MMA Fans Have Grown More Educated: Why Haven't MMA Judges?

Matthew ThomasContributor IDecember 8, 2009

HOLLYWOOD, FL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Fans cheer during the the International Fight League World Championship Finals on September 19, 2007 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in  Hollywood, Florida  The International Fight League is the worlds first team based professional mixed martial arts league.  In a match, two teams compete against each other with the winning team being the one whose members win three of five one on one matches in five weight divisions.  Competition goes in a round robin format amongst 12 teams with the teams with the two best records ultimately competing for the IFL Championship.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

This is the first article that I have written about MMA for B/R. I would appreciate any reader feedback, particularly from the more senior writers here. Thank you!


In the early days of the UFC, fans would often boo when a fight went to the ground. To many fans, grappling looked like nothing more than two men rolling around on the canvas.  Contrast this with fans today, who hold their breath in anticipation when a ju-jitsu whiz like Demian Maia takes down his opponent. As Mixed Martial Arts has grown in popularity and exposure, MMA fans have grown far more educated about the sport and its different elements.


One needs to look no further for evidence of this than in how the colour commentary has changed over the years. Joe Rogan no longer needs to take the time to explain what a “guard” is, or how much more punches hurt with those “baby four-ounce gloves”.


Rogan himself recently commented during UFC 105 just how educated fans around the world have become. During the Bisping/Kang fight, the partisan UK crowd was applauding Bisping’s ju-jitsu defence off his back against Kang throughout the first round. Impressive, considering that the UFC has only regularly been holding events in the UK since 2007.


This is a testament to how much more knowledgeable fans worldwide have become about the sport. Unfortunately, based on recent events, one wonders if the same can be said about many MMA judges.


The last three UFC shows (104,105 & 106) have all been plagued by controversy in their main events, surrounding the judge’s decisions and the criteria used in scoring a fight. As a result, many fans and journalists have been questioning the abilities of, and apparent lack of consistency between MMA judges.


How can three judges each score the same fight completely differently for the two fighters? Or score individual rounds in such a wildly varying fashion? Many of these judges have been scoring MMA fights for a number of years. Why does it seem so often that they know less about the sport than the fans do?


Dana White loves to tell his fighters “never to leave it up to the judges” but this isn’t always possible. Especially when part of what makes UFC fights so exciting are the competitive matchups between similarly skilled opponents. When fighters are so closely matched, the notion that every bout will end in a T/KO or submission is just unrealistic.


Besides, who better to score a closely-fought battle than a professional, state-sanctioned judging official? It is precisely these kinds of close fights that highlight the importance of having reliable, educated judges to make a decision. Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, this isn’t always the case.


Too often it seems like many of the State Athletic Commission judges working MMA shows are officials from the other big combat sport (boxing), who see scoring an MMA fight as nothing more than an additional source of income. The trouble is that MMA is a totally different animal from boxing with a unique set of questions to answer.


How much do you reward a fighter who scores a takedown? Do you still reward him if he doesn’t do any damage on the ground?


Should you reward the fighter attempting a submission or the one effectively defending it?


And let’s not even mention the woefully inadequate use of boxing’s 10-point must system for scoring MMA rounds and fights.


The bottom line is that a fighter’s livelihood, body and professional record are all on the line every time they step into the cage. Furthermore, the fans paying to see these fighters deserve to watch a bout that is being judged by attentive and knowledgeable officials. Scoring a fight means much more than just writing numbers down on a piece of paper.


If recent events have proven anything, it is that further education about the sport should be mandatory for those judges who want to work MMA fights. One would think that officials who have an interest in judging MMA would welcome a chance to expand their body of knowledge about the sport.


Mixed Martial Arts is a totally unique sport from boxing, and should be treated as such by the state athletic commissions making money off of these events.


In the next 5–10 years hopefully we will see an influx of officials who have grown up with the sport, and who are as passionate as they are knowledgeable about it. While some may argue that such familiarity can reduce an official’s impartiality or objectivity, the recent judging controversies indicate that there is clearly room for improvement.


It’s hard to argue that any MMA fan would consider more education for officials a bad thing. Perhaps someday there will be an entire generation of judges who have been brought up on, and are thoroughly familiar with the history and intricacies of Mixed Martial Arts.


Just think about how educated the fans will be by then!


Thanks for reading. Again, please do provide me with feedback/ideas about this article in the comments section.