MMA: Improving Refereeing and Judging in Mixed Martial Arts

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MMA: Improving Refereeing and Judging in Mixed Martial Arts
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

I recently came across a story where Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League decided to suspend four referees after they blew a call during a game.  This got me thinking that it would be nice if more sports did this. 

I look at it this way, if I screw up on my job, I’m going to hear it from my boss.

I’m sure you’re in the same boat, so why do these referees and judges so often get a free pass when they make egregious errors?

While mulling this over, I came up with some ideas on how the judging and refereeing could be improved in mixed martial arts.  Yes, it’s another one of “those” articles. However these thoughts are a little different than the normal suggestions to change the scoring system or make the scores visible between rounds.

I know the below ideas would be difficult to put in place in the current environment where the athletic commission usually oversees the officials, but there’s always room to evolve things, right?


Peer Review:

This is would be a huge help for referees and judges alike. 

A group of the most senior and/or well-respected officials could review a certain number of fights a judge has scored or a referee has been involved with.

These reviews would only be used to point out what an official did, right or wrong.  For a referee, the peer review could point out a moment where positioning was a concern or where a stoppage was either late or early. For a judge, the review process could be a way for their peers to try and see what they were scoring and where the scoring may have been questionable.

On the positive side, peer review would provide opportunities for praise as well.

Oversight From Above:

Giving a judge or referee a bird’s-eye view during a fight would allow for immediate feedback post-fight or even in fight. Letting the referee and judges know what they did right or wrong as soon as possible would be a huge help.



A post-mortem is necessary for every fight card.

It needs to be a done and it can't be a matter of just going through the motions. The post-mortem would allow the referees that were not active for a particular fight to exchange information with the referee that was in the cage. It will also allow for the referee that worked a fight to defend their decisions and positioning to the referees that were inactive. 

The judges could use the post-mortem time to review their scorecards and notes to see where there were discrepancies in judging, allowing them to discuss the reasoning behind their scoring a particular round a certain way.


Instant Replay:

This has been discussed in the past and will most likely continue to be discussed whenever a particularly bad decision is made. 

The problem is agreeing on what is reviewable and at what point. 

It’s very easy to make a sweeping statement that instant replay is an immediate need. It’s another thing to put it into practice. 

At this point there are far too many questions that would need to be sorted out for instant replay to be put into play.  If the sport does want to allow it, it needs to do so only after giving very strict guidelines on its usage. 

One of those guidelines has to be that there isn’t an instance where it could be used during a round.  To stop the flow of action to check on a potential low blow, eye poke or strike to the back of the head isn’t something that anyone should endorse.

Cageside Referee:

If the “eye in the sky” referee is adopted, this one may be overkill. 

However, it can't hurt if another set of eyes are watching the fight unfold at almost the same level as the in-cage official.

As with the idea for the referee viewing things from above, a mic’d up cageside ref could provide immediate feedback to the in-cage official.


Punishment and Repercussions:

Everyone makes mistakes, and some of those mistakes live for a long, long time.

Just ask Major League Baseball umpire Don Denkinger

I’m not calling for punishment after one or two bad calls or a single judging faux pas, but when there is a pattern of errors, someone needs to get involved.

Guidelines would need to be developed, and some type of board would need to be assembled that could review theses issues.  At this point, it seems as if there are no checks and balances in place.

This is something that needs to change.

Who would be on that board and the development of an appeal process would be big hurdles to overcome.


Ongoing Education and Testing:

This is something that everyone should do in every job, but few actually take the initiative to do. With that in mind, there should be some type of documentable standard in place that judges and referees need to adhere to as far keeping their skills at a top-notch level.

There’s nothing worse than the person that becomes set in their ways at their job and lets progress pass them by.

A yearly test would be a start, but only a start. More than that is needed.

Will any of these things ever happen?  Who knows, but we all know something needs to be done to improve MMA officiating.

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