Close fights do not equal controversial decisions.
Yet in the wake of Ben Henderson's split decision victory over Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 150 last Saturday night (Aug. 11, 2012) in Denver, Colorado, the school of thought that it was indeed controversial should be quashed.
What it was, however, was a close, competitive, and brutally difficult match to score. Outside of rounds one and two, which Henderson and Edgar each won, respectively, the remaining three were a virtual tossup. There was so little to choose between them that awarding those rounds to either guy pretty much could swing on the slimmest of criteria.
On the flip side, look at if Edgar had indeed won.
While I don't give too much sway to the ‘significant strikes' and other statistics fans and writers gravitate toward after a close fight to hash out a case for one guy winning, it is notable that an Edgar victory would have come despite him being outlanded 89-62 in overall strikes.
Whenever one fighter lands a clearly superior number of strikes, whomever is landing the more visibly effective blows - i.e., ones that move the opponent more clearly - should also be factored in. And despite scoring a knockdown on Henderson early, I think it was clear that Henderson's blows were overall more effective, especially his thudding low kicks.
A good, competitive championship match is a harrowing assignment for any judge. Over five rounds, it's really five separate contests to be scored independently, at least in theory, but what about the fight where a guy clearly wins the first stanza, only to slightly lose the second?
Does that advantage carry over into scoring the next round if it is indeed close?
I think it should, at least in terms of deciding a series of exceptionally "close" rounds, but in Edgar-Henderson, with them clearly splitting the first two you didn't even have that luxury as a fallback in deciding photo-finish rounds.
The bonus of Edgar's masterful performance, despite losing the split duke, is that it will keep him at 155 for the time being. It was obvious he didn't appreciate being earmarked as Jose Aldo's next viable opponent at 145, and Edgar is especially difficult to beat once he's concluded everyone has counted him out.
He'll be a great asset to the division, which given its astounding depth and so many talented top contenders, will likely be in a state of flux at the top over the next few years. Anyone who can string together more than a couple defenses will be one heck of a champion.