For some time now, fans and officials have been pondering how to fix many of the problems currently in the sport of MMA.
Be it judging inconsistencies, fighters “coasting” by maintaining a top position without trying to improve said position for a finish, or just being overly tentative, the sport is still trying to come up with the next improvement.
As of now, most fights are three rounds, with each round lasting five minutes. For title fights, the bouts are five rounds, five minutes per round.
It’s a formula that has worked well in the eyes of many and has been adapted as a sport standard by nearly all MMA promotions. This is especially important considering that a uniformed standard is needed in order for fighters to grow to their full potential.
But would there be any possible benefits of changing the length of rounds and, further, bout durations?
In theory, the idea behind this is that shorter rounds would make fighters work harder to take advantage of strong positions in addition to making it easier for the judges to properly assess the content of three minutes worth of action as opposed to five.
The latter seems very important when it comes to the usage of the 10-8 round, which is rarely done with any kind of uniformity in the sport today. One judge may see a round 10-8 while the other two do not, which can lead to vast differences in scoring.
The former is of equal importance for obvious reasons: It leads the fighter on top to try and make the most of any advantageous position rather than simply milking the clock by imposing the urgency of time. The fighter might not get another chance if they don’t get the finish or do enough damage to give themselves an advantage in the rounds to come.
Secondly, it could make for more competitive fights as it gives striking-based fighters more opportunities to impose their will. By proxy, this turns up the heat on grappling-based fighters, making them work hard for the finish anytime they take the fight to the floor.
Of course, with shorter rounds comes the need for a change in bout duration. Non-title fights would need to be five rounds long and title fights increased to seven or nine rounds.
That is a whole lot of change to implement in a sport so accustomed to the current standards.
Baring that in mind, we must consider if the changes would really empower the fighters toward a fair yet fan-pleasing end, or would it just be a case of freeing one style while encumbering another?
As it stands today, the main problem seems to be in the judging of a round. Even now, with the sport nearly 20 years old, most judges come from the world of boxing where three-minute rounds are the norm and the 10-8 round scoring system is implemented with much more clarity and regularity.
And yet, we still see many boxing bouts that suffer from bad judging and officiating. However, upon closer examination, bad scoring in boxing seems to come about in the rounds where no knockdowns were scored. Even in boxing matches where the decisions were nearly highway robbery, 10-8 rounds were nearly always given out in agreement by all three judges when knockdowns occurred.
As flawed as they may be, boxing judges understand and can consistently apply the 10-8 rule; a constant which would do wonders for the sport of MMA.
Thus, the question morphs: Is that because of shorter rounds or just a clearly defined point system regarding a knockdown?
To be fair, it is probably the latter. The 10-8 system of scoring a knockdown has been established for a very long time. Even boxing novices can score a 10-8 round with relative ease and match that of the official judges.
The same cannot be said for MMA, where there are so many ways to lose at any given moment.
Still, even with shorter rounds and longer bout durations, the mechanics of the competition remain constant. Wrestling-based fighters will still go for the takedown when it is to their advantage and striking based fighters will play to their strengths.
And if three-minute rounds are more accurately digestible for the current crop of judges so they may fairly judge the action and apply the correct judging criteria, then maybe it is worth a second look.
Thus, if it benefits anyone, it would seem to be the judges who have less information to try and process and thus the activity of the fighters has more of a voice in their mind, much like smaller classroom sizes give the students more voice and their work more attention.
Now, one might think that what benefits the judges in turn benefits the fighters by proxy, but is this really true?
It is going to be some time before MMA fights are judged by men and women who honestly understand and appreciate the sport, well removed from the shadow of boxing. Those men and women will have been raised on the sport and will be acutely aware of all the nuances needed to accurately assess a true victor.
Imposing three-minute rounds would be a radical change that would not really provide the relief needed for the current problems of judging MMA competition. Takedowns and top-control will still be favored with more appreciation than they are due and so on. Three-minute rounds would not educate judges on how to score all the facets of MMA competition fairly.
As far as knockdown scoring is concerned, that, too, seems to need the passage of time and a more precise understanding of how much a knockdown should be valued in MMA.
In the most recent bout between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez, the latter was knocked down three times in the opening frame, and the judges all agreed upon a score of 10-6 in favor of Cotto.
This can be compared to the second fight between Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar, where Maynard knocked down the champion three times in the opening frame and was only awarded the round 10-8 on all scorecards.
Should it have been a 10-7 round, or even a 10-6, given that MMA allows a fight to continue on the ground after a knockdown (and thus the downed fighter is without the mandatory 10 count boxing allows for said fighter to regain his wits)?
These are the questions that really impede MMA judging today, and they are not likely to be solved by shorter rounds, no matter how many additional rounds this affords.