Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.
The former bantamweight champion dropped a split decision to Vieira in the UFC Vegas 55 main event, the first time that Holm has lost a decision in over four years and just the second time that Holm has lost a non-title fight (the other non-title fight loss was to Valentina Shevchenko, one of the best women to ever compete in MMA). It was a rare sight for sure and one that was made all the more buzzworthy due to the fact that Holm lost despite implementing her usual gameplan to a tee.
Vieira unquestionably delivered a strong performance to make it back-to-back wins over former UFC champions, but was she the beneficiary of some questionable judging? Or were the judges on point scoring an incredibly close fight?
The people seem to be really upset with this one, so let’s go to the Robbery Review lab and see if we can bring some peace and tranquility back to the land of MMA.
What was the official result?
Ketlen Vieira def. Holly Holm via split decision.
How did the fight go?
The focus here should be on the third round as we’d later discover that it turned out to be the deciding frame of the contest, but let’s see also see how Holm and Vieira each earned two rounds unanimously.
In Round 1, Holm scored early with leg kicks, prompting Vieira to shoot in and end up in what would turn out to be the first of several clinch exchanges throughout the bout. Holm looked to score and stay busy with short punches and knees to the inside of Vieira’s thigh. Vieira fired back with knees of her own, but didn’t land anything with much impact. About four minutes of this round were spent with Holm holding Vieira against the fence.
The second round saw Vieira come the closest of either of the two bantamweights to finishing the fight. Vieira was already doing good work with her right hand and a successful trip before taking advantage of an overly aggressive Holm single-leg attempt. Holm left her neck open and Vieira slapped on an arm-triangle choke that had Holm turning a shade of red, but she escaped and made it to the fateful Round 3.
Let’s go to a live play-by-play format for this one:
Vieira pops Holm with a straight right to kick off the third and this is definitely where one could start questioning whether the 40-year-old Holm is finally starting to lose a step, particularly on defense. Holm throws a combo that mostly misses, Vieira catches her with a glancing head kick as Holm ducks in for a body lock. Back to the fence they go. More knees to the thigh from Holm. Unlike in Round 1, Vieira escapes the position and returns the action to center. Holm lands a side kick and backs away to dodge a Vieira punch combo. Holm then misses with a combo. Push kick to the body scores for Holm. There’s Vieira with another clean right. Vieira hits a counter left hand as Holm charges in. Holm gets the fight back to the fence. Holm’s left hand is free to throw punches, but Vieira returns fire with some sharp knees to the body. Holm not letting Vieira create any space until there’s about 30 seconds remaining when Vieira gets free and connects with a straight right on the separation. Uppercut to the body by Vieira, elbow in close lands hard, and then another right clips Holm right on the chin.
A lot to process there. We’ll come back to it.
In Round 4, Holm wanted to use kicks to control the range as she has so many times in the past, but she kept getting caught right at the end of Vieira’s punches. She did get a high front kick to land right on Vieira’s chin though. Vieira was landing a ton of punches to the head in this round and as busy as Holm was deep into this fight, it’s hard to ignore how cleanly she was being hit. Holm’s best moment of the round is a side kick that puts Vieira on her backside. Definitely a pushdown as opposed to a knockdown though. On commentary, Daniel Cormier called that “the biggest moment of the round,” which… no. Shortly after, Vieira again caught Holm with that right hand. Holm marched right into a Vieira uppercut and then Vieira avoided a clinch attempt. Vieira backed Holm up with another right hand. Holm was landing kicks to the legs and body, but Vieira made her pay with head shots over and over again.
Heading into the final round, Vieira’s coach Andre Pederneiras was fired up, telling Vieira that she lost the fourth round and was down 3-to-1 on the cards. Vieira’s reaction to that motivational tactic was kind of mixed as she came out hot with a high kick and a spinning elbow, but couldn’t seem to match the output of the previous round. Credit to Holm for continuing to fight for her patented clinch and even scoring with an accurate left hand to set up an attempt. Holm also hit two more front kicks to the face. Vieira answered with a counter uppercut, prompting Holm to get back to side kicking her way to safety. Holm took some more time off the clock with a successful clinch against the fence. She later countered a Vieira takedown and turned that into another clinch opportunity, this time landing solid punches inside.
What did the judges say?
— UFC News (@UFCNews) May 22, 2022
Mike Bell scored it 48-47 Vieira.
Derek Cleary scored it 48-47 Vieira.
Sal D’Amato scored it 48-47 Holm.
