On the Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit decision

As soon as Bruce Buffer finished “AND STILL,” MMA Twitter began debating the third round of the welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit. Everyone agreed in awarding rounds one and four to Condit and rounds two and five to Lawler, including the judges. It was that pesky third round, however, that returned the belt to Lawler and sparked a vicious debate involving a wide variety of topics.

On the Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit decision

Let’s break down the arguments.

The ten-point must system is broken. It was designed for boxing and MMA isn’t boxing and, hey, your typical MMA fight is only three rounds so obviously this is a bad system. Nonsense.

No one will deny that judging in MMA is perfect. (Same thing goes for boxing as well.) But what percentage of decisions would you estimate are “bad”? Five percent? Ten percent? Of those, how many bad decisions could you attribute SOLELY to the ten-point must system? That is, how many fights are scored 100% correctly, but result in the “wrong” guy winning? Nothing comes to my mind immediately, though I don’t doubt that they exist.

Improvements need to be made with regards to judging. (For instance, judges need to start awarding more non-10-9 rounds.) But even with current flaws, the ten-point must system serves as a fine tool to award decisions.

But Condit landed twice as much as Lawler in round three! Let’s say there are two baseball players. Over their last 24 at-bats, Player A has 12 hits, while Player B only has 6 hits. If I asked you to pick out the better hitter, you would likely tell me Player A. But what if I added some context, and told you Player A hit 12 singles, while Player B hit 6 home runs? Your decision becomes a lot more difficult.

In the same vein, that Condit outlanded Lawler 22-11 in round three (all strikes significant) is not evidence alone that he deserved the round. Despite misconceptions, FightMetric’s “significant strikes” stat does not discern “effective” or “damaging” blows from “ineffective” or “non-damaging” blows. Lawler could have hit 11 home runs to Condit’s 22 singles, for instance.

Stats don’t mean anything in MMA. Here’s the other side of the coin. Stats may not make an argument on their own, but they are useful for support.

For instance, Diego Sanchez won a split decision over Ross Pearson back in July of 2014. Two judges scored the third round for Sanchez despite a 21-12 strike disparity for Pearson. (Sound familiar?) I don’t remember the details of the fight off hand, but considering thirteen of fourteen media members scored the fight 30-27 for Pearson, it’s fair to assume Pearson was the “rightful” winner of the round.

Yet, two judges DID score it for Sanchez. Why? Perhaps they had poor angles of the fight. Perhaps Sanchez’s grunts added to the “effect” of his strikes. Perhaps the judges saw strikes land that didn’t land. Human beings are imperfect beings, and you’re a fool if you believe you can account for both which strikes land and with how much effectiveness.

No way was round four a 10-8! Quantitatively, Condit outlanded Lawler 47-6 in round four. Qualitatively, Condit controlled the entire round, sent Lawler to queer street around the four minute mark, and spent the majority of the last minute swarming on a stationary Lawler.

Given the current rate of 10-8s, it’s a borderline case, but there’s still a case to be made. Ideally, though, this is the sort of round that would be scored 10-8 under a more liberal use of the ten-point must system. The Unified Rules of MMA define a 10-8 round as a “round when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round.” Let’s also note that the Unified Rules define a 10-9 round as a “round when a contestant wins by a close margin.”

Condit sure didn’t win the round by a “close margin,” and I have a hard time understanding how he didn’t “overwhelmingly dominate” either. Condit still wouldn’t be welterweight champ had the judges scored round four 10-8, but it would have changed the result from a split decision for Lawler to a majority draw. And, instead of Condit considering hanging up the gloves, we might have an instant rematch in the works.

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