by Rami Genauer for MMAWeekly.com

Decisions, Decisions – Part II: Split Decisions and the Men Who<br /> Love Them

Decisions, Decisions
– Part II: Split Decisions and the Men Who Love Them


Read Part I: Nobody’s Perfect


The first
part of this investigation into the judging criteria used by Pride and the UFC
examined the methods used by each organization and laid out the inherent flaws
in each system. To sum up quickly, Pride’s system, while much simpler, provides
little concrete direction to its judges and leaves too much to their subjective
opinion. The UFC’s criteria requires judges to keep track of a huge amount of
information, watch for dozens of techniques, and arrive at a
difficult-to-comprehend score for each round using the “ten point must” system.


The end of
the article presented a hypothesis: If a judging system was perfect, then
nearly all decisions would be unanimous, no matter who the judges were or how
many of them judged the fight. If that is true, then looking at the number of
split decisions each system produces could indicate which system of judgment is


To be
clear, split decisions are not inherently bad. In fact, on an individual basis,
split decisions are absolutely necessary to the judging process. Mixed Martial
Arts is beloved for its dynamism; the notion that anything is possible and you
never know what will happen next. No criteria should be so rigid that fighters
lose their incentive to take the fight anywhere they wish. If a computer were
used to judge fights, for example, fighters would know which techniques and
strategies would always result in favorable judging, and we would start to see
that exact same fight play out over and over. Using human judges inherently
involves some degree of subjectivity, which naturally results in split decisions.
That subjectivity keeps the fighters on their toes and keeps fights


But on a
systemic level, split decisions are inarguably a bad thing. One judge who
consistently disagrees with his peers means you’ve got a bad judge; when none
of the judges can agree with each other, it means you’ve got a bad system. And
when judges can’t consistently agree on a fight’s victor, it degrades the
quality of their decisions, even the unanimous ones.


So which
organization produces more split decisions, Pride or the UFC? To see, we must
look at the outcome of every Pride and UFC fight from September 28, 2001 (when
the UFC held its first show in Las Vegas, marking widespread acceptance of the
Unified Rules) until the end of 2006, excluding the fights from Pride’s
American show on October 21, 2006, because those fights were contested under
NSAC rules.


September 28, 2001, Pride has held 425 total fights, 137 of which have gone to
a decision. Of those 137 decisions, 33 of them were split decisions, for a
split decision rate of 24 percent.


In the same
time period, the UFC held 387 fights, of which 112 went to a decision. In all
that time, only 10 of the UFC’s decisions, or 9 percent, were split decisions.
This would seem to indicate clear superiority for the UFC, however that 9
percent number is somewhat deceiving. Because the UFC criteria allows for draws
as well, there were also five majority decisions (where two judges pick one
fighter and the other calls a draw) and two draws, both of which were split
draws (one judge picks one fighter, one judge picks the other fighter, and the
third judge calls a draw). Since these also involve judges coming to different
conclusions, they must also be considered split decisions for our purposes.


Still, the
UFC beats Pride by nine percentage points, with only 15 percent of its
decisions not unanimous, compared to 24 percent for Pride. This should clearly
indicate something wrong with Pride’s decision criteria. Nearly a quarter of
its decisions have one judge saying that the wrong fighter got the victory.
Utilizing human judging necessitates some split decisions, but a 24 percent
rate signifies that the murkiness of Pride’s criteria leaves too much to the
subjective opinions of its judges.


So the
UFC’s criteria would seem to be better. With judges able to reach a consensus
85 percent of the time, the system would seem to be clearer than Pride’s and
clear enough for judges to apply it uniformly the vast majority of the time.
But is that really true? How uniformly are the judges seeing the fights? Or put
another way; are these unanimous decisions really unanimous?


Thanks to
the Nevada State Athletic Commission, we are able to take a deeper look at this
question. The NSAC posts the results of every fight card held in Nevada on its
website for anyone to access (something every state athletic commission should
really do). They make public how each of their judges scored each fight, giving
anyone who wants the opportunity to examine if a decision was truly unanimous
or not.


