UFC 143 Shows Judging Still a Problem in MMA

Something quite bizarre happened last night: the main event at UFC 143 consisted of Nick Diaz stalking Carlos Condit while the latter spent the entire fight either backtracking or literally running away. One can sum up the bout by saying that Nick Diaz came to fight, and Carlos Condit didn't. Diaz conclusively won rounds 1, 2 and 5 (the 4th legitimately went to Condit, and the 3rd was a close call). Towards the end of the fight, Diaz got Condit to the ground and took his back, had him in a body triangle, and nearly finished the fight via a beautiful arm lock (not common from that position). It was the cherry that topped what should've been an obvious Diaz victory. When it was time for the judges' decision, the words "by unanimous decision" were perfectly expected, but the name that followed them wasn't. The judges had decided that Condit won the fight.

There was a time early on in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) when bad decisions could be blamed on judges' lack of familiarity with the intricacies of MMA (mistaking pulling guard for falling, not recognizing subtle position shifts and submission attempts, etc.). But over the past decade, particularly under Dana White's leadership, the UFC mainstreamed MMA to a point where we should be able to assume that those selected to judge it know what they're actually looking at by now.

Condit explained in the post-fight press conference that the game plan was to strike and run away, because actually coming to really fight would've likely given Diaz the victory (not quite in those words, but listen to it yourself and judge). The judges ignored Diaz's control of the octagon, his near submission of Condit, and decided the strategy of occasional striking and frequent running was a good one.

Following the decision, my friends and I sat there in disbelief at the sports bar where we watched the event, and one of them speculated that granting the victory to Condit may have been a PR decision motivated by seeking to promote better representatives for the sport. With the UFC breaking ever deeper into the mainstream (and recently making it onto Fox), the speculation is that disrespectful trash-talkers like Nick Diaz are not the best representatives of the image the UFC would like to project. It is phenomenal fighters likes George St. Pierre (GSP) and Jon "Bones" Jones, who also carry themselves with class, who project the best image for the sport (and that much is pretty much true).

Of course, the idea of PR decisions influencing bout outcomes is extremely far-fetched, and last night's outcome is particularly so, given the hype that awaited a potential GSP/Diaz fight for the Welterweight belt (the UFC definitely wouldn't have wanted to miss out on that). But the decision to grant victory to Condit was so absurd that even informed MMA fans could not help but wonder about things we knew were very unlikely.

The most likely explanation is, once again, that the judges didn't know what they were doing. This is inexcusable. Because of their incompetence, a great fighter like Diaz said last night that he was quitting the sport (whether that was just venting in a moment of frustration or whether it was a serious decision remains to be seen). Diaz said "I don't need this sh*t, you know what I mean?! I pushed this guy backwards. He ran from me the whole fight... If that was the way they understand how to win in here, I don't want to play this game no more."

Of course, it's not about Diaz or any one fighter in particular, it's about respecting MMA fans' understanding of the sport. We're not just there to watch brawls or fancy spinning back kicks (well, at least many of us aren't there just for that), we're there because we appreciate both the intensity and the complexity of this great sport (I would argue "greatest" sport, but that's a whole other article). That's why a serious effort should be made to get better judges into the sport. I don't have to agree with their decisions 100% of the time. They should just pick a winner for whom a plausible case for victory could be made. Condit's "victory" was nothing of the kind.

As for the fighters, there are two lessons they could've taken away from the fight: the first lesson is that running away is a good way to earn yourself a victory. The second lesson is one that Dana White himself continuously urges: finish fights so their outcome is not up to judges. For the sake of the sport, let's hope their takeaway is the latter lesson, not the first.