Any sporting event in which judges are the method of determining the victor add another level of human error to the mix. Most sporting events include referees and this is one level of human error. More and more with video replay technology and greater oversight, ref mistakes can be easy to overturn. In sports such as hockey and football, where an inch could mean the difference between a first down and a turnover, or in hockey where it’s not always clear whether a puck crossed the line before the goalie covered it, such innovation is invaluable. Referees can hardly be blamed for these mistakes (most of the time) because they have a genuinely difficult job, and as an old ref friend of mine once said “Reffing a game? Most people wouldn’t know where to start!” While there are a lot of refs making mistakes out there, if you disagree with the above statement, you should stop blaming refs for your losses and look at your team/self.
Judges can be a different story and there have been enough controversies in the Olympics to demonstrate this. Remember the French judge? The Canadians perform flawlessly while the Russians go ass over tea kettle and come away with the gold? Having a judge in a sport can bring about controversy because judges may have certain preferences, personal prejudices and in rare cases, a bank account which rests on an event. This is not to say that judges are corrupt or should not be involved with sports, but they do represent another level of human error that can affect a sporting event’s outcome.
Figure skating (it is a sport, but to my mother I argue that it is not) lacks a referee but has judges. Conversely, there are no judges at a hockey game, but the ice is dotted with four zebras: two calling penalties and goals and two more watching the lines for offside, icing, and so on. Mixed martial arts and boxing have both referees and judges. Both are extremely necessary. Refs are needed to ensure the safety of the fighters, and to watch for illegal strikes, techniques, etc. Judges are needed because unless a fight ends with a knockout or submission, it is not always 100% clear who won, thus it is necessary for experts, familiar with the scoring and nature of what constitutes “winning” in the sport, to make the call. Though they are necessary, they are still human and can represent two levels of potential error. With that said, here is the list of the top ten controversial UFC calls.
Obviously, this is a subjective list and there are far more than ten questionable calls in UFC history, so put yours in the comments, I look forward to seeing them along with the inevitable insults and comments about my mother, I don’t care what you guys say, she’s a lovely woman who raised me well. Both judge decisions and referee stoppages will be taken into account.
10 Paulo Thiago (winner) VS Josh Koscheck UFC 95: Ref Stoppage
It was very difficult to pick a 10th for this list, but after watching the end of the fight, if Koscheck was out, that was the quickest awakening I’ve ever seen. Thiago caught him with a solid combo and he dropped like a rock. Within a fraction of a second however, Kos seemed like he was ready to defend himself and return to the scrap, hence why he and his team were particularly vocal against the stoppage. Overall, this is a pretty easy stoppage to defend. Argue if necessary, but slow motion exists for a reason and in slow motion, it does look a bit like Koscheck’s eyes roll back in his head, which would indicate a knockout. On the other hand, he’s up so quickly that it makes it a difficult call either way.
9 Jon Jones (winner) VS Alexander Gustafson UFC 165: Judges’ Decision
This is the first of two recent title fights that are on this list. Jones took this fight at the judges table after going five awesome rounds with the Swede Alexander Gustafson. For some, this fight was considered too close to call. Others thought that Gustafson took it. The fact of it is, the two fighters were close for the middle three rounds. However, Jones clearly took the first and last rounds. Its arguable that Gustafson took the 2nd and perhaps the 3rd. Overall though, Jones was the dominant striker and won this fight. Gustafson definitely held his own and undoubtedly had some moments when he looked like he may finish it, but he looked tired for much of the last two rounds. That said, neither fighter looked like he was having any fun in the 4th and 5th rounds.
