Judging the Judges: An Observation of MMA’s Failure to Purge

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Written by Ty Reynolds @MMAtylander

On Saturday night in Nashville, TN, #5 ranked UFC lightweight Michael Johnson stepped onto the canvas of the Octagon to compete against fellow Top 15 lightweight, Beneil Dariush in the co-main event of  UFC Fight Night 73.  In front of an audience of over 7500 in attendance and hundreds of thousands more tuning into the festivities on Fox Sports 1, Johnson (16-9, 8-5 UFC) fought beautifully.    Unfortunately, none of that mattered in the end.  

Chances are that most of us have already been informed of the unfair load of bullshit that was dumped on Michael Johnson in Nashville, TN during UFC Fight Night 173 .  Its a mindbogglingly common tale in MMA that all of us have heard of or personally witnessed an innumerable amount of times.  

Fighter A faces and by all accounts defeats Fighter B, but comes up short of a finish.  Fighter A is then forced to stand and listen as a bogus verdict is rendered against them and goes in favor of Fighter B  despite a lack of reasonable explanation or rationale describing why Fighter B was deemed worthy of victory   

Instead of jumping straight into that inevitable tirade, though,  lets take a look at Micheal Johnson’s particular case so it can be better understood by those of us who witnessed the contest and also by those of us you have not yet been able to form a perspective on the situation.  

In order to avoid dispute or confusion, we will begin by describing why it is that Johnson, with no acceptable doubt to be found,  earned a victory Saturday night.  Only after we have been able to  show that Johnson should have been irrefutably declared as the winner against Beneil Dariush will we move onto the factors that eventually  prevented Johnson from acquiring the recognition that was, and still is, rightfully his.      

Michael Johnson was fabulously prepared to go one-on-one with Beneil Dariush inside the Octagon from the opening bell until the last remaining seconds of  the match.  He stayed true to a well-designed game plan, one he rarely strayed from for 15 high-level minutes, that was built around skillfully negating the advantages enjoyed by Dariush (12-1, 6-1 UFC) while simultaneously  opening up the  Iranian-born grappler’s  defenses.  

Starting with his footwork, the Blackzillian member was successful in not only keeping his preferred distance on the outside, but to also force  his opponent’s back towards the cage. By using angles to cut off  Dariush’s planned route, Johnson controlled the center of the Octagon for the overwhelming majority of the bout.  This superior position granted Johnson the initiative,  allowing him to consistently determine  when and where to engage, an opportunity that the world-class lightweight would exploit throughout the duration of the contest. 

By building off of this strategy Johnson was able to pepper Dariush with his jab, bait enemy offense to set up sharp counter crosses or hooks,  and efficiently mix up his own attacks relatively evenly  between Dariush’s head and torso.    He confused the King’s MMA representative with timing, distance, feints, and the overall unpredictability of his striking cache.  Dariush had moments, especially in the 3rd round, during which he was also capable of landing effective blows of his own, but he couldn’t keep pace with Johnson’s technique and explosiveness while standing.   Even with this superior striking ability, however, it was another byproduct  of Johnson’s footwork game that truly limited his opponents offensive options and kept the momentum flowing to the .Red Corner.   

Johsnon’s strategy called for more than just out striking his adversary; it called for staying upright with both feet planted firmly beneath him.   Despite Dariush’s background as a black belt  BJJ practitioner and a former gi and no-gi world champion on multiple belt levels,  he could not solve the riddle posed by Johnson’s footwork combining with the timing of his strikes long enough to force the action into his area of real expertise.  

Dariush launched seven separate take down attempts during the 3-round contest , all of which failed against Johnson’s speed and take down defense.  By the time the final bell sounded, not a single second of the bout had been contested on the mat.  Not only had Michael Johnson controlled the striking, he  had succeeded in preventing Dariush  from even entering  the realm of his greatest strengths.  Johnson had denied him the use of 50% of his weapons and he had done so masterfully with a wonderfully executed performance.   

Outside of a tight 3rd round, Dariush endured a comprehensive defeat  and the stats found in the exhibit below reflect and support  this outcome.    


As the exhibit shown  above tells us,  every criteria and standard used by the UFC to determine non-finishing winners was easily met and exceeded by Johnson.  

Striking: Johnson owned it.  Check.

Grappling:  Yep, Johnson controlled that too.  He did so by avoiding it and refusing to allow his opponent to make that determination for him.  Check.  

Aggression: Yes, Johnson fought at range from the outside for much of the fight, but also  threw more and landed more.  Check.  

Octagon Control: Using footwork to cut the cage off?  Forcing Dariush’s back to the cage. with angles?  Controlling the center for almost the entire fight? Not  allowing a take down?  Yep.  That’s all prime Octagon control.  Check.

