LAS VEGAS — Even a casual MMA fan has heard UFC president Dana White exhort his fighters dozens of times over the years, “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.” White has never been fond of fighters who try to protect a lead late in a fight, and he’s urged them to go for a finish because he said they never know for sure what the judges are thinking.
Judging in MMA is unpredictable, at best. On Saturday, after a brilliant UFC 282 card at T-Mobile Arena in which the first 10 fights ended in either KOs or submissions, the judges took center stage in the final two bouts. That’s never a good thing, particularly when a title fight is involved.
And that’s where things went a little haywire. Paddy Pimblett won a unanimous decision over Jared Gordon by scores of 29-28 in which numerous fighters and virtually all media members had Gordon. Yahoo Sports had it 30-27 for Gordon.
But the real surprise came in the main event between Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev, when everyone was a loser. The fight was scored a split draw. Mike Bell had it 48-47 Blachowicz. Derek Cleary had it 48-46 Ankalaev, scoring the final round 10-8. And Sal D’Amato had it 47-47, giving Blachowicz the first three rounds, but coming out with a draw by scoring the last 10-8 for Ankalaev. Yahoo Sports had that bout 48-47 for Ankalaev.
Ankalaev and Blachowicz both lost, because they fought for a vacant title and now won’t get to rematch. White said at the postfight news conference they’d put together a bout between former champion Glover Teixeira and Jamahal Hill for the vacant title at UFC 283 on Jan. 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The fans lost because no title was decided and, well, it wasn’t a particularly great fight.
“What are you going to do?” White asked rhetorically. “I thought the main event was terrible.”
Regarding the scoring controversy, White said, “This is nothing new.”
In the cage, Ankalaev was so upset by the scoring that he questioned whether he’d ever fight for the UFC again. He softened that stance later.
Blachowicz was frustrated because he felt he couldn’t get out of gear.
“I’m disappointed, because I could do much more,” he said. “I didn’t do it. I slept all five rounds. I’m disappointed because it was so close, but it’s also so far away. I’m just disappointed about myself.”
He seemed to indicate a draw was appropriate, saying, “For sure, I [didn’t] win the fight, but maybe I didn’t lose. I don’t know.”
Ankalaev, who held Blachowicz down for the majority of the fifth and arose at the bell celebrating, had no such doubts. He thought he won the bout at its conclusion and nothing that happened later changed his mind.
“The judges made their decision, but anyone who saw the fight today, in the arena or anywhere else in the world, they know who won the fight,” Ankalaev said. “They know who won the title. The judges made the decision they made, but I’m going to keep working, keep moving forward.”
It was a spectacular card that had an unexpectedly sour ending. Raul Rosas Jr., an 18-year-old who earned a contract on “Dana White’s Contender Series,” made his UFC debut a successful one, submitting Jay Perrin in the first.
The crowd roared as Rosas stepped into the cage, getting an ovation that rivaled those for fighters who compete in the main or co-main event. There were cheers every time he did anything Saturday and it left White impressed.
Everyone who got a finish received a $50,000 bonus, which Rosas will use to buy his mother a minivan.
White, though, was particularly impressed by Rosas.
“UFC jitters are absolutely real,” White said. “It happens to all the guys. I don’t care how good you are, how confident you are, all that stuff. It’s a real thing and he overcame it tonight at a very young age.”
Unfortunately, it was hard to overcome the sour taste in the mouths of so many because of the judging in the main and co-main event. Pimblett believed he won and said he knew there would be an outcry.
He injured his right ankle early in the fight and was walking with a support after. He’ll get an MRI on it on Monday. But he felt he did more damage and didn’t care a whit about those who felt he’d lost.
Even his countryman, UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping, felt the call in the Pimblett fight was poor. Bisping tweeted, “Wrong,” when the fight ended, though he later deleted the tweet.
“Opinions are like assholes: Everyone’s got one,” Pimblett said. “Fights are scored on damage. Look at my face and look at his.”
It dampened an otherwise great night, though the good news coming out of it is that a Teixeira-Hill fight for the title seems like a can’t-miss.
One thing you can be sure of in that one is that neither man is going to coast to victory. Whoever wins it is going to do so by pressing the accelerator to the floor and going for it, hard.