Bellator’s Season Six Featherweight Tournament concluded on Friday night with the finale matchup between Nova Uniao’s highly-regarded Marlon Sandro and the wrestling product of Cincinnati, Ohio, Daniel Straus. Straus used a mixture of powerful wrestling, aggressive pacing and exceptional conditioning to tactfully wear his opponent down and earn the unanimous decision. At times, Sandro appeared exhausted and unprepared for the type of battle that Straus instigated early in the fight. After the final bell, the more visibly-damaged Sandro hung his head, almost as if he accepted the defeat. Straus raised his arms in victory and his teammates rushed to greet him with smiles, hugs and congratulatory hand-slaps. Only the formality of the score announcement separated Straus from a six-figure paycheck and an official shot at a Bellator World Championship. Judges Eric Colon and Sue Sanidad awarded Straus a clean sweep of 30-27 scores, while Judge Michelle Agustin saw the fight 29-28, still in favor of Straus. Agustin, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and instructor at Tong Dragon MMA in Bayville, New Jersey, felt that Sandro was the winner of the third round. Cage side commentator Jimmy Smith, an accomplished grappler and veteran of six professional MMA fights, agreed with Agustin’s assessment. While there is no debate regarding who won the overall contest, the third-round discrepancy remains curious. The disagreement brings to light the potential illusion of a near-submission, and the uncertainty of how certain situations should be scored. Let’s take an in-depth look at the bout’s grappling-heavy final frame to learn how an extended choke attempt may have been the primary influence in Agustin’s decision.
The first 90 seconds of the round saw some pawing and quick striking exchanges from both fighters. Neither was able to land a multiple-hit combination or strike of significance. Straus then ducked underneath for a body-lock/double-underhook attempt, but it was shrugged off by Sandro who pushed Straus against the cage for a short moment. Straus continued to pummel through while managing to force a separation with 3:48 remaining. Twenty seconds later, Straus threw a high kick that was at least partially blocked by Sandro. Straus then attempted a double-leg takedown which Sandro quickly sprawled to defend. At this stage, the round was closely-contested. Neither fighter was able to make an obvious impression or gain a clearly advantageous position.
With 3:20 remaining, shortly after Sandro’s sprawl, the Brazilian decided to drop for a single-leg attempt of his own. He would not earn the takedown, however, he turned to get behind Straus’ back and push his opponent’s chest to the cage while in a standing position. With 2:42 left, Straus turned to face Sandro which ultimately created an opening for an arm-triangle choke. Sandro attempted to lock on the choke resulting in a hold that was applied for almost one full minute of the round. Depending on the observer’s outlook, one may have believed that Straus was in danger of losing the fight during this sequence.
Almost immediately, Straus tilted his neck to the right, stuck his palm on his forehead, and extended his elbow to create space and prevent his carotid arteries from being pinched. His textbook defensive instincts never allowed Sandro to advance the position. Straus then appeared to relax (to the point of giving the official a “thumb-up” signal) his body almost content with the situation at hand. While watching the broadcast, it is clear that Sandro was never close to finishing the fight with this hold. Sandro did not manage to gain a grip that would close the gap from the left side of Straus’ neck to his own shoulder. All the while, the clock is running down and Sandro was no further along with his choke then he was when it was first attempted. Sandro was on the offensive, but with both men on their feet, his positioning was not dominant or especially advantageous. Sandro, left with no choice but to bail on the choke, conceded the hold as the fighters separated with only 1:05 remaining. What followed is the most significant offensive maneuver of the round.
With 36 seconds left, Straus ducked under a punch from Sandro, spun behind, and elevated him in the air with an emphatic belly-to-back slam. Wasting no time, Straus threw one hook in and managed to secure the second hook only a few seconds later. With only 10 seconds left on the clock, Straus extended Sandro’s body while wrapping his arm around his opponent’s throat for a rear-naked choke attempt. Time would expire, but Straus had scored the round’s only takedown, gained what is arguably the most dominant grappling position in the sport, and applied what could easily be recognized as the more threatening of the two chokes attempted during the round. Was that enough to earn a 10-9? Two judges felt so, but the third did not. So how did Sandro manage to out-point Straus’ late barrage in the eyes of Judge #3?
It all boils down to perspective. Sports judging is controversial in nature, and without a definitive set of criteria, fans are left to interpret the vaguely worded, “effective striking, grappling, aggression and cage control.” I can’t speak for the specific reasons why both Agustin and Smith (who, in fairness, was not tasked with judging the contest) scored the third round for Sandro, but I ask – What good was Sandro’s submission attempt if it lasted one minute and he got nothing out of it? I can expand on this to suggest that Straus’s defense could have been the catalyst for Sandro’s arm fatigue, the result of which led to the lazy punch attempt that created the opening for Straus’ final flurry.
So what side of the fence are you on, and how would you break down the final round? Join the chatter in the forum.