Michael Johnson hadn’t thrown a perfect game, but he certainly could’ve been awarded a shut-out.  That’s what he deserved.    The 29-year-old Missourian had clearly won this battle of 155 lbs. predators and he never doubted it.  He knew it, Jon Anik and Kenny Florian knew it., the fans knew it, and if Beneil Dariush was being honest with himself, he knew it, as well.  Everyone knew that Michael Johnson had won this fight.

Everyone outside of two of the fucking judges that is.

After  suffering through the wrong end of  an elite-level cage fight that saw him  denied access to his bread-and-butter abilities on the mat  while struggling to keep up in a losing striking battle, Beneil Dariush was awarded a split decision victory with scores of 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.  The scores themselves are bad enough on their own, but the stupidity of this outcome runs even deeper and burns even hotter when the scorecards are examined. 

What you just reviewed is an unfortunate example of woefully extensive levels of ineptness.  While, awarding the final round to Dariush may be excusable, refusing to give credit to Johnson for a definitively won 2nd round , the deciding mistake in the end, is simply, or at least should be, damning to Judge Bertrand’s and Judge Crosby’s professional reputations.  Another examination of the stats, this time for only the 2nd round, is, however,  necessary in order to completely grasp the full extent of this  epic screw up.  


As you can plainly see above, Michael Johnson out struck Dariush by a wide margin in the 2nd round.   he landed 13 more blows than Dariush, attempted to land nearly 20 more strikes than Dariush, landed at an impressive 43%, and, once again, did not surrender a take down.  Johnson also did not suffer a knock down or dangerous period in the 2nd.  It may have even been his most dominant round..  Based on these stats, the fact that Johnson was not awarded this 5 mins of the fight  on the scorecards is inexplicable.  

No unbiased observer will be able to provide a reasonable explanation  or rationalization as to how it could be appropriate to award Dariush a round in which he was controlled and dominated.   Not even the judges who gifted Dariush the stanza can properly explain why this happened because there is no acceptable explanation.  The only plausible conclusion to draw here is that two judges, the men assigned to properly determine a fighter’s fate at pivotal times,failed in their responsibilities to properly evaluate what was happening only feet from their theoretically attentive faces.  .  

Needless to say, this did not go over well with anyone outside of a visibly relieved and humbled Dariush himself. Even then, the “victor” quickly acknowledged that the boos showering down on him during his post-fight interview were justified.    

The negligence associated with this debacle of a decision cannot be overstated.  It is an essentially  undeniable and unjustifiable act of professional malpractice that will carry real consequences for the man affected by it the most.  The man who rightfully won an important encounter in a deadly deep division, but somehow found himself walking out of an empty arena with an official defeat permanently branded on his pro resume.  A brand-spanking-new, flaming, blistering, festering, and nauseatingly putrid  “L.” An “L” that absolutely should’ve been a “W.”

The first query to ever burst into the minds of MMA fans and officials in situations similar to this robbery is nearly always the same.  How?  HOW!?!  With all of the resources in play, with all of the training, with all of the available administrative infrastructure from both promotional and regulatory bodies , with all of the outrage and financial hardship caused by equally egregious moments  sprinkled throughout this sport’s  past , how does this continue to occur so frequently?  Also, when moments like these inevitably emerge, how is it possible that they are always so blatantly mistaken?  So clearly  WRONG? 

The answer is apathy.  Pure, cold, regulatory apathy.  

Quite simply put, to a large degree, the officials appointed to oversee state regulatory commissions and the employees whom  such bodies consist of remain unconcerned with the poor track record of many of there underlings, especially judges.  As an arm of the local legislative branches, commissions are essentially free to operate with impunity from any form of meaningful consequences.  

Private promotions like the UFC have no authority in these situations and are largely left to the mercy of whatever the local laws and authority decide is appropriate.  Due to this promotional castration coupling with  the official  bodies’ unwillingness to recognize, acknowledge, or admit that there is a chronic issue at play, repeat offender judges, as well as referees, like Steve Mazza-fuckin-gatti,  are permitted to continually damage the integrity of our sport by consistently failing to properly perform their duties with a complete lack or threat of significant consequences.

Doug Bertrand and Doug Crosby, the two men responsibly for rewarding Johnson’s victory to a man he definitively defeated only one commercial break   before Buffer read the tainted verdict, are, like many others who hold their position, no strangers to controversy and accusations of corruption,  

They have a well-documented history of turning over inappropriate cards and partaking in borderline unethical behavior.  And yet, still, there those men sat in Nashville, TN on Saturday night, once again assigned to play a potentially life changing role in the lives of  the competitors  set for action on the night.  Once again, they failed to properly undertake the  duties of their position and once again an innocent fighter will be the only one to suffer the consequences created by these nonredeemable puppets of carelessness and neglect.    

