UFC 144’s championship fight between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar was close and controversial enough that the automated robots behind Compustrike and Fightmetric can’t even agree on who did more. Depending on how much oil was in your automaton’s gears last night, Henderson landed either 10 fewer strikes than Edgar or 19 more. Edgar landed four (or five) more takedowns than Henderson, but didn’t attempt any submissions, whereas Henderson had three guillotine attempts.
But determining the outcomes of fights based on raw numbers has as many gaping pitfalls as a pornstar after a gangbang. Even if machines attempt to differentiate between pitter-patting, pussyfooting, and “significant strikes,” relying on raw numbers and crystallized ideas of what different techniques are worth is a lot like paying set fees for oral, anal, and DP. Even if you try to sell every scene for the same amount of money, not as many people will buy it if the execution is poor or if the performer is ugly. But that hasn’t stopped UFC judges from basing countless decisions on simple numbers in the past. Luckily, the judges last night remembered that there is a better way to do things.
If we blow the dust off the PRIDE rulebook, we can see that fights were judged as a whole rather than by rounds, and their top two criteria for judging, in order, were effort to finish the fight by KO or submission (“ippon”) and damage done to the opponent. This system has almost everything in common with Stockton Rules, which, contrary to popular belief, have nothing to do with wetlands jurisdiction unless the wetness comes from the blood, sweat, and diarrhea of fighter exertion. Under Stockton Rules, proposed by the Diaz brothers, the loser is the guy who looks more jacked up afterwards, and the winner is the guy who would have won if the fight would have continued forever. There may be slight differences between the two systems, but the agreement about winners under the two systems must be over 98% (source: my ass). If sexually repressed, boring Japanese people can come up with essentially the same idea as the Diaz brothers, there must be something to this.
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So I was pleased when Chris Cariaso got the judges’ nod over Takeya Mizugaki despite short-fingered henchmen lingering in the background. Even though he spent lots of time on the bottom, Cariaso actually tried things from there. It would have been easy for the judges to put on their Ryan Bader ASU wrestling beanies and give the decision to Mizugaki, but they decided instead to weight that forgotten quality called “quality.” When the main event rolled around, the judges also decided to remember that word “effective” that’s been lying buried in the armpit of the UFC judging rules for a few years now.
Sure, the argument can be made that Edgar landed more strikes and takedowns, but he also fought a Frankie Edgar fight. Edgar is a great fighter, but he has the longest average bout length in UFC history for a reason. He throws a million punches, but they rarely land with the sort of power that could knock out anyone but Ken Shamrock. He takes down opponents quickly and effortlessly, but he never does damage from the top and never goes for submissions. He has only achieved finishes in 25% of his UFC fights, a figure eclipsed by one Matt Veach, who did more damage from shocking people by making it into a UFC 144 commercial than he did in his UFC fights.
Ben Henderson may not have the work rate of Frankie Edgar, but god damnit, he comes into the octagon to f*ck his opponent up. His single upkick that destroyed Edgar’s nose did more effective damage and came closer to finishing than everything Edgar did during the whole fight combined. He understands that real fighting does not use the video game scoring system of Olympic boxing. And his samurai spirit, of course, comes from the fact that he is Asian. Where he comes from, just like in Stockton, California, saying that pure punching volume should win decisions over real effectiveness will get you slapped.