BJ Penn's Controversial Loss to Frankie Edgar Is a Loss For All of MMA

Jason ShebiroCorrespondent IApril 17, 2010

There may still be eight months worth of fights left in 2010 but I’m already locking in my vote for worst decision of the year: Frankie Edgar defeats BJ Penn by unanimous decision for the UFC Lightweight Championship. To be fair this was a very close fight and an admittedly difficult one to score.  But it wasn’t that difficult.  This should’ve went to Penn.  You wouldn’t know that from looking at the judges scorecards, however.  Douglas Crosby scored the fight 50-45, Howard Hughes scored the fight 49-46, and Sal D'Amato scored the fight 48-47.  This was not a split decision or even a close one.  It was a flat out robbery.  BJ certainly did not look his best this fight, but he looked better than Edgar did.  If we live in a world where a judge saw that fight and gave every single round to Frankie Edgar, then I don’t want to live here anymore, let alone watch fights here.  Decisions like this are disrespectful to the fighters, frustrating for the fans, and dangerous to the credibility of the sport.  And the worst part is nobody seems to care.

First of all, my hat’s off to Frankie “The Answer” Edgar even though he had no business getting the decision in that fight.  When many people, myself included, wrote him off as merely the next outclassed lightweight contender for Penn to stuff and mount for his trophy room, Edgar rose to the occasion, and fought the fight of his life.  This guy is better and better every time we see him in the octagon and BJ didn’t have much of an answer for The Answer’s hummingbird on crack movement and Big Willie Style infinite cardio.  Edgar stuck to his game plan and had the champ guessing and chasing him for a full five rounds.  No doubt about it, the man is in tremendous shape and proved he can hang with the elite, but he did not win that fight.

Even more shocking was the fact that this bungled decision was for UFC gold.  For better or worse, close decisions in title fights historically favor champs not challengers.  In combat sports you really need to beat the man to be the man, and you usually have to do it in convincing fashion.  When George Forman fought relative unknown Axel Schulz in 1995 fresh off becoming the oldest man to become Heavyweight champ, his lackluster performance was somehow still enough to convince the judges.  The same could not be said of the IBF, which later wound up stripping him of their belt.  The first meeting between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis to unify the Heavyweight titles in 1999 saw Lewis mop the floor with Holyfield, but apparently he didn’t mop hard enough.  The only people in the world who didn’t think Lewis won that fight happened to be sitting at the judges table that night.  The contest was controversially ruled a draw after 12 rounds, allowing both men to keep their titles.  And of course there was last year’s UFC Light Heavyweight battle between champion Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua.  After five rounds the judges gave the nod to Machida, a decision that infuriated fans, insiders, and even UFC President Dana White.  At the press conference directly following the fight White had already committed to booking an immediate rematch. 

Judges don’t like to take a champ’s belt away unless they are sure.  In a fight where one judge scored all five rounds for Edgar and another gave him four, these judges seemed sure, but I’m not sure why.  Rounds 1 and 2 were completely dictated by Penn.  Edgar had good movement but couldn’t land.  The second round saw Edgar score a takedown, though Penn was back on his feet in a fraction of a second.  This may have swayed the some judges but it shouldn’t have, since BJ set the tempo of the entire round with his jab and was able to outstrike Edgar in all of their exchanges.  Round 3 was uneventful but a little more even with a distinct striking advantage still going to Penn.  BJ was checking leg kicks and stuffing takedown attempts left and right.  He held the center of the octagon while Edgar constantly danced around him, unsuccessfully looking for an opening.  If frenetic energy output, constant movement, and continuous, unsuccessful attacks are the criteria by which rounds are scored, Edgar may have had BJ on this one.  Otherwise round 3 goes to Penn.  Round 4 could’ve gone either way, and I personally would give it to Edgar.  This was the first time we saw him controlling the octagon, showing aggression, and landing shots.  He still looked like a terrier on speed that couldn’t mount much of an offense, while Penn’s jab continued to find a home.  The most significant action of the round came in the final minutes with Penn landing meaningful punches, but this effort wasn’t enough to steal the round in my book.  Round 5 was the Frankie Edgar show.  He started off with a big takedown and outboxed Penn for five minutes.  BJ was flat-out gassed while The Answer seemed like he could leave the octagon after the fight and beat The Fonz at a marathon dance contest at Arnold’s.  This was the only round that I can definitively and unquestionably give to Edgar and he certainly earned it.  By the end of the fight, I’d score this one 48-47 Penn, and feel like I was being pretty kind to Edgar with that fourth round.  But don’t take my word for it, look at the stats.  The effectiveness score, which analyzes post-fight data and measures the activity in a round based upon how that activity influences fight outcomes, gave the first three rounds to Penn, called the fourth a draw, and gave Edgar the final round.
Now, I’ve seen fighters steal a round in the final minutes with an authoritative takedown or a well timed flurry, but I’ve never seen a fighter steal an entire fight in the final round.  Unfortunately for BJ Penn, it seems that one round is all you need to win the UFC Lightweight Championship.  Much the way infants and cavemen are mystified by shiny objects or fire, the judges of this contest seemed entranced by Frankie Edgar’s constant motion.  But bouncing around a lot does not equal controlling a fight.  Staying busy does not equal effective striking.  I think the judges gave Edgar a little too much credit.  A bad decision is always a horrible thing but its even worse when it determines a champion.  For me, this judgment goes down as one of the worst decision in the history of the sport because this hasn’t just ruined a fight, it has tarnished the legacy of one of the world’s top pound for pound fighters and longest standing champions. 

