Controversial Decision Propels Couture to Possible Title Shot

“I think we have a real problem with judging in MMA” – Joe Rogan

Moments after the judges scores were announced, a dejected Brandon Vera knelt just outside of the Octagon. His head hanging down, the preceding fifteen minutes proved hugely disappointing. It wasn’t disappointing just because Vera was narrowly edged out by hall-of-famer Randy Couture, a man fourteen years his senior. As difficult as that must have been to swallow, it seemed to pale in comparison to the fact that Vera was on wrong side of the latest questionable judges’ score cards.

“Thanks judges,” Vera said to UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The comment likely did nothing to endear Vera to the so-called hardcore fans who’ve come to consider Vera as something of a pariah. Still, Vera’s sentiment is by no means unreasonable. Rogan lamented the decision, saying that he felt Vera had won the fight by virtue of damage done. It’s hard to disagree, as Vera worked Couture over with body kicks with gusto in rounds two and three.

This was not a decision on the level of last month’s Machida v. Rua decision, where one fighter had so clearly done more damage to his opponent that it raised questions about the competency of both the officials scoring the fight and the scoring system itself. Rather, the problem in the scoring of the Couture v. Vera fight was the weight carried by two of the key scoring criterion: damage done and Octagon control. On Saturday in Manchester, England, it appeared that Octagon control was the deciding factor.

It seems reasonable that in a fight, even a sport fight, that all other things being equal, the person who does the most damage would be declared the victor. All other things were not equal between Vera and Couture, as Couture used his Greco-Roman wrestling to keep Vera pressed against the cage for the majority of the fight. There is certainly an argument to be made that damage done means more than Octagon control; damage done can directly lead to the stopping of a fight, whereas Octagon control, with very few exceptions, does not. And yet, judges Sal D’Amato, Andy Roberts and Glenn Trowbridge all concluded that Couture’s control was significant enough and lasted long enough to outweigh the damage done by Vera’s leg kicks in two out of the three rounds.

To Randy’s credit, he began round three with a nice combination of his own, which probably made the difference in the round and ultimately the fight. On the other hand, Vera was able to keep Randy against the cage as the round progressed, ultimately securing a take down. Too little, too late.

“This does nothing to hurt your career,” Rogan told Vera in an attempt to console him. That may not be true. The sentiment has always been that Vera, half-Filipino himself, is something of a star amongst the Filipino community. Still, he’s by no means Manny Pacquiao, nor does the UFC appear to have plans to put on an event in the Philippines in the next year. It would seem rather rash to cut Vera after this particular loss, but the fact remains that Vera has lost the fights he’s needed to win to become a contender, and his victories have not won over the fan base at large. It would be hasty to cut Vera after this particular decision, but the UFC hasn’t exactly shied away from making these sorts of personnel decisions in the past.

The other side of the coin is that, questionable decision or not, Randy Couture earned a victory in his return to the Light Heavyweight division. This is likely a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Couture’s stock is such that a victory, any victory, should position him as one of the top two or three contenders to Lyoto Machida’s Light Heavyweight Championship. On the other hand, Randy is still a 46-year old fighter coming off a questionable decision against an opponent who many fans wanted to see Couture dominate. Although we may see Couture in the mix as a top contender in his next match, it’s difficult to say whether or not he can legitimately contend in the division. The questions about Couture coming into the fight with Vera have not been sufficiently answered.

At least the much maligned Cecil Peoples was not at the center of yet another questionable judges’ scoring. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of perspective.

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