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We asked a UFC judge to explain if Conor McGregor deserved his win at UFC 202

Ben Cartlidge writes about McGregor’s majority-decision victory over Nate Diaz last weekend in Las Vegas.

Conor McGregor enters the octagon Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

AS SOON AS Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor finished fighting for the second time last Saturday night, I did what I’d like to imagine most MMA judges would do: I took the batteries out of my phone and went to bed.

Whenever a high-profile fight goes the distance there’s a modicum of dissention, but with an encounter such as this which featured a variety of twists and turns, the potential for that was even greater.

I expected to wake up on Sunday in the midst of chaos, confusion and outrage akin to the start of Red Dawn. I wasn’t surprised to see the reactions of most online, but as with all exciting fights that go the distance, unless you’re there to solely judge it with unfaltering focus, your verdict is always likely to be a little on the clouded side.

You’ll always get the tweets and statuses that read: “Watched the fight properly this morning and I can see how they got that score.” The problem is that nobody sees those messages generally. The screams of “Robbery!” are sadly the ones that get the most attention.

I watched the fight from a judging perspective the following morning, as is the usual ritual, and was surprised by how straightforward it was in retrospect. I had an inkling watching live, but I’m the first to let you know that watching and judging are two completely different activities and mindsets.

My take upon a re-watch was the same as two of the judges live and the vast majority of those who watched the fight back, presumably under less stressful and emotional circumstances.

The judging criteria are clarified at the start of every UFC event but there are many common misconceptions regarding their application to specific situations. People were quick to speak about Diaz pressuring his opponent in the later rounds, particularly the third, but aggression and octagon control are secondary criteria. They are only to be taken into consideration when effective striking and grappling are 100% even, and at no point during the fight did this happen.

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Source: AP/Press Association Images

The first round was straightforward from a judging point of view and was scored unanimously in McGregor’s favour — 10-9. All three judges felt the featherweight champion had scored the most effective and impactful strikes throughout the course of the round; a round contested entirely in the stand-up realm.

The closing stanza of the second round saw a momentum shift but was still scored in McGregor’s favour — 10-9 by all three judges — which was a testament to one of the central notions of scoring in mixed martial arts; the round is scored holistically based on the criteria, not by who was winning at the end.

All three officials rewarded the more damaging blows of McGregor during the earlier portion of the exchanges, rather than the late flurry and pressure from his adversary at the end of the round.

The third round is the only round that was scored differently by any one of the judges in the whole contest. All three agree that Nate Diaz won the round, but one judge deemed it to be 10-8, which resulted in his card eventually reading as a 47-47 draw.

The round itself, statistically, saw the largest and clearest differential in effective striking, but it is the effects of these strikes that are important, rather than strictly tabulation. A 10-8 round should represent a significant differential in effective offensive output that has a great impact on the losing combatant.

However, it is always important to understand that positioning, from a judge’s point of view, makes a huge difference when assessing individual exchanges and piecing together the whole round. It’s surely no coincidence that the judge who chose the 10-8 scorecard in the third round was seated beside the very area of the octagon where that frenetic closing minute took place.

Judge

The fourth round saw yet another momentum shift as McGregor was able to establish his offence early in the round and land the most significant and damaging strikes throughout the next five minutes. This round, like the first, was extremely straightforward to score and this was reflected by a unanimous verdict on all the scorecards for McGregor — 10-9.

The fifth and final round was arguably the closest of all, with both fighters landing sporadically in a series of exchanges in various ranges. Diaz utilised the clinch well once again, but credence is not given here solely based on the positional control. It is the effective offence from both parties which is assessed throughout these exchanges.

McGregor executed a trip from the clinch late on but was quickly reversed by Diaz, who scrambled back to his feet, and was able to land a clean takedown and finish on top, striking to the bell. This effectively put a cap on a close but clear round, and earned Diaz a 10-9 scorecard from all three of the judges.

Conor McGregor defeated Nate Diaz via majority decision (48-47, 47-47, 48-47)

Media scores tracked on MMADecisions.com had five different permutations, a phenomenon not uncommon in five-round fights that go the distance. There was a 49-47 which featured a 10-10 in the fifth; a selection of 48-47 scores for McGregor, 47-47 cards which echoed the actual verdict; a 48-47 for Diaz; a 47-46 for McGregor which featured 10-8 rounds in the first and third.

Does this show how close the fight was? Maybe, or maybe it shows that it’s damn near impossible to write a play-by-play while simultaneously trying to accurately interpret a fight.

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Source: Isaac Brekken

The Diaz-McGregor rematch delivered in every way possible and gave us a fight that we’ll never forget. A rollercoaster of momentum and emotion, similar in some respects to Anderson Silva versus Michael Bisping back in February; a fight which shared the same scoring pattern, save for the sole 10-8.

It served as an incredible example of why we all watch this great sport but — as tumultuous bouts which go the distance inevitably do — opened up much heated debate.

The key in understanding comes simply from learning. It’s no mystery where to find the unified rules and the criteria, and getting more familiar with them can only help everyone to enjoy and understand fights easier.

A native of Stoke in England, Ben Cartlidge is an experienced mixed martial arts judge who works regularly for the UFC, as well as leading organisations such as Bellator, KSW, Cage Warriors and BAMMA. He was one of the judges for Michael Bisping’s defeat of Anderson Silva in February and was also on duty — but ultimately not required — for Conor McGregor’s victory against Diego Brandao at UFC Dublin in July 2014.

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