It happened again this past Saturday at UFC 123, a scoring controversy marred what was otherwise a fairly entertaining main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida. For once though, the night did not end with the fans calling for the heads of the three judges sitting ringside because amazingly, they got it right.
Unlike Bisping vs. Hamill or Machida vs. Rua I, the judges scored the bout correctly on Saturday night. They applied the current scoring system fairly which led to the right man getting his hand raised at the end of fight.
But should Jackson have won? He didn't land any threatening shots. He never had Machida in any sort of trouble and never had the Brazilian in a dangerous position. On the flip side, in round three Machida had Jackson rocked, mounted and almost submitted via an arm bar. It just feels weird to award the fight to the competitor who did less damage and was never in a position to finish the fight.
So what should be done?
That's where the controversy really starts. Many want to adopt the old PRIDE rules for scoring bouts. In PRIDE, the bouts were scored in their entirety, not on a round by round basis. The winner was determined by effort made to finish the fight by KO or submission, damage inflicted, standing combinations and ground control, takedowns and takedown defense, aggressiveness and finally weight for when the competitors came in at different weights.
When the judges would go to score the fight they would look at those factors, in that order. So if one fighter tried to finish the fight more times than the opponent, but was taken down multiple times by that opponent, the fighter who tried to finish the fight more often would get the nod.
While the criteria for the judges decisions makes more sense than the current American judging, I'm hesitant to let the current crop of judges view a fight only in its entirety.
With the consistent incompetence from the judges, it would seem likely that fights would soon delve into who won the third and final frame. In the recent past fighters have been "stealing the round" by looking aggressive or securing a takedown in the final 30 seconds of a round. What will stop fighters from "stealing the fight" by mounting little resistance during the first two-and-a half rounds, but then taking down their opponent in the final stanza of the fight?
Judges have been known to be extremely short-sighted and remember what they JUST saw as opposed to the whole duration of a fight or round. By adopting the PRIDE system, I think we would only see an influx of scoring discrepancies.
At the end of the day, the current 10-point must scoring system used by the UFC, Strikeforce and other prominent American promotions is the best system in the business. However that doesn't mean that changes shouldn't be made. To create the best possible criteria and to ensure that the correct fighter wins the bout a few small, subtle changes need to happen.
The biggest issue I have with the current system is not the criteria, but how the judges view the fight. They currently sit cageside and must watch the fight through the fence. If the fight goes to an area of the Octagon that the judges cannot clearly see, oh well, they must do their best to determine who is winning that portion of the fight. The UFC and other organizations need to get it mandated that the judges receive monitors in front of them, so they can clearly see the action at all times.
The fact that they don't currently use monitors is downright baffling to me. Why would you deny technology that would greatly help the legitimacy of your sport and organization? It's almost as ridiculous as baseball blackballing instant replay for so long because it would "ruin the sanctity of the game."
No, it wouldn't. It would ensure that the right call gets made, which is what everyone wants in the end, not some overarching ideology that their sport is pure because it retains its archaic ways of being played. If technology is available and it will improve the sport, then it needs to be used. End of story.
The current scoring criteria for the 10-point must scoring system includes clean strikes, effective grappling, control and effective aggression. None of the four are more important than the others, leading to a rather confusing way of scoring a bout. If one fighter wins striking and aggression but the other wins grappling and control who wins the round?
To more effectively score the bouts state MMA commissions need to adopt two of the judging guidelines from the former PRIDE Fighting Championships: attempts to finish the fight by KO or submission and damage inflicted.
Both of these would ensure that the fighter who was truly more dominant or who was closer to finishing the fight would receive the nod in the end. They would also need to place those two above the other four criteria, making close finishes and overall damage more important than takedowns and control.
This would force wrestlers to adapt from simply implementing a suffocating top control to one that involves submissions and ground n' pound. It alleviates the current cry from fans denouncing wrestlers and makes sure the fighter who was actively trying to finish the fight walks away as the winner.
The final piece of the puzzle is Dana White and athletic commissioners everywhere embracing and encouraging the use of 10-10 and 10-8 rounds. With the use of 10-10 and 10-8 rounds, draws would increase, but I think that's a fine trade-off for more accurate scoring that reflects the action in the cage. Too often dramatically different rounds are both scored as 10-9.
Going back to Jackson vs. Machida, there is no way that round one or two was equal in dominance for Jackson as round three was for Machida. While Machida didn't have a 10-8 third round, a simple 10-10 in either of the first two rounds would have accomplished the same thing. It allows for scores to fluctuate and paint a better, more accurate picture of what happened. Instead of the obligatory 30-27 or 29-28 we could get 30-28, 29-26, or anything in between.
Is the 10-point must scoring system the perfect way to judge a mixed martial arts bout? Of course not. But it is the best thing we have out there. Unless someone can implement a radical scoring system that just blows away everything out there, I think we may already have the best foundation possible. Those few minor changes mentioned will only help MMA going forward. It will ensure the correct fighter walks away with his hand raised while also increasing the action inside the cage.
There won't ever by a perfect scoring system, but the least we can do is maximize the potential of what we already have in place. Hopefully mixed martial arts won't become baseball. Hopefully it will adapt to changing technology and an evolving world. MMA pushed the envelope when it first came to be, hopefully it takes the same initiative when it comes to judging.