Fight Stats Rewind: Round by Round Scoring Analysis for Henderson vs Thomson at UFC on Fox 10

The main event of UFC on FOX 10 turned in another very competitive fight, but also another main event split decision that caused flare-ups around the Twitter-sphere. Former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson won the fight on two scorecards with 49-46 and 48-47 final tallies, while Josh Thomson won according to a third judge 48-47. Throughout the fight the judges only had unanimous agreement on two out of the five rounds. There was further disagreement from the MMA Media scores tracked at, who came in 12 out of 15 in favor of Thomson. Then three hours after the fight’s end, FightMetric posted their own scoring of the fight including the round by round statistics declaring a Draw under the own measure of Total Performance Rating, and a win for Thomson under a five-round, 10-point must system. Yet it was still Henderson’s hand that was raised. Thomson accepted his loss as a professional, despite the fact that (in his words) he “beat [Henderson] with one hand.” As with other decisions that spark controversy and even outrage on social media (settle down, folks!), it’s helpful to look back at how the fight transpired with the help of some numbers. Remember, judges must score each round independently, and all rounds count equally towards the total under the 10-point must system. The chart below shows Significant Strikes Landed by round, the Time in Control for clinch and ground positions, and grappling stats for each fighter, then aligns the scoring of each of the three judges to the corresponding round. Significant Strikes include all strikes thrown in a distance/standing position, plus power strikes only while in the clinch or on the ground (basically, it excludes softer strikes at close range). Neutral Time in Control includes when fighters are standing at a distance and striking, and neutral clinch or ground positions. Here’s how it all went down.

(Click to enlarge)

FightStatsRewind Henderson-ThomsonPNG

The first thing to note is that Henderson outstruck Thomson in all five rounds. Not shown is total strikes or the attempts, but FightMetric data confirms that Henderson was the busier fighter throughout. In standup striking, Henderson also outlanded Thomson in all distance striking categories (jabs, power strikes, head/body/leg strikes). But MMA isn’t just striking, it’s also grappling. The Time in Control shows a back and forth battle that took place each round. Henderson landed 4/4 takedowns, while Thomson was 4/11. But it was Thomson that added more positional advances (“Passes”), while Henderson has the clearest submission attempt of the fight. Sound pretty hard to score? Apparently, so did the judges. All three judges agreed that Thomson won the first round despite a late submission attempt from Henderson, and they also agreed that Henderson won the third. However, the second, fourth, and fifth rounds all saw disagreement on the cards. It’s interesting to note that disagreement among judges is historically higher for fights that remain mostly standing, and less for fights that are mostly on the ground (see Chapter 12 of the “Fightnomics” book for more detail on judging scores). Ground control is easy to identify, and even if there’s a stalemate judges can favor whoever is in top control or back control. So the 3+ minutes that Thomson held control on the mat in the first round steered the judges in his favor, despite neither fighter landing more than a single significant strike. Judge Puccilo scored round two for Thomson, possibly due to his continued aggression in grappling. But these overall numbers lean towards Henderson, who won the round on the other two scorecards and was the much more active striker. Round three was the most dominant statistical round, with Henderson vastly outworking and outlanding Thomson. By that point commentators were relaying Thomson’s belief that he had injured his hand, and all three judges scored for the much busier Henderson. Round four again spent most of the time with Thomson in positional control, including two advances on the mat. Judge Sabaitis scored for Thomson, while the other two favored Henderson who was again the more active striker. The fifth round was fairly even, with neither fighter landing a takedown and limited time spent in clear control. But again, while Henderson outlanded Thomson on a similar number of significant strike attempts, Henderson was also much busier in total strikes, which can be a factor on the scorecards. Sabaitis again scored for Thomson, while the others gave it to Henderson. Somewhat like the Mark Hunt versus Antonio Silva fight, this might have been a case where fans just didn’t want to see a fighter who put in a gritty performance like Thomson’s lose. A decision resulting in a Draw was unlikely the way the fight played out due to judges’ unwillingness to score 10-10 for close rounds, and the additional rarity of 10-8 rounds. While the crowd might have found a Draw easier to swallow, it wasn’t going to happen since neither fighter had a dominant round, and neither fighter was penalized. There was going to be a winner one way or another. Although main events aren’t any more likely to go to a decision than other fights, close decisions draw much more controversy because the stakes are much higher. Thomson was presumably competing for a title shot, although in the press conference he stated “this might be it” and reiterated that sentiment when asked to suppose he had won. Given the emotional stress of going through a fight, and ending up on the losing end of a close decision (and doing so while injured), we can understand the disappointment of the fighter and those that support him. But for fans who want to see more of “the Punk,” give it a little time and see if the itch comes back for the former Strikeforce champion, who is still clearly competitive at the highest levels of the game. In the meantime, the lightweight division has to deal with a number one contender who has already lost to the current champion twice, and just eliminated a natural choice for the next challenger. It’s a tough state for the division right now, so who do you think gets a shot at Pettis this summer?

Written by Reed Kuhn

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