Judges hand Lawler a lucky break

Fans of the UFC and of MMA in general have long suffered when it comes to judging; we’ve all had more than a decade now of watching sometimes surprising (and other times downright insane) decisions deny a just victory from a deserving fighter. (Thoughts on this regard immediately fly to the incredible fortune in the career of Diego Sanchez). UFC 195 did nothing to buck that trend. 

Robbie Lawler’s game planning is something to respect – no question. In Las Vegas on Saturday he fought a nearly identical fight against Condit as he twice did against Johny Hendricks, and against Rory MacDonald more recently. 1. He aspires to keep it standing at all times. 2. He conserves energy – aware of the five-rounders he’s now permanently involved in – to the point where he is almost happy to give up rounds. 3. He hunts for the KO, getting stronger as the fight progresses.

Against Hendricks, this game plan led to two razor thin decisions, one going each fighter’s way. Against MacDonald, a fight which he was without a doubt losing on the judge’s scorecards, it resulted in Lawler finding a brutal nose-crushing KO in the final round. Against Condit, things were more similar to the MacDonald fight. In fact, the way that Condit was being punished in the last few minutes, his hands glued to the side of his head in defense, backing up and circling continuously, and at points just trying to survive, it genuinely looked like Lawler’s energy-saving technique/fifth round bonanza was going to win him a TKO victory.

But it didn’t. Condit has a hell of a gas tank himself, and he survived. He, too, paced himself pretty well throughout the fight, and unlike Lawler, Condit doesn’t throw power punches each time he throws. He throws a lot to create opportunity for himself. He’s a volume guy. It’s a style that often results in KOs too, just from the sheer level of berating punishment an opponent is forced to take. Fightmetric.com tells us that overall Condit landed 176 shots, actually only 1 less shot than Lawler attempted in the whole fight, and Condit outlanded Lawler in every single round.

Which brings us back to the judge’s decision. Robbie won round five, hands down. Stats aren’t everything. Carlos still outlanded Robbie in the final round, but Lawler had him badly hurt at points. Lawler also got a knockdown in round two. However, he was badly outstruck in rounds one, three, and four, and I’m genuinely struggling to pick one of those rounds to decide which one two of the three judges gave to Robbie. He simply got lucky.

The quality of UFC judging will be something fans continue to debate. The website mmadecisions.com (upon which media outlets and fans alike overwhelmingly voted in favour of Condit) has some fairly furious fans venting in the comments section. But for now, nothing will change.

Interestingly, in the PRIDE organisation in Japan in the late 90s/early 00’s, the rules were that the judges were to see the final round as more important, ie. they were to weigh what happened nearer the end of the fight as more important than what happened at the beginning. Now with those (fairly laudable) rules, we could give more weight to Lawler’s claim to his throne. However, those are not the rules, and with the current standard round-by-round judging he most certainly should have been dethroned on Saturday.

Laurie Williams

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