You can’t blame Rob Sullivan if he’s felt a bit of déjà vu lately.
After all, he found himself in a familiar situation in his last fight on Oct. 15. It was Shogun Fights 15 in Baltimore. Sullivan had an arena full of fans cheering for him, as it seemed rather obvious to everyone in attendance that he grinded out another victory over Shaun Spath. But something unexpected happened to Sullivan, for the second time in a row.
Sullivan lost to Spath via split decision – the second consecutive Shogun Fights bout Sullivan lost in that fashion. He lost to Myron Baker at Shogun Fights 14 last year in the same fashion, and when Spath’s hand was raised in front of an arena full of shocked and unhappy fans, Sullivan’s reaction wasn’t that different from everyone in attendance that night.
“Hands down, I won that fight,” Sullivan said. “It was a massive disappointment and I was astonished. I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’”
Sullivan had the understandable reaction of a fighter who felt he was clearly robbed of a victory; he left the cage immediately and went straight to the back of the arena, where he still had to go through the post-fight process while still trying to process his defeat.
“I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Sullivan said. “I saw the doctor after the fight and he had that look on his face like he thought I won the fight and he knew I was mad. He brought me my paperwork in the hallway, and I had to see Shaun again. It rubbed me the wrong way, like rubbing salt in the wound.”
While Sullivan described his fight with Baker at Shogun Fights 14 as a “close fight that could have gone either way,” he didn’t feel that way about his performance against Spath.
“I watched it again, and he didn’t do anything,” Sullivan said. “His shots didn’t land or didn’t hurt. I did all my scoring with takedowns and strikes and he turned his back and ran from me, which I thought was disrespectful and should have been scored negatively. I think he was doing it because he was tired and didn’t want to fight, and I felt like the groin shot is what lost me the second round. As if the judges forgot what was going on during the other 3-plus minutes of the round.”
While Sullivan felt better going into his fight with Spath than he had in previous fights – he had no nagging injuries and said he felt “very confident” – his bout with Spath did not turn out how he expected, even before the judges’ scorecards were announced.
“I was thrown off a little because he was the aggressor in his other fights, but not this one,” Sullivan said. “I walked him down a lot because he ran from me. I also have a tendency to control myself too much or get too relaxed. I don’t worry enough.”
So why has Sullivan been on the wrong end of the scorecards for two consecutive fights? If you ask him, it’s a problem that other fighters have expressed across mixed martial arts: The judges don’t understand basic grappling or when a fighter is defending and attacking.
“I always reacted, and [Spath] didn’t,” Sullivan said. “The judges don’t understand dominant position. I hate the comparison that MMA is like street fighting, and they don’t understand grappling and control. Hitting and running or just running is not the same as trying to score points. That’s not a fight.”
Sullivan added that he’d like to see judges participate in jiu-jitsu and grappling to gain a great understanding of what goes into a MMA fight.
“A lot of these guys are boxing judges who watch MMA, but don’t understand the sport,” Sullivan said. “Some boxing judges may see the kicks and think those are harder than punches.”
While Sullivan makes it clear he wants to keep fighting, he will take some time to address lingering injuries and rehabilitate his body. Sullivan plans to fight again in the spring – he’s just not sure it will be for Shogun Fights, unless he receives a rematch with Spath.
“But it has nothing to do with Shogun Fights – they’re great,” Sullivan said. “Shaun knows he lost that fight. The judges Maryland hires are inept. I saw the scorecards and it reinforce what I’ve said; only one judge checked all the right boxes.”