In Judgment of Judging

17 Nov

      Unfortunately, I was unable to catch last night’s Georges St-Pierre – Johny Hendricks UFC welterweight championship fight so cannot comment on the fairness of what many people are calling a bad decision in St-Pierre’s favor. But I can offer some comment on the quality of judging in mixed martial arts in general… namely, it stinks!
      In part this is because the judges in MMA (not to mention boxing, while we’re at it) are too poorly trained, often know little about the intricacies of the sport they are judging, and rarely have to undergo regular, rigorous review of their performance the way officials in other major professional sports have to. Basically, the main qualification officials in many states have to sit in judgment of fights is that they have a friend on the athletic commission.
      But greatly compounding the problem of poor officials is the inane nature of the rules and standards used for scoring a fight.
      I tend to have a different view on scoring a fight from most people – I score many of the rounds even. Now to some, even rounds are a taboo to be avoided at all costs. I’ve had athletic commission officials tell me that there has to be something that differentiates a round, even if it’s just a fighter landing a single punch more than his opponent. But my response to that is that if an entire fight can end up being a draw, certainly a single round can be a draw. If a round is too close to say one fighter definitively won it, then it’s too close to call. It is even.
      There is no shame in that and if it leads to a draw, then so be it. Better a draw than a bad decision. But some athletic commissions actively discourage judges from scoring even rounds and virtually insist that they declare a winner of each individual stanza. All right, if you must pick a winner in a round go ahead. But this leads to my second problem with the way fights are scored – the improper use of the ten-point must system.
      Both boxing and MMA in most jurisdictions use a system where the winner of a round gets 10 points and the loser gets something less than 10. But for some incomprehensible reason, though judges have 10 points with which to work when scoring a round, they rarely use more than 2 of those points and virtually never use more than 3 of them. Almost all rounds in both boxing and MMA are scored 10-9. Other than penalties, the only exception you ever see is when a fighter is knocked down by a blow, which will usually lead to a 10-8 round (in boxing this is almost automatic if a referee rules a knockdown even if the fighter who went down slipped more than being knocked down by a legitimate punch since, apparently, judges are incapable of thinking for themselves or believing the evidence of their own eyes). Rounds scored 10-7 are pretty much unheard of except if a fighter is both knocked down and then has a point deducted for a penalty in the same round. In my entire life, I have never seen a 10-6 round. Going by this logic, boxing and MMA might as well adopt a 4-point must system, since the rest of those points appear utterly superfluous. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way and, logically, it shouldn’t be.
      If athletic commissions insist that rounds which are essentially even be scored 10-9 in favor of one fighter, fine. But then what do you do with a round where no one has been knocked down yet one fighter was clearly in control and won the round? Surely, you cannot score that with the same 10-9 score you gave someone in a virtually even round? If you’re scoring nearly even rounds 10-9 in one fighter’s favor, then you must logically score a round with a clear-cut winner but no knockdown or great dominance as a 10-8 round. Rounds in which a fighter is legitimately knocked down or otherwise dominated would then have to become 10-7 rounds. And rounds in which a fighter is knocked down multiple times and thoroughly battered throughout the course of the round? That would be your elusive, chimera-like 10-6 round. And a 10-6 round where the losing fighter is also penalized a point? My God, now you have a 10-5 round!
      Athletic commissions and their appointed judges should not continue to have it both ways. Either they need to start scoring even rounds as what they are: even; or they need to start making better use of the 10-point must system. Of course, fight sports being what they are, neither of these things is likely to happen and we will continue to see horrible decisions in fights.

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