You’re really making me watch an episode with Matt Hughes in it, eh? That’s what’s up? Okay, TUF, okay. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say a few words first.
I’m not playing the contrarian by saying I don’t like Hughes. There are a large majority of fight fans who recognize that he’s one of the twenty greatest professional mixed martial artists of all time and also one of the biggest douche bags in any sport. My opinion of Hughes might be unfairly skewed by how he was portrayed as a coach on TUF 6, Sean McCorkle’s review of his biography, and his long time rivalry with my fellow Canadian Georges St-Pierre.
Obviously I’ve never met the man, but there’s no shaking the feeling that he’s this holier than thou art prima donna who still probably can’t resist dishing out a good wedgie. I don’t know. Maybe he’s grown up. Maybe, like BJ Penn, he’s an older, wiser man than when he was on top of the UFC. Maybe.
I’m going to assume he’s the same old piece of s**t he’s always been though. Just remember, I’m doing this because I love you guys (and I hate myself apparently).
All everyone is talking about this week is what happened in the fight and for good reason: I’ve never seen anything like it in MMA, much less TUF. The fight and the aftermath take up about 80% of the episode. There are a few other things worth mentioning.
This week’s competitors, Ian Stephens (Team Edgar, 1st overall) and Roger Zapata (Team Penn, 8th overall) are driven by familial dedication, albeit for different reasons. Stephens’s father was in the air conditioner business. He was involved in an electrical accident that, unfortunately, did not make him become all blue like Jamie Foxx. Stephens was only six years old. He prides himself on making something from nothing.
Zapata is on the other side of things, having had to leave his daughter just days after she was born so he could be on the show. He talks to Tim Williams about how he can’t wait to see what colour her eyes changed and how she peed on him while taking a picture. It’s a sweet moment. Williams caps off the heartfelt conversation by letting us all know that he “has to take a fat s**t”. Well alright then. Maybe I should have just skipped to the fight. Ah, I’m sure it can’t get any worse…
As disappointed as I was that Penn and Frankie Edgar were friends, it’s nothing compared to finding out that Penn and Hughes get along too. Damn it. I always imagined that Penn enjoyed choking the life out of Hughes and punching his fool head in. Subdued, gracious Penn is not doing it for me at all. He sounds…retired.
Somehow we don’t get the magic of Hughes and Todd Monaghan in the same room. A missed opportunity if there ever was one. Hughes is complimentary of Zapata’s wrestling. I’m guessing nobody told him about how Zapata dissed the sport last time. Overall, it’s not an unbearable guest appearance, probably because they didn’t let Hughes say much.
Other than that there’s a ton of stock footage and generic tough talk (TUF talk?) from Stephens and Zapata. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of grudge; in fact, I’m not sure these two have met based on their testimonials. You can almost see the editors digging their fingers into the footage to stretch it out as much as possible. They don’t even bother with a #HowDoYouKFC segment this week. Such a shame.
News flash: Stephens wants a takedown. The first shot comes a minute in and Zapata defends it surprisingly well. Stephens has a waist lock for a while and it isn’t until he executes an unorthodox slam that he actually scores:
Now there were two ways to judge this fight and neither is 100% correct or incorrect. One way is to reward control and submission attempts, which would have given Stephens both rounds in a landslide. He was locked on to Zapata like a remora, taking his back at will. He was always going for a submission or at least attempting to improve his position. He definitely could have mixed in more strikes and maybe committed more to his sub attempts. As it was, he was focused on maintaining position. It’s hard to blame Stephens when dominant positions usually win fights.
The other way is to reward Zapata for his non-stop activity. Post-fight, he described his strategy of throwing punches and elbows from any position as “freestyle striking”. While it usually bothers me to see a fighter rewarded for attacks that do minimal damage, I’m not sure you can completely ignore what Zapata was doing either. Sure, Stephens was all over him, but Zapata was definitely hitting him even if he wasn’t hurting him.
Muddying up the picture even more is the fact that neither fighter came particularly close to finishing. Stephens could never flatten Zapata out enough to properly go after his neck; Zapata’s most effective elbow was ruled as illegal and it almost ended the fight in his opponent’s favour. Let’s talk about that more for anyone who hasn’t seen this episode or heard about the incident.
For the majority of the fight, Zapata’s preferred tactic to counter takedown attempts were elbows angled at the side of Stephens’s head (exactly like Travis Browne has been doing). Referee Steve Mazzagatti mentioned the potential infraction many times (in addition to Zapata’s cage grabbing), but at no point does he actually stop the fight to issue a warning. This is a key aspect of contention later on.
The fight ends up going to an extra period. I had Stephens winning the first two rounds (though the second was much closer than the first). He did fade in the latter stages of regulation and Zapata’s pitter-patter defence proved to be enough to earn him five more minutes of cage time. He continued to throw elbows until out of nowhere, Mazzagatti docks him a point for the illegal manoeuvre. Dana White freaks out.
The Commish accuses Stephens of milking the infraction, a mere appetizer for the ensuing rant against his favourite referee. The lack of an official warning drives him nuts. It’s especially crucial since they’re in the extra period and that means there’s almost no way for Zapata to win the fight. After a third round that is similar to the first and second, Zapata wins the fight.
It gets worse when Mazzagatti raises Zapata’s hand while calling him “Ian Zapata”. He brings them back to announce the winner again, expecting that they’ll use the magic of editing to fix his flub. No such luck. As I was watching, I had no clue what was going on. Two of the three judges would have had to reward Zapata a 10-8 (9-8 after the deduction) for him to have beaten Stephens and he did absolutely nothing to warrant a score like that.
Pandemonium erupts in the TUF gym, understandably so. White is barking at the judges, pointing out that there’s no way that score makes any sense. The winning team look just as confused as everybody else. Penn instructs Zapata on how to proceed.
Based on math alone, we have a new candidate for the biggest robbery in MMA history. This is not even a subjective call, there’s literally no way that Zapata could have won that final round. Nam Phan/Leonard Garcia, Matt Hamill/Michael Bisping, Murilo Rua/Rampage Jackson, everyone…lay down your crowns. That said, I wouldn’t call this a tragedy since both guys were kind of terrible.
Penn says the right man won anyway. “It should always be judged like that: look at his face and look at mine!” Remember kids: Submission attempts mean nothing. Just bleed.
White finally gets an explanation that he relays to the two teams: One judge scored it 10-8 for Stephens, the other two 9-9. Because it was a majority draw, they were asked to circle who they thought won the fight and everyone chose Zapata. So the point deduction was meaningless. Since it was also somewhat unwarranted, I guess…everything worked out…?
Did the guy who scored the round 10-8 for Stephens also pick Zapata? White must be mistaken. I hope he is anyway. Regardless, as much as I hate people saying to never leaving it in the hands of the judges…they really shouldn’t have left this one in the hands of the judges.
This kind of fight only adds credence to my suggestions to give some match-ups the montage treatment. This is a television show, not a live event. You’re allowed to play around with your product. It’s not like you’ll be threatening the sanctity of TUF. It’s TUF. This whole operation reeks of laziness. The more fight footage they have, the less work they have to do on the rest of the episode. Would anything have been lost by slicing this fight up and interspersing commentary from White, the cast and the coaches? It would have cleared up the situation and spared us an ugly contest.
Let’s just blame Matt Hughes for everything bad that happened and move on with our lives.
Next week: Team Penn’s Anton Berzin v. Team Edgar’s Matt Walsh. Also, an update on Tim Williams’s bowel movements!