8 (Draw) Frankie Edgar VS Gray Maynard UFC 125: Judges’ Decision
A draw?! A championship fight that ends in a draw? That’s upsetting and, if I may play the “consumer” card for a second, nobody pays for a ticket to a UFC event or Pay Per View in order to see a draw. Obviously they happen, but it’s a championship fight and these judges are paid to TO DECIDE WHO WON THE FIGHT. Their livelihood is not to throw their hands in the air and say “sorry guys, too close for me.” The fans got to see a fantastic fight, no doubt, with the 1st round being an absolute clinic on the part of Maynard and the next three (arguably next four being taken) very slightly, by the former champion. This is just one of a few fights on this list in which people have questioned and criticized the way MMA fights are judged, in addition to the judging of this fight itself.
7 Matt Wiman (winner) VS Mac Danzig UFC 115: Ref Stoppage
This one was controversially ended via submission in favor of Matt Wiman. Yves Lavigne was the referee in charge of the fight and stopped it in what is commonly recognized as an early stoppage. Wiman was attempting to manoeuvre Danzig into a guillotine choke and essentially, due to what Lavigne called a “failure of communication”, the fight was stopped in spite of Danzig not tapping out or becoming unconscious due to the choke. People were obviously upset, but Lavigne was the ref, he obviously saw that one of the fighter’s was in some danger, and stopped the fight. He’s human, he makes mistakes. There was a rematch in 2011, however, and Wiman won that fight too via unanimous decision.
6 Bas Rutten (winner) VS Kevin Randleman UFC 20: Judges’ Decision
I have infinite respect for Bas Rutten. Between his fighting ability and charisma, there really isn’t anything to dislike about the guy, unless you’re a liver. Unfortunately, he lost this fight. Don’t get me wrong, he landed some solid strikes and he looked decent on the ground, but unfortunately his ground game could not match that of Kevin Randleman. Randleman dominated the fight and had Bas on his back for most of the fight, not to mention the large cut Rutten had on his face for much of the fight. This fight, back in 1999 was a decent contest to watch, and while the fans seemed genuinely happy to see Bas win based on the judges’ call, Randleman took the fight. If you disagree, I’d really like to see your argument in the comments section.
5 Michael Bisping (winner) VS Matt Hamill UFC 75: Judges’ Decision
This fight is an interesting controversy because while it was an incredibly close fight, there is an interesting element to the controversy surrounding the fight, considering a defense offered by one of the judges who called the fight for Bisping. While many thought that Bisping lost the fight both with regard to the striking game and in terms of wrestling, Jeff Mullen, a judge who called the fight in Bisping’s favor, offered up several simple reasons for which he scored the fight as he did. He argued that where most of the controversy and disagreement came from was the second round, which, if you’ve seen the video was a very tight five minutes. Mullen indicated that first off, if he and the UFC commentators were in disagreement, it was because the two had completely different vantage points while viewing the fight. Secondly, he argued that during the stand up in the second round, Bisping was consistently landing solid strikes. With regard to the ground game, he argued that it went to Bisping due to his exercising an “active guard trying for armbars and sweeps” while Hamill who was on top, was ineffective in that position.
It was a close fight, and it was nice to at least see a judge defend and explain their decision, whether or not we agree with it. Unfortunately for Bisping, while he won the fight, he lost fans for running his mouth after the fact. That said, he did admit, back in 2012, that he may have been wrong in his response to the fans’ reactions to the fight.
4 Sean Sherk (winner) VS Evan Dunham UFC 119: Judges’ Decision
This was a solid fight that saw Sean Sherk declared the victor despite Dunham’s dominance throughout much of the bout. Sherk was dominant during the 1st round, landing an elbow that cut his opponent and achieving multiple takedowns. Plain and simple, Dunham dominated the 2nd round and although they were close to even in the 3rd, many thought that Dunham took that round as well. Sean Sherk, throughout the course of the fight, exercised brilliant submission defense but continually got himself into precarious decisions. So it’s somewhat ambiguous and difficult to determine who won the ground game. Many thought that after the 1st round, Dunham was dominant enough to deserve the win; including Dana White. He was livid at the decision and told reporters "Dunham won that fight. The judges give it to Sherk. People then ask themselves, 'What the f*** was that?’ It makes people angry. It p***ed me off." He added "Our judges are so bad. That's why I tell guys, you better get in there and handle your business yourself." To play devil’s advocate, I’ll defend the judges and say they’re human and they may well have seen things that the fans and Dana did not. At the same time, the video is on the internet, what do you think? I’m completely on the fence for this one.
