Robbery Review: Gleison Tibau vs. Rory MacDonald at PFL 5

Rory MacDonald and Gleison Tibau at PFL 5 in Atlantic City, N.J., on Thursday | Cooper Neill, PFL

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. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

Color me shocked at the fact that last night MMA lifer Gleison Tibau not only headlined a major North American card in the year 2021, but also made headlines afterwards after coming out on the right side of a controversial result.

In his second appearance for the league on Thursday, Tibau took a split call over the heavily favored Rory MacDonald in the PFL 5 main event in Atlantic City, N.J. The win wasn’t enough to change the playoff picture (based on accumulated points Tibau is still out, MacDonald still advances), but it was a fine way for Tibau to close out his first season with the PFL and also to provoke the most calls for a Robbery Review that I’ve ever seen for a non-UFC fight.

Suffice to say, MacDonald wasn’t happy with the verdict and afterwards he sounded off on the judges’ scores.

“I’m very disappointed,” MacDonald said at the PFL 5 post-fight press conference. “I believe and everyone I talked to, everyone online, scored the fight for me, even three rounds to zero. I think it was a clear robbery. I thought I was dominant in this fight.

“It was a hard fight. Gleison brought it and respect to him, but I believe that I clearly won that fight. I think this should be looked into.”

It remains to be seen if MacDonald’s team actually files a formal complaint with the commission, but even if he doesn’t that shouldn’t won’t stop us from looking into it at Robbery Review headquarters.

What was the official result?

Gleison Tibau def. Rory MacDonald via split decision.

How did the fight go?

MacDonald and Tibau came out immediately respectful of each other, with MacDonald using his reach advantage to keep Tibau at range and Tibau aggressively looking to land his left hand. MacDonald also countered well, but early in the fight he caught Tibau with an eye poke leading to a lengthy delay. Fortunately, Tibau was able to continue. His vaunted takedown defense was on display as he stuffed a MacDonald shot and scored with a few short punches, but MacDonald re-established the distance and caught Tibau with a right hand. He went in for another shot and exploded into a back take, threatening Tibau with a choke. Tibau kept his chin tucked tight to avoid the submission and make it out of the first round.

An early takedown in round two didn’t result in much offense for MacDonald, though he did a good job of landing punches on the break even when Tibau foiled his grappling attempts. Lots of solid body work from MacDonald as he also stayed mindful of Tibau’s left hook and right cross. MacDonald blasted Tibau with a head kick right on the jaw and somehow Tibau wasn’t even stunned by it. In addition to that big shot, MacDonald had a clear advantage in volume and accuracy in round two.

Round three, Tibau continued to throw heavy punches, though MacDonald’s head movement was on point. He stuck with the body work (and, unfortunately, another eye poke), while Tibau started to find success with a counter left. After eating a right hand, Tibau ramped up the pressure, though MacDonald remained elusive. Tibau chased MacDonald like he needed a finish, but it didn’t happen.

What did the judges say?

Cardo Urso scored it 29-28 Tibau.

Dave Tirelli scored it 29-28 Tibau.

Eric Colon scored it 29-28 MacDonald.

The first round was the decider here, with Urso and Tirelli giving it to Tibau, and Colon giving it to MacDonald.

What did the numbers say?

Unfortunately, the PFL does not provide round-by-round stats, nor would I put much weight in its Fighter Performance Rating when it comes to properly judging fights, but that’s just me.

If you’re curious, the official stats had MacDonald with an 81-32 advantage in total strikes (the site does not indicate whether this means significant strikes or it is just a raw tally). MacDonald was credited with one successful takedown, but the rear-naked choke attempt in round one apparently did not count as both fighters have a zero in their submission attempt row.

The PFL also keeps track of fastest strike speed, which Tibau dominated at 19.3 mph to MacDonald’s 13.7 mph. That’s a near six mph advantage! Domination!

What did the media say?

Normally, this is where we head to MMA Decisions for an official tally of media scores, but the site didn’t keep a record for this event so we’ll have to go with a more anecdotal approach here.

While the instant media reaction was primarily one of surprise (and in some cases, disgust), there were also responses that suggested the official call was justifiable.

30-27 MacDonald. That decision was mental #2021PFL5

— José Youngs (@JoseYoungs) June 18, 2021

29-28 Tibau might be a new frontrunner for worst decision of the year. Rory MacDonald just got robbed. #PFLmma

— SUNS IN 4 AL-SHATTI (@shaunalshatti) June 18, 2021

Gleison Tibau wins a split decision over Rory MacDonald.

Listen, Tibau made it a tough fight but that’s a ridiculously bad decision. #2021PFL5

— Damon Martin (@DamonMartin) June 18, 2021

That was some Sanchez x Pearson robbery type shit… Sucks for Rory.

— E. Casey Leydon (@ekc) June 18, 2021

Gleison Tibau def. Rory MacDonald via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)

I thought MacDonald won rather convincingly. 29-28. Can even make a 30-27 case, if you want. Bizarre.

