Top 10 Most Controversial Decisions in MMA

Darren WongSenior Analyst IDecember 24, 2009

2009 was a year filled with controversial decisions in important bouts, but controversial decisions are nothing new to MMA.

Here's my own personal list of some of the most controversial and fateful decisions in the history of the sport. Significance and implications of the decision are key considerations.

11. (Bonus) Michael Bisping vs Matt Hamill:
Bisping via split decision

I know this is supposed to be a top 10 list, but I just couldn't resist adding this one.

No real significance to this one, except that it would have been the first loss in Bisping's career.

There are people on both sides of this one, but many who thought Hamill won have held a grudge against Bisping to this day, because they think that Bisping should have given more credit to Hamill after the decision was read.

Bisping gave credit to Hamill, but felt that he had done enough to win the fight.

I don't know how people can blame a fighter for thinking that he won a fight, especially when the judges agree. Anyway, on with the list.

10. Georges St. Pierre vs. BJ Penn I
: St. Pierre via split decision

This fight was a welterweight title eliminator, and was billed by Dana White as a potential fight of the year.

Penn controlled the first round with strikes, leaving GSP with "a bloody mess" for a face.

St. Pierre came back in the last two rounds, fighting evenly on the feet, and winning as a result of his takedowns.

Giving the decision to Penn probably requires awarding a 10-8 for the first round, and a 10-10 for one of the final two, but to this day, many believe that BJ should have got the nod.

BJ ended up fighting Hughes for the title anyway, where he lost, but Georges St. Pierre's future might have been changed by the victory.  The victory probably helped him earn his spot as a coach on TUF 4, and without the victory, he may have had to fight again to earn his rematch with Hughes.

Also significantly, this fight would be a part of the ongoing feud between GSP and Penn.  Had Penn won, perhaps he wouldn't care so much right now about fighting GSP.

9. Wanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona II:
Silva via split decision

Ricardo controlled much of the action on the ground, but Wanderlei did more damage with his strikes for much of the fight.

This fight was for the Pride belt, and Wanderlei had already lost to Arona in his last fight, so a second fight would probably have put the belt in Ricardo's hands.  If that happened, who knows where the Pride middleweight belt would have ended up?

Ultimately, if you look at all of the matchups of top competitors, the unified belt at 205 lbs winds up with the current champion, Lyoto Machida, but there is a fair bit of history that would have been changed had Arona got the decision that many fans felt he earned.

8. Quinton Jackson vs. Matt Lindland:
Jackson via split decision

Rampage held control in the early parts and at the end of the first round, but Lindland held his own, and many felt he won the round with a very close rear-naked-choke attempt.

The second round was probably Rampage's round, as he landed a big slam, and a combo of punches that had Lindland momentarily rocked.

The third round again was close, but many felt that Lindland's guillotine attempt, as well as a few instances where he controlled the action, may have been enough to earn the decision.

This fight came at a time when Lindland's exile from the UFC was seen by many as a political maneuver. Had Lindland won, it would have only intensified this feeling.  Fighting Politics , a documentary about Lindland, would have had even more weight.  Ultimately, much of the hype behind the documentary was lessened with Lindland's more recent losses to Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo Souza.

It seems likely that Jackson would have been pitted in a title match against Liddell anyway, considering that at the time it was a little bit easier for the UFC to get away with handing out undeserved title shots, and there were many that wanted Liddell to get his chance at revenge against Rampage.

7. Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo I:
Randy Couture via unanimous decision

This fight was a back-and-forth brawl, with Couture bullying Rizzo on the ground with wrestling, but with Rizzo beating Couture up on the feet.

Couture looked very surprised once the decision was read.  Others were equally surprised.

Couture would go on to defeat Rizzo decisively in the rematch, which makes this decision a little less significant.

6: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Ricardo Arona:
Fedor via unanimous decision in overtime

This fight was very early in Fedor's career, so we cannot be overly critical of his performance, but in my opinion, were this fight under normal MMA rules Arona should have won the decision before overtime.

In the first two rounds, Fedor was getting the better of the exchanges on the feet, but was getting handled fairly easily on the ground.

Arona was able to score takedowns and control position for most of the first two rounds, briefly getting back control as well as mount.  The referee also helped by standing the fight up when Arona had Fedor mounted.

The only real offence that Fedor had on the ground were a few punches and an ankle lock attempt that resulted in Arona gaining mount.

Fedor did attempt some guillotine chokes, but he did so from the bottom of side control, where a submission is nearly impossible.

In fact, guillotines from side control as Fedor executed them are seen as counter-productive stalling tactics in BJJ.

