In the fallout of last night's draw finish of Jon Fitch vs. BJ Penn, the conversation seems to be focused mostly on every MMA writer’s favourite subject: b*tching about how inept and incompetent MMA judges are.
C’mon—what do you want from me? It was a close fight. Anytime there’s a close fight, people are going to disagree about the outcome. No amount of rules refinement is going to fix variable scoring in a sport that requires subjective judging.
And what’s wrong with a draw, exactly? The whole “there must be a winner!” attitude in every fight is to the detriment of fans and promoters alike.
Fitch vs. Penn was a fun fight—certainly the most exciting Jon Fitch has had in a while. Now, most likely, we get to see three more rounds of it.
More on that later.
But first, what the hell is going on with all these draws recently? Certainly two of the three UFC Events this year going to a draw is a little out of the ordinary.
First there was the Frankie Edgar vs. Grey Maynard tie at UFC 125. This past Saturday night, Jon Fitch and BJ Penn fought to another close—and controversial—draw in the main event of UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.
Two fights, eight combined rounds, and no official winners to be found—inside the cage, anyways.
Why is Mr. White the real winner of these inconclusive draws (aside from being the recipient of all your PPV dollars, that is)? It's because each time there’s been a draw recently, it seems to have solved one of Mr. White’s problems rather marvelously.
Frankie Edgar vs. Grey Maynard was one of the least-hyped title fights in recent memory. It was an issue. It was something MMA writers talked about widely and at length. People honestly wondered what the UFC was going to do to get that elusive “casual fan” to care about a lightweight world title fight.
One epically-fought draw later, and all of Dana’s problems are solved.
Edgar vs. Maynard 3 is the most anticipated rematch of 2011, as White gets to put on the exact same fight he put on in January again in May—and make 10 times more money this time. Win and win.
Now the majority draw conclusion of Penn vs. Fitch solves another one of Dana’s lingering problems.
See, this fight put Dana and the UFC in a slightly awkward position as far as the welterweight title picture goes. With champion Georges St-Pierre set to defend the strap against Jake Shields in April, there has been plenty of speculation that, with a win, he would move up in weight to face Anderson Silva in the biggest MMA superfight ever.
White himself all but committed to this timeline for finally putting on GSP vs. Silva at long last.
Just one problem: The winner of Penn vs. Fitch could potentially have stood in the way of that move. Had Fitch won, his 14 UFC wins would have had purists crying foul that Fitch had earned his rematch, that GSP hadn’t truly cleaned out 170 lbs.
Had Penn won, there’s a chance the first words out of his mouth would be to call out Georges St-Pierre once again. Okay, that’s not true—the first words out of his mouth would have been “go to BJPenn.com!,” where he might have called out GSP in a lengthy paragraph, brought to you by RVCA.
Would either of these scenarios have been enough to derail Anderson Silva vs. GSP?
Probably not. But either one would have caused complications at the least. There would be howls that GSP had not truly “cleaned out” the welterweight division. These howls wouldn’t exactly be incorrect, either. Fitch’s case for another GSP fight, or Penn’s case for a non-vaselined third GSP fight would have had some weight behind them if either man had won, if only a little.
Now, we can scratch both those hypothetical questions. With Brian Ebersole cartwheel kicking Chris Lytle out of title contention, Carlos Condit out with injury, Dan Hardy still trying to remember what day of the week it is and no clear winner in Penn vs. Fitch, there really is no one left after Shields for GSP to face at welterweight. By happy accident as much as peerless domination, GSP is one fight away from unequivocally cleaning out his division.
So now what?
If GSP beats Shields and moves up, I predict Dana will book a BJ vs. Fitch rematch—this time, for the vacant welterweight championship. That ought to get BJ motivated after he borderline retired last night.
Check this scenario out: a season of TUF featuring Penn and Fitch as rival coaches, building interest for their eventual clash. When they finally do fight, book it at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. Can you think of a better way to feature what could be BJ’s last hurrah—or perhaps his second coming?
By Elton Hobson