Until the consequences of a poorly executed decision fall squarely on those responsible for these follies instead of those who hold no responsibility for this seemingly endless plague of commission sanctioned sabotage, nothing will change.  Every time a fight goes to a decision, fans and fighters alike will struggle to find confidence in the legitimacy and accuracy of the scores that quite literally bind them to their past.  Worse yet , If the situation continues to persist in its current condition, . fans will eventually cease to agonize over what they know to be fallacies and simply begin to fade away.   When that happens, the decline of MMA will be set into motion.

Some may claim that this assertion is a gross over-exaggeration and fundamentally melodramatic.  One glance at the history of another fighting sport, however, proves that their is a precedent in place that makes these fears perfectly reasonable.  

For decades, boxing was a major sport in North America and the rest of the international community.  As late as the 1980’s, a period well within the lifespan of many modern MMA fans,  boxing was thriving.  By the end of the 1990’s, though, pugilism was in an uncontrollable nosedive into the purgatory of existing as a niche sport.  

How was this downfall of a once juggernaut in the world of sports fueled?  Simple.  Bad officiating.  Bad decisions.  Corruption.  Exploitation of championships, fighters, and finally, the fans.  Pure, cold, regulatory APATHY…..

Boxing is obviously still surviving, but the sport’s reputation has been permanently sullied in the eyes of an entire generation that has been passing the same perspective onto to the next crop of potential fans.  Even the mini-revitalization of the sport that is currently underway with the construction of the PBC and the mega-bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally occurring, younger fans are not being convinced.  First impressions rarely change and damaged reputations never really fall away.  

Boxing’s past and modern present is MMA’s future if something isn’t done to curb the obvious symptoms of a broken and ignored system.  Its a fate that can still be avoided, but only if those with the ability to induce change and progress wake up to the urgent need for it.  

Mixed Martial Arts will always have tight, difficult to judge contests.  That will never change.  The sport has reached a level of world-class parity within its ranks.  The tiniest gap in skill can prove to be the equivalent of a canyon-sized gap in ability between opponents, so the need to fill those gaps has never been more urgent.  

As this process continues, the need for education and competency within the ranks of the sports judges will only expand and grow more demanding.  “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” is going to become an exponentially more difficult  motto to live by for Mixed Martial Artists  at the highest level.  MMA needs judges because of this, and it always will.  

If this rapidly expanding demand for qualified judges cannot be met by MMA and its policymakers,  the growth of MMA will be stunted and all of the men, women, and families who have hitched their lives; aspirations, hopes, and dreams to the sport will suffer greatly as they are pulled  down within the descent.  

Our sport is ailing for men and women who can be trusted  with the  crushing responsibility of preserving the credibility of MMA’s scoring system.   We need men and women who are being held accountable for the decisions that they make while on the job and who understand the gravity of what is at stake in a fighters life when he or she is trusting judges to get it right.  We need judges who are comfortable operating in a system that has no room for avoidable error.  A system that will immediately purge itself of any liabilities, regardless of tenure or connections.  We need judges whose own livelihood depends as much on striving for perfection as a fighter’s livelihood does.  We need an MMA with a built in mechanism meant to judge its  judges as often, as vigorously, and with standards as demanding  as those that are already expected of its fighters. and that is as willing to ruthlessly cut ties with ill-equipped judges as it with ill-equipped fighters.

If we can’t achieve that, then we might as well just save ourselves years of torment and misery by throwing MMA back into the Dark Ages on our own accord instead of waiting for it to quietly rot away.    We should just go back to bouts with no rounds, no time limits, and no judges who don’t serve a purpose in the first place.  A return to the days of “human cockfighting” and underground venues would be like stepping back into an ancient, long-regretted past, but at least it would be fair again and would mercifully speed up what would surely be a devastating and heartbreaking scenario for most of us.  

We should all prefer the death of a fair, merit-based , and dignified shell of modern MMA at the hands of a self-righteous, yet ultimately well-meaning Sen. McCain-type over a financially thriving, semi-socially acceptable sport that is dominated  by men and women who don’t give a damn about getting it right as long as the checks promised to them are in the mail by Monday.  Dead and pure is better than alive and corrupt.  If we aren’t willing to fix MMA out of love, then we should be willing to let it die out of love. 




2 thoughts on “Judging the Judges: An Observation of MMA’s Failure to Purge

    1. Thanks Barry, I appreciate that. I’m glad you like it. Actually, as for the link, I already saw it on the facebook page after I posted this piece. Not up to me whether it gets posted or not, but I will make sure the Boss Man sees it lol

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