Debunking MMA's Brazilian Home Field Advantage

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photo by Rob Stothard/Zuffa LLC

Poor Wanderlei Silva.

Not to pick on Silva any more than the Nevada Athletic Commission already has, but it must be noted that in the Zuffa era of the UFC, “The Axe Murderer” was the first ever Brazilian to drop a judges decision on his home soil.

The date was June 23, 2012; Wandy went the distance with a victorious Rich Franklin in the UFC 147 main event. Prior to this bout, no group of Brazilian judges presiding over a Zuffa-run UFC show had ever sided with a foreign fighter over a local. Silva, unfortunately, had to be the one to pop that cherry.

Following Wanderlei’s loss to Franklin, there was no controversy regarding the decision. But the result was a bit jarring, as it seemed that Brazilian’s were immune to the possibility of a decision loss on home soil. Previously, at UFC 134 and UFC 142, not a single Brazilian going to the scorecards had lost a bout, giving the nation that spawned Vale Tudo and the Gracie family a reputation for its home field advantage.

But how true is this distinction, really? What validity, if any, is there behind claims that Brazilian judges will side with their local talent?

In search of answers, we examine the 22 UFC events Zuffa has promoted in Brazil since August 2011 …

Beginning with Yves Jabouin’s split decision win over Ian Loveland on the prelims of UFC 134, a card headlined by Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami, the Zuffa-run UFC has promoted 252 mixed martial arts bouts in Brazil. However, as neither Jabouin nor Loveland is Brazilian, the result of their fight is irrelevant to this study, as are six other contests that lack a Brazilian competitor.

I mean, how can the judges be accused of unfair, nationalistic scoring, when neither athlete is from the local territory.

Conversely, the three fights that followed Jabouin’s win over Loveland featured a sextet of Brazilians: Iuri Alcantara, Felipe Arantes, Erick Silva, Luis Ramos, Raphael Assuncao, and Johnny Eduardo. Those matchups, along with 51 other all-Brazilian affairs, have also been determined ineligible, leaving 189 bouts between exactly one Brazilian national and one foreigner that went the full three, and occasionally five, rounds, requiring input from the cageside judges.

“No Contests” were not considered for this research.

During Zuffa’s first two years of operation in Brazil, the promotion hosted seven events in South America’s largest territory. In that time, Brazilian fighters amassed 41 victories over their foreign counterparts in 50 total attempts, winning at an 82-percent clip. And while the judges awarded Brazilians 68-percent of the total decisions in that time (13 out of a possible 19), the scorecards were more forgiving than finishing skills of the local fighters, who claimed 90-percent of all total stoppages.

Yes. From August 2011, to July 2013, Brazilians recorded 28 combined TKO, KO, or submission victories inside the Octagon on home soil, while foreigners recorded just three finishes.

And then Phil Davis travelled south …

Taking on Lyoto Machida at UFC 163, Davis wrestled his way to a unanimous nod, a decision that was controversial in its own right. Not only did Davis, an American, earn the victory over a highly beloved Brazilian fighter, but he also did so when the mass consensus was that Machida did enough to win.

The bout, which took place on August 8, 2013, was a watershed moment for the “international decision rate,” as it’s been dubbed for the purposes of this piece, referencing UFC bouts in Brazil between a local and a foreigner. Davis’ victory over Machida is, in fact, enough to dispel any inkling that Brazilian judges unfairly favor their own. As is the unanimous verdict awarded to Jake Shields over Damian Maia, who was fighting in his hometown of Sao Paulo.

Sure, Brazilian judges have awarded locals 62.66-percent of all decisions on home soil, but that number really is not alarming. That’s 47 wins for Brazilian nationals on the scorecards, compared to 28 for the foreign set. Of the 189 total bouts that qualify, both decisions and stoppages, Brazilians amassed 122 victories and 66 losses, amounting to a 64.5 winning percentage.

One draw, between Norman Parke and Leonardo Santos at UFN 38: Shogun vs. Henderson 2, was also accounted for.

Looking at the Parke-Santos contest; however, a different shortcoming of the CABMMA, Brazil’s MMA authority, is exposed: its Brazilian referees. With Parke being deducted a point for grabbing Santos’ shorts, the scoring of the draw would still actually favor the Northern Irish fighter. In this case, the referee stepped in to alter the outcome of the bout.

As did referee Eduardo Herdy, who prematurely stopped a bout between American Drew Dober and Brazilian Leandro Silva.

With the fight nowhere close to finished, Herdy determined that Silva choked Dober out from half guard, despite not even having the guillotine fully tightened. And while Silva was awarded the victory that night, CABMMA later amended the result, ruling it a no contest.

The referee’s mistake could be considered a home field advantage move. However, premature stoppages are not specific to Brazil. Recalling a bout between Mac Danzig and Matt Wiman at UFC 115, referee Yves Lavigne blew a similar call, determining that Danzig was out, even though he was defending the choke.

So while Brazil may have earned a reputation for its MMA home field advantage, in reality, there is no distinct favoritism given to local fighters. Still, fighting abroad, and going to the scorecards, will always be considered a difficult prospect. But think; it could be worse. It could be China.


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