Scoring Overhaul Needed in MMA

Nov 27, 2013

Changes to how winners and losers are judged need to be made, argues California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster.

There are times when reasonable people disagree over who won a particular fight, but in mixed martial arts, there are too many times when it is clear that who “won” the fight is different than what the score reflects.

The judging system used to score mixed martial arts requires evolution. The 10-9 system, developed and used in boxing, is not performing adequately in MMA. To preserve the integrity of the sport and provide equity to athletes, regulators must act. We must develop and implement a scoring system that takes the entire fight into consideration and thoughtfully considers the amount of damage inflicted through effective striking and grappling.

The 10-9 system is not working as well as the market demands. Why? The 10-9 must system used in boxing and MMA scores each round independently. Professional boxing is scheduled in even increments of four, six, eight, 10 or 12 rounds. Professional MMA is scheduled in odd increments of three or five rounds. In addition, MMA rounds are five minutes in duration, where boxing is only three minutes. The fewer number of rounds and increased duration per round in mixed martial arts creates a situation where a judge is required to score an individual round by taking into account significantly more information that yields a much heavier weighted effect on the overall result of the fight. For example, like we have recently seen, one competitor can win two rounds with a much larger margin and the judges see the other competitor winning the other three rounds at a very close margin. The result is the winner on the scorecards is not the winner of the actual fight. Again, I ask why?

A major reason is the lack of objectivity in scoring a 10-8 round in MMA. In boxing, two points are almost always deducted for a knockdown, and the judges in boxing are informed by the referee if the knockdown occurs. The boxing referee rules either a slip or knockdown, letting the judges know whether to deduct the two points. No such objective criterion exists in MMA, nor should it. MMA is much more dynamic, with literally geometrically increasing ways to “effectively strike” and “effectively grapple.” This lack of an objective measure of a true 10-8 round in mixed martial arts has contributed to the “incorrect” decisions in the sport and the hesitation of a judge to write down 10-8 as the score.

Also troubling: the lack of an objective criteria for a true 10-8 round creates an environment where it is possible that one judge scores a fight 10-8, the other two 10-9, and the end result on the final scorecard can create absurd or even bizarre results. If performed by trained and educated judges, the very nature of judging is appropriately subjective. That it requires judges to subjectively assess a 10-8 round based upon “effective striking” and “effective grappling” without a clear objective indicator like the one that exists in boxing is unfair to the judge; more importantly, it is unfair to the athlete being assessed. We can and must do better.

There are probably hundreds of good ideas on how to fix this, and I don’t claim to have a monopoly on them. One thought might be to continue to use the 10-9 system but not as the official determiner of who won a fight. Judges could score each round independently using the 10-9 system, just as the unified rules of mixed martial arts requires. However, at the end of the fight the official judges’ scorecard would not be numerical but rather a question: “Who won the fight?” This final official scorecard would allow the judges to take the entire fight into consideration, and, with trained and educated judges, should yield the correct result at a higher percentage than is currently realized.

Using the 10-9 system in an unofficial capacity would allow regulators and members of the media to continually monitor the judges selected to ensure they are competent and scoring “correctly” using the numerical system. This system would be a merger between the pre-regulation past of scoring the entire fight in totality and the commission-regulated present of using a boxing system to score MMA. Mixed martial artists train hard, make many sacrifices and take risks to their personal health and safety when competing. It is disturbing when a fighter who clearly has performed better than his opponent loses because of a flawed scoring system. It is essential that state athletic commissions select the most qualified officials available and provide a system of scoring that produces the correct result.

Without selecting the most qualified officials available -- officials who have an almost expert knowledge of striking and grappling arts -- any scoring system will fail. I am publicly requesting that the Association of Boxing Commission’s mixed martial arts judging committee call a public meeting so we can begin dialogue about making sensible changes to the judging system used to score MMA. This meeting should include all the stakeholders: regulators, promoters, athletes, media and members of the public.

The market is demanding improvements, and if we don’t produce them, the sport will suffer. People want to know who won the fight, and we need to be able to tell them.

Andy Foster is the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission.


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