BY: JON DUBBELD
Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) is the fastest growing sport worldwide. The reason for its exponential accession is simple to explain- fans understand two men or women fighting one another inside a cage or ring. Fighting crosses over all forms of culture, language, race, etc. In addition, Compared to other sports, MMA does not require the fan to learn a daunting set of rules in order to understand the sport. Fans understand a knockout or a submission, and therefore, understand who has won the fight. However, MMA’s arising problem is when fights go to a decision and are left in the hands of the judges for them to score.
Recently, there has been much controversy in judges scoring decisions. In particular, the Nick Diaz v. Carlos Condit fight serves as a good example. Some people believe that Nick clearly won the fight (myself included), and others believe that Carlos clearly won the fight. There are multiple reasons that lead to judges and fans differing opinions.
First, the root of the problem is the judges watching the fights. Most judges do not have any MMA training experience. Many of the judges come over from Boxing and after completing a “MMA Certificate Course” are deemed “qualified” to judge an MMA fight. Yes, many of the judges are required to do an apprenticeship with already established MMA judges. Nevertheless, this does not cure the problem. The real root of the problem is that they do not have experience in MMA training. Therefore, they may favor a striker-based fighter rather than a jiu-jitsu based fighter because they understand stand-up, but are uneducated as to jiu-jitsu or how to score it. This is apparent at fights when fans start booing when a fight goes to the ground. The reason they boo is because maybe they prefer stand-up fighting to jiu-jitsu, but more likely because they do not understand jiu-jitsu. If fans and judges had some experience in jiu-jitsu or wrestling, I think they would appreciate when a fight goes to the ground. I think a slick submission can be as entertaining as a severe knockout. For this reason, I would propose that all new judges must pass a more difficult Standardized Grappling Test (I would like them to have a minimum of one year of grappling experience, but this is not feasible), which would test their knowledge in the sport and make sure they are qualified to judge a fight when it goes to the ground. At least this would require judges to have some knowledge of jiu-jitsu/wrestling rather than them having no knowledge of the different martial arts.
The fight format and scoring system are the next problems with MMA. Currently, most fights are scored on a round-by-round basis rather than a whole fight basis. In addition, the layout of the fight is three rounds at five minutes apiece (excluding championship fights five rounds at five minutes apiece). The problem with this is that a fighter might closely win two rounds and get beat up bad in the last round, but still win the fight because he won two rounds to one. In order to alleviate this problem, I think the first round of a fight should be ten minutes long and the remaining round should be five minutes long (old Pride style). This format would make it easier for judges to score because they have a continuous ten minute round to see who decisively won the round. Therefore, even if the fighter that lost the first round wins the second round, he most likely will lose the fight because he lost the majority of the fight. Moreover, the judges should score the fight on an overall basis rather than a round by round basis. The person that dominates and inflicts the majority of the fight deserves to win the fight.
Finally, the judges should use different judging criteria to determine a winner. Currently, the judges score the bout based on this order: (1) effective striking; (2) effective grappling; (3) control of the fighting area; (4) effective aggressiveness and defense. I would changing the judging criteria to this: (1) the effort made to finish the fight via knockout or submission; (2) damage given to the opponent; (3) standing combinations and ground control; (4) takedowns and takedown defense; and (5) aggressiveness (similar to Pride rules). The biggest difference between the two scoring systems is the damage factor. The model I am proposing looks for fighters to be more aggressive and try to finish fight whereas the current system is very subjective. Effective striking could mean the amount of damage inflicted or it could mean the amount of strikes landed even if they are not damaging. With the current system, we have fighters fighting to win on points and a solid game plan rather than fighters trying to finish fights. This needs to change. Fans come to see entertaining fights where fighters try to finish fights. They do not come to see fighters running away from the other fighter the whole fight and landing ineffective strikes that cause no damage in order to win off a certain point strategy. With the proposed system, damage is a priority and therefore, fighters would be forced to fight rather than run.
If the sport of MMA wants to continue its worldwide rise, these issues need to be addressed. Fighters have to come to fight, and judges have to be educated in all areas of martial arts in order to score fights correctly when the fights go to a decision.