MMA: Accountability Only Way to Improve Judging, Current Methods Failing

Todd JacksonSenior Analyst IJanuary 15, 2017

Some questions seem to echo timelessly without answer. Was it the chicken or the egg that first showed up on the scene? What exactly is Charlie Sheen talking about? Would I drink Jessica Alba's bathwater?

While the answers may be elusive, the questions ring true awaiting a resolution. On the other side of the fence, there are questions that honestly require no answer what so ever; they are almost rhetorical.

Would I drink Jessica Alba's bathwater?  Is the earth round?  Does MMA need a judging overhaul? The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes.

Most importantly, the judging of match outcomes within the sport of mixed martial arts, is in dire need of unification, education and accountability to set a tone for the future. The sport's future is so incredibly bright, there really is no way to predict how successful MMA will actually become in the long term.

In the last 17 years, the sport has already achieved leaps and bounds in regard to forward progress.  However, that progress was made by redefining and assessing what was accepted as normal yesterday, and refusing it today.

The very nature of MMA demands nothing less than evolution.  This will keep it on the cutting edge, and force it to the front of any discussion when talking about ultimate competition.

Many areas, most notably the talent on display, have evolved at a rapid pace.  MMA has brought some of the most amazing and capable athletes in all of sports, to the forefront.  Other areas, however, have evolved at a snail's pace.

One of which has been the area of judging.  Now, as the sport is forced forward, the dead weight of piss-poor judging has acted as an anchor to an air craft carrier, or a parachute to a drag car.

MMA has exploded, and equally, at times, been stifled by absolutely reckless and asinine judging. Many a fighter has seen his record rearranged both for the better and worst by incompetent or misguided cage-side judging.

To run a subject through the mud, it is important to also give credit where it is due. The job of an MMA official is one of the most demanding and equally thankless jobs across the sport. They are to be unnoticed indefinitely, until they make a mistake, then they find their vague and veiled existence to be thrust under the microscope.

But damn it—if you get your ass tossed under the microscope enough, perhaps there is a reason for all the studying that is taking place.  Maybe it's time for a change.

In the end, it is not to say all judges are bad, or even that any in particular are at fault. Bad decisions are common in the sport, both at the regional and mainstream levels. These people are asked to decide, on the fly, who won a fight and how they won it.

They are asked to do this as a professional in an environment that is nothing short of rabid.  This is a high-intensity and lightning-fast-paced sport that offers multiple levels of competition and ability. It is far from easy and the room for error is miniscule.

But this is a position they have chosen, and surely didn't choose the position to fail at it. It is in their own best interest to become as knowledgeable and accurate as humanly possible, so as to exceed expectations as opposed to falling short of them.

So with that in mind, sharing both the perspective of a long time fan, and the assumed aspirations of any MMA judge, it makes sense to desperately seek out the next best step in improving this ailing aspect of an otherwise amazing sport.

But hand to hand combat judging has been around for centuries, so how can it be improved upon? MMA may be a different flavor of combat sport, but not so far removed from the format of a historical Olympic style event like boxing or even Judo. How do you improve on upon theories so seasoned?

One thing that comes to mind is thinking outside the box while, ironically, it is in a box that the solution may be found. More on that in a moment.

One of the most motivating factors in business, other than financial gain, is accountability. Accountability is a powerful motivator in all things. Accountability transcends sports, employment, family, the list goes on.

There is a box in the sporting world that defines and dictates the outcomes of the entire sport. That box is the MLB strike zone. No matter what happens on a baseball field, what takes place in that box changes everything thereafter.

In MMA, the cage becomes the strike zone, the fighters become the pitcher and batter, and the judges and referee of course become the umpires.

What happens in that cage affects everything, and how it is perceived is extremely important. Especially in the eyes of the officials.

In the game of baseball, some strike zones in certain ballparks are monitored by a tool called Ques Tec that evaluates umpires and their calls.

Like MMA judges, umpires are asked to call balls and strikes in a fast-paced and demanding environment, and the subject matter is extremely fast-moving and difficult to define with any certainty.

The thing about monitoring the calls of MLB umpires, is to demonstrate areas of strength or areas with room for improvement. Not unlike MMA, many MLB umpires have plenty of room for improvement.

So why not, for the sake of forward progress within the sport of MMA, implement a theoretical Ques Tec of sorts to evaluate and grade these judging officials? And, damn it, if a certain athletic commission, or certain judges continue to miss the grade, let's make some changes.

When there are five rounds to decide if Edgar or Maynard are the better fighter, someone needs to make a decision, for crying out loud. Don't leave the worlds' two greatest lightweights, and an entire fan base, not to mention countless future contenders, on hold because we can't agree who had a better night.

If people take a position to affect these matches and this sport, they should be relentlessly educated, and held accountable without question. If they can not make the grade, they need to be cut loose. It starts with analyzing every round and every score from every judge and picking apart the theories that preceded the perceptions that led to certain scores.

Even if not with the intent of reprimanding, but simply to point out flaws and errors that may have been countered with the right understanding of exactly what was seen and what actually took place.

The bad decisions have been many. The fights that were called correctly, with little to no attention, definitely offset those bad calls. Again, they are only analyzed when they are doubted by the masses, and often the masses are biased. That is a luxury judges are not allowed.

But as stated before, not just the fans want the judging to improve.  Surely for the sake of making this sport as elite is it can possibly be, the judges would also like to improve upon their current abilities.

Maybe MMA can take a page out of the book of MLB, and implement a grading system.  This would not only analyze MMA judges, but create the framework to also hold them accountable for the calls they make and the decisions they impact.

Then we might see some of these guys getting on the same page when it comes to doing their job. And when that happens, the blackeye of strange, or downright ridiculous decisions, will become a thing of the past.


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