New Rules, Part One: Methods to Improve the Judging System in MMA

The scoring system in North American MMA is a highly contentious topic that has been discussed numerous times by various writers across the board.

There are a host of issues to be considered, but I’m sure most fans can agree that the current system has several
flaws and is not as satisfactory as it could be.

Over the course of a four-part series I will be offering a few simple propositions on how matters can be improved, with one idea per article to be featured.

Of course, MMA in the North-West hemisphere is regulated by state and province athletic commissions and a promotion must abide by their regulations if it wishes to hold an event in a state-sanctioned venue.

Most states have now adopted the Unified Rules for Mixed Martial Arts in order to create a sense of equity. In Japan the situation is different since the sport is not regulated by any governing bodies and each promotion lays down its own rules and scoring system which usually differ from those employed stateside.

Though these ideas here could also be implemented in Japan, the current judging criteria and rules that I will be examining come primarily from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the most prominent combat-sport regulatory body in North America.

Thus I will be using the UFC as my main example and will leave an analysis of the judging in Japan to a later date.

My goal here is to stimulate realistic discussion about the topic at hand and to search for practical solutions to the problems that currently plague the scoring of MMA fights.

Thus instead of merely highlighting certain flaws I have tried to come up with various ways to rectify the situation. While judging is my primary concern, I have also made provisions for improving the quality of refereeing to be featured in part two of this series.

Proposition:  Use Five or Seven Judges to Score a Fight

The problem of split decisions in extremely close fights has prompted various pundits to criticize the specific manner in which fights are scored in terms of the criteria that are involved.

While the topic of pertinent criteria for the judging of a match will be discussed next time, one idea that I have not run across during my research is the instigation of extra judges during each contest.

MMA has adopted the ten-point must system of boxing with several modifications, but one element that has remained is the use of three judges ringside to score each bout.

These judges are not employed by any specific promotion but rather by the aforementioned athletic commissions, and to add more of them would be a bit expensive from a financial viewpoint.

There is already a shortage of well-qualified MMA judges on hand, but I think the advantages of using five or seven judges to score a match instead of three well outweighs the costs.

Dispersing several judges around the ring or cage provides them with a better viewpoint of the proceedings which can result in higher-quality scoring since a subtle technique is less likely to be missed with multiple judges watching.

The most obvious advantage of using more than three judges is when decisions are scored, especially split decisions which are the bane of every fighter’s existence.

With five judges, one needs the favorable opinion of at least three to take a decision victory, and this number increases to four if seven judges are used.

This measure may very well reduce the incidence of split decisions, because the more perspectives there are the lesser the chance there is of one or two judges swaying the decision of a fight with a lousy score to the detriment of somebody’s career.

With five or seven judges we would see overall scores of 4-1, 5-2, and even 6-1 and thus be closer at arriving at a unanimous winner since the opinion of one judge will not be the difference-maker such as in a 3-judge split decision.

Though matches may still be scored on a round-by-round basis, it will be more difficult for somebody to complain that they got screwed by one or two particularly incompetent scorekeepers.

In addition to the further education of judges on the intricacies of MMA, a phenomenon which is taking place at the behest of referee “Big” John McCarthy through his course on judging and refereeing termed COMMAND (Certification of Officials for Mixed Martial Arts Development), adding judges to ringside from a technical point of view can only have a positive effect since skewered outcomes will be harder to come by with more judges needed to create an unsatisfactory decision.

Split decision scores such as three judges to two or four to three will still occur, but some pressure will be taken off of individual judges since they won’t have as big a weight on them to pick the “correct” winner, though of course mistakes will always be made and controversial decisions will still occur, due to the subjective nature of the matter.

Then again, when one looks at polls which ask who fans think won a particular fight, results are often close to 50-50 and in this case the addition of judges will not fully eliminate the problem of scoring evenly-matched contests.

But the reason why we have three judges is to decrease incidences of bias and favoritism that would occur if only one judge was employed, and ideally I would like to see as many judges utilized as can be feasible both economically and logistically.

Such an emphasis is placed not only on winning but also on entertaining the crowd such that a single loss can have a huge detriment to one’s career as every fighter strives not to lose their place within the organization and while trying to earn a decent living.

Nobody likes to see a fighter screwed over by an unjust decision and though this will always be inevitable to some extent, theoretically there are certain ways to minimize such instances and I believe adding extra judges can be an effective method that perhaps ought to be at least tried.

It is difficult enough to climb the ladder towards a title shot let alone compete professionally on a full-time basis and when a combatant is “robbed” unjustly then the credibility of the sport and the judges are put into question, and we certainly do not want to see any sort of corruption within the ranks either.

Thus the addition of judges can create the equitable atmosphere that is necessary to provide a just scoring system and though it may amount to only being a minor improvement, it can make all the difference in the world for a select few fighters who had that one extra judge on their side in a fight that they desperately needed to win and perhaps would have lost in a three-judge format.

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