Robbery Review: Sean O’Malley vs. Petr Yan at UFC 280


Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. Robbery Review will review controversial fights to determine if the judges were correctly criticised or whether pundits should examine their knee-jerk responses.

Where Sean O’Malley travels, there will be controversy. After his trip to Abu Dhabi, he became the talk of town.

O’Malley scored the biggest win of his career at UFC 280 this past Saturday, edging out a split decision against former bantamweight champion Petr Yan, a controversial call that fits right in with the rest of O’Malley’s one-of-a-kind UFC run. Remember just a few months ago when his fight with Pedro Munhoz came to a premature end due to an accidental eye poke? He also suffered an unusual leg injury that led to Maron Vera’s TKO. He could have easily fallen to Andre Soukhamthath, but Soukhamthath decided to join him on the floor. And who could forget Snoop Dogg yelling “O’Malley! O’Malley! O’Malley!” on the Contender Series?

The O’Malley ride has been a wild one, is what we’re saying, one that looks to continue as “Sugar” is now perfectly lined up to fight Aljamain Sterling for a UFC title. Based on reactions to his win over Yan though, the reception to such a booking could be chilly.

Here’s what some of the fighters had to say about the judging.

Guess we should take this one to the Robbery Review lab, eh?

What was the official result?

Sean O’Malley def. Petr Yan via split decision.

How did the fight go?

Both of the fighters were quick to throw kicks. Yan threw the first bomb. A left-hand that missed was a right hand. This gave O’Malley the opportunity to pop Yan with a lefthand down the middle. Yan landed a body kick on O’Malley and then continued forward, as Sugar circled the perimeter of the Octagon. O’Malley was able to land a right hand cleanly. Yan was clearly frustrated by O’Malley’s reach. The former UFC champ whiffed on some haymakers, and was quickly caught with swift counters. Yan wasn’t having much success with head strikes, but his kicking game was on point and he continually targeted O’Malley’s lead leg.

At the midway point of Round 1 we see our first takedown attempt from Yan. O’Malley was pushed to the cage by Yan, but O’Malley won. Another straight left landed for O’Malley and Yan missed on a counter left hook. Getting closer though. Yan scored with some jabs, before O’Malley cut Yan off with a hard left. Yan released his left hand before he jumped in to take down Yan. This time Yan changed levels and executed a crowd pleasing slam. O’Malley was active off of his back, defending well, though Yan slipped in a few short punches before O’Malley made it back to his feet. O’Malley began to throw combos but most of Yan’s punches bounced off his arms. Yan was able to escape O’Malley’s takedown attempt.

Yan opened Round 2 with a gorgeous low kick to body kick combination. Yan was stunned when O’Malley returned to straight combos and landed a left. Yan took a quick knee and then hit O’Malley with a left-hand bomb. Had O’Malley not hooked an arm around Yan’s head, he might have been knocked down. Instead, Yan seized the opportunity to get a takedown. Hammerfists by Yan from top position. O’Malley needed to fight twice as hard in order to win the fight. Knees to the body from Yan as he entered pit bull mode. Yan was on his way with only half an hour to go. He was also styling some here. O’Malley attempted a trip on his own, and consumed a right-hand counter to support it. Yan was right in O’Malley’s faces this round. Yan appeared to be able to parry quite a few straight punches, but O’Malley kept busy. Yan had been racking up head hits. Yan beat O’Malley with body kicks, but he scored with a righthand during Yan’s flurry. Yan dumped O’Malley for his third takedown of the round and he kept him on the mat for the last minute.

It was an incredibly close fight going into Round 3 and neither man fought like they were up comfortably on the cards. O’Malley opened with rapid jabs, only to be backed up by a snapping Yan right. A switch kick by Yan was blocked, but it looked cool as hell. The O’Malley jab proved to be a solid weapon throughout the fight. Yan tried to take down O’Malley, but O’Malley displayed incredible balance and held him up. O’Malley then attacked Yan with a right hand followed by a knee in the middle. Yan responded with double-barrelled hookeds to O’Malley’s tag. Another right hook cracked O’Malley as he tried to get back on offense.

Yan continued his wrestling during the last two minutes. O’Malley was taken down by Yan, but O’Malley stood firm before much damage could be done. The same can’t be said for the next sequence, which saw Yan land another huge right hand counter, followed by a left across the jaw. O’Malley was able to take down Yan and absorb a hammerfist onto the mat.

What did the judges say?

Ben Cartlidge scored it 29-28 O’Malley.

David Lethaby scored it 29-28 O’Malley.

Vito Paolillo scored it 29-28 Yan.

This one came down to the first round as all three judges agreed that Yan won Round 2 and that O’Malley won Round 3. Cartlidge and Lethaby both gave Round 1 to O’Malley.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

My advice for those advocating for a robbery? Don’t go to the stats, because they’re not favorable to Yan.

O’Malley had a whopping 84-58 advantage in significant strikes, but more importantly he had the edge in two of the three rounds. O’Malley won Round 1 23-19 and Round 2 40-15 (not a typo), while Yan won Round 2 24-21.

The gap is even wider for O’Malley if you isolate head strikes, typically considered the most damaging strikes, as he beat Yan there 63-24. Yan won both the body strike (13-6) and leg strike (21-15) battle. It’s essential to note that the stats don’t reflect the impact of the strikes as a jab (of which O’Malley threw many) counts the same as a haymaker (of which Yan landed a several) on paper.

