by Cody Morris
The unfortunate truth about judging in Mixed Martial Arts is that many times the judges assigned to the bouts might as well be making balloon animals and passing them to the crowd. Time and time again we see a fighters career damaged by an awful decision that can only be the result of a grandfathered scoring system, passed down to an incompetent trio of judges, who have a hindered view of the fight itself. Although 2013 is largely regarded thus far as being the best year in Mixed Martial Arts history, it seems there are still some major changes to be made.
Lets first talk about the current state of the scoring system.
The "10 Point Must System" is in effect for all Mixed Martial Arts bouts. Three judges score each round and award who they perceive to be the winner of the round 10 points. The loser of the round is then given 9 points or less. The amount of points given to the loser of the round depends entirely upon how dominant the judges viewed the victor of the round being. However, if the judges declare the round even, each fighter is given 10 points for the round (This is very rare and often referred to as the unicorn).
Each round is judged on the following criteria...
1. Effective Striking (Total number of legal strikes landed by a contestant.)
2. Effective Grappling (The amount of successful executions of legal takedowns or reversals.)
3. Fighting Area or Octagon Control (Which contestant is dictating the pace, location, and position of the bout.)
4. Effective Aggressiveness (Moving forward and landing a legal strike.)
A recent change to the unified rules that should be reconsidered was the removal of "Effective Defense". The committees reasoning for this change was the notion that offensive actions should be the only criteria used to judge a bout because the offensive fighter pushes the action and makes the fight happen. Therefore, if two contestants rely solely on defense they will basically defeat the purpose of fighting altogether. But isn't that one of the reasons the option of a 10-10 round exists?
This means that defense is its own reward and any fighter who chooses not to defend properly will suffer the consequences of the offensive action inflicted on them. The glaring flaw in this idea is that effective defense can often dictate the pace, location, and position of a bout (Octagon Control). Not to mention in some cases even finish the fight. For example Chris Weidman retaining the Middleweight Title by checking a leg kick delivered by Anderson Silva, which is an effective defensive technique. If a takedown is viewed as octagon control, then a defended takedown should also be viewed as such. Not only do defended takedowns dictate pace, location, and position of the fight but they often affect the fight result as well.
One of the main issues with the "10 Point Must System" is that it is not made totally clear what the difference between a 10-9, 10-8, or 10 -7 round should be. It is left up to the judges subjectivity on how dominant he or she perceived the victor of the round to be. Because of this vagueness, many rounds that have an obvious difference in dominance by one contestant are often scored the same. For example, Ryan Bader's one sided mauling of Anthony Perosh could have had some rounds scored 10-8 or even 10-7 for that matter. However, the only 10-8 seen on any of the three scorecards was given by judge Peter Hickmont for the second round. All other scores from the other two judges and Hickmont himself show as 10-9 in favor of Bader, which is the exact score that was given in the razor thin, back and forth, title fight rounds between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Does this seem accurate, consistent, or fair?
With the reluctance from promotions and commissions alike to change, or do away with the "10 Point Must System" we must then focus on how to improve everything surrounding the system itself. As we all know the scoring system that Mixed Martial Arts adopted from Boxing is not totally to blame. There is also the issue of incompetent judges, stubborn commissions, and the field of vision judges are given cage side at live events.
So what improvements can be made?
First and foremost, judges should be required to be actively training in some form of mixed martial arts and should be tested on their mixed martial arts knowledge preceding each event they are assigned to judge. The commission should then have a review process in place for each judge immediately following each event. It only makes sense, that judges should always strive to keep learning more about the endless amount of techniques fighters apply in the cage. There is no reason to have one judge asking another judge what is taking place in a fight. If a promotion is paying and trusting commissions to assign the most knowledgable judges and officials to protect their fighter's health and careers, then shouldn't commissions do everything in their power to make sure that happens?
Now let's say commissions did everything right and assigned all the best judges possible. The judges are still human and will make mistakes. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. Mistakes are made in every fight and it's something each fighter learns and improves from. This should be the same case when it comes to commissions. If a fight ends with a controversial decision, the fight should then be reviewed with the potential of the decision being overturned. There is no need for commissions to have a big ego and not give fighters a fair shake.
Lastly, is tradition the only thing that has the judges bolted down cage side? Why are judges continually seated cage side (Sometimes without monitors) where they are unable to view the fight from the best angles possible? The judges are in place to declare which fighter deserves the victory should the fight go the distance. We cannot expect the judges to get every decision correct if they cannot properly see what's taking place in the fight itself.
When asked about implementing an open scoring system the Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer stated that...
"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."
There’s also the potential for the judges to be influenced by hearing one another’s scores, Kizer said. If you’re a judge who scored the first four rounds for one fighter while your colleagues have it more evenly split, "There’s going to be some pressure on you to feel like you should give the fifth round to the other guy."
The other concern is how it might affect fighters, and our perceptions of them. Forget about them playing it safe in the final round. Many of them already do that when they know they’re ahead, Kizer said, "But so what? They take a knee in football. It’s part of sports."
As feasible as that may be, there is one change that corrects every issue Kizer addresses. Which is, judges should be secluded and located backstage with their own monitors. They can then enter their scores digitally and send them cage side between rounds. Not only does that keep them safe from rogue beer bottles, but it will also keep them from being influenced by one another. I'm not saying open scoring should be implemented. However, it should be considered and at least tested in a live event before it's cast out of the conversation. Now what I am saying, is that judges need to see every fight from the best possible angle and need the least amount of peer and/or crowd influence as possible.
With Mixed Martial Arts evolving every year, the way in which we score and judge the sport should as well. As long as commissions and promotions are proactive and motivated to improve our young sport, we can then crawl out of this jungle of bad decisions and learn to walk upright.