All three judges scored Rounds 1 and 5 for Holm and Rounds 2 and 4 for Vieira. Round 3 was the swing round, with only D’Amato scoring it in Holm’s favor.
What did the numbers say?
(Statistics per UFC Stats)
Going round by round, the significant strike count actually paints a somewhat contradictory picture. In three of the four rounds that the judges unanimously agreed on, the fighter who landed less significant strikes won:
Round 1: 19-6 Vieira (scored for Holm)
Round 2: 14-10 Holm (scored for Vieira)
Round 4: 37-23 Holm (scored for Vieira)
Digging deeper, we can see why the rounds were scored this way especially if we factor in the prioritization of head strikes. Holm had 3:36 of control time in Round 1, which is secondary criteria, but relevant here because Vieira only landed three head strikes and the rest of her significant strikes were clinch knees to the body and leg.
Vieira had a near-submission in Round 2 in addition to a narrow 7-6 head strike advantage, so that one doesn’t require much explanation.
And despite Vieira losing the total significant strike count by a large margin in Round 4, she won the head strike count by an equally large margin 19-5.
So there is some truth in the stats here if you look closely enough.
What did the media say?
We can’t just blame fan uproar for the controversy surrounding this fight as 18 of the 20 media scores submitted on MMA Decisions were in favor of Holm, with two outlets having it 49-46 in her favor.
What did the people say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)
Fans on MMA Decisions were also in Holm’s corner as the top two voting results are 48-47 Holm at 42.5 percent and 49-46 Holm at 32.7 percent. The prevalent official score of 48-47 Vieira comes in third at 18.4 percent.
Amazingly, almost 71 percent gave Holm Round 3 and Vieira narrowly won Round 4 52 percent to 47..5 percent.
Voters on the Verdict MMA app saw this as a clear win for Holm.
Holly Holm defeated Ketlen Vieira on the Verdict Scorecard and it wasn’t event close.
— Verdict (@VerdictMMA) May 22, 2022
That scoring system takes the cumulative total of every submitted fan score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.
Four of the rounds were scored for Holm, with the first and fifth rounds both having a differential of 80-plus points. The final score of 48.57 Holm to 46.5 Vieira means that Holm was up 207 points according to Verdict users. For context, a 100-point differential usually indicates a clear-cut winner, so most of these fans likely view the actual decision as egregious.
On MMA Fighting’s poll that asked only for a winner, 80.2 percent scored the fight for Holm.
How did I score it?
On first viewing — and keep in mind I was not attentively scoring in the moment — I had it 48-47 Holm. On second viewing, I have no clue how anyone could not give Vieira at least two rounds, so toss those 49-46 Holm scores right in the bin.
Simply put, Vieira smashed Holm in Round 4. I don’t care about the significant strike count and I don’t care about the kick to the body that pushed Vieira down (it wasn’t a knockdown and was not scored as one in the official stats). Watch that round again. Vieira’s punches to the head were far more damaging and relevant to scoring the round than Holm’s range-finding kicks. I’m sure Vieira doesn’t enjoy getting kicked in the ribs, but if you can’t make a distinction between those shots and Vieira repeatedly backing Holm up with power punches, you have no business judging fights. The actual judges scored that round perfectly.
Round 3 is definitely close and I don’t have as much of a problem with people scoring that one for Holm, but it actually played out similarly to Round 4; which is to say, Vieira punched Holm in the head and face a lot!
Except for in Round 1 where I believe it’s fair to factor in Holm’s clinch control because neither fighter landed much of consequence, Holm’s grappling should largely be discounted as it rarely led to any significant offense. Control alone does not win rounds and certainly does not weigh more heavily than Vieira’s punches in this contest.
Head punching wins fights and after five rounds Vieira nearly doubled Holm up in that category, 49-26.
Was it a robbery?
Even if you had Holm winning (I can see a case for Round 3 and if you’re willing to die on the “Holm’s side kick pushdown was a big moment” hill then maybe you’d give her Round 4), I can’t imagine anyone watching this fight again with any sort of scrutiny and saying with a straight face that she convincingly won a decision. And that’s what’s at the heart of the matter here.
I’ll always encourage fans and media to be passionate about fights, but when it comes to scoring, it can’t hurt to take a moment to step back analyze what you actually just watched. Did you notice the impact of Vieira’s punches and how Holm reacted to them? Were there long stretches where Holm did little with her control time? Could Holm have done more to actually attempt to finish the fight?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you can’t reasonably label this a robbery. It’s a close fight that I now feel the right fighter won.
The final verdict
One more time for the people in the back: Not a robbery.
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