Was Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks a robbery? MMA leaders, fighters, and fans were very quick to make snap judgements to what appeared to be a robbery. Yet Firas Zahabi and GSP absolutely believe that they won the fight. How could something like this happen? Why is it so controversial?
This article will cover these questions and seek to answer it.
In short, the answer is: cognitive bias, logical fallacies, and forgetting how a fight is scored.
Intuition and Damage:
I’d like to first point out that we’re highly intuitive beings, and when we see things that look good, we are inclined to favor them. In terms of MMA, this often means athleticism and damage (from real to superficial). Damage will rank highest in memory. If two men go to war in a fight with lots of output, we’ll remember the most significant strikes the best.
Recency Effect (cognitive bias): When recalling a round, events at the end of the round are more likely to be recalled.
Using the intuition, damage, and cognitive bias theories, this is what may have happened:
Going into round five, judgements could be heavily influenced by the clear cut rounds of 2 and 4 heavily favoring Hendricks. Seeing these rounds, it’s easy to forget that round 1 may be a close round squeaked out by GSP. Also, in round 3, GSP was clearly out striking Hendricks, but in the later part of the round, Hendricks got a takedown and landed some short strikes. This means that to many people’s minds, it could very well be falsely interpreted as 3-1 or 4-0. So to them, if round 5 was given to GSP, there’s no way GSP could win- and hence the outcry of robbery.
But the whole fight ought to be remembered and judged by each and all of the round. This is an objective that’s very difficult to achieve, in particular if it’s judged on the spot. It’s without a doubt that these factors played a critical role in creating the controversy.
Influence of Authority:
Figures in authority are often knowledgeable, charismatic, and persuasive. For this reason we are inclined to believe what they say. People who watch UFC will hear Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan talk for hours. People after the fight will listen, read, and write about Dana White’s opinions. This is a huge influence on our thinking.
Commentary and media is invaluable at capturing and engaging an audience. For this reason (and their charisma), we grow to value commentator’s opinion and entertainment insight. But in the wrong light, commentators can create a very biased outlook towards a fight. Even as an analyst, I’m not free of making this mistake. I love Joe Rogan, but I’d like to note that while Joe Rogan is a masterful grappler and Taekwondo artist, he is not an expert in general striking.
Most importantly, Mr. Rogan has a tendency to favor an underdog when he is tactfully fighting (seemingly invincible) champions: cases in point Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones, Frankie Edgar vs. Jose Aldo, Mauricio Shogun Rua vs. Lyoto Machida.
Listen to the fight again and you will see Joe Rogan display this same bias towards GSP.
Result : Favoring Hendricks through the commentary.
To stay away from commentary bias: turn off the sound or take it with a grain of salt. This is how you can judge the fight more objectively.
As for Dana White- think marketing, opinions from emotion, and power. A rematch between Hendricks and GSP is obviously something fans want to see after a war (or if you consider it a controversial decision)- Dana’s objective as CEO is to make it happen. But just like anyone else, Dana White is not free of making mistakes in judging fights, nor is he always objective.
So take out Dana White and the commentary of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, we have a few more authoritative figures to consider:
1. Opinionated Fighters:
I’ll use the words of Dana White when he was referring to Connor McGregor tweeting to Miesha and Ronda: “I don’t expect people to be rocket scientists here. We’re not gonna go out and find a cure for cancer or anything, all I ask for is a little common sense. Just a little tiny bit of common sense.”
Opinionated fighters, in my opinion, has the most legitimacy. They train and they fight, this is what they live and breath for. But when they’re not fighting, studying, or preparing for a camp, they’re most likely watching it for entertainment. They’re most likely not scrutinizing each and every movement on paper. Rather, they’re most likely listening to Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, maybe sipping some beers with friends, possibly casually viewing the fight, and in the end intuitively judging the bout.
The main emphasis is that they are not meticulously scoring the fight as a judge would, and while they are probably more thoughtful than a casual fan, they are by no means objective (or “rocket scientists”).
2. The Fight Metric:
My number one critique: what is a significant strike? How are they able to consider a significant strike so quickly? As someone who studied striking techniques intensely, I’ll tell you that it’s very difficult for me to judge a “significant” strike over another. So what does a higher number really mean? Will a high kick weigh higher than 3 jabs? On paper, 3 medium powered jabs will appear better than an explosive high kick, and that’s a problem.
If you want to use fight metrics: round two and four was clearly for Hendricks, while three and five was in favor for GSP. Round one is the real toss up. But in any case, very few would say that Hendricks won more than three rounds. The real controversy arises from GSP’s rounds being closer while Hendrick’s rounds were clear cut, but we’d be wise to remember that the ten-point system does not consider this.
Round 1 Analysis? :
All judges gave GSP round 3 and 5, and Hendricks 2 and 4. With the argument from authority out of the way, I’ll show you just how hard round one is to judge.
1-2: GSP lands jab ; 3 Hendrick misses ; 4-5 GSP gets a take down ; 6-7 two separate attempts to submit ; 8-9 TRADES knees.
1. GSP body shot ; 2. Hendricks knee. ; 3. GSP body shot. ; 4. GSP knee. ; 5. GSP knee ; 6. GSP body Shot ; 7-8 Hendricks grapples and puts GSP to the cage. 9. GSP body shot.
1-2 Knee by Hendricks 3. Body shot by GSP ; 4. Knee by GSP 5. Knee by GSP ; 6. Knee by Hendricks ; 7. Mario breaks it up ; 8. Missed uppercut ; 9. GSP goes for a shot.
1. GSP goes for a take down. ; 2. Hendricks throws body shot ; 3. GSP strikes to the head ; 4. Hendricks throws punches ; 5-6 GSP puts Hendricks to the cage. 6. Hendricks throws powerful elbows to GSP’s head. 8. Hendrick reverses. 9. GSP knees
1-2. Hendrick knees ; 3. Hendricks take down ; 4. GSP gets back up ; 5. Hendricks knees ; 6. GSP knees ; 7.. GSP lands / almost lands a front kicks ; 8. Hendricks clips GSP with a missed knee on its way down ; 9. GSP lands jab.
1. GSP lands side kick ; 2. Hendricks Missed uppercut ; 3-4. GSP head kick flush ; 5. GSP left hook ; 6. Gsp misses jab; 7. GSP body shot ; 8. Hendricks knee ; 9. GSP knee
Judge for yourself. You have the (near comprehensive) screenshots now, and all the time in the world to make a judgement. If you want, you could even go watch round one again. After hours of taking screenshots and watching the round over and over again, I can’t even clearly decide who it is that won it. Intuitively, I give it to GSP because I appreciate the diversity of his strikes, output, and movement. But I can see it being given to Hendricks because of the explosiveness exhibited. These things are entirely subjective.
So where’s the robbery?
Is it possible the robbery is towards GSP when considering his efforts? Many have been quick to make snap judgements, similar to the oversimplification in telling Anderson Silva to keep his hands up. I welcome those who are dogmatic about how Hendricks clearly won to go ahead and display their technical explanation. Without due diligence we may be effectively robbing a great effort from one of the greatest welterweights in MMA.
On a side note, Georges St-Pierre does not deserve fickle fans nor snap judgements from logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Rather, if he retires today and now, he may well deserve to be known as a man with the greatest welterweight reign in UFC history. He may deserve to be known as the individual who defeated Johny Hendricks in a closely contested war. While it can be said he owes the fans much, we too may well owe him much more than what he got the other night.
As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned for a discussion of the techniques we saw on Saturday.