The judging system used for this fight is unlike that employed in modern MMA, which creates a problem for understanding the decision given to Fedor.  According to many, Fedor did enough to win this decision given the rules in place.

My personal opinion is that despite Fedor doing enough to win given the rules in place,  he should have lost the fight under more widely accepted MMA rules.  The value of that theoretical victory is not insignificant in my opinion.

At the time, this fight was of little significance, but given Fedor's current aura of invincibility, this fight is significant as it is perhaps the one fight where people look back and see that Fedor probably deserved to lose the decision.

As it stands, Fedor's record is considered to be unblemished by everyone who hasn't seen this fight.

5. Caol Uno vs. BJ Penn:

This fight was for the vacant UFC lightweight title. The resulting draw would lead to a temporary scrapping of the UFC lightweight division.  Any other result would have been more beneficial to the UFC at the time.

4. Jens Pulver vs. BJ Penn I:
Pulver via majority decision

Penn owned Pulver early, but Penn seemed to fade a little bit, and Pulver really began to take control in the final round.

Still, many thought that BJ deserved the win.  The resulting decision became disastrous for the UFC when Pulver abandoned his belt to fight overseas.  The UFC lightweight division would be in chaos for years to come.

According to UFC commentary, BJ Penn had planned on retiring from competition had he won the fight against Pulver.  While I question whether this would actually have happened, things would certainly have been different.

3. Jackson vs. Griffin:
Griffin via unanimous decision

This was a very close fight, but the second round domination by Forrest probably won him the fight.

That being said, many thought Jackson did enough to keep the belt.

Had he won, one wonders if he would still have gone on his now infamous rampage.  Also worth considering is what would have happened to the belt.

Would there have been an immediate rematch? Would Rampage already have fought Evans or Machida by now?

The implications are endless.

2. Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua:
Machida via unanimous decision

Perhaps due to the increased popularity of the sport, this decision received more attention than all of the ones previously mentioned.

Machida came into this fight as a big favorite, both in the betting lines, and in the minds of many people who had come to appreciate his style.  By the end of the fight, Shogun was the fan favorite, and the fighter who most thought had won the decision.

The resulting decision brought out a lot of anger toward Machida for what was perceived by some as a lack of grace in victory. Again, I can't understand how fans can get upset about a fighter thinking that he has won, but that's just the way it is.

Despite the majority of fans and media persons who scored this fight for Shogun, there were still many who believed that the right fighter had been awarded the victory.

Machida's defenders will point out that the first three rounds all could have been scored for him, and also that other watchers were probably influenced by what they felt was one-sided commentary, or the fact that Shogun won his rounds late, thus leaving a better final impression.

The good news is that both fighters have agreed to a rematch, and the score will hopefully be settled once-and-for-all on May 1st.

I'm hoping and praying that I get to be there in Montreal for this one, because it should be an exciting atmosphere given all of the build-up.

1. Forrest Griffin vs. Stephen Bonnar I
: Griffin via unanimous decision

Both would get the "six figure contract," but historically, the decision in this fight had a lot of implications.

Forrest would go on to become one of the most recognizable names in the sport, while Bonnar would fade away to a certain degree.

Currently, Forrest is still a big star in the UFC, while many fans believe that the only reason Bonnar is still even in the UFC is because Dana White feels indebted to him for what happened during that fateful TUF finale, perhaps the most important fight in the history of the sport.

Now imagine for a minute a world in which Bonnar had won that decision. Would the sport have suffered more when Bonnar tested positive for steroids?  Would the TUF show have gained as much popularity with a Bonnar as the poster-boy?

Bonnar is less charismatic and less marketable than Griffin, so it seems likely that the UFC's popularity might have been less now had the judges gone Bonnar's way in what was a very close fight..

Other Controversial/Fateful Decisions Worth Revisiting:

Penn vs. Serra, Hughes vs. Serra, Bustamante vs. Henderson II, Murilo Rua vs. Rampage Jackson, Forrest vs. Tito I and II, Machida vs. Penn, Caol Uno vs. Spencer Fisher, Dong Hyun Kim vs. Matt Brown, Akiyama vs. Belcher, Henderson vs. Franklin, Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva, Bibiano Fernandes vs. Hiroyuki Takaya, Jake Shields vs. Yushin Okami, Tyson Griffin vs. Clay Guida, Tyson Griffin vs. Frank Edgar, Matt Wiman vs. Sam Stout, Sam Stout vs. Spencer Fisher I, Chase Beebe vs. Mike Easton, Ben Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone

The point is, there have been a ton of disputed decisions so far in the short history of the sport.  I'm sure I'm missing some good ones on this list here, so please comment with any of your favorite controversial/fateful decisions.


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