At UFC 112, Frankie Edgar shocked the world.  Judge Douglas Crosby, who scored the fight 50-45 in favor of Edgar almost shocked me into a coma.  And I’m still shocked now because everyone else isn’t shocked enough.  This should go down as one of the most controversial decisions in MMA history.  People should be foaming at the mouth.  Commentators and insiders all agree the fight was too close to call, and many say they thought this should’ve ended in a draw or decision for Penn, but these statements are being made as casual observations instead of passionate protests.  When Shogun was controversially outpointed by Machida the entire MMA community was in an uproar, and he hadn’t even lost anything.  Now that BJ Penn, one of the sports most decorated champions, has been robbed of his belt and his lightweight streak in an even worse decision, I expected eruptions of Vesuvian proportions and vitriolic inquisitions into the competency of the judges.  Where is the fire?  Where is the venom? 

In the aftermath of the fight, BJ has been nothing but gracious in defeat.  By now its public knowledge that he missed a few weeks of training camp while fighting off a sinus infection.  He was on antibiotics on the night of the fight.  There is even talk that he may have been fighting with a knee injury.  But you won’t hear any of this from Penn.  He refuses to take anything away from the new champ by making excuses, but its safe to say that at UFC 112 we saw the worst of BJ Penn and the best of Frankie Edgar, and Edgar still couldn’t really get much done in the cage.  Every fighter knows it’s never safe to leave an outcome in the judge’s hands, but this is just ridiculous.  It feels like they were punishing Penn and stripped him of his title for not finishing this fight.  Either that or they arbitrarily decided to add head movement as one of their scoring guidelines and didn’t tell anybody.

I’m not making excuses for Penn’s less than inspiring performance, and I’m certainly not saying that the judges should have given BJ the benefit of the doubt because he was the defending champ.  I’m saying they didn’t even have to.  The fight speaks for itself and those first three rounds (at least) were all Penn.  Douglas Crosby, who scored this fight 50-45 Edgar, is a horrible judge and proud of it.  He took to the internet days after the fight to defend his decision and childishly declare himself a “judging genius” on the message boards of MMA Underground.   Howard Hughes, who scored it 49-46 Edgar is not much better.  I liked him more when he was a reclusive eccentric inventor/pilot/filmmaker.  After the fight, Dana White commented that he did not agree with the 50-45 decision.  We’ve seen him routinely dog referee Steve Mazzagatti for incompetence and poor decision-making, so why hasn’t Dana gone after Crosby?  If the UFC wants to hold on to its credibility, I think he has to.  In a decision as bad as this one, with stakes as high as this one, BJ Penn isn’t the only one who loses.  The entire sport suffers.

Forget the antics of Anderson Silva, the real controversy at UFC 112 was BJ Penn losing his belt to a surprisingly game but still undeserving Frankie Edgar.  Edgar looked better than anyone could have possibly expected, but he did not do enough to take Penn’s belt away from him.  The one saving grace is that an immediate rematch is already tentatively set for UFC 118 on August 28th in Boston.  But that’s not enough for me.  I’m going to need judge Douglas Crosby to turn in his badge and gun for this.  Get him off the force.  At a time when MMA is gaining more mainstream media attention, fighters, referees, and judges need to be held accountable for their actions.  This is still a new sport fighting for legitimacy, and this decision was anything but legitimate.  BJ Penn is no longer champion after a close five round fight in which he only lost one round.  It seems more like a professional wrestling storyline than an actual athletic competition.  I half expected WWE Chairman Vince McMahon to interrupt the post-fight press conference and whisk Frankie Edgar and Douglas Crosby away in a black stretch limo.