Commentary

Machida-Rua called as it was seen

Updated: October 28, 2009, 1:32 PM ET
By Franklin McNeil | Special to ESPN.com

Maybe they got it right. Maybe not.

Since scoring the UFC light heavyweight title fight Saturday night in favor of defending champion Lyoto Machida over Mauricio Rua, judges Nelson "Doc" Hamilton, Marcos Rosales and Cecil Peoples have been roundly criticized.

Their knowledge of mixed martial arts and their integrity have come under scrutiny. This is unfortunate. It's one thing to disagree with the officiating crew's scores, another to question their professionalism.

Hamilton, Rosales and Peoples are among the most experienced judges in mixed martial arts. Toss in referee Herb Dean, and the California State Athletic Commission could not have put together a more qualified team to handle Machida-Rua at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Each judge has scored hundreds of MMA bouts, professional and amateur. They have met every requirement set forth by this country's most influential athletic commissions, and each attends judging seminars regularly. Hamilton, Rosales and Peoples are more than qualified to score fights.

On Saturday night, they had a very difficult one to score. Machida-Rua was a strategic, carefully contested bout. Several rounds could have gone either way.

When the fight was over, all three judges scored it 48-47 for Machida (ESPN.com had Rua winning 48-47). The judges, however, weren't totally in sync. They didn't agree on how the champ won.

Peoples and Rosales gave the first three rounds to Machida. However, Hamilton had the champ taking the middle rounds. Round 5 was the only one in which all three judges favored Rua.

While most observers disagreed with the judges' scorecards, they also didn't see eye-to-eye on which rounds to give Rua.

"I noticed that a lot of people on the Internet gave the first, second and third rounds to Machida," Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer told ESPN.com. "Almost everybody gave the fourth and fifth rounds to Rua.

"There were also a lot of people who gave the first, second and third rounds to Rua. You could have went 50-45 for Rua or 48-47 for Machida and not have been wrong.

"Some fans are under the impression that if two judges scored it the same, then the third judge must be wrong. Not necessarily. It depends on the angles from which the judges saw the fight."

Where a judge is seated at a particular time during the action must be taken into account. Judges have the best seats in the house, but they don't always have a clear line of vision.

[+] EnlargeLyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comDepending on your perspective -- literally and figuratively -- either Lyoto Machida or Mauricio Rua could have won Saturday's fight.

"I'm not going to say every judge's score is perfect," Kizer said. "That is definitely not the case.

"Judges can make mistakes or overemphasize a particular aspect of a round compared to other rounds, but it is so important where you sit -- not just the different sides of the Octagon, but are you watching it on TV? Are you six rows back from the cage? Are you in the best seat in the house, the judge's chair?

"Sometimes a judge's chair might be on the opposite side of the Octagon and members of press row will have a better view of the action."

In this fight, Hamilton is the judge who saw things a little different from his colleagues. Hamilton scored the first and fifth rounds for Rua.

Scoring the rounds differently doesn't mean Hamilton got it wrong. He simply viewed the fight from another vantage point.

One thing Hamilton and the other judges who scored Machida-Rua can't be accused of is not paying attention. These highly skilled judges never take their eyes off the action, and they let nothing outside the cage distract them.

They possess something else most fans do not: a thorough knowledge of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Peoples, Rosales and Hamilton know the rules inside-out.

"I'm not talking about this specific fight, I'm talking in generality: The judge doesn't care what the crowd is saying, he or she isn't listening to what the commentator is saying," New Jersey State Athletic Control Board attorney Nick Lembo told ESPN.com. "You have three judges sitting there who are totally ignoring the crowd, not listening to the broadcast, not having a beer. How many of these fans were drinking a beer, sitting there with friends looking at other things?

"The judges are trained to zone in, block everything out and just score that 5-minute round. That makes a difference sometimes.

"If you look under the rules -- and I don't think a lot of people have read the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts -- it gives you a pretty good guide for how to score a fight."

There is no evidence to suggest that the judges who scored Machida-Rua did not focus on or ignored the Unified Rules. By all accounts, they did their job.

This doesn't mean that an equally qualified crew would have scored Machida-Rua similarly. If Machida-Rua II plays out the way it did Saturday night, the scoring might very well favor the challenger.

Machida-Rua II will have a different element if held in Las Vegas. Kizer plans to use new officials.

"I don't know where the rematch will be, but I can tell you if it is [in Nevada] … we will have three different judges," Kizer said. "Maybe a new referee as well.

"Not because they got it wrong or got it right, but because I don't want anyone to think this is a sixth round. No. It's a brand-new fight. The first fight will be irrelevant."

Franklin McNeil is an analyst on ESPN.com's "MMA Live."

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