Mixed martial arts has seen its number of controversial decisions. Just like with other sports, there are moments where fans and media alike are left to ask: What just happened?
The end of UFC 181 should be added to a long list of perplexing moments. Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks lost his welterweight title to Robbie Lawler on Saturday via split decision after a performance that looked much better than his showing at UFC 171. When the dust settles, this result may be one of the most contentious decisions of 2014.
The first place to start with this discussion is to look at the scorecards, as recorded by MMA Decisions. Sal D'Amato awarded the bout to Hendricks with a 48-47 score. In his eyes, Lawler won Rounds 1 and 5. Marcos Rosales gave the fight to Lawler with a 48-47 card, in which Ruthless won Round 1, 4 and 5. Glenn Trowbridge submitted the most one-sided card of the night with a 49-46 score where Lawler took every round except Round 3.
Now, let's break those scores down with the fight statistics provided by FightMetric.
According to the official statistician of the UFC, Lawler and Hendricks had a very close striking affair from a numbers standpoint. Lawler landed 57 percent of his strikes compared to Hendricks' 48 percent. One of the main differences, however, was that Hendricks clearly had the edge in the wrestling department. He completed five of 17 takedowns.
In looking at the total dynamic of this fight in relation to MMA as a whole, Hendricks had more success in multiple areas. That this split decision went against him was widely considered a surprise. For example, of the 15 media scores recorded on MMA Decisions, 12 had the fight going to Hendricks.
Also, according to Mike Bohn of USA Today, this is the first time in UFC history in which a champion has lost his title via split decision:
Comparing this fight to their contest at UFC 171 also shows signs that the UFC 181 result is questionable. The bout in March was very close in statistical output for both fighters, via FightMetric. In what was mostly a striking battle, Hendricks outlanded Lawler by the final count of 158 of 397 to 150 of 331. Even though Hendricks fought with an injured arm and scored only two takedowns, he walked away with a unanimous-decision win, which was widely agreed upon by most of the MMA media community, via MMA Decisions.
When comparing the two fights, the numbers and responses lean toward the idea that Hendricks' performance on Saturday night was more dominant than his performance in March, yet he was unable to end the year holding the 170-pound belt.
Hendricks was obviously upset with the way his night ended. The result of his first title defense will be highly debated for the next few weeks, if not longer. Looking at the scorecards and statistics, it is hard to make an argument that he lost this contest. With a potential trilogy bout in the future, it will be interesting to watch if the former national champion wrestler receives an immediate rematch.