On New Years Day, UFC 125 was all set for the promotion to start 2011 with a bang. In a highly anticipated rematch, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard both fought their hearts out for five rounds.
So who won the fight? Well, nobody won. The fight was a draw – the most anticlimactic ending possible for what was one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.
But because there was no winner, the fight created more questions and controversy than it answered. And while MMA fans were extremely unhappy with this outcome, nobody could be more dissatisfied than Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Edgar’s loses legitimacy as champion and Maynard comes away feeling cheated.
When a fight is ruled a draw, it’s as though the fight never happened at all.
The Edgar vs. Maynard draw also ended up making a mess of things. Plans changed and promises were broken. Anthony Pettis, the last WEC Lightweight Champion, was promised the next title shot and now the UFC couldn’t deliver on that promise.
Almost two months later at UFC 127, the same monster reared it’s ugly head. In a hard fought title eliminator bout, the fight between BJ Penn and Jon Fitch was ruled a draw.
Chaos ensued again. If nobody won, who gets the title shot? Do you have a rematch? What if it’s another draw?
This is not a new problem. High profile winner-less fights have plagued MMA ever since the early days, especially in the UFC. Who can ever can forget UFC 5, where the most anticipated rematch to that date turned to disappointment. Ken Shamrock laid and prayed his way to a 36 minute long draw against Royce Gracie. There were no judges yet, so nobody could win without a stoppage.
At UFC 7 the same thing happened. After 33 minutes, the fight between Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov also ended in a draw, which ultimately forced the UFC to bring judges onboard.
But the winner-less fight problem still wasn’t over yet. Fast forward to February 28th, 2003 at UFC 41.
The reigning UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver left the UFC and was stripped of the title in 2002, prompting the UFC to create a four man Lightweight tournament. After winning their fights in the first round of the tournament, Caol Uno and BJ Penn were now set to fight for the title. Five rounds later, it ended in a judges decision draw. Neither Uno nor Penn were crowned champion, and the UFC simply gave up on having a Lightweight Champion. The Lightweight Title would remain vacant for the next four years.
Other promotions have experienced some negative impact from the infamous draw, but nobody has been hurt by winner-less fights more by it than the UFC. And a fight without a winner is bad for business, pure and simple.
UFC 125 and UFC 127 have lead Ultimate Fighting off to a really bad start in 2011. Most fans agree that something should be done, but what? How do you solve the problem once and for all?
Solution 1: Make Certain Fights Five Rounds Long:
After the Penn vs. Fitch fight, a number of folks proposed that the fight should have been five rounds long instead of three.
I agree that this would be a great idea for all No. 1 contender bouts. The additional two rounds certainly increases the chances the fight won’t go to the judges score cards at all. The goal of each fighter in a title eliminator fight is to earn the right to fight the champion for five rounds. It seems reasonable that whichever fighter performs the best in a five round number one contender fight is the better logical choice to face the champion in a five round fight.
But clearly this doesn’t solve the problem. Two of the biggest UFC messes caused by the infamous win-less fight were already five rounds long: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 and Penn vs. Uno 2.
So while adding two rounds to No. 1 contender fights is a great idea, but clearly it doesn’t do enough.
Solution 2: The Tiebreaker Score - The Judges Pick an Overall Winner:
What is the best way to avoid future judges' draws?
Once upon a time, judges didn't score UFC fights round by round. Instead, they picked an overall winner. Now the round by round scoring is fine and it can continue to be the primary method of choosing a winner. But at the end of the fight, have each judge pick an overall fight winner. The only requirement: The judge has to pick somebody.
If and only if the fight comes out as a draw, the overall winner choice comes into play as a tiebreaker. With three judges choices, somebody is guaranteed to win this.
The 10 point must scoring system is a good system for keeping judges honest and making things fair for both fighters. A built in tiebreaker would make it an even better system by avoiding judges draws.
Solution 3: One More Round:
The Ultimate Fighter reality television show actually provides the perfect solution for us. Fights on the show are two rounds long, but if there is no clear winner after two rounds then the fight goes to a third and final round. Why not do the same thing in all MMA fights? If there is no winner by the end of a fight, let them go one more round, winner take all.
In my mind, this is probably the best solution. From the start, mixed martial arts was always meant to be as close to a real fight as possible. In a real fight there are no round and there are no time limits. So if one of the two fighters is exhausted at the end of the standard three round or five rounds, the outcome accurately reflects what would happen in a real fight: The fighter to ran out of gas first is probably going to lose just like they would have in a street fight.
No doubt, many other solutions are possible but this much is certain: Fighters and fans alike absolutely hate it when a fight ends in a draw.