"I don't think the last fight was close and the decision went the wrong way. It's putting a tremendous amount of pressure on fighters not knowing what kind of officiating you're getting.” These were Joe Rogan’s words regarding the judges’ decision that saw Leonard Garcia beat Nam Phan by split decision during Saturday’s The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale.
This controversial decision victory for Leonard Garcia follows an equally divisive split decision victory for Quinton “Rampage” Jackson over Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida just two weeks earlier at UFC 123 in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Rampage was stunned in the center of the cage when the three judges scored the fight 29-28 in favor of Jackson. Actually conceding defeat and even raising Machida’s hand to signify the outcome of the bout prior to the judges’ decision, Jackson stated after his victory that aggression was the “only thing that got me the decision.”
Joe Rogan’s verbal rant during the Rick Story, Johny Hendricks fight regarding Leonard Garcia’s victory this past Saturday was invaluable for the public to understand the limitations the UFC has regarding decision outcomes. Rogan blasted the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the judges.
“We should point out, that is the situation because of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. It's got nothing to do with the UFC. People keep saying 'oh the UFC!' We have no say whatsoever. And (NSAC executive director) Keith Kizer has denied that there's an issue,” Rogan lamented.
As a former professional fighter, I have direct experience when a fight is left in the hands of the judges. There is an uneasy feeling when a fight is not finished and the decision goes to the score cards.
In addition to the potential loss on a fighter’s record, pay is traditionally based on the outcome of the fight. If the judges view the fight differently than the action that took place in the octagon, the loser may suffer not only a professional blow, but a significant financial defeat as well.
"It's gross. You should be able to leave it in the hands of the judges. You should be able to just fight,” Rogan stated after Nam Phan’s decision loss.
The perception of the public is now placed on the forefront as well. Due to the lack of integrity in other combat sports, mainly boxing, the mixed martial arts community has gone to great lengths to ensure that the integrity of MMA is never questioned.
"They need to do something about that, because it's ruining MMA. It's making people think that this sport is corrupt. It has nothing to do with corruption. It's sheer and total incompetence. I think (Kizer) needs to clean house. There's a few very good judges surrounded by a bunch of incompetent morons, who know nothing about the sport,” Rogan continued to state.
In addition to being a former fighter, I also worked as a judge for the Ohio State Athletic Commission. Often times, my views of the fights were in contrast of the other judges. Considering the other judges selected by the athletic commission had no previous fight experience, their views of the action within the cage would force me to shake my head in disgust.
The following is the criteria used to judge a fight:
1. Clean Strikes
2. Effective Grappling
3. Octagon Control
The criteria are very subjective, especially if a judge has not had any formal fight experience. Of the four criteria, clean strikes may be the easiest to judge. A head snapping back from an over hand right leaves little room for debate. The remaining three criteria is the challenge.
Effective grappling can be fairly obvious until a jiu-jitsu specialist is working various submissions off of his back. If a judge is not familiar with the jiu-jitsu game, these attempts may not be viewed as the fighter trying to finish the fight.
Additionally, octagon control is typically considered when one fighter is stalking the other. But how about for those counter strikers? Chuck Liddell’s stand up strategy comes to mind. He typically balances an offensive attack with a successful counter striking arsenal to win numerous knockout victories.
Does that mean he is not controlling the octagon? I would say no. He is controlling his octagon because he is forcing the other fighter to fight his game. In essence, he has the octagon control, even though his opponent is consistently moving forward.
And lastly, how is aggression determined? Non-stop, demonstrative attacks are easy to decide as acts of aggression. But yet again, for those cerebral fighters who are very skilled, their presence within the octagon may be misconstrued as passive. In reality, they are waiting to pick their opportunity to pounce and finish the fight.
I realize that there are two sides to every argument. I do not question the criteria for which a judge has to conclude the victor. What I am questioning is the pool of judges themselves.
Shouldn’t judges be former fighters, or at least an extremely knowledgeable fight game aficionado, such as someone the caliber of Eddie Bravo?
Having former fighters as judges also has potential downfalls. Again, integrity of the sport may be in question as former practitioners are now in control of a potential past opponents fate within the octagon.
Additionally, each state in which the UFC holds a venue requires that the judges are sanctioned through that state’s athletic commission. The logistics required to sanction each judge for the venues may be too much to overcome.
In the end, the particular athletic commissions need to realize that ultimate fighting is extremely dynamic. More education and direct experience by the judges will provide a deeper insight into the fight game and what each fighter is attempting to accomplish within the octagon.
In the meantime, I applaud Rogan for his comments. Making the athletic commission accountable will force change. Additionally, the more educated the American public is to the process associated with the fights, the better served the mixed martial arts community will be.
“Leaving it in the hands of the judges,” is now becoming a punch line for jokes as opposed to a fair and unbiased outcome for the fighters. In time, fighters and fans alike will be confident that the correct outcome will be made when the fight goes to the judges’ scorecards.
I welcome your comments.
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