MMA: Why Retired Fighters Should Be Employed as Judges

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MMA: Why Retired Fighters Should Be Employed as Judges
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

There are a lot of discussions going on as to how to fix the judging problems in MMA today. By and large, the judging of many fights is simply below the efforts of the fighters, who deserve much better.

This isn’t a dismissive accusation. There are a lot of good judges, but by and large it seems that far too often a close fight is apt to be scored wrong.

One obvious answer would be for the commissions to recruit, train and employ a group of retired fighters as judges.

This idea has been spoken of before, but it doesn’t seem to have gained all that much momentum. I cannot understand why.

Before anyone cries foul, the simple fact is that as of now, fighters are the best options as judges because they know what they are seeing and how it should be scored. In addition, most fighters have been on the bad end of a bogus decision and thus don’t want to pass that kind of judgment onto another fighter.

Ricardo Almeida currently spends time in the judge's seat for the NJSAC (New Jersey State Athletic Commission), and his experience as a fighter influenced his decision in the Josh Koscheck vs. Johny Hendricks bout. Almeida was the only judge to score the fight for Koscheck at UFC on Fox: Diaz vs. Miller.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press/Associated Press
Johny Hendricks (left) vs. Josh Koscheck (right)

The rest of his judgments basically fell in line with the other judges, who were required to decide six bouts that night.

The obvious question when looking at retired fighters as judges becomes one of trust versus an assumed bias. Many still worry that when it comes to judging a close fight, a judge like Almeida will side with a fighter who shares his nationality or comes from the same core disciplines.

While this is always possible, a former fighter like Almeida would seem to have a more trustworthy conscience on such matters; it’s hard to think of a fighter who hasn’t felt he has been on the wrong end of a decision before.

In addition to that, Almeida has a keen understanding of all the problems that can come from a conflict of interests. In an interview with Jeff Harder of Fightland.com, Almeida discussed the subject openly:

There was a Bellator event and I was assigned to judge a fight with Phillipe Nover, who had come down and trained with us. Nick Lembo didn’t know that Phillipe was coming down and sparring with Frankie Edgar and the guys a couple days a week. I called Nick and said ‘I can’t be a judge for Phillipe’s fight. If something happens and there’s a bad call, and people find out that he’s been training at my school, that’s bad.’

Almeida takes it one step further:

I would not judge a fight with Chris Weidman. He trains with Matt Serra, who’s practically like my brother; he trains at Renzo Gracie’s academy all the time. So even though I’ve never really had close contact with Weidman, I think even subconsciously I would favor him. Or maybe it would be the opposite: ‘I can’t give it to Weidman because he’s from my team, so I’ve got to give it to the other guy.’

It is this kind of awareness and accountability that is needed in the judging of MMA fights, large and small. There also seems to be a kind of transparency under which judges like Almeida labor; their affiliations are well-known, and thus their own personal standard is much higher by necessity.

He also talks about the need for judges to have a serious understanding of what they are seeing, which has been a longtime concern. Many MMA judges have come from the world of boxing, which favors striking above all.

“If you can’t even have a discussion on the difference between a single- and a double-leg takedown, a body lock and a hip throw, a Thai clinch and a collar tie, you have no business judging,” Almeida told Harder.

He’s absolutely correct. Obviously, some fights are harder to judge than others because they are not based upon an understanding of technique alone. How would a group of retired fighters have judged Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks or Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson?

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

While we do not have the answer to that, if said fights had been judged by retired fighters, it seems safe to say that the decisions would not have been a result of ignorance, which is a clear step in the right direction. 

Right now, several fighters have a wealth of experience and could be excellent judges: Pat Miletich, Shonie Carter, Matt Serra and Randy Couture are only a few who come to mind.

These men have long known that every fight is important for every fighter and that every second counts. They are also the kind of men who would and could defend their decisions, because judges should be able to do that consistently.

They understand the need for accuracy, accountability and clarity because they know just what is at stake for the men and women inside that ring or cage.

And when so much is at stake, it would be better if those who judge know what it feels like to be judged in that same environment.

Speaking to reporters on the subject in 2012, Dana White was clearly in favor of the idea.

“I would like to see the fighters ref and judge,” he said. “It makes all the sense in the world.”

Yes, it really does.

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