Russian Rustam 'Tiger' Khabilov and Benson 'Smooth' Henderson put on an impressive performance at UFC fight night in an otherwise bizarre night of weird decisions by refs, judges, and ringside doctors.
In his first few UFC fights Khabilov had been displaying stellar combat Sambo and is a former world champion in the art. It’s a style North American fighters see less often than freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling. For his part, Smooth desperately wants to regain the belt Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis took by chopping him down with kicks and choking him out on round one of their title fight.
Khabilov was slightly outwrestling Henderson in the fight. Smart money had Khabilov gassing in the later rounds compared with Henderson, who has been in many five-rounders before. Despite being able to throw and get Henderson down, the Russian couldn’t keep him down. Henderson employs a variety of tactics like the butterfly guard and general squirminess to get opponents off balance when they’ve taken him down.
Early in round 4 Henderson used a lead uppercut and left to stun Khabilov and, as usual, moved lightning-fast in the transition---while his opponent was still stunned---to sink in a choke. The finish was a relief to Henderson, who has taken heat for his low finishing percentage.
This sets Henderson back on a title fight tack, but Pettis so thoroughly destroyed him in their last fight it’s hard to take a rematch too seriously.
But that fight wasn’t the story here. A series of bizarre decisions by officials of all stripes had social media buzzing with complaints. The problems weren’t caused by the UFC, but by refs, judges, and the ringside doctor, decisions that left fans scratching what passes for their heads.
Diego Sanchez was given a split decision win over Ross Pearson in a fight commentator and former UFC contender Kenny Florian said was a pure win for Pearson. The judge’s score cards were 30-27, 27-30, 29-28. It’s hard to imagine one judge seeing Diego take every round, and another seeing Pearson win every frame. Social media was hard on Sanchez even though it wasn’t his fault.
Rafael Dos Anjos was given the TKO victory over Jason High despite the latter intelligently defending himself. High had been rocked, and perhaps wasn’t in the best position, but he was coherent and doing what he could at the moment, and not taking clear, hard shots.
John Dodson was given a TKO stoppage over John Moraga between the 2nd and 3rd rounds when the doctor stopped the fight due to a broken nose. There may be more here than fans are privy to, but despite Moraga taking a solid knee to the schnoz before the bell, he walked easily to his corner, and his injury looked no worse than many that are deemed fine.
Fighters sacrifice too much time and effort to have incompetence, rather than inevitable human error, affect their career so gravely. And fans aren’t stupid. UFC president Dana White and the UFC have been lobbying the athletic commissions for a while now to create a point system and method for judging that suits MMA rather than boxing---two completely different sports.
Referees often have to make split-second decisions that involve a fighter’s safety, and certainly they get judged harshly for a tough job. But inconsistency and its frequency are a problem even in the world’s top MMA promotion. Nights like this one only strengthen resolve to bring more integrity into the world’s fastest growing sport.
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