Breaking down Ketlen Vieira’s controversial win over Holm

Social media, predictably, erupted in the moments after the UFC women’s bantamweight fight between Ketlen Vieira and Holly Holm ended on Saturday at Apex with Vieira picking up a split decision victory.

Most fans, and UFC announcers Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder, seemed to believe Holm had won. The only two people who mattered, judges Mike Bell and Derek Cleary, disagreed. They each had it 48-47 for Vieira. The third judge, Sal D’Amato, had it 48-47 for Holm. Bell and Cleary scored each of the five rounds the same. D’Amato only disagreed with his colleagues on Round 3, giving it to Holm instead of Vieira.

More on that later, though, even though it’s the controversy getting most of the attention.

Vieira’s statement after the fight that she’ll sit out and wait for a title shot against the winner of the July 30 rematch between Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes deserves a lot of scrutiny that it’s not getting.

Asked if she’d be down for a fight against Irene Aldana, who knocked her out in the first round in 2019, in order to determine the next title contender, Vieira demurred.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Vieira said. “I just beat someone who beat her. I’d rather take my time, go back to the gym, keep getting better because I’ve waited a lot. I’ve been close to No. 2 all this time, so I just want to take whatever time is necessary and wait for the winner there. ”

I’d rather win the PowerBall and spend the next couple of years playing golf in Hawaii, but we don’t always get what we want.

History has shown repeatedly in the UFC that it’s usually not a wise idea to sit inactive and wait on a title shot that may never come. But Vieira certainly doesn’t have the résumé to make such a claim.

She’s in the mix, as UFC president Dana White likes to say, but she’s far from the only contender in the mix.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 21: Ketlen Vieira of Brazil reacts after her split-decision victory over Holly Holm in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 21, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 21: Ketlen Vieira of Brazil reacts after her split-decision victory over Holly Holm in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 21, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC)

Vieira made the argument that she’d just beaten the woman (Holm) who had beaten Aldana as justification for saying she deserved the title shot. Vieira is 3-1 in her last four and 4-2 in her last six. Her losses were to Aldana at UFC 245 – by first-round knockout – and Yana Kunitskaya.

Aldana is 3-1 in her last four and 4-2 in her past six. Her losses were to Holm by decision and Raquel Pennington by split decision. There is clearly no definitive leading contender among those two.

The top five in the women’s bantamweight division below Peña are Nunes, Holm, Aldana, Pennington and Vieira. The rankings will be updated on Tuesday and it’s likely Holm will drop to five with Aldana, Pennington and Vieira moving up to 2, 3 and 4, respectively.

Pennington probably has a better argument than either Vieira or Aldana. She’s won four in a row and five of six and you have to go back to 2013 to find the last time she lost to a non-UFC champion. Pennington dropped an unanimous decision in Invicta to Leslie Smith on Jan. 5, 2013.

She has been in the UFC ever since and her losses have been to Jessica Andrade, Holm twice, Nunes and Germaine de Randamie.

Vieira would be wise to rethink her attitude and fight either Aldana or Pennington to prove she deserves the title shot, particularly since most of the people who saw it felt she lost.

This, though, appears to be a case of people believing 100 percent in statistics and not understanding the scoring criteria.

Mark Twain often used the phrase “Lies, damned lies and statistics,” and it’s appropriate to remember that whenever anyone is using a fight’s statistics as justification for why one side or the other won.

Looking at the statistics and nothing else, Vieira’s win looks like a robbery of the highest order. Holm landed and threw more significant strikes and connected at a higher percentage. Holm was 96 of 157 for 61 percent, while Vieira was 85 or 151 for 56 percent. In total strikes, Holm was 188 of 263 while Vieira was 122 of 190. So in total strikes, Holm landed Nearly as many strikes as Vieira threw.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 21: (LR) Ketlen Vieira of Brazil lands a spinning back-elbow against Holly Holm in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 21, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 21: (LR) Ketlen Vieira of Brazil lands a spinning back-elbow against Holly Holm in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 21, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC)

There are a number of reasons why fight statistics aren’t usable in judging, including mostly that each round is a separate entity. So if one fighter has a 50-10 edge in strikes in Round 1 and the other has a 25-15 edge in the succeeding four rounds, each landed 110 strikes. But Fighter B had an edge in landed strikes in four of the five rounds.

This fight, though, also appears to come down to understanding the scoring criteria. According to the unified rules of mixed martial arts, which were in effect for Saturday’s card in Nevada, the No. 1 criteria for scoring is effective striking / grappling. No. 2 is effective aggressiveness and No. 3 is Fighting Area Control.

The unified rules define effective striking / grappling as follows:

Legal blows that have immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute towards the end of the match with the IMMEDIATE weighing in more heavily than the cumulative impact. Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match, with the IMMEDIATE weighing more heavily than the cumulative impact. ” It should be noted that a successful takedown is not merely a changing position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown. Top and bottom position fighters are assessed more on the impactful / effective result of their actions, more so than their position. This criterion will be the deciding factor in a high majority of decisions when scoring a round. The next two criteria must be treated as a backup and used ONLY when Effective Striking / Grappling is 100% equal for the round.

The power of a strike is clearly significant in the scoring criteria, and Vieira appeared to land the most immediately impactful blows. Though Holm had a huge edge in control time, the final sentence of the definition of effective striking / grappling makes it clear that her control was of little impact in this fight.

Vieira was landing the more effective strikes, and even if you disagree with that, there is no way the effective striking / grappling in this bout was 100 percent even.

It was by no means a blowout, and an argument can be made that Holm won it. But the same argument can be made for Vieira.

MMA is an offensive sport. You get no credit for defense, as ex-strawweight champion Rose Namajunas asked after her loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 274. The judges are taught to score on that basis, and that’s why there should be no outrage surrounding Vieira’s victory.

Now, as far as her choice to sit out and wait and essentially tab herself as the No. 1 contender, well, there’s plenty to argue about that.

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