking from the bottom, despite spending the majority of the bout underneath Randleman.
Many have applauded the decision, as it essentially penalised Randleman for being inactive from inside his opponent’s guard. Although I tend to agree with those who argue that wrestling is scored too heavily in MMA, Randleman probably did enough to earn the decision, in my view.
TUF 12 Finale: Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia
Unlike many fights on this list, the judging of the bout between Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale is a legitimate head-scratcher.
Garcia arguably didn’t win a single round yet somehow walked away with the decision. One can only conclude that the judges fell in love with his fighting style and awarded him points for effort.
Nam Phan comprehensively outstruck and outgrappled his opponent for the majority of the contest. Indeed, Garcia spent much of the fight alternating between swinging wildly and resting his hands on his hips out of sheer exhaustion.
Repeat viewing fails to shed any light on why Garcia was awarded the decision.
UFC 104: Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
The prematurely titled “Machida Era” could have been even more comically brief had the judges been on their game for UFC 104’s light heavyweight title tilt between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Prior to his meeting with Rua, “The Dragon” hadn’t simply looked unbeatable but appeared practically unhittable.
Imagine our shock when Shogun tagged Machida repeatedly throughout the fight, landing hard punches and kicks that compromised the champion’s movement.
At the end of the contest, most expected a new champion to be crowned. To everyone’s surprise, including Machida, at least based on his reaction, the judges awarded the decision to the champion.
Cue booing and jeering from the crowd.
Fortunately, Shogun took the judges out of the equation in the rematch, and we all felt justice had been served.
UFC 167: Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks
No fight better demonstrates how flawed the sport’s scoring system is than the Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks welterweight title bout from UFC 167.
As I argued afterward, the bout clearly highlighted how easily one can win the fight while losing the sporting contest.
Based on the 10-point Must System, one can make a convincing argument that St-Pierre deserved the nod. It was not a bad decision, and the judges did not deserve the criticism they received. However, Hendricks clearly won the fight, even if he arguably lost the contest, doing far more damage to his opponent than he received in return.
The decision had the effect of once again raising the issue of how fights should be scored. Most seem to agree that the current system lacks the requisite nuance for MMA, but there is as yet no consensus on which scoring system would best serve the sport.
You can read my post-fight article on the subject if you are interested in a more in-depth breakdown of the fallout from the St-Pierre vs. Hendricks decision.