MMA judging is reaching a crisis point. Poor judging has plagued the sport through its history, but in the last two years horrendous judging seems to be reaching a high (or low) point.
The first Machida/Rua fight, Griffin’s victory over Ortiz being a split decision, the first Penn/Edgar match. More recently, the Rampage/Machida match and Leonard Garcia victory over Nam Phan are just the most high-profile missteps.
MMA is reaching new heights of popularity, the fighters are more skilled and athletic, and fights are becoming more closely contested than ever before. On the other hand, the judges are the same ones that sat cage-side for UFC 31. The sport has evolved, but those judging the fights have not.
Many fans point to the 10-point must system as the problem, but it seems very clear that the problem is these judges and their lack of knowledge of MMA. The 10-point system works when it is properly applied, the problem is that often it is not properly applied.
The long-term solution is new, more educated judges that can fully understand MMA. This will be the ultimate solution to the problem, but some short-term changes could be made to how judges apply their craft.
Many of these ideas have been discussed at length on the Jordan Breen Show of the Sherdog Radio Network. I highly recommend his show, either live or via podcast. He is one of the best journalists covering MMA and should be a required listen for any MMA fan.
TV Monitors for Judges
Every sport that has TV coverage deals with the fact that the ‘best seat in the house’ is now your couch. Modern television has given the fan at home an unparalleled view of the action, regardless of the sport. With replays, various camera angles and HDTVs, those watching at home often have a better grasp of what is transpiring than the fans at the venue.
MMA judges sit cage-side with no monitor or viewing assistance, so if the action of the fight is taking place on the far side of the cage, they likely have no idea what is happening.
In the case of the Nam Phan-Leonard Garcia fight (or really any Garcia fight), if the judge isn’t on a perfect viewing angle, it could appear that more of Garcia’s shots are landing.
Giving each judge their own monitor will give access to perfect images of the action if they can’t see what is happening and replays in between rounds so they can confirm what they saw during the action.
This little change could go a long way towards more accurate judging.
More Liberal Use of 10-8 and 10-7 Rounds
In the unified rules of MMA, it states that if a fighter is ‘clearly dominant in a round’ that fighter should get a 10-8 round and if a fighter is ‘totally dominant’ a 10-7 round should awarded. Now there will be some debate concerning how to apply the wording in those, but something that cannot be denied is that degree to which a fighter wins a round should be reflected in the their score.
Look at Machida/Rampage, the first two rounds had little to no offense from either fighter. The scoring of those rounds is hotly debated, but there is no debate over the third round.
Lyoto rocked Rampage on his feet, flurried on him, took Rampage down, attained full mount and attempted an armbar. Shouldn’t winning a round in such a clear and decisive fashion earn a different score that winning either of the first two rounds, in which a single punch or leg kick could have tipped the balance?
In boxing any knockdown immediately constitutes a 10-8 round, but in MMA it takes a brutal beating that comes within a hair of stopping the fight to earn a 10-8 round. This is a very clear case of the 10-point must system being misused in MMA.
There is no distinction in scoring between winning a round like Michael Johnson won the first round against Jonathan Brookins, or how Gerald Harris won the final round of his fight against Maiquel Falcao.
Fighters should be able to earn 10-8 and 10-7 rounds by clearly dominating their opponent, like GSP against Dan Hardy. Hardy mounted no offense, in favor of simply surviving, would warrant scoring of rounds 10-7.
Stop the Overvaluing of Takedowns
I have written entire articles on the role of takedowns in MMA scoring, but to sum up, taking an opponent down is not something worthy of winning a round on its own. Something has to happen after the takedown for it to become relevant, otherwise it should no more affect the score of a round than a fighter entering the clinch should.
Nam Phan has been victimized twice in his matches against Michael Johnson and Leonard Garcia. In both fights, Phan’s opponents score what turned out to be meaningless takedowns, but clearly factored into the scoring by the judges.
What is meant by a ‘meaningless takedown’ is a takedown that leads to no offense on the ground by the top fighter. No meaningful strikes, no passing of the guard, no submission attempts and then the fighter on the bottom is able to stand back up after a period of time.
Being in another fighter’s guard isn’t a dominant position or really in any way winning a fight. In competitive Jiu Jitsu, spending an entire match in an opponent’s guard and not being able to pass has lost world championships. In no-gi grappling a fighter in the guard has no submission attacks that will work on an experience grappler, while the fighter playing guard has a multitude of attacks, sweeps and posture controls.
In MMA, taking a fighter down and laying in his guard should not warrant the winning of a round. A fighter should be required to advance his position or do damage to his opponent to validate the scoring of the takedown.
Changing ‘Octagon Control’ to ‘Octagon Generalship’
This change, first proposed by Jordan Breen, may seem cosmetic at first glance, but this could be a very meaningful change. Octagon Control has come to mean the fighter who is ‘aggressive’ or ‘pressing the action’ and has been the justification for any number of poor judging decisions.
Boxing judges use the term ‘Ring Generalship’ because it is a much more fluid concept of who is controlling the fight and who is fighting their fight. The concept rewards fighters who use their footwork and striking keep fights at the distance and pace that favors them. This allows fighters who preferred to use their defense to set up their offense to be just as effective as widely aggressive fighters (see Muhammad Ali).
The MMA version of this punishes fighters who have a more defensive style of striking and often can favor ineffective aggression over effective defense. Just about any Leonard Garcia decision victory and the Rampage win over Machida can be traced to this concept.
Changing this rule from who is ‘controlling the octagon’ to ‘who is controlling the fight’ levels the playing field for fighters like Machida, who works his best offense by making his opponents miss.
It also forces judges to look at a fight like Phan/Garcia and work harder than simply assume Garcia was coming forward and striking, and ask the hard questions. Who was landing more effectively, and was Phan’s in-and-out strategy more effective than Garcia’s wild windmilling?
These changes could address many of the problems with MMA judging and possibly stop some of the awful mistakes that have been plaguing the sport. While the ultimate solution is a new generation of more educated judges, something must be done in the immediate future because these decisions are going to stunt the growth of the sport.
Originally Posted on Sprawl and Brawl