The Judging Problem
There are more complaints in mixed martial arts about judging than any other issue. The system is a hand-me-down from boxing’s 10-point must system. But too often in a three-round MMA fight, a fighter can inflict a great amount of punishment in winning a round, but lose the fight because he comes out on the wrong end of two coin-flip-close rounds, despite clearly doing more damage over the course of the bout.
As frustrated as the fans and the promoters are, perhaps nobody is as frustrated as the judges themselves. At times, the person with the most points on your scorecard is not the person you really believed won the fight, a distinction few fans watching comprehend.
There is no scoring system that can overcome bad judges, and it’s much easier to blame incompetent judges, who do exist, and occasional bad scoring, which will continue to exist no matter what system is in place, than to make a change that will lessen but not eliminate the problem.
A Potential Solution tested in California
Since the start of 2011, California has experimented with a half-point scoring system on its amateur shows, both to get feedback from its judges, and also to compile statistics. At the end of the year, when the stats are done, the findings will be presented to people like Marc Ratner, the vice-president for regulatory affairs at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Association of Boxing Commissioners, to see if the system has more merit than the one in place.
How the Half Point Scoring System Works
10-9.5 is for a close round. Examples: rounds one and three in Siver vs. Wiman, and rounds one and two in Jackson vs. Machida – both fights in which the person who ended up losing in the current system would most likely have won with the new system.
10-9 would be the score for a round that is competitive, but, you have no doubt who won.
10-8.5 would be for a round where one fighter dominated, but didn’t do enough for a 10-8. Examples: round two in Wiman vs. Siver, and round three in Machida vs. Jackson.
10-8 would be similar to how it is currently used.
10-7.5 for something more dominant than a normal 10-8 round, but for whatever reason, the fight isn’t stopped.
The new system also includes a fourth judge whose sole job is to award points based on criteria. If the three judges come out to a draw, a winner is determined based on a points system.
Knockdown: Four points
Near Submission: Four Points
Damaging strikes: Two Points
Dominant Position (back, mount or side control): Two Points
Takedown: One Point
Sweep: One Point
Results to Date
So far this year, 155 amateur fights in California have gone to a decision under these new rules. Of those, six, or 4 percent, had different winners based on half-point judging than they would have based on the current system. But there were 17 instances where one judge out of the three had a different winner based on half-points that he would have based on the current system.
“That’s going to occur in a very low percentage,” noted famed referee "Big" John McCarthy. “Maybe in the end, the half-point system will make a difference in 5 percent of the fights, but that’s 5 percent where the fighters are getting the right outcome instead of the wrong outcome.”
J.T. Steele, President at California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization, considers this year part of a learning process, and wants a full year of statistics to learn advantages and disadvantages. Athletic commissions are usually interested in keeping the status quo. He feels if there is going to be a change, it will be spearheaded by the UFC itself.
“I think it comes down to the UFC,” said Steele. “They have the most valuable MMA sports property in the world. The second they think that the judging is starting to negatively affect their product, and if they believe the scoring system is part of the negative affect on their product, we’ll see changes. For any athletic commission, being graced with the UFC coming to their state is the best thing for the athletic commission, for a city, or a town and for a local economy. If they really think it’s damaging their product, we’ll see changes.”
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