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Judging the Judges: UFC Vegas 66 scorecard grades | Cannonier vs. Strickland

A special feature focusing on the judges in the hopes of some level of accountability after recent controversies.

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier v Strickland Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Judging is an especially hot button topic at the moment, but it’s been an issue in mixed martial arts (MMA) for as long as anyone can remember. From Kevin Randleman’s shocking loss to Bas Rutten to Lyoto Machida’s initial nod over Mauricio Rua ... all the way to Paddy Pimblett last weekend, the judges routinely offer up baffling scorecards without any explanation ... or consequence.

So, we decided to take a closer look and “judge the judges” who were ringside at UFC Vegas 66 last night (Sat., Dec. 17, 2022) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Of the 13 fights on UFC Vegas 66’s card, eight went the distance. Let’s review those scorecards, break down how they lined up with media scores, and try to assess the judges’ performance.

Jared Cannonier defeats Sean Strickland via split-decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)

Judge Derek Cleary awarded rounds one, two, three, and five to Cannonier, only giving four to Strickland
Judge Sal D’Amato awarded rounds one, two, three, and five to Strickland, only giving four to Cannonier
Judge Junichiro Kamijo awarded one, two, four, and five to Cannonier, only giving three to Strickland

Analysis: This was a difficult fight to score.

From the first bell to the final round, these men landed an almost identical amount of strikes. Strickland did his best work upstairs, sticking Cannonier with dozens of jabs and a fair amount of right hands too. His punch defense was largely on point, but Cannonier did major work to the lead leg, and he touched up the body as well.

Without any knockdowns or true takedowns, it was massively subjective. Does an accurate jab outperform a heavy low kick? That’s firmly up for debate, and ultimately the judges were likely swayed by Cannonier’s power.

It’s a bit odd that no one scored the fight 3-2 for either man, and that two judges had exact opposite scorecards. Still, the media and fan cards were fairly split as well, but overall, there was a slight lean toward Cannonier, who didn’t think he won more than three rounds:

Whatever ... at least two of the three judges got this one right.

Grade: B

Arman Tsarukyan defeats Damir Ismagulov via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Judges Michael Bell, Sal D’Amato, and Ron McCarthy awarded every round to Tsarukyan
Analysis: Tsarukyan clearly won every round on the strength of his wrestling and relentlessness. However, Ismagulov landed enough shots and was never beaten down in the process to the point that a 10-8 was necessary.

Short and sweet, 30-27 was the easy call, and no one screwed it up. Hurray!

Grade: A+

Cory McKenna defeats Cheyanne Vlismas via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Judges Derek Cleary, Sal D’Amato, and Chris Lee award the first to Vlismas, and the latter two rounds to McKenna
Analysis: We love unanimous scorecards, especially when they’re for the correct fighter.

The first was close. McKenna pressured and landed some good shots, but Vlismas’ right hand was the consistent source of the heaviest connections. Then, McKenna shifted focus to her wrestling, thoroughly controlling the second and third along the fence or from top position.

It was academic on the screen ... and the judges didn’t screw it up. Be grateful!

Grade: A+

Matthew Semelsberger defeats Jake Matthews via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

Judge Ron McCarthy scored all three rounds for Semelsberger
Judges Michael Bell and Chris Lee scored the first two rounds for Semelsberger but awarded round three to Matthews
Analysis: The judges have my sympathy here, because this was actually a tough one to score and odd fight overall.

Round one was clear: Semelsberger damn near killed Matthews midway through the round. The Aussie recovered well enough to avoid the type of sustained dominance typically necessary for a 10-8, although that argument could certainly be made. All three judges scoring the first 10-9 Semelsberger makes good sense.

The next two rounds were weird! In both cases, Matthews won about four minutes clearly but suffered another (less devastating) knockdown in the other minute. The difference seemed to be that Matthews was knocked down near the end of the second, whereas he finished the third with a long stretch of heavy shots and a nice takedown.

Technically, when things happen in a round are not supposed to matter, but it’s pretty well-established that finishing the round strong counts for something. This one is open for interpretation, but I feel the judges did well overall.

Grade: A

Rafa Garcia defeats Hayisaer Maheshate via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Judges Michael Bell, Derek Clearly, and Chris Lee awarded every round to Garcia
Analysis: Perfection!

Garcia was consistently the better man, landing heavier, cleaner blows throughout the fight in addition to a healthy amount of takedowns. He was consistently in control, and none of the judges were swayed by an extremely bloody cut on the side of his head.

Grade: A+

Rinat Fakhretdinov defeats Bryan Battle via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-27)

Judges Adalaide Byrd and Junichiro Kamijo scored all three rounds for Fakhretdinov, including 10-8 cards in round one and three
Judge Ron McCarthy scored all three rounds for Fakhretdinov
Analysis: Someone tell “Big John” McCarthy to come yell at his son.

Fakhretdinov dominated every minute of this fight. He did considerable damage in every round, but knockdowns in the first and third rightfully swayed two of the three judges to award him the 10-8. McCarthy’s scorecard is awful, seeing as Fakhretdinov was about as dominant as possible.

Grade: B-

Manel Kape defeats David Dvorak via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

Judge Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato scored all three rounds for Kape
Judge Anthony Maness scored the first two rounds for Kape but awarded round three to Dvorak
Analysis: The right man won, but the scorecards are annoying.

None of the judges awarded Kape a 10-8 in the second round despite a pair of knockdowns and absolute dominance. He did serious damage, nearly finished the fight, and won a vast majority of the round. That should be more than enough to earn a 10-8 card.

Thankfully, all three did award Kape the first, giving him credit for his damaging and nearly fight-finishing kimura attempt. Maness awarded Dvorak the third, which is a bad call given that Kape landed the better shots even as his activity waned a bit.

Grade: C

Sergei Morozov defeats Journey Newson via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

Judge Michael Bell scored all three rounds for Morozov
Judge Adalaide Byrd and Ron McCarthy scored round one for Newsom, but rounds two and three for Morozov

Analysis: The first round was close. Newson landed some decent shots, but they were few and far between. Morozov finished the round with a takedown and some control, but it’s up for debate whether or not that overruled Newson’s slightly cleaner lands. The current scoring criteria emphasizes damage, so Newson’s edge on two of the three scorecards seems reasonable.

The next two rounds were more clear cut. No significant shots were landed by either man, but Morozov landed a lot of takedowns and control time. All three judges agreed he won those rounds, and thus he scored the unanimous decision.

Grade: A


Overall, all the correct fighters earned the nod with the debatable exception of Strickland. Mostly, the criticism comes in the form of missing 10-8 rounds, but fortunately, those errors didn’t result in anything going massively wrong.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 66: “Cannonier vs. Strickland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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