As soon as the winner was announced in the fight between BJ Penn and Frank Edgar, I predicted a storm of anger and vitriol over the decision. While there has been some mild discussion about the decision, things have remained civil for the most part, and that surprised me.
Considering that I thought that the fight should have been a fairly easy decision to score in favor of Penn, (I scored it 49-47 Penn on initial viewing) I figured that everybody else would have come to similar conclusions, and therefore would have been quire vocal in disputing the decision.
At UFC 104 when Lyoto Machida was announced as the winner over Mauricio Rua, people reacted as if the world was coming to an end. People ranted on about the tragic state of MMA judging, while others speculated about match fixing, and some even said they would boycott the UFC until the issue was resolved.
None of that happened this weekend, even though Penn's fans haven't exactly stayed quiet in the past when there is room for controversy.
All of this being said, I think it's worth looking back at the fight to see why this decision wasn't seen as overly controversial, in contrast to the Machida-Shogun decision which sparked apocalyptic fury of biblical proportions.
I'll start by explaining the anatomy of a controversy, by looking back on the Machida-Shogun fight.
What made the Machida-Shogun decision so controversial?
If you ask some people, they'll simply say it was because "Shogun clearly won the fight." Putting that aside for a moment, I think there are some finer details that made the decision seem controversial.
For the first three rounds, the fight was extremely close, and then it seemed like Rua began to pull away in the fourth and fifth rounds. The way this played out affected the fan viewing in many ways.
First of all, because all three of the early rounds were close, even if fans couldn't pin down a specific round that Rua won definitively, they figured that it would be inconceivable that he didn't win any of them. Because of that, Rua's more obvious winning of the last two rounds seemed to seal the deal.
In addition to that, fans remember the ending a lot better than they remember the start and middle of the fight. Because Rua's late charge was closest in the mind, fans saw that as a good indicator of how the entire fight went.
As for the scoring of the rounds themselves, that also appeared to favor Rua.
Rua was moving forward more often than not, and so people took that as an indication of who was winning all of the exchanges.
Rua was using leg kicks, while Machida was countering them. The leg kicks were more visible, so the crowd (and Joe Rogan) may have reacted to Rua's leg kicks more than they did to the counters, a few of which landed squarely on Rua's chin.
Machida appeared more visibly hurt, and was sporting a cut lip by the end of the fight, whereas Rua appeared nearly uninjured.
To top it all off at the end of the fight, Rua raised his hands in victory, while Machida seemed resigned to defeat.
Interestingly, all throughout the fight, neither camp really ever expressed a sense of urgency, as if both camps felt their fighter was ahead on the score cards.
In addition to all of the things that took place inside the Octagon, television viewers were influenced by lopsided commentators that ignored much of Machida's offence, while frequently fawning over how well Rua was doing.
Part of that had do do with the fact that Rua was fighting the fight of his life. If Rua had fought the way he normally fights, he probably would have gotten himself knocked out within three rounds.
Instead, Rua fought a perfect game plan with a level of control that hadn't seemed possible before.
When the final decision was read, there was about a second of cheering, that was quickly drowned out by a loud chorus of boos. The fans thought that the underdog had won, but he had apparently been crushed by the system.
To this day, commentators and fans cite the fan reaction in the arena as proof of Rua's victory, since the pay-per-view audience could not be trusted much after listening to the broadcast commentary.
The sting of the decision didn't leave for hours, days, or even weeks depending on who you've been talking to.
Some people still haven't gotten over it.
So what does any of this have to do with what took place this weekend?
What happened in the BJ Penn-Frank Edgar fight?
If you ask some people about Edgar's fight against Penn, some people will tell you "Edgar clearly won the fight." I disagree with that, but I think we should go into further detail.
In my opinion, I thought Penn won the first two rounds clearly, but even if he didn't, I didn't think he was losing any rounds clearly until the fifth round. But although many people can't agree about the scoring, what was clear was that Penn was fading in the later rounds, which allowed Edgar to win the final round in relatively decisive fashion.
