UFC 247 may go down as the moment MMA collectively determined to do something to improve judging. Or maybe it will be yet another time we all stamped our digital feet and nothing changed. At the close of the event, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz expressed extreme frustration, and declared the 10 Point Must system fundamentally broken.
Jeff Mullen, former head of the Tennessee AC, and now working for Nevada, was the head of an Association of Boxing Commissions committee on the last major attempt to change the 10 Point Must system - the MMAS (Mixed Martial Arts Specific) system developed by Corey Schafer, that added half points to the traditional scoring method. Starting in 2010 five commissions tried the half-point system, and ultimately rejected it.
"It's a better system if every fight is, you've got Sal D'Amato, Derek Cleary, Chris Lee, and Mike Bell judging your fight," said Mullen. "People that are having trouble applying the 10-point must system are going to have a lot more trouble applying the half-point system. If you've got folks that have trouble driving a Volkswagen Bug, you're not going to put them in a Porsche."
"I think right now the 10-point must system is the best system for MMA. Now, I'm not saying there couldn't be a better system, but I haven't seen a better one. If they do come up with a better system that's more complex, it's going to take years for the officiating pool to catch up."
California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts president JT Steele tested the MMAS system in 350 bouts, and also ultimately stuck with the 10 Point Must. Just 4% of the bouts ended up with a different score than they would have under the 10 Point Must system.
"I think the biggest issue is the competency of officials," said Steele. "It varies tremendously. Some people have, based off the number of events that they have in their states, they have very little time cageside. You might go to a state like California, and these officials have thousands of rounds cageside, compared to somebody that might only get a few touches a year."
"We have athletic commissions that have jurisdiction in each state. They each do things a little differently. If we're going to move forward with a scoring system, a lot of times it requires statutory changes in states. That's a big task. Could it be done? Yes, but there would really need to be a movement behind it.
"Quite frankly, it would really need to be spearheaded by the UFC. That's probably the only place where there would be enough clout and enough leverage to say, 'We believe in this and we want it,' and they would be able to get it. If the UFC's not behind it, I don't think there's enough leverage to make it happen."
Further attempts at scoring improvements are underway.
Kansas Athletic Commission Adam Roorbach is allowing events to use Open Scoring - judge's scores are announced after each round. Are there potential issues Open Scoring? Yes. Judges may get booed by the crowd when their score is announced influencing them in subsequent rounds, judges may be influenced by the other judges' scores, and fighters may not elect to fight on in the case of an accidental foul if they know they are ahead. But Roorbach should be applauded for trying to improve a process that is too frequently not working, with sometimes massive amounts of money at stake.
Open Scoring will debut at Invicta Phoenix Series 3, on Friday, March 6, 2020 at Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS.
And if the problem is poor judges, most pointedly in huge fights, then another solution is determining the best judges in the sport, and drawing only from that pool for major title bouts.