In mixed martial arts, there is always a risk in leaving the fight in the hands of the judges.
That proved to be the case for Justin Tafa in his bout against Carlos Felipe on Sunday morning (NZ time), falling to a split decision loss in the fight UFC card of the year at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
The Auckland-born heavyweight out-landed his Brazilian opponent by more than 30 strikes through the three-round fight, and looked to have done enough in the bout to take two of the three rounds.
But in the eyes of two of the only three people whose scorecards mattered, Tafa hadn't done enough to take the win.
Things started off well for the Australian-based Tafa, who looked calm inside the octagon and was patient early.
Looking to pick his spots, he worked Felipe's body with several kicks, and went upstairs when the openings appeared. Felipe had little to offer Tafa in the opening five minutes, with Tafa landing 21 strikes to Felipe's seven.
It was a different story in the second round. Both had promising moments in exchanges early in the round, but Tafa was forced to cover up after being hurt by a body shot. While most fighters try not to show signs of pain, Tafa backed up against the cage with his guard up despite Felipe being at range.
The Brazilian pressed to action to try to take advantage, but in the clinch against the fence Tafa was able to recover. It was enough, however, for Felipe to clearly take the round.
It came down to the final five minutes, and both athletes fought as though they knew it. Tafa made some smart adjustments in the third round and initiated clinch situations to control the action and dictate the pace of the fight.
When there was distance between the two, that was quickly closed and at times they simply put their foreheads together and traded shots in the centre of the cage.
Tafa landed 47 strikes to Felipe's 20, according to UFC statistics, in the final round, however two of the three judges scored it in favour of Felipe, thus giving the Brazilian the win via split decision.
The loss saw Tafa's professional MMA record slip to 4-2 and halts the momentum built by his quick knockout win of Juan Adams in February last year.