I think people gave Edgar more credit than he deserved because the middle rounds were close, and Edgar seemed to be in control at the end. Because of that, I think people forgot how well Penn had been doing early in the fight, and the fact that he probably should have been up at least two rounds before Edgar's comeback began.
Much as some visible fight indicators seemed to favor Rua in the Machida fight, they seemed to favor Edgar this past weekend.
Penn moved forward on Edgar, but because Edgar stayed constantly mobile, and never allowed himself to get cornered, Edgar appeared to be the more active fighter.
Edgar also threw more kicks than Penn, which I believe always has a positive effect on viewers, even when those kicks are being countered.
As the fight ended, Penn didn't only look more tired, he also appeared to have taken more facial damage, including a gash underneath his left eye.
Edgar topped all of this off by raising his hands in the air, while Penn appeared to have accepted defeat, even though neither camp had ever shown much urgency or desperation.
Unlike the Machida-Shogun fight, I wouldn't call the commentary in the Penn-Edgar fight lopsided. However, I do think that it did give the impression that Edgar was doing better in the fight than he actually was.
Throughout the early rounds, I felt as if Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg were complimenting Edgar and giving him credit just for being able to hang around with Penn and fight a relatively close fight.
It felt almost as if they were trying to make the fight seem closer than it actually was, in order to make the fight seem more exciting.
Because of that, I think the casual viewer probably thought that Edgar must have won some of the early rounds, even though the truth was that he should probably have lost the first two rounds clearly, even though he was never dominated.
Admittedly, part of that had do do with the fact that Edgar was fighting the fight of his life. He fought a perfect game plan and managed to hold to the plan for the entire fight.
Of course, when the final rounds came, and Edgar actually started winning rounds, that seemed to seal the deal.
When the decision was read, the fans started cheering, and kept cheering, supporting Edgar's underdog come-from-behind win.
I'm certain that many fans inside the arena actually felt that Edgar won, but I do think there are some important things to consider about the fan reaction.
For starters, I think that the fans were actively rooting for the underdog and appreciated Edgar's effort.
If they weren't cheering due to the underdog factor, there is also the possibility that they were cheering due to an anti-Penn bias. Georges St. Pierre got about the loudest cheers of the night when his face was on the view screen. It only makes sense that a crowd that is so strongly in favor of St. Pierre might also be cheering against his eternal nemesis, Penn.
Aside from these biases, I also think the fans were probably taken in by Edgar's higher level of activity, even if it wasn't particularly effective.
Personally, I thought that Machida earned at least a draw against Rua on the basis of his performance over the first three rounds of their title fight, and that Penn deserved the decision over Edgar under the 10 point must system.
Setting my own personal scorecards aside, I think that based on scorecards alone, Penn's loss against Edgar should be the more controversial decision.
The 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47 scorecards submitted in favor of Edgar are baffling, and say nothing good about the current state of MMA judging, although I think blame should be pointed more directly at the worst two offending judges.
However, there really hasn't been too much complaining, whereas there was a whirlwind of moaning and groaning over the Machida-Shogun decision.
In my opinion, everything that shouldn't ultimately matter in the decision, but nevertheless had built up for Shogun, this time had built up behind against for the winner, Edgar.
So those little things that made people so mad in the case of Shogun were now causes for celebration in the case of Edgar.
Everything including the order rounds were won, superficial damage, movement, post-fight facial expressions, commentary, crowd reactions, and cheering for the underdog favored Edgar and Rua.
Moreover, a lot of the criticism that might have been directed toward the decision ended up getting overshadowed by the Anderson Silva antics that followed.
At the end of the fight, Penn looked like a beaten man. He was more tired, and more damaged at the end of five rounds than was Edgar.
But even though Penn deserves some of the blame for not fighting up to his potential, he should have won at least two rounds and a draw in a third, and that should have been enough for him to retain his title.