by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com (Special thanks to Anthony Fagundes)
LOS ANGELES – Referee and judge Cecil Peoples has no doubts he scored the main event of Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua correctly, though he admits he struggled with the first round of the fight.
Minutes after the judges’ decision announced Machida the winner at UFC 104, boos showered Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Reporters collectively scratched their heads. On the Wikipedia entry for the card, someone slipped “fixed fight” beside the decision for Machida.
UFC president Dana White thought Rua won and greenlighted an immediate rematch.
Peoples, 61, has often been the target of fan outcry for his judging, or perceived lack thereof. He attributes the attacks to his kickboxing background and a memorable name (which is always announced last, he claims).
“The fans and all the naysayers, I don’t worry about,” he said. “I don’t back down because it’s not popular.”
Peoples said Tuesday he has not reviewed last Saturday’s fight, nor the statistics compiled in its wake that overwhelmingly gave the decision to Rua (he has done so only once, after Georges St. Pierre at UFC 58). He maintains that in a close fight, quality of damage is king.
“My thing is, Rua did hit him more,” said Peoples. “But Machida hit him harder, especially in the early rounds.”
By the scorecards, rounds one and four were the only frames where Peoples and fellow judges Marcos Rosales and Nelson Hamilton disagreed. Peoples and Rosales gave Machida the first three rounds, while Hamilton gave him the second, third, and fourth.
Much of the debate has centered on the opening round, in which Rua came out aggressively to the counter-striking of Machida. As for much of the fight, Rua’s attack centered on Machida’s body and legs, while the champion returned with straight punches, body kicks, and leaping knees.
Peoples said the first frame was the closest on his scorecard, but according to the criteria used to judge a fight, he disagrees with those who gave it to Rua.
“I’m really perplexed about how you give (Rua) this round, because Shogun was kicking (Machida) a lot in the legs, but every time he kicked him in the legs, he got hit in the face,” he said. “Shogun would put his hand up, and Machida would go right through, sweat’s flying off (Rua’s) face. Shogun kicked (Machida) in the belly – that’s how he got the red mark.
“But you gotta remember, Machida is stepping back, so when he gets kicked, he’s getting brushed. But he counters Shogun with a hard kick to the belly. Which one counts more for the exchange? I give it to the (second one), because it was harder. It wasn’t brushed.”
Equally important to his decision was the movement of Machida, which he believes showed more authority.
“Machida was controlling that round because he was dominant in not getting beat up in that round,” he said. “He was the general in that first round.”
Peoples thinks much of the controversy is based on Machida’s reputation as a patient and deadly striker, which made him a 6-1 favorite leading into the fight.
“Everybody was expecting him to destroy Shogun like he destroyed Rashad Evans, and he didn’t destroy him,” said Peoples. “It was a close fight. So people think: (Rua) did good. If he did that good, he must have won the fight.”
Peoples concedes that the scoring system is the likely cause for much of judging controversies, though he says it would take “an act of Congress” to change them. He would prefer the K-1 system of judging, wherein half points are awarded in 10-point rounds.
“The scoring system is a very good scoring system for boxing,” he said of the current incarnation.
After the fight, Peoples said he received several text messages from a “very famous kickboxer” arguing with him about his decision. He bristled at the thought and said he has never been challenged in person by a fan.
“So you in a bar with 200 people that are sloppy drunk, and you’re gonna argue with me about the decision?” he asked. “How does that work? Only in America. I give the fight to Machida in a very, very close fight. Now you’re pissed off because it’s my fault that you lost your money. No, it’s not. It’s Machida’s fault.”
For those who think he should find another profession, he has one thing to say.
“If you don’t like it, you can go to hell.”