Never Leave a Fight in the Hands of the Judges: Evolution of MMA Judging

TIM VREELANDCorrespondent IJune 18, 2011

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 27:  Riki Fukuda of Japan drives Nick Ring of Canada into the ground during their middleweight boutat UFC 127 at Acer Arena on February 27, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The old adage “never leave a fight in the hands of the judges” is as timeless as the fight game itself–and always an issue.

In combat sports this is especially true. While boxing fans are apparently used to this phenomenon (we are not by the way), MMA fans are still getting used to the injustice of a bad decision.

As the popularity of the sport grows, the need for a judging criteria suited to the sport is in high demand by both fans and officials.

During the dark days of MMA, the UFC—recently acquired by Zuffa—had to take the “human cock fight” and sell it as a legitimate sport. Weight classes, gloves and rules were an absolute must.

Now over a decade later, the popularity of the sport demands a unique judging system.

First off, the adoption of the ten-point must system. This was taken from the sweet science of boxing in the early days of MMA regulating simply because it was a familiar system, and easy to sell to the Athletic Commission.

These days the system has reached the point where it creates more controversy than conclusions. Since the acquisition of Strikeforce, UFC essentially owns the market and has bombarded the fans with fights. Hey, more fights are awesome—but it furthers the need for more efficient judging.

Let us look at a few of the common hurdles and then some ideas that would help to streamline the judging process.

1) Inactivity during a fight.

There are so many examples of this, but the bouts that most recall are championship fights of this nature. There is a bold, definitive line between feeling out your opponent and simply not fighting.

The easiest example would be UFC 112, Anderson Silva versus Damian Maia. A five round nightmare of a circus act/title fight.

Maia was so outmatched he could not do much, and Silva seemed content to toy with him and break dance for five rounds. Silva had a few fights that took on this bizarre format. Why should any fan have to pay for a sideshow when they ordered a fight.

2) Scoring a takedown.

This is always a major issue from a control perspective.

A prime example is a fighter that loses every second of a standup battle, but consistently scores a takedown—but may not do much with it, and his opponent gets back to his feet relatively quickly and without further incident.

Scoring a takedown just for points should only be viewed in a positive light if it leads to a period of striking or attempted submissions—let us say about 20 to 30 seconds at least. If a fighter is taken down but gets back on his feet inside of 10 seconds, then it is essentially ineffective.

Junior DoSantos taking down Shane Carwin in the final round of UFC 131 comes to mind.

3) The defense versus offense argument.

Ultimately, the sport of MMA is an aggressive sport. The aggressor is favored because they are coming forward trying to finish their opponent, pushing the action. However, the fighter that uses good defense usually is accused of running or not engaging.

An example of a good defensive fighter is Lyoto Machida. He moves and evades, but counters and controls the octagon by keeping his opponents at bay. Most of his fights involve his opponents chasing him but rarely connecting.  

Rampage versus Machida at UFC 131 is a great example of this argument. Rampage won a split decision that he admitted to the crowd he felt he had not won. Machida landed more, but rarely came forward or acted as the aggressor.

4) The flaw of a ten point must system in MMA.

The use of this system in boxing over an 8 to 12 round fight leaves more opportunity for a fighter to even up the scores.  A great example of this occurred at UFC 85 when Nate Marquardt fought Thales Leites, and lost a split decision.

Marquardt lost two points for fouls during the bout. One of which was very justified, the other without even a warning. Marquardt won every second of that fight, but the scoring and the point deductions caused him to lose the decision.

This led to Thales Leites fighting for the middleweight title against Anderson Silva at UFC 97.

Without question one of the worst main events in UFC history.

Okay so there are a few solid issues with decent examples, now on to solutions.

1) The yellow card.

Ah yes, the yellow card solved many lack luster fight issues in the days of Pride Fighting Championships. No action for about 30 seconds or more, then BAM! Yellow card.

During the Pride days this was a deduction from a fighter’s purse. These days that seems a little harsh, especially on the lower paid fighters. Perhaps we could deduct a half point for inactivity or a full point if one accumulates multiple cards in a round.

However, during a championship bout of this nature, I think a monetary deduction is fair.

2) A solid criteria for scoring takedowns needs to be established.

Effective takedowns need a clear definition. As mentioned before, giving credit just for a takedown that leads to nothing but the opponent standing up right away should not score as a positive.

3) MMA is an aggressive sport, but a smart fighter can use a defensive approach to counter this effectively.

The solution lies in identifying the more effective fighter. While most prefer the fighter that goes for the finish as opposed to the win, the aggressor is not always the winner.

After all a fighter can control the octagon by forcing his opponent to chase him while countering—thus keeping the fight where he wants it, moving.

4)The evolution of the ten point must system.

There are many ideas on this one, but the idea of a half point or more 10 -10 rounds when things are close seem reasonable. The current system encourages that a winner of each round is declared. The use of a 10-8 sees more use than the 10-10. This says some can lose a round very badly, but not be so close that both win.

Perhaps using half points for fouls would create less of a gap in the scoring, so a fighter has more of a chance to level the playing field over three rounds.

A loose example would be something like this: Fighter A versus Fighter B over three five minute rounds. B loses a half point in the first round for low blows—a warning first, then a half point deduction.

Round 1 – A -10 B 9.5.

Round 2 A-9 B-10 (lets say B stole the round).

Round 3 – A-10 B-10 (lets say they both left it all out there and went strike for strike).

Total – A-29 B- 29.5.

Now this is an ideal example, but fighter B getting a half point taken does not cost him the bout.

These are some ideas but the final solution is not that simple. With a system already in place for over a decade, the change would be complicated.

Perhaps a group of retired fighters and some officials could create an MMA rules and regulations book strictly for judging. Or just streamline the existing rules to better suit the sport and ensure the judges understand all aspects of the rules.

A judge familiar with boxing would probably find the striking easy to score, but once a fight hits the ground they might just tune it out simply because it is out of their realm of expertise.

Training judges specific to the sport would be a start. This is a combat sport, but one all its own. The judging needs to evolve with MMA.

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