by Jeff Cain
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 59: ‘Reality Check’ was fittingly named, not because former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz defeated ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show season one winner, Forrest Griffin, or the reality that even Andrei Arlovski can be beaten. The reality check of UFC 59 that stood out like a sore thumb was the outrageous scoring in the two split decisions of the night: Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin and ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz vs. Jeff Monson, and the reality that the biggest issue in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) today rests with the judges.
When Bruce Buffer read the scorecards for both of the bouts in question, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Judge Abe Belardo scores the bout 30-27.” In fights two other judges didn’t agree on who won, Abe Belardo scored Jeff Monson and Tito Ortiz winning all three rounds.
30-27? It reeked of incompetency.
The credibility of anyone who scored Tito Ortiz winning the second round of his co-main event match against Forrest Griffin has to be called into question. When that same judge didn’t think ‘Pe De Pano’ Cruz won a single round in his heavyweight bout with Jeff Monson, one has to wonder if he knows how to score an MMA fight.
MMA has made enormous strides toward legitimacy in the court of public opinion over the years, but as the score 30-27 rolled off Buffer’s tongue the sport’s legitimacy and integrity took a giant leap in the wrong direction. A figure skating judge wouldn’t have scored either of those fights 30-27.
“You don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges” has become a commonly used and accepted phrase in MMA. UFC president Dana White said it, or a version of it several times during the first two seasons of ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’
“You never know what’s going to happen if it goes to the scorecards” has become accepted as the just the way it is by fans and fighters alike, and it’s a travesty. The fact that the phrase exits at all should be a wake up call to the current state of MMA judging.
In a sport where one loss can leave an athlete on the outside looking in, there is too much at stake for fighters and organizations to put up with the incompetency shown Saturday night any further. To think a fighter’s future could rest in the hands of people that the industry itself has no confidence in and openly admits it is an unsettling thought.
As athletic commissions continue to appoint boxing and kickboxing judges to score MMA fights, the issue of inadequate judges will continue to fester and plague MMA. Such appointments illustrate the lack of understanding on commissions’ part of the sport they sanction.
The sport of MMA in America has evolved out of no rules to being sanctioned by state athletic commissions and recognized as a legitimate sport. The fighters have evolved. Organizations have grown. While nearly every aspect of MMA has moved forward, the judging of the fights remains a dinosaur in modern times.