UFC: Abandoning the 10-Point Must System Is More Complicated Than You Think

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2013

LAS VEGAS - APRIL 28:  Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission Keith Kizer speaks during the final news conference for the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino April 28, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mayweather and Mosley will meet in a 12-round welterweight bout on May 1, 2010 in Las Vegas.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Should the UFC abandon the 10-Point Must System? The question has become almost redundant at this point.

The current scoring system has been so thoroughly discredited in mixed martial arts that change seems inevitable.

Its problems are legion, but perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the 10-Point Must System is that it doesn’t permit nuance. Whether you secure a round with a last-minute takedown or via a five-minute mauling, the judges will almost invariably award a score of 10-9.

Of course, 10-8 rounds could be handed out more liberally, but this comes with its own problems. With the vast majority of MMA bouts being three-round affairs, a two-point deficit becomes almost insurmountable.

So, how best to remedy MMA’s most pressing malady?

A number of solutions have been suggested by both fans and media. Arguably the most popular of these is a return to Pride’s system of scoring the totality of the fight, as opposed to viewing each round as a fight unto itself.

Under the current scoring system, there exists a potential gap between winning an MMA bout and winning a fight. Collapsing that distance should be a major priority.

It is not only possible to win the fight while simultaneously losing the contest, but it’s also a relatively common occurrence. One need only look back to UFC 167’s controversial main event between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks for a particularly egregious example of this flaw.

Most will argue that Hendricks won both the fight and the contest, but that misses the point. The distinction should not exist in the first place.

The Pride system is probably best equipped to deal with the issue, since it effectively eliminates the mechanism by which it occurs.

However, this approach potentially has some flaws of its own, since judges would inevitably favour whichever fighter finishes stronger. Indeed, this bias even exists in three-minute boxing rounds.

Then again, you may argue that judges should place more emphasis on how the fight ends, rather than how it begins. After all, this more closely resembles how one would judge the outcome of a real fight.

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that, but it invites a discussion that could alter the nature of the sport. Some may view it as a step backwards, given how hard the UFC has worked to shake the perception that it is little more than legalised street fighting.

Another commonly suggested idea is open scoring. Under this system, ringside judges would be forced to show their work after each round, letting the fighters know exactly where they stand in the fight.

If fighter A is faced with an insurmountable deficit on the scorecards, he is bound to go for broke. So goes the theory, anyway.

On the flip side, fighter B might just decide to follow Miesha Tate’s immortal advice and coast for the rest of the fight. “Cupcake” needn’t ever worry that she’s leading her beau down the primrose path again.

I’m no fan of Keith Kizer, but the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission raised some legitimate concerns about open scoring in an interview with MMAJunkie.com’s Ben Fowlkes.

For instance, what would happen if a visiting fighter is up on the cards against the hometown hero in front of a hostile crowd?

“First of all, you could have people throwing beer bottles and all that," Kizer said. "Secondly, even if they don’t throw beer bottles, the judges—and I’ve talked to some of them about this—they’d be afraid. They’d be looking behind them during the next round. Then the rest of the fight after that, there’s the potential for the judges to be distracted.”

Kizer also pointed out that judges may be influenced by one another, particularly if their scores differ significantly from their colleagues’ scores.

With so much talk focusing on various alternatives to the 10-Point Must System, the issue of judging criteria has largely been overlooked.

In the days that followed UFC 167, a recurring theme was “damage” and its primacy in determining the outcome of a fight.

What most don’t realise is that damage is never referred to in the official judging criteria. You might argue that it falls under the category of “effective striking,” but you’d be wrong:

“Effective striking is judged by determining the total number of legal strikes landed by a contestant.”

Whether damage should be taken into consideration by the judges is a different question, and one that is more complicated than you might think.

How should damage be defined? Few seem to have considered the question, relying instead on their intuition to guide them.

If it is based purely on aesthetics, we already have a problem. The simple fact is that some fighters mark up more easily than others. Look at Georges St-Pierre, for example. The longtime welterweight king bruises more easily than a half-eaten pear.

In fact, most light-skinned fighters would likely be at a disadvantage. While handicapping white people may seem wonderfully karmic, it’s probably not the best approach to fight scoring.

No matter how one defines damage, its evaluation is going to be no less subjective than any other judging criteria you’d care to mention.

We can discuss these issues ad nauseam, but it is all theoretical at this point. Until we are given the opportunity to look at a scoring system in practice, we are engaging in pure guesswork.

How can any of these systems be tested? The UFC isn’t in the habit of using its events as a laboratory.

Luke Thomas’ suggestion that the UFC should experiment with smaller cards and lesser-known fighters seems abhorrent on the surface, but I honestly can’t think of a better idea—which isn’t to say using low-profile fighters as lab rats is a good idea.

An overhaul of the scoring system is long overdue, but we have underestimated how complex the issue is. Such fundamental change demands patience of all involved.

We don’t just want change, we want the right change. Unfortunately, that takes time.