Why MMA Judging Won't Change: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

TimCorrespondent IJune 25, 2009

It seems like there is a discussion, after every event, about how terrible the judging was. 

Think about the last couple UFC cards, people argued about Franklin/Silva, and after the TUF finale people argued about Sanchez/Guida.  This leaves me with a few questions.  Sure, both these fights were close but...

Is there a common denominator? Is there a bias? What can be done to fix the system?

More directly, how can we judge a fight and keep everyone happy?

The fact is that we can’t.

Judging is not designed to keep everyone happy. It is designed to declare a winner. There is not a single sport that has a flawless judging system.  Not MMA, not figure skating, not ski jumping.  There is not a single one, and there never will be.

If you think you can name one, please prove me wrong.


Do judges need more training?

No matter how well trained judges are, they will remain human.  They will use their discretion to judge who won the fight.

Now, our good friends at Merriam Webster define judge as:

1: to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises

2: to sit in judgment on : try

3: to determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation

4: governrule —used of a Hebrew tribal leader

5: to form an estimate or evaluation of ; especially : to form a negative opinion aboutjudge him because of his accent>

6: to hold as an opinion : guessthink judge she knew what she was doing>intransitive verb

The key word there is opinion. In the opinion of that judge, or any onlooker for that matter that round was a 10-9 round in favor of ______. That is as scientific as it gets.


What is wrong with the system?

There are ways to improve a judging system, but still, none are perfect. In many stunt based sports, such as ski jumping, or half pipe, a move and/or set of rotations are given a difficulty value.

In sports like this, the scoring is based on a combination of the difficulty value and a judged score based on execution. This doesn’t really work with MMA.

In MMA, the subjectivity of the judging is what makes things really interesting. It isn't the three rounds system that is the problem; it would not be fixed if we judges the fight overall.  The debate and confusion is because there is no sure way to determine the winner of any given round.

Scoring in boxing is easier, because they basically count landed shot and knock downs to determine the winner of the round. Boxing also has the advantage of many rounds for a winner to separate them self from the loser. MMA is very different.

In MMA the attacks and tactics that are used are much more varied. At this point, it becomes the responsibility of the judge to determine a relative value for a body punch, compared to a head kick; and a knockdown, and a takedown, and a submission attempted or defended, and relative ground positioning, etc.

To boot, more than one of these things can happen at once. It is not a simple or easy task and it is very subjective.


Is there a better way?

The merit of any scoring system can be debated, but I don’t see a major problem with the current one.  The problem isn’t truly with the system the problem is with the subjectivity, and that isn’t going anywhere.

Unless the governing bodies want to set a value for any given attack, transition position and defensive maneuver, then let a computer tabulate the results, this problem will always exist.

But then again, how happy would fans be waiting until the next day for a winner to be declared?  How many people would say electronic scoring was flawed?

I digress...

Judging, be it professional or not, is someone offering their opinion.  It will always be that way, but ultimately, this is what it comes down to though...


The scoring system is the same for everyone.

No, not every judge will view a fight the same.  No, it won’t be the same for every fight, but every fighter has the same chance of getting what we perceive to be lucky or screwed on any given night.

If the fight goes to a decision, the fighters must deal with the decision.  It is as simple as that. 

There is no solution, and on the bright side, a close or debatable decision gives people like you and I something else to talk about.


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