I love statistics. Love them.
I love fantasy sports. I love reading about the economy. I love reading about sales figures for video games. I love anything that can be quantified and contrasted with something else.
So naturally, I love looking at numbers from CompuStrike and FightMetric when it comes to controversial decisions.
Not coincidentally, we had a pretty controversial decision last weekend with Ben Henderson getting the better end of a razor-thin split decision over Frankie Edgar.
The numbers, obviously, are extremely close. 66 total strikes for Edgar compared to 62 for Henderson. Deeper analysis of those metrics can go either way (Henderson landed more power shots and strikes to the head total, Edgar landed more total strikes in three of five rounds, etc.).
What that breaks down to, precisely, is that people are nitpicking and arguing over two or three strikes per round. Literally. Two or three strikes. When you're trying to make something big out of the teeniest, tiniest details, it is time to step back and realize that things are sometimes simply too close to call.
The numbers, ultimately, agree with that particular sentiment more than any other. Far too many are saying Edgar was robbed and are pointing to the numbers as evidence. The thing is, compared to past controversial decisions, Henderson vs. Edgar II is simply not in the same ballpark according to the tallies.
Take, for example, UFC 104's Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. That fight, like this one, had many up in arms about the decision, which was unanimously in favor of Machida. Machida vs. Rua, though, actually looked the part of a bad decision on-paper.
While Edgar vs. Henderson, once again, had 66 strikes to 62 in favor of Edgar, Machida vs. Rua I had 82 strikes landed by Rua against 42 by Machida. If my math is right, 40 is a lot more than four. What's more, Rua landed more hits per round in all five rounds.
Other notorious decisions are similarly lopsided on paper. The first bout between Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan had 102 strikes landed by Phan against 64 by Garcia. That, obviously, is also substantially more lopsided than 66 to 62.
Looking back further to UFC 75, Matt Hamill landed 88 strikes to Michael Bisping's 62, and also had six takedowns to his credit. Again, Hammill ended up losing out on the score cards when he clearly outworked Bisping by a greater statistical margin than UFC 150's headline.
These decisions are held among the worst in the history of the sport and, clearly, the statistics actually back that up. Statistics, though useful in further investigating fights, are by no means the be-all and end-all determinant of a winner.
It is worth pointing out that there have been a few fights that had bad decisions on paper, but generated little to no outcry.
Looking strictly at the numbers, Kenny Florian should be the current UFC featherweight champion, as he landed more significant strikes against Jose Aldo in three of five rounds, and more total strikes in four of five rounds when they fought at UFC 136.
Similarly, in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Fabricio Werdum actually landed more significant strikes than Alistair Overeem in two of three rounds, and landed more total strikes in all three.
Taking all these into consideration, labeling Henderson vs. Edgar II a “robbery” based on the numbers is not really accurate. In past controversial decisions, the numbers have been clearly skewed in favor of the loser.
The numbers, in reality, suggest what everyone acknowledges: The fight was very, very close on the whole, and even closer round by round.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a big Benson Henderson fan, but I also had the fight scored three rounds to two in favor of Edgar going into the announcement (Rounds 2, 4 and 5 for Edgar, 1 and 3 for Henderson).
The thing is, even among those crying that Edgar was robbed, there is no consensus on which rounds Edgar won (assuming they are saying he won three rounds, of course).
Looking at the numbers, I can see why judges would score the fight in favor of Henderson. After all, there were three very close rounds, and the old mantra “to be the champ, you've got to beat the champ” makes it clear where the edge should go, and the edge almost always goes that way.
One of the few times it did not was at UFC 112 where Frankie Edgar faced off with then-champion B.J. Penn who, according to FightMetric, should have kept his belt. Such, though, is the nature of leaving it in the hands of the judges and, worse yet, leaving it to the judges when you have not actually established yourself as the winner.
Sometimes it goes one way. Other times, it goes the other way. For the first time, really, it did not go Edgar's way.