As a result, and on a positive note, MacDonald fights Ray Cooper III, which should be fun.

— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 18, 2021

30-27 Rory @MMADecisions

— Seán Sheehan (@SeanSheehanBA) June 18, 2021

In summary

Live, I thought robbery. Absolutely

On rewatch, wouldn’t say that

I’d probably still score it 30-27 Rory but round 1 & 3 are very close

Literally one shot swayed me in 3rd

1st is whether you adjudged Tibau’s power shots to be impactful enough to take it. Close.

— Seán Sheehan (@SeanSheehanBA) June 18, 2021

Gleison Tibau scores a major upset by split decision over Rory MacDonald.

He was a +650 underdog. +1000 by decision.

That decision is a stunner.

— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) June 18, 2021

29-28 MacDonald.

— Nick Baldwin (@NickBaldwinMMA) June 18, 2021

Rory MacDonald did not lose that fight.

— Nick Baldwin (@NickBaldwinMMA) June 18, 2021

I’m not at all shocked Tibau won that split. He was pressuring well the entire fight. Some judges like that. ‍♂️ #2021PFL5

— Matthew Wells (@MrMWells) June 18, 2021

30-27 MacDonald. Eye pokes really marred that fight. Could see Tibau getting a round. #2021PFL5 @MMADecisions

— Rob Tatum (@RobTatum303) June 18, 2021

Either those two NJ judges arbitrarily deducted points from Rory for eye pokes or they placed a big bet together at the Oceans Casino. No way Tibau won that.

— Mike Russell (@MIKERUSSELLMMA) June 18, 2021

What did the people say?

Going by the voters on Verdict MMA (an official partner of the PFL), this was a robbery, clear as day.

The Verdict MMA 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.

Generally, I consider a margin around 100 points as a clear indicator that the fighter with the advantage won. For the PFL 5 main event, MacDonald won by 248 points, the largest margin in Verdict MMA history.

Rory MacDonald clearly defeated Gleison Tibau on the Global Scorecard.

There’s never been a point differential this big on Verdict where the opposite fighter has won.#2021PFL5 pic.twitter.com/YEPAMdlmDe

— Verdict (@VerdictMMA) June 18, 2021

According to users, the first round, which was a point of contention for the judges, was a clear 100-point win for MacDonald. The bout was closer from there, but MacDonald even won round three by 67 points.

Several fighters also reacted to the close decision, with the majority scratching their heads at how the judges reached their scores.

Wow and while Rory Mac was not all that impressive I think he won’t this fight relatively easily.

— Funky (@Benaskren) June 18, 2021

If judges make decisions like this they should be banned permanently!

— Funky (@Benaskren) June 18, 2021

Wow crazy judging

— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) June 18, 2021

Turned on TV saw this fight between tibau and Rory McDonald, Rory was straight robbed

— Jeremy Stephens (@LiLHeathenMMA) June 18, 2021

Crazy judge unbelievable ‍♂️ ‍♂️ #pflmma

— GILBERT BURNS DURINHO (@GilbertDurinho) June 18, 2021

That make no sense.

— Olivier Aubin (@oliaubin) June 18, 2021

Wasn’t watching closely but I know a bad decision

— Kai Kamaka III (@kaiboikamaka) June 18, 2021

How did I score it?

This was a clear MacDonald win to me.

I will say that at no point did I see Tibau in danger of being finished. The choke in round one made Tibau uncomfortable, but it never looked like he was going to let MacDonald finish the submission; the head kick in round two would have felled a horse, but Tibau just shrugged it off.

Still, outside of a few glancing blows, Tibau never strung together much meaningful offense. When he landed, he landed hard, but MacDonald slipped a lot of punches and connected with good shots to the head and body throughout the fight. And I counted the choke attempt in the first round as effective grappling, which helps the argument for a 10-9 MacDonald frame on my card.

I actually gave the edge to MacDonald in all three rounds.

Was it a robbery?

All that said, this fight was more competitive than the social media uproar might suggest. As mentioned, at no point was Tibau close to being finished and he wasn’t blown away in the striking in any of the rounds, despite what the numbers might say. Yes, he was catching air with some of his flurries, but he was also occasionally catching MacDonald’s face, at least enough to keep the former Bellator champion on his toes for 15 minutes (and his finger in Tibau’s eyes, but referee Keith Peterson never deducted a point so the judges shouldn’t either).

So this wasn’t a dominant victory for MacDonald, in my opinion. However, in the moment I thought it was an easy fight to score for him and a re-watch hasn’t changed my mind. Those strong first and second impressions matter. Even putting aside what I think, I can’t ignore the overwhelming media and fan reaction in this case. If it walks like a robbery and talks like a robbery, maybe we should acknowledge that it’s a robbery, even if it’s not in Sanchez-Pearson territory.

The final verdict

Robbery.

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