3 Randy Couture (winner) VS Pedro Rizzo UFC 31: Judges’ Decision
This was a great fight with tons of back and forth between these two awesome competitors. That pretty much goes without saying, seeing as it was 2001’s Fight of the Year. Couture won the 1st round with extreme prejudice, teeing off on Rizzo pretty much at will, whether on his feet or on the ground. After that round was over however, Pedro got his head in the game and started to land some decent kicks and avoid The Natural’s takedown attempts. The 2nd round definitely went to Rizzo but the 3rd and 4th were up in the air. Rizzo was steady but Couture landed solid strikes. Couture undoubtedly won the 5th round and that was probably enough for him to be awarded the win. Some still argue that Rizzo won the fight, arguing that he took the middle three rounds and kept the 5th close enough to secure the win.
2 Lyoto Machida (winner) VS Mauricio Rua UFC 104: Judges’ Decision
This Light Heavyweight bout between Machida and Shogun Rua was a decent fight to watch, with some decent striking and strategy from two awesome fighters representing different disciplines. Neither fighter took the fight in any significant brutal and decisive way, but this scrap really looked like it was a decisive win for Rua. Machida never got rocked particularly hard, in fact throughout the entire five rounds, it never actually looked like either fighter was in any serious peril. Lyoto managed to land some solid knees and some nice punch combos but never really rocked his opponent. Rua on the other hand was landing knees and kicks to both legs and midsection pretty much at will, to the point where Machida’s ribs were noticeably red and his movement and dexterity was significantly hampered by the 5th round.
The fact of it was, they didn’t spend time on the ground, they didn’t spend a ton of time in the clinch up against the cage so it was a fight that had to be determined by strikes. Lyoto landed around 40 and some were solid. Rua landed roughly double that and landed significantly more big hits and staggered The Dragon more often. Let me know if you disagree, but that looks like a win for Rua as far as I’m concerned.
1 Georges St. Pierre (winner) VS Johny Hendricks UFC 167: Judges’ Decision
This fight has to be number one for a reason: while fans were upset by all the other calls on this list, this fight is the fight at which Dana White blew his stack with the most intensity! GSP and Bigg Rigg had a great bout, absolutely, no question about it, but many thought that Johny took the fight. The reason was simple, Rush looked like he lost fights to Edward Scissorhands and a lawnmower, while Hendricks looked relatively untouched. While the judges’ decision was controversial (and still is) among fans, Dana White voiced his rage with particular frustration after this fight. “Does anybody here think that Johny Hendricks didn’t win the fight?” asked the UFC President. He continued his statements exclaiming “I’m blown away that Georges St-Pierre won that fight. And listen, I’m a promoter. He’s the biggest pay-per-view star on the f***king planet for me, and I still don’t think he won that fight.” Finally, he stated “I want what’s fair, and that wasn’t fair. I think the Nevada State Athletic Commission is atrocious. I think the governor needs to step in immediately before these guys destroy the sport like they did boxing.” Finally, on top of the decision that set off Dana White, there was some controversy over GSP's announcement that he would be taking an indefinite time off from fighting. This most likely had nothing to do with the decision however.
If there is anything to be taken from a few examples from this list, it is that if you want a belt in the UFC, make it happen. Don’t let it go to the judges’ table because if it gets that far, even if you beat the champ, you still haven’t done enough. It’s an unwritten convention in the sport but it’s undeniable that it exists. Don’t win via decision, turn the champ into a pulp and get the KO, or try for a submission and snap off a limb, as Gustafson, Rua and Hendricks found out.