Judging an MMA fight is incredibly difficult — so many factors to weigh, so little time.
Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada, two of three official judges decided Ketlen Vieira’s stinging counter right hands outweighed Holly Holm’s dominance in the clinch — giving Brazil’s Vieira a victory by split decision over Albuquerque’s Holm in the five-round bantamweight main event of a UFC Fight Night card at UFC Apex.
The defeat was a costly one for Holm (14-6), for whom a victory might well have meant a UFC bantamweight title shot later this year. Instead, that title shot might well go to Vieira (13-2).
Calmly, but with obvious disappointment, Holm questioned the outcome afterward.
“I gave (Vieira) round 2, and I feel like I won all the rest of the rounds,” she said.
“I always feel like I can do more, be more perfect. But I really feel like I won the fight. I don’t feel like it was a question.”
Most observers, it appeared, agreed.
On Verdict, a site that invites viewers to score the fight in real time, Holm was favored in rounds one, three, four and five. Verdict contributors scored the fight for Holm, 48.47-46.5. Verdict called it “one of the biggest final score discrepancies in the history of Verdict, where the opposite fighter was awarded a decision.”
On mmadecisions.com, seven of nine MMA reporters’ scorecards favored Holm, all by a score of 48-47. Two scored it for Vieira by that score.
Not everyone, of course, disagreed with the decision.
“Very close fight but no real problem with that call,” tweeted Damon Martin of mmafighting.com. I thought (Vieira) landed the more damaging strikes throughout. Holm had a lot more control time but damage is always most important.”
Holm, 40, said she wasn’t ready to ponder her future.
“I thought I won the fight, so now I’ve got to figure out what’s gonna happen,” she said. “One step forward and one step back is how it usually goes.”
Not only did Holm have a massive advantage in clinch control, post-fight statistics showed her with an edge in total and significant strikes. Vieira’s only advantage was in strikes to the head.
Judge Sal D’Amato scored the fight 48-47 for Holm, giving the Albuquerque southpaw rounds one, three and five.
But it was round three that tipped the decision into the win column for Vieira. Judges Michael Bell and Derek Cleary, while in agreement with D’Amato on rounds one, two, four and five, scored the third for the Brazilian, favoring Vieira’s strikes over Holm’s clinch control.
From the outset and throughout, Holm demonstrated that neither Father Time nor a 19 1/2-month layoff has negatively affected her body strength.
Early in the first round, Vieira made the tactical mistake of taking Holm to the fence in a clinch. Holm quickly reversed and kept Vieira under control for almost all the rest of the five minutes.
The second round was Vieira’s best and the only one Holm conceded afterward that she thought the Brazilian fighter had won.Twice, after foiling an ill-considered Holm takedown attempt, Vieira came close to securing a guillotine choke. On the second occasion, Holm, red-faced, appeared perilously close to being submitted. Somehow, she extricated herself.
In the pivotal third round, Holm again logged considerable time in control in the clinch. But when the fight moved to the center of the ring, Holm absorbed some hard counter shots — a problem that has plagued the Hall of Fame boxer in four of her six UFC losses. And, while her back was against the fence, Vieira responded with some hard knees to the body. Judges Bell and Cleary favored Vieira’s punches over Holm’s clinches, perhap swayed by several Vieira shots that landed in the final 30 seconds of the round.
The fighters split the final two rounds, all three judges scoring the fourth for Vieira and the fifth for Holm.
The math, on two scorecards, simply didn’t work in Holm’s favor.