Like many visitors to Las Vegas, Tanner (The Bulldozer) Boser leaves a loser. But the Alberta heavyweight likely deserves better.
The 29-year-old from Bonnyville, Alta., who now calls Edmonton home, was at the wrong end of a 28-29, 29-27, 28-29 split decision Saturday night with two of the three judges ruling in favour of Sweden's Ilir (The Sledgehammer) Latifi on a Fight Night card at the UFC's Apex production facility.
Boser (19-8-1) lost despite running up a 45-10 edge in significant strikes according to UFC Stats. Latifi scored two takedowns, in the first and third rounds, compiling six minute 38 seconds of control time (compared to 42 seconds for Boser) but did little damage on the ground.
Boser fought off a takedown attempt in the second and dominated the round, holding a 34-6 edge in significant strikes.
All three judges gave Boser the second round. Judge Tony Weeks made it a 10-8 round and also gave Boser the first round in his 29-27 score for the Canadian. Judges Mike Bell and Junichiro Kamijo scored the second 10-9 for Boser, giving Latifi the first and third rounds.
When the decision was announced, Boser mouthed a curse word and turned away in disgust. An emotional Latifi, blood trickling down his nose, sank to his knees in relief after snapping a three-fight losing streak.
The commentators were also taken aback, thinking Boser had won the fight
"Well, I stand corrected," former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping said after the decision was announced.
"I don't think you were the only one that thought that," replied play-by-play announcer Brendan Fitzgerald.
The 37-year-old Latifi (15-8-0 with one no contest) was unavailable for comment. The UFC said he was taken to hospital "for precautionary reasons." The Swede later retweeted a UFC clip showing him throwing his hands up in victory after the decision was announced. The UFC cutline to the video was "Razor thin."
Boser also took to social media with a tweet aimed at UFC president Dana White and matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard, saying "Let me fight out the last fight on my contract in July. I’m not hurt and I’m pissed off."
Country music singer Brett Kissel, a fellow Albertan, tweeted his support for Boser.
"I don’t agree with the decision. I think the judges suck. But we’re behind Tanner, and can’t wait to watch his star rise in the UFC," he wrote.
Kissel also suggested that the vodka line he and his wife co-own would "give ya the liquid you need." Boser responded by saying he planned to "get wasted."
It was Boser's second straight loss, following another judging head-scratcher.
Boser saw his two-fight win streak snapped in a loss to former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei (The Pit Bull) Arlovski in November. Boser landed 68 of 119 significant strike attempts while Arlovski was good on 34 of 82 attempts. But Arlovski showed more power.
While all three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Arlovski, each awarded Boser a different round. Eric Colon gave Boser the nod in the first, Chris Lee the second and Ron McCarthy the third.
Boser blamed himself afterwards, saying he had been too complacent. He said he thought he was ahead in the fight and that Arlovski would have to come at him, giving him a chance to punish the former champ if he made a mistake.
Judging controversies are not unusual in mixed martial arts, a sport that incorporates striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu among other disciplines. White often warns his fighters not to leave matters in the hands of the judges for that very reason.
But Boser landed more significant strikes (45) than Latifi attempted (38). Boser attempted 105 significant strikes in all.
Saturday's fight was a matchup of styles.
Boser, a mobile heavyweight, is primarily a striker. Latifi a former light-heavyweight who recently moved up a weight class, is a stocky former wrestler with a big overhand right.
Boser came out in aggressive fashion, feinting strikes and landing kicks. Latifi caught an attempted kick some 90 seconds in and took Boser down for the first time in his six-fight UFC career (3-3-0). The Swede improved his position on the ground but did little damage.
Boser worked his way back to his feet with 90 seconds remaining in the round.
"That's not easy to do when you've got a double-decker bus lying on top of you," said Bisping.
Boser held an 8-1 edge in significant strikes in the round.
The second round was all Boser. With two minutes remaining, the Albertan hurt Latifi with a punch that caught the Swede in the left eye.
Latifi clutched his eye in pain, retreating to the fence where he dropped to one knee. Boser moved in, delivering more than a dozen blows as referee Herb Dean hovered nearby. But Latifi survived and got to his feet.
There was visible damage under Latifi's eye, prompting a visit by the ringside physician in the break between rounds. But the bout continued.
Each fighter was credited with just three significant strikes in the final round, which saw Latifi take Boser down 45 seconds in. Boser remained on his back for the rest of the round, although Latifi was unable to take advantage.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press