Weighing In on the MMA Judging Debate

Darren WongSenior Analyst INovember 15, 2009

INGLEWOOD, CA - MARCH 17:  Comedian Joe Rogan attends the IFL Fight Night at The Forum on March 17, 2007 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for IFL)
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

After Randy Couture's victory over Brandon Vera, Joe Rogan stated that he believes that there is a serious problem with judging in MMA.

Yet while the result of the Couture vs. Vera fight highlighted some imperfections in the judging system, those imperfections hardly call for a drastic overhaul of a system that has been largely effective.

The two most recent UFC main event decisions brought to light some apparent problems with the current MMA scoring system, but there is simply no simple solution, and maybe not even a better one.

Sportsnet's "Showdown" Joe Ferraro recently published a lengthy set of articles about overhauling the current judging system, but only a week earlier, Ferraro had referred to Fightmetric as "the gold standard" for MMA judging in an article titled "Ma-cheated ."

Since those two ideas seem to be inconsistent, I don't know how seriously I can take these suggestions.

I plan on writing an entire article detailing the inadequacies of Fightmetric, but for now, suffice it to say that Fightmetric is not the be-all and end-all of MMA scoring.

Aside from drastic overhauls, however, there have been other more modest proposals for changing the way fights are scored.

First and foremost among the modest proposals are those that advocate scoring more 10-10, 10-8 and even 10-7 rounds.

The first round of the Couture vs. Vera fight could certainly have benefited from a 10-10 scoring, as neither fighter really did anything to win the round.

There are many other fights where one fighter wins one round decisively, but loses two others marginally, where this kind of scoring system might seem justified.

For example, BJ Penn fans wish that BJ had been awarded more points for the first round than GSP's marginal victories in the second and third rounds.

Another example is Yushin Okami's loss to Jake Shields, where Okami did far more to win the fight in the third round than Jake Shields did in the entire fight.

Despite these singular examples, however, there are plenty of other singular cases that would be hurt by this scoring.

The drawback to encouraging judges to score a round 10-10 when it is close, is that it will likely result in more draws. Draws are generally seen as unwanted outcomes, for a set of reasons too large to be discussed at this time.

Encouraging a wider scale for scoring rounds also results in some problems. The current scoring system is for the most part, fairly predictable. Fans are able to accurately predict the final score as long as each individual round was moderately clear to score.

If one fighter wins two rounds, and the other fighter wins one round, then the score is usually 29-28. This kind of predictability is good, but it might go away if people need to start wondering about if a round should be 10-8 or 10-7, while right now the distinction is relatively clear between 10-9 and 10-8.

Predictability is even worse in another system advocated by some. Pride FC used a scoring system that did not score by rounds, but instead judged the fight as a whole. This scoring system leads to even less predictability and more confusion amongst fans.

Of course, if you want to make outcomes completely predictable, you can do as some others have suggested, and announce the scores after each round.

This has actually already been done in boxing with less-than-stellar results, especially when one fighter is leading heavily on the scorecards and can avoid action to win a decision.

Is the current scoring system perfect? No, it certainly isn't. There are even some small changes within the unified rules that might be justified. However, for every one of the large modifications mentioned above, the harms might outweigh the benefits.

Furthermore, changing scoring cannot affect a fight retroactively. As a fan I can say that Vera would have beaten Couture if the scoring system was modified, but who is to say that the fight would not have played itself out differently if the scoring system was different at the time?