UFC Power Rankings: The 7 Most Controversial Decisions in Championship Bouts
As far as we can remember, there have been a number of controversial decisions in the UFC. Referees have stopped bouts prematurely or not soon enough. Fighters have performed unconventionally and changed our expectations of them in and out of the ring. But some of the strongest debate about controversial decisions for MMA enthusiasts surrounds those that have been handed down from the judges.
The omniscient group stands ready to offer their proper judgment of the performance should the fighters not accomplish this themselves. Like all decisions from authority, this doesn’t mean we have to agree, especially when the performance is superb or terribly lacking and when a place of prominence is on the line.
Or when we all think they’re wrong.
It’s for this reason that UFC president Dana White is known for his maxim “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.” Nevertheless, a number of fights go directly to the judges, but the opinions don’t stop there. Controversial decisions oftentimes throw the entire MMA community into disarray for a while after they were given. If the fight is for a title, these decisions can also weigh heavy on the respective division and land on the shoulders of both fighters until things are settled by whatever means.
Let’s take a look at seven of the most controversial decisions in championship fights handed down by the judges in the history of UFC.
UFC 20: Bas Rutten defeats Kevin Randleman
Though Bas Rutten was favored going into this fight for the heavyweight title, his victory by split decision left many questioning how the favorite took the win.
In the final bout of what was called “The Road to the Heavyweight Title,” Rutten and Kevin Randleman fought to become champion after the title was stripped from Randy Couture due to contract disputes.
To many, it seemed like a one-sided battle. Randleman kept Rutten on the ground almost every minute of the fight from the beginning. As much as Rutten tried, he couldn’t get the stand-up until a round was over, and even then he found himself on his back again.
However, others argue Rutten worked the hardest, even from the ground. Randleman kept his head ducked tight into Rutten’s chest and, while he was able to throw some hard punches, seemed content to stay in Rutten’s guard. On the other hand, Rutten hit hard and worked for submissions all along the way, demonstrating one of the better performances from the bottom.
Those who argue Randleman should have won the fight say that his constant control from the top proves his dominance. But the decision went to Rutten, likely because of his excellent work from the bottom and Randleman’s failure to use his position to any great advantage.
UFC 31: Randy Couture defeats Pedro Rizzo
In Round 1 of this fight, it seemed a sure deal that Randy Couture would easily defend his heavyweight title against Pedro Rizzo. When the judges decided unanimously that Couture did, in fact, remain the heavyweight champion, many thought twice about it.
People argue the bell saved Rizzo at the end of the first round, but it appears to also have reminded him he was fighting for the title. Couture dominated Round 1 as a wrestler with his takedowns and ground-and-pound. Rizzo survived with something like intelligent defense for the last minute. But as the fight went on and Couture got low to shoot, Rizzo met him with a solid kick. The scales tipped completely as Rizzo landed solid combinations and more kicks, leaving Couture looking exhausted.
The gassed fighters spent the rest of the fight working hard for positional dominance on the ground. Couture spent enough time in control to land small shots on Rizzo during Rounds 3 and 4, which the judges probably found to be enough for Couture to take the win.
However, some believe that Rizzo’s performance bettered Couture’s, especially in the final round. Regardless, Couture’s work in the third and fourth rounds proved enough for a win. Couture’s dominance at a rematch between the fighters at UFC 34 helped quell this debate.
UFC 112: Frankie Edgar defeats B.J. Penn
B.J. Penn was the overwhelming favorite to defeat Frankie Edgar and defend his title as lightweight champion. Instead, Edgar achieved a successful upset by unanimous decision, but that unanimity didn’t exactly result from Edgar’s performance in each round.
Penn took control of the ring early, ready to land exact strikes that are only one of a number of tools that made him such a favorite in this fight. Edgar moved around Penn constantly, though, displaying a speed and agility he’d use to win the fight. Regardless, Penn kept control with powerful combinations and perfectly calculated timing.
Some opine that this production lasted too long and too consistently. Penn, a jiu-jitsu black belt, refused to take Edgar to the mat, and his ring control appeared to slip into complacency. Edgar, on the other hand, moved around and became the aggressor in the later rounds. He landed some great strikes and worked for takedowns throughout.
Penn’s control and calculation never seemed to falter, and his defense against Edgar’s multiple takedown attempts was excellent but expected. If Penn had decided to take the fight to the ground even once, the result might have become completely different.
Edgar’s win by decision was of a razor-thin margin, and there was question about which was actually more effective: Edgar’s aggression or Penn’s precision. As the fight progressed, the decision became even closer—Round 4 was especially problematic to score. It likely came to the impression left in the judges’ minds by Edgar’s aggression in Round 5, where Edgar accomplished a strong, but fruitless, takedown against the historically elusive Penn.
Edgar prevailed and, fortunately for us, the question surrounding this decision was answered at UFC 118, where Edgar’s win by unanimous decision was marked by more dominance.
