MMA judging is guilty of being awful
Article: Allan Hall – Distribution Manager
There are only three things certain in life: death, taxes and mixed martial arts (MMA) fans having a visceral hatred for judges.
On Nov.16, to the shock of many MMA pundits, fans and fighters alike, Georges St-Pierre won a highly controversial split decision victory over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. For the umpteenth time this year, the UFC experienced yet another judging controversy fiasco.
As an MMA fan, my face tends to get sore from all of the face palming that I do because of the incompetent judging. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but like many fans of the sport, I get frustrated by the poor decisions that are awarded by the judges.
While I’m naturally a cynical person, I don’t attribute the questionable judging in MMA to corruption. I attribute it to systemic problems in the judging system.
MMA in North America has changed significantly since the inception of the UFC in 1993. The sport in its infancy was a brutal spectacle that drew the ire of politicians who attempted to ban the sport. In response to the political backlash that almost destroyed the sport, MMA promoters implemented more rules to legitimize it. These changes included adding judges, five-minute rounds, weight classes, and most notably, the 10-point must scoring system used in boxing. In North America, state/provincial athletic commissions now regulate the MMA.
One of the primary issues with judging in MMA is the 10-point must scoring system. In MMA, three judges score each round, and the winner is awarded 10 points and the loser is awarded nine points or less. This scoring system works adequately in boxing because they have a greater amount of rounds with a shorter duration, but it becomes less effective in MMA because a fight typically only has three or five rounds.
The biggest issue with this is that a round where a fighter narrowly wins is weighted the same as a round where a fighter dominated their opponent. For example, if Fighter A wins one round handily and almost finishes Fighter B, but Fighter B narrowly wins two nondescript rounds with little action, Fighter B will be declared under the 10-point must system. Fighter A would have had the more dominating performance and lose the fight.
Another issue with MMA judging is the actual vantage point of the judges. Each judge is located in a different section of the cage to score the fight. This means that every judge has a different viewpoint, and some may have a more difficult time seeing the action. If a fighter’s back is to one of the judges, it becomes inherently difficult to see if they are landing punches and kicks or vice versa. This can become especially problematic when the fighters are on the ground. Strangely, the viewers at home have a better viewpoint of action than the actual judges that are in front of the cage.
While judges in some sanctioning bodies have access to a live monitor, there is a natural tendency for the judges to watch the fight in front of them instead of the screen. Smaller MMA promotions do not have this luxury because of financial constraints.
MMA is also a difficult sport to judge because there is no uniform value assigned to the wide variety of techniques. If a fighter has someone in their guard and is consistently threatening their opponent with a variety of sweeps, reversals and submissions from the bottom, should it be weighted equally as someone effectively punching from the top position? Should leg kicks be worth the same as jabs and uppercuts to the head? If someone is a counter-striker, can they effectively use “octagon control?” These are all questions that are not clearly indicated in the rulebook.
Lastly, a significant issue with MMA judging is that a large amount of the judges don’t have an adequate grasp of the variety of fighting techniques used in MMA. Many of the judges used by the sanctioning bodies are boxing judges that have no formal experience with martial arts such as Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or wrestling. It’s difficult to adequately score a fight if the judge doesn’t properly understand the nuances of the techniques.
Sadly, these issues ultimately create a “perfect storm” of incompetence in judging that MMA fans experience regularly.