No sooner had the judges' decision been read in the UFC 143 main event when the controversy began. Nick Diaz, declared the loser, threw his hands up and walked away, saying his career was over. The 10,000+ sitting in Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center rained boos upon the winner, Carlos Condit. And the Twitterverse exploded with far-ranging, divergent opinions.
Nearly three days later, the discussion over Diaz-Condit has yet to subside.
At issue are the final scores of cageside judges Junichiro Kamijo, Patricia Morse-Jarman and Cecil Peoples. But the result has also brought about debate over Condit's performance, and what constitutes a willingness to engage in a fight.
In this case, the two issues are inextricably linked. The judges could only score the bout based on what they saw, and what they saw was unlike anything anyone expected.
Condit, known for his unwavering courage in the pocket and a willingness to trade with anyone, fought with remarkable discipline. From the outset, it was clear that his goal was to keep himself from being backed against the fence (a Diaz speciality) and to retake the center of the octagon at every possible instance. In both, he was immensely successful. However, his insistence on doing so at all costs led to some unusual situations, where he essentially escaped from Diaz by ducking away and shuffling to the middle of cage.
Critics saw it differently, choosing to say Condit "ran" from Diaz. Since these sequences happened over and over during the five-round bout, it gave many the impression that Condit was simply avoiding confrontation.
Yet when the final statistics were released from the fight, it was Condit that out-landed Diaz, and by a healthy margin, with FightMetric counting 159 Condit strikes to 117 for Diaz.
So how could this be? How could the perception be so different than reality?
For one, it was easy to get caught up in the obvious. When strikes come in blinding flurries, they are not so easy to accurately assess. But octagon positioning isn't so hard to pinpoint. For almost the duration of the fight, it was Diaz coming forward, walking Condit down and trying to trap him against the fence. This is standard operating procedure for Diaz, to cut off escape routes and then pepper his opponent with unrelenting volume. But in all actuality, he wasn't very successful with this plan. Backing Condit up was no problem, but trapping him proved nearly impossible. Condit never allowed himself to get caught up in what Diaz was doing, even when Diaz began taunting him with verbal and physical cues.
Each time he did that, Condit kept composed, tracking his angles and extricating himself from any situation that was nearing code red status.
The game plan was a complete departure for Condit, who is known as a savage competitor willing to engage the fight anywhere. And clearly, the expectation of what fans expected from him and what they actually got clouded the way their brains processed the action.
After all, Condit had promised war, the in-the-trenches kind, not the smart-bomb-from-a-control-room kind. Given his past, that seemed a non-necessary guarantee. After all, in 27 previous pro wins, he'd only needed to earn the judges' nod once. Twenty-six other times, he'd finished his opponent. The man wasn't called the "Natural Born Killer" for nothing. Fans paid their money with that expectation, so when they saw one fighter coming forward, and the other retreating, it became obvious to them who was winning.
In reality, it was a super close fight. Diaz had his moments early on as Condit stumbled with executing a plan he was putting into place for the first time. But by the third round, he had grown comfortable with Diaz's footwork and timing, and the fourth was a Condit rout, out-landing Diaz 37-11.
For many, the fight was even going into the fifth. After a close four minutes of action, Diaz seemingly sealed it with a late takedown, leading to a rear naked choke try. As it turns out, two of the three judges -- Morse-Jarman and Peoples -- scored the fifth for Condit. For the record, Condit out-landed Diaz 30-19 in the last round. As it turns out, the scoring of that round hardly mattered, as both of those judges had Condit up three rounds to one heading into the fifth.
Depending on your view, it was either a masterful tactical fight from Condit or a scared performance.
"I won the fight," Condit said afterward. "I landed a lot of effective strikes. I stuck to my game plan. I did what I went in there to do. If I sat there and fought Nick Diaz's fight, it would be him sitting here with the belt instead of me. I did what came to do, what I trained to do. I hit him, punched him in the face, kicked him in the face. I landed more effective strikes in the fight, and that's what it boils down to."
Judging in combat sports will always be subjective, and that makes it susceptible to human error. But it was Condit's new identity that added an unforeseen wrinkle into things. The final result may be in dispute -- for the record, I had it Diaz 48-47 -- but it was no robbery. That's what happens when a promised dogfight instead becomes a game of strategy, and the violence of power strikes is replaced by the nuance of finesse and positioning. That's part of the beauty and the curse of mixed martial arts. There are an infinite number of ways to win, even if you can't force paying customers to like it.