Back in the late eighties, when I didn't know what steroids were and baseball was still fun, I went to see the New York Yankees take on the Toronto Blue Jays, as both teams were locked in a battle for first place in the American League East.
Ricky Henderson, masterfully working a 3-2 count, struck out to end the game.
He was caught looking on a pitch that was about a foot off the plate, stranding the runners and failing to tie the game, despite having the bases loaded. The ball was so far outside, the catcher couldn't even frame it and had to break ranks to keep it from sailing into the backstop.
Henderson went berserk and launched his helmet into centerfield.
During our depressing car ride home, we fired up the post-game show and listened to manager Lou Piniella lose his mind. Fans were phoning into the radio station and calling for the umpire's head. I heard a lot of crazy things during that late-hour broadcast. But you know one thing I didn't hear?
NEVER LEAVE IT IN THE HANDS OF THE UMPIRE!
I didn't hear it, because it's completely idiotic to even suggest it. Henderson was doing what he did best, slowly but surely manipulating a wild pitcher, forcing him into a desperation pitch that he could either put into the upper deck, or let pass for a free base.
Because a walk is as good as a hit when it gets a man home.
That's how you beat a wild pitcher. You make him hang one in your wheelhouse, or sit idly by as he struggles to find the strike zone. Now, just imagine what would have happened if Henderson -- afraid of leaving it in the hands of the umpire -- lunged forward and missed so badly that it sent his Louisville into the first base dugout.
The first question he would have been asked, is why the f--k he swung at a bad pitch.
That's kind of where we're at with Ross Pearson, who beat Diego Sanchez at the UFC Fight Night 42: "Henderson vs. Khabilov" mixed martial arts (MMA) event last Saturday night (June 7, 2014) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but still lost a decision on the judges' scorecards (see it again here).
What should "Real Deal" have done differently?
Well, nothing. He fought the perfect fight for that particular opponent, using superior striking, controlling the distance, and staying out of the danger zone. In short, he was making "The Nightmare" throw wild pitches while he laid back and made him miss.
But unlike baseball, he got to fire back, and did so with great success (see the numbers here).
If a fight is deadlocked with two minutes to go, of course, you go for broke, much like the final frame between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 last March in Dallas. Pearson, however, was CLEARLY in control for the duration of that fight. In addition, he was never on his bicycle and didn't take Sanchez down and lay on him to run out the clock.
Even if he did ... so what?
That's part of a strategy, which is why EVERY NFL football team does the same exact thing when they have a lead in the fourth quarter. Stall, running play, stall, etc. And NBA basketball teams are no different when they're up in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Who wants to play a game of catch?
But they never get booed because hey, the win is within reach and there is no point in throwing a pass that might get intercepted, or trying for a three-pointer that bounces back into the hands of the opposing team. You play to win, just like Ross Pearson fought to win.
Getting into a bar fight with Sanchez is not fighting to win.
But let's put all that aside for a second, because that's not even the most appalling part of the hands/judges argument. What is particularly vile about telling that to a fighter who fought a smart fight -- and should have won -- is that it places the blame where it doesn't belong.
Hey, sorry the system is fucked up, nothing we can do about it, so next time try harder.
That suggests that mixed martial arts (MMA) is flawed by design and that attributes like skill, precision, strategy, and cage generalship should be abandoned in search of a knockout or submission, at any and all cost, because if you don't and lose a decision, then it's your fault.
What an awful cloud to have hanging over your head before a fight.
There is no question that something needs to be done about the scoring and the onus should be on the individual commissions. We need judges in close fights, there's just no way around it. They may get it wrong from time-to-time, but we shouldn't be afraid of them.
Simply shrugging and demonizing them does nothing but downgrade the sport.
With that in mind, I would definitely like to see Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- who spends millions each year to expand its global footprint -- perhaps direct some of its time, money, and resources into a push for a better sport.
It has the muscle to help make a difference.
In the end, it doesn't matter how many countries you're competing in or how many events you can squeeze into a Saturday. If the fights can't generate an honest outcome, the day may soon come when nobody wants to hang around to watch them.