Judging in MMA: So Easy Cecil Peoples Can Do It

Friday, June 11th, 2010 by Tony Reid

A common phrase heard in Mixed Martial Arts these days is “Don’t leave it to the judges.”  Stop for a second and think how ridiculous that statement sounds.  Would that be said in any other established sport without getting an odd look in return?  Sure there are moments in any sport where human error comes in to play and calls will be questioned but not at such a widely accepted, or worse, expected rate as found in MMA.  I think the thing that bothers me most is how it’s almost expected that the decision, when left in the judge’s hands, will be a complete crap shoot.  As the athletes and fighters involved in the sport have become more and more well rounded and continue to grow and improve as the sport does, so should the people with the final say in a fight that goes the distance.

My biggest problem with the whole situation has to do with the finality of it all.  If an umpire misses a call on a ball or strike, fair or foul, safe or out, etc.  in baseball it could potentially ruin an at bat, an inning and in rare instances a game.  But a judge’s poor “call” in MMA could potentially result in ending a fighter’s career.  There aren’t 162 chances to get it right in MMA.  There aren’t even 82 chances, or even 16 for that matter.  A fighter has a handful of opportunities throughout their entire career to perform. Think of an up and coming fighter just breaking into the big show that ends up on the wrong end of a shitty decision.  Think of that established veteran on a tear through the division on his way to that long awaited title shot that ends up on the wrong end of a bad decision.  Think of the journeyman, the gatekeeper that falls to that same fate.  These poor decisions could drastically alter or in a sense end a guy’s career.

I definitely don’t have all the answers but I do have a few ideas.  Before I get too deep into this let me start by saying that I realize the State Athletic Commissions in the states that MMA is legal are responsible for the judges in question and they need to step up in a big way.  Someone somewhere needs to take the time to create an effective way to accurately judge a Mixed Martial Arts fight. We owe it to the sport, we owe it to the fans and most importantly we owe it to the fighters involved.  We need to scrap the 10 point must system, that’s for boxing… this is MMA!  Having MMA use the same point system boxing does coupled with the level/knowledge of the judges is like having Lance Armstrong judge a triathlon (if there were judges, obviously there aren’t, but work with me here people!).  My assumption is that Lance would know much more about the cycling piece of the triathlon and favor that immensely, whether it is consciously or subconsciously. Maybe a points system as we know it isn’t even the answer, maybe it should just be a weighted system.  Who knows?  I’m just rambling at this point.

I didn’t say it would be easy but here are a few ideas.

1.  Why can’t we create a school for judging, similar to an umpire school in baseball or a school for officials in basketball?

2.  As the sport ages and so do its earlier competitors, why not try to keep these people with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the game involved in this process? Would you feel confident if the judges at cageside were Bas Rutten, Erik Paulson, etc.?

3.  Use a weighted system that incorporates judges that have true knowledge of the sport, and dare I say, common sense and let them use their expertise in determining a winner based on:

*Power strikes weighted more than regular strikes

*Takedowns weighted as well as takedowns defended

* Knock downs by strike weighted more than just “ending up” on the ground

*Clinch work and Muay Thai domination weighted

*Groundwork weighted in a progressive sense in that landing in guard is weight less than half guard, if the man in top position moves to side control its weighted more and mount weighted more, etc.

*Sub attempts weighted as well as subs defended

This could go on and on and I’m probably not the guy for the job, but damn it, somebody is!  Let’s get the conversation started and moving in the right direction.  The future of the sport depends on it.