Saturday, 19 March 2011

HYDEN BLOG: A Call For More Clearly Defined Criteria In MMA Judging

By: Frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor

Diego Sanchez beat Martin Kampmann by decision last week at UFC on Versus 3, but it wasn't a unanimous consensus among viewers that he won. I personally thought Kampmann won the fight. Diego's face certainly made it look as though Kampmann won the fight, but I can see how Diego won the decision, and I think the judges were looking for something different than I was. It wasn't a popular decision among the live crowd, but nevertheless, Sanchez won.

This does illuminate one of the biggest problems with judging in MMA. There is no clearly defined set of criteria for what the judges are going to score. Some judges value takedowns as the most important indicator of winning a round while other judges value takedown defense more. The same can be said for submissions, as some judges prefer submission attempts while others weigh submission defense more heavily.

This is a lot like refereeing in NBA games. Some refs call a tight game and don't allow a lot of contact while others let you get away with a lot more pushing, shoving and hand-checking. The biggest complaint among NBA players about this is the lack of consistency in calls. They don't know how a game is going to be called until they are already in middle of the game. By that time, your star player may have already picked up two fouls and has to ride the bench until the second quarter or halftime.

Regardless of whether you consider an attempt or defense more important, we can all agree on the need for consistency. NBA players quickly learn how tight a game is going to be called and are able to adjust accordingly. MMA fighters are afforded no such opportunity. They don't know until the end of a fight how the judges were scoring it.

If there were a more clearly defined set of criteria, for example takedowns being more valuable than takedown defense or submission defense more valuable than failed submission attempts, at least fighters would know what it would take to win a decision. Even if someone thinks that submission attempts are more important than submission defenses at least they would be able to cater their gameplan towards what will help them win. You may not agree with the way fights are judged, but at least you know how they're judged.

This isn't a perfect solution, as not everyone will agree with how fights should be judged and what deserves more points. However, I think the fighters deserve a chance to at least know what they're up against.

An added benefit to all this would be that we would have a way to more accurately judge the judges. If there's criteria they have to follow, and they don't do it, it would be known. This eliminates the "I judge a certain way" excuse. If everyone has to judge the same way that should lessen the chances of a 30-27 for Fighter A while a different judge gives Fighter B a 29-28 for the same fight. It'll still happen sometimes, especially if the rounds are really close, but it shouldn't happen as much.

It's impossible to find a unanimous consensus, but I think there's a better way of doing things. The alternative is to leave things the way they are. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's broken, but it could sure use some fixing.

Comments and suggestions can be e-mailed to me at

[Editor's note: While it would be impossible to come up with a set of strict criteria with the nuance involved in so many aspects of the fight game - especially when it comes to takedowns and submission attempts - there certainly could be some tightening of the language in what criteria is currently in place. Some things will need to be weighed more heavily than others, but that will also take much debate and isn't an easy discussion. Change is necessary, however, and we can only hope judging will eventually continue evolving and get to a more clearly stated set of things to look for.]


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