UFC 112: Anderson Silva defeats Demian Maia
The other fight in a night of controversial decisions was the middleweight championship fight between Anderson Silva and Demian Maia. Silva did end up defending his title by unanimous decision, but many left reconsidering the definition of “defend.”
If there was a fight that makes us wonder about the ethics of fighting, especially when championships are on the line, this is it. Round 1 was simply bizarre, and while Silva showed early promise by landing kicks with his signature accuracy and taking Maia down with a flying knee, nothing major came of it. It seemed by that time that Silva could have easily taken a victory in any number of ways, but instead he taunted, posed and danced around the ring.
Perhaps the champion could have gotten away with this kind of showboating if it didn’t last for all five rounds. Silva was clearly the dominant fighter, for Maia made many admirable ,cautious, but ultimately futile attempts to get the fight started. Why Silva continued making a show of it is anyone’s guess.
At the time of the decision, no one could say that Maia defeated Silva. However, it was equally hard to say that Silva won anything. Not only was Silva’s performance a mockery of Maia, it was a mockery of the weight of a championship bout. Critics were quick to argue that the promotion company pressured Silva into making the fights exciting. But Dana White stepped in and said it embarrassed himself and the UFC, and almost every MMA fan was ready to buy Silva out.
If this was true, if Silva was under some pressure to perform in a more entertaining way, then we may actually thank him for this performance. It showed everyone the price of moving toward entertainment and away from fighting.
UFC 86: Forrest Griffin defeats Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
The two coaches of the seventh season of TUF fought for the light heavyweight title, and while Rampage Jackson entered the ring as the champion, he left the belt with Forrest Griffin after a win by unanimous decision. Long after, the outcome remains a point of contention among fans.
In the end, the fight was a busy one. Griffin was able to land multiple leg kicks and cause huge damage, ultimately leading to an effective takedown in Round 2—the round many say Griffin won heartily and, in the end, allowed him to take the fight. Griffin also made a few promising submission attempts from the guard, though he could capitalize on none of them.
But Jackson punched accurately and powerfully, keeping Griffin’s strikes quick and oftentimes imprecise. He was able to defend himself well against Griffin’s strikes and submission attempts.
While Griffin did well in the beginning, Jackson seemed to take more of the later rounds. Many argued Round 3 was the swing vote and should have forced a draw. If there was an edge during that round, it was Griffin’s constant activity that proved worthwhile. To what effect he remained active is still an argument.
UFC 143: Carlos Condit defeats Nick Diaz
Following GSP’s knee injury, Nick Diaz was set to fight Carlos Condit for the interim welterweight championship. When Condit took the belt home after defeating Diaz by unanimous decision, people wondered how he won, including Nick Diaz.
This fight has often been chalked up to simple additive math in that Condit landed a greater number of strikes overall. As a result, the question opened about Diaz’s dominance of motion in the ring. Condit’s striking was either during a retreat or followed by retreat, and though Diaz didn’t outstrike Condit in many rounds, he was always the aggressor.
Condit’s running frustrated Diaz to the point that Diaz called Condit out in Round 2 and followed his taunt with a slap. Condit couldn’t be daunted and continued to strike and retreat. Diaz finally got Condit to the ground in Round 5 where he worked hard for submission, but Condit was able to slip out and milk the clock to take the win.
That Condit’s constant retreat and multiple strikes beat out Diaz’s aggression and solid striking was bothersome, most of all to Diaz. After the winner was announced, Diaz in turn announced his displeasure with the decision, his resulting intention to retire, and the fact that he “doesn’t need this s***.”
It’s been only weeks after, and people are patiently awaiting the imminent GSP vs. Condit fight. But given the question about this decision—and supposing that Nick Diaz clears his legal trouble and decides to return to the ring—his name is not out of the running yet for another welterweight title fight.
UFC 104: Lyoto Machida defeats Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
This fight remains in the minds of many as perhaps the most controversial championship decision in the UFC’s history.
At the end, Lyoto Machida remained the light heavyweight champion after defeating Mauricio Rua by unanimous decision. It was a great fight, but in the end many believed Rua took a majority of the rounds, even if only marginally.
The unanimous decision in favor of Machida brought nearly unanimous jeers from the live audience. Many MMA fan sites and news sites had Rua winning the fight, as did a number of online popular polls. This fire was fueled by a later admission from judge Nelson Hamilton that his view was blocked in Round 4 and that after he saw the fight again, he believed Rua should have won the round.
Even if Rua took the fourth round in Hamilton’s eyes, that would change little about the overall result. But it did open the floodgates for the pent-up doubt about Machida’s proclaimed victory in the fight and the effectiveness of the judges’ scoring.
What else to do with this kind of controversy except host a rematch? Rua won UFC 113 by knockout in Round 1, and while this helped everyone rest the argument about who the best fighter was between the two, the suspicion about decisions lasted a while afterward.