A true
unanimous decision would be one in which all three judges score all three
rounds the same. For example, a bout that gets scored 30-27 by all three judges
would be a truly unanimous decision. But what about fights that get scored
30-27, 29-28, 30-27? What happened in the one round that one judge scored for
the other fighter? Even though all three gave the victory to the same fighter,
making the outcome a unanimous decision, there was still one round that was a
split decision. Using publicly available data from the NSAC website, we can
analyze split decisions on a round-by-round basis. The same logic we used when
looking at fight results should apply to the findings for round results; if
judges consistently disagree about the scoring of individual rounds, this too
could point to a problem in the judging criteria.


To look at
this problem we must expand our scope a bit. To arrive at a total number of
fights similar to the figures dealt with before, we will look at every fight
conducted by the NSAC from its first event in 2001 until the end of 2006. In
that period, NSAC judges watched 425 fights (mostly UFC and King of the Cage
bouts), of which 96 went to a decision. Each of those 96 fights had three
rounds, plus there were nine title fights that had an additional two rounds
apiece, for a total of 309 rounds judged by the NSAC. Of those rounds, 235 of
them were scored exactly the same by all three judges. But that means that 74
rounds were split, with one judge scoring the round differently than the other
two judges. Divide 74 by 309 and what do you get? It equals 24 percent, exactly
the same proportion of split decisions received in Pride.


In all,
only 30 percent of decisions handed down by NSAC judges were truly unanimous
decisions. The remainder of the fights – more than two thirds –
contained some discrepancy between judges, whether calling the fight for a
different fighter, calling a round for a different fighter, calling a draw, or
calling a 10-8 round when others didn’t. And this was not the case where one
bad judge was responsible for an undue share of disagreements. Each judge was
responsible for his relatively fair share of discrepancies.


So in the
end, it seems just as difficult for judges to implement the Unified Rules
criteria as it is for Pride’s judges to use that system, with each producing a
24 percent disagreement rate. And in the end, with each system’s flaws laid
bare, we are left with our own choice of which system is superior.


One can
quibble with Pride’s criteria for its subjectivity, but there is a measure of
respect due its judges. True, their decisions are rooted mainly in opinion, but
they are entitled to and empowered by those opinions. Disagree with their
choices if you will, but by choosing to use a qualitative standard, opinion is
the best you’re ever going to get. Those decisions, even the split ones, are
well within the spirit of the Pride Fighting Championship.


In the case
of the UFC’s rules, practiced in this case by NSAC judges, we are forced to be
more critical. The rules were enacted specifically to avoid the subjectivity
found in Pride. By adhering to a quantitative standard, the goal was to produce
better, more objective decisions. But that only works when the rules are
enforced uniformly by every judge at every event. Over time, we’ve seen major
inconsistencies in the enforcement of judging rules. For instance, the first
three events ever judged by the NSAC contained two draws and one majority
decision. In the five years since – a span of 49 events – there
have been only two majority decisions and one draw in Nevada. We are left to
believe that almost none of the fights in the past five years have been as
close as those first ones or more likely, that judges have simply stopped
marking 10-10 rounds. So while the UFC’s criteria certainly produce a greater
number of “unanimous decisions” than Pride’s, one can’t help but question the
quality of those decisions. Just because three judges agree on a winner doesn’t
make that decision a good one if the judges can’t properly wield the judging


But no
matter what the data says about current NSAC judging, the UFC’s criteria hold a
significant advantage over Pride’s: it’s not the system that needs upgrading,
it’s merely the application of that system that should be improved. The rules
used by the UFC are solid and should provide excellent decisions once they are
adequately clarified so that every judge is on the same page. Indeed, with the
UFC expanding into an increasing number of states, it behooves them to make sure
that their rules are easily understood and enforceable by judges from any state
athletic commission, especially those new judges who may not be that familiar
with the nuances of MMA. For the UFC, the best advice is what the NRA has been
peddling for years. It’s not about making new rules; it’s about properly
enforcing the rules that are already on the books.


So after
all is said and done, which system of judgment is the better one? With time,
clarification, and experienced judges, there is no reason why the UFC’s
criteria wouldn’t be far superior to Pride’s. However, given the currently
muddled state of judging in MMA, there is no clear winner for the moment. It
unfortunately looks to be another split decision.


Next time – Part
III: Reactions, Responses and Suggestions