Neither fighter was credited with a knockdown, which is somewhat surprising given how they staggered one another in Round 2. Yan fell to the ground for less than a second while O’Malley fell after Yan had taken him down.

Speaking of which, Yan scored six successful takedowns, with at least one in each round. He also logged 5:44 of control time, though that shouldn’t factor into the decision all that much (more on this later) as he only landed six total ground strikes.

What did the media say?

On the other hand, if you want evidence of a robbery, look no further than the media scores on MMA Decisions: 26 of 26 in favor of Yan, with seven going as far as to award all three rounds to the former champion.

I’d urge people to look at the comments on Twitter from these scorers. A few of them wrote that it was close, and could have ended in either direction.

There’s still an overwhelming amount of support for a Yan win, but let’s acknowledge that the tally there doesn’t tell the whole story.

What did the people say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)

Fans scoring the bout on MMA Decisions are solidly in Yan’s corner, with almost 75 percent voting for either 29-28 Yan (44 percent) or 30-27 Yan (30 percent). In third, 20 percent voted 29-28 O’Malley.

Regarding the swing rounds, 66 percent scored Round 1 for Yan, while 53 percent scored Round 3 for O’Malley.

Voters from the Verdict MMA App scored Yan’s fight by a large margin.

That scoring system takes the cumulative total of every submitted fan score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.

Overall, Yan won the fight by 139 points, with a difference of 100 points or higher being indicative of a robbery in my estimation. However, it should be noted that the final margin is somewhat deceiving given that Round 2 — a clear Yan round — was unanimously scored 10-9 by Verdict users, giving Yan 100 points right there. The margins of Rounds 1 and 3 were narrow, with Yan winning the first by 29 points and the last by just nine points.

In MMA Fighting’s online poll, which asked only who won the fight, Yan came out ahead with 68. 2 percent of the vote.

How did I score it?

On first viewing, I had it 29-28 for Yan, but was also adamant that it was not a robbery.

Given the names involved, the magnitude of the fight, and the vocal uproar in protest of the decision from multiple angles, this demanded a Robbery Review, and I’m glad I did it. Because I’m even more confident that an O’Malley win is justifiable now.

I actually had difficulty finding an argument for Yan winning Round 1 because O’Malley so clearly landed the best punches of that period. We can’t discount Yan’s outstanding kicks to the leg and body, but I almost always weigh head strikes more heavily so on my card that’s an O’Malley frame. Yan’s slam, as cool as it looked, had little influence on potentially finishing the fight.

This brings me to my second point. We have to shoot down the myth that takedowns, top control, and octagon control were major factors in this fight. The commentary team was at fault for this. They insisted upon stating the inaccurate and archaic notion that Yan was winning the fight by executing timely takedowns. Takedowns and control are secondary criteria that are only taken into consideration when we can’t differentiate who won based on striking damage. It doesn’t matter who wins, any educated spectator should be able to determine each round solely based upon striking damage, and not other factors.

Besides, if one views the striking is so close that they feel the need to go to secondary criteria, then isn’t the fight by definition not a robbery?

So with Round 1 for O’Malley in my books and Round 2 for Yan in everybody’s books that leaves Round 3, which was a toss-up. Yan legitimately landed a few counter punches that I am shocked did not floor O’Malley. At work, a young man shows off his chin. O’Malley’s knee was a different story. He immediately created a cut which must have made a lasting impression on judges. Not to mention all the points he scored with his solid jabs, that were much more than just pitter-patter.

Personally, I leaned towards Yan because he landed more potentially fight-ending shots in Round 3, but I had my doubts watching live and still do after multiple replays of the final round. I’ll stick with 29-28 Yan.

Was it a robbery?

It’s difficult for critics not to see that judges are subjective. However, outside of adhering to criteria as closely as possible, there will always remain room for interpretation. Again, that last round saw both fighters land strikes that could have ended the fight. Neither did. How do you begin to judge which fighter is more efficient than others?

One other thing that bugs me is that maybe a large chunk of viewers just aren’t scoring jabs anymore? Certainly, power punches should outweigh jabs any day (see: Marlon Vera vs. Rob Font), but I noticed a similar reaction to the Daniel Rodriguez-Li Jingliang fight at UFC 279, which saw Rodriguez effectively jab Li for three rounds and evade some wild swings to win a highly disputed decision. Jabs matter, people, even in MMA.

And I hate to harp on the commentary team, but there is no doubt in my mind that their regrettable emphasis on takedowns that led to zero significant damage (except in Round 2, which Yan won on the feet anyway) influenced a lot of people scoring the fight at home. At the end of the fight, the otherwise impeccable Jon Anik pointed to the on-screen stats and said, “Control time, also a major factor…” No, it isn’t! In a fight in which two men put on an amazing standup performance, no. Although I support the use of mixed martial arts, the comment team must understand that damage and striking are intended to make up a larger part of the mix.

I admit to my biases and it is possible that O’Malley did better than I expected, taking such an impressive leap in the competition. This factor has had an impact on how many people have seen close fights.

As for O’Malley not being his usual cocky and confident self in his post-fight interview when asked about his thoughts on the fight, I’m glad he wasn’t. The fight was super close! Given that Yan had punched him in the head several times, it was hard to judge his self-worth.

Look, I accept that Yan likely won this fight and that this is going to be a topic of discussion for the remainder of O’Malley’s career. But I hope, blindly, that the discussion revolves around how the fighters put on a thrilling and competitive back-and-forth bout as opposed to any supposed travesty of judging.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.