Yahoo Sports Special: Experiment Could Revolutionize MMA Judging

At UFC 132 on July 2 in Las Vegas, a fight between Dennis Siver and Matt Wiman followed what has become a regular pattern.

The fight’s first and third rounds were very close. A judge could have made a case for scoring either round in favor of either fighter. Wiman clearly won round two, taking Siver down, busting his head open with ground strikes and connecting with elbows for most of the round. Wiman was never close to finishing, but dominated the round, though not enough for a 10-8 score on any of the judges cards.

Wiman bloodies up Siver

Matt Wiman bloodies up Dennis Siver at UFC 132

When it was over, there was no doubt Wiman had done far more damage in the fight. My thought was that Wiman won rounds two and three, but rounds one and three could go either way. In this case, all three judges gave Siver both of the close rounds for a unanimous-decision victory.

The crowd lustily booed the decision. Wiman was so upset he stormed out of the Octagon. People on the Internet complained about corrupt judging and robberies. Reporters after the fight in the press room debated what happened. UFC president Dana White was asked, and he noted the people with whom he watched the fight, all had different viewpoints on who should have won.

There are more complaints in mixed martial arts about judging – after nearly every fight card – than any other issue. The system is basically a hand-me-down from boxing’s 10-point must system, which works in bouts of eight, 10 or 12 rounds. But too often in a three-round MMA fight, a fighter, like Wiman, can inflict a great amount of punishment in winning a round, but lose the fight because he comes out on the wrong end of two coin-flip-close rounds, despite clearly doing more damage over the course of the bout.

There is no scoring system that can overcome bad judges, and it’s much easier to blame incompetent judges, who do exist, and occasional bad scoring, which will continue to exist no matter what system is in place, then to make a change that will lessen but not eliminate the problem. The current system can, on occasion, render a bad decision from very good judges, usually with the “two close rounds, one dominant round” fight being the main culprit.

“I think it’s just apathy and complacency,” said J.T. Steele, the president of the amateur California Martial Arts Organization, which is experimenting this year with a new system. “To change the status quo, and for our sport to evolve, you need passionate people willing to work hard. It costs money and it takes time. There’s not a lot of people out there willing to do that.

Most of the controversial decisions, like Wiman vs. Siver, are based on a fighter being lucky on close rounds. Lyoto Machida vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 123 was the last UFC main event to fall into this category, where after the fight, reporters’ consensus was that Machida was the obvious winner of the fight, but that given the 10-point must system in place, the win by Jackson was the correct verdict – even though Jackson himself after the fight said he thought he had lost.

It’s the inherent weakness of a system where almost every round is scored 10-9, no matter how close or how dominant it is. Virtually no rounds are scored 10-10, although judges are technically allowed to do so. Unless you dominate the round from start-to-finish and have your opponent just about finished, you are unlikely to get a 10-8 score.

Quinton Jackson Lyoto Machida UFC 123 Rampage

Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida at UFC 123

As frustrated as the fans and the promoters are, perhaps nobody is as frustrated as the judges themselves. At times, the person with the most points on your scorecard is not the person you really believed won the fight, a distinction few fans watching comprehend.

Since the start of 2011, California has experimented with a half-point scoring system on its amateur shows, both to get feedback from its judges, and also to compile statistics. At the end of the year, when the stats are done, the findings will be presented to people like Marc Ratner, the vice-president for regulatory affairs at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Association of Boxing Commissioners, to see if the system has more merit than the one in place.

“I like what they are doing,” said Ratner. “Right now the best thing to do is use the system for a year, compile the statistics and see what we can learn.”

Instead of always writing 10-9 on a scorecard unless there is a completely dominant round with a near finish, you have more options. A 10-9.5 is for a close round, like rounds one and three in Siver vs. Wiman, and rounds one and two in Jackson vs. Machida – both fights in which the person who ended up losing in the current system would most likely have won with the new system.

A 10-9 would be the score for a round that is competitive, but, you have no doubt who won. That is still the score that comes up most of the time with the new system. A 10-8.5 would be for a round where one fighter dominated, but didn’t do enough for a 10-8, notably round two in Wiman vs. Siver, and round three in Machida vs. Jackson.

A 10-8 would be similar to how it is currently used, and you’d even have a 10-7.5 for something more dominant than a normal 10-8 round, but for whatever reason, the fight isn’t stopped.

The new system also includes a fourth judge whose lone job is to award points based on criteria. If the three judges come out to a draw, which has happened six times so far this year, a winner is determined based on a points system.

Read Dave Meltzer’s full article on Yahoo! Sports.