A Sitdown with Japan’s MMA Officials Committee

Photo courtesy of JMOC

Since its inception in 2017, the Japan MMA Officials Committee has worked to standardize rules and regulations and to develop the next group of officials in Japan to oversee MMA’s growth in the future. Much like its North American counterpart, the Association of Boxing Commissions, did previously, JMOC set out to create a more unified experience for fighters, referees and judges alike.

Led by veteran MMA officials Masato Fukuda, Minoru Toyonaga, Tomoki Matsumiya and Naoya Uematsu, JMOC is preparing to oversee one of Japan’s biggest MMA events of the past decade, Rizin 40: Bellator MMA vs. Rizin, on New Year’s Eve in Saitama. The group spoke with Sherdog.com ahead of the event to discuss JMOC’s goals, working with North American officials and the continued evolution of MMA regulation in Japan.

Sherdog: First of all, I would like to ask you to describe what kind of organization JMOC is, starting with the characteristics of the organization. I feel that JMOC is pursuing MMA as a sport more under the influence of North American officials such as Jason Herzog and Big John McCarthy, but I would like to ask you to explain how you refer to the North American commission and how it differs from North America.

Minoru Toyonaga: The difference from North America is that JMOC is not a public organization. In Japan, referees, judges and other officials belonging to the MMA promotions were in charge of matches, but this led to a bias in the exchange of information and inconsistencies in refereeing and judging across the board.

In order to eliminate that as much as possible, we decided to share information and make sure that all referees, judges and officials from each of the participating promotions would be able to work together to create a neutral organization. As long as we were going to do this, we decided to form a “general incorporated association” rather than a voluntary organization like a circle activity or a club activity. JMOC was formed as a “general incorporated association.”

Sherdog: I understand that North American officials, such as Herzog and McCarthy, have had an influence on your efforts to align with their practices.

Toyonaga: I think that North America is a large market and is advanced in MMA, so I was wondering what they are doing with information. I happened to be working with Herzog at Rizin, so I got the latest information on the scene. We would then build a relationship of trust with McCarthy and asked to hold individual seminars for officials, and we would learn from them what North American (officials) are like. We do not imitate the North American officials in everything, so the rules differ from organization to organization, and there are fights that are not under the “unified rules.” So JMOC shares information and adjusts for current fights.

Sherdog: In MMA, there is a process where new situations are added and new rules are established, and I would like to ask you about the process whereby the rules have become more certain when new situations arise.

Tomoki Matsumiya: To add a bit more about the North American influence, the first is the exchange of information at Rizin. The second is the communication with Herzog and Jerin Varel, and the third is the special study opportunities such as the seminar with McCarthy to gain new knowledge. I think these are the major types of exchanges.

In addition to these three, we are also gathering open information on how to respond to the new rules, using information from ABC and MMA-related media, as well as updates on what is happening in practice in the field. Specifically, the criteria for judging under the rules have not changed, but there have been discussions in the U.S. on how to apply them in the field, and this information has been reflected here in Japan.

Sherdog: I would like to dig a little deeper and ask you about specific judgments where the rules have not changed but the viewpoint has changed.

Matsumiya: For example, the rules have had a standard 10-8 score for a long time, but from a certain time until recently, there was a trend to give a 10-8 score too generously. The rule criteria are effective striking, grappling, aggression and area control. However, in reality, the score is based on “3D,” or damage, dominance and duration.

Then, there was the operation of giving a 10-8 if there was a significant difference in two or more of these three factors, but there were many fighters who maintained an advantage in both duration and dominance and, dare I say, did not aim for damage. In other words, the number of 10-8s without impact had increased. So, the view has now changed to emphasize damage and impact, and now there are fewer 10-8 scores than before. There is a trend in judging at this time, and there is more information sharing about what aspects of the offense and defense should be focused on.

Sherdog: Is that a different approach from North America?

Matsumiya: It is the same as in North America.

Masato Fukuda: ABC originally started a reform on 10-8 judging in January 2017, and 3D was already discussed at that time. So 3D has been updated many times since then on how to operate in the field. We interacted with Jason and Jerin to get timely information. If January 2017 was Phase 1, it has continued to evolve from there, and we are now on the third round, or about Phase 3. It is not good for officials and fighters to just say, “Let's actively add the 10-8 without understanding the progress of the 3D update,” and I think it is very important to properly inform officials and fighters about the rationale behind adding the 10-8.

Without live information exchange between Japan and the U.S., it is impossible to know whether we are in Phase 3 or Phase 2 of the project. In terms of understanding our current status, I am glad that there was such an exchange of information.

Matsumiya: I think we are now able to confirm where we are at.

Photo Credit: Go Yamamoto

Sherdog: Other than the judging standards, what other reforms were made under the influence of North America?

Fukuda: In Japan, we used to call taping the fist a “bandage” and did not refer to it as a “hand wrap,” but through exchanges with North America, we started to use the term “hand wrap” and also started to educate people about hand wrapping; not only through the names, but also through rules, systematization and training at the JMOC.

The JMOC has been working on the establishment of detailed rules and regulations for hand wrapping in the past few years, and I believe that these rules and regulations are now widely accepted in Japan. On the other hand, even in organizations that do not have such regulations, there is a phenomenon where fighters are voluntarily using the hand wrapping standards adopted by JMOC.

Sherdog: Until now, hand wrapping was often done by seconds/cornermen, but in the case of certified events, it is not done by seconds but by those who have been properly certified.

Fukuda: Yes. In the case of Rizin, there have been many foreign fighters since its launch, and there were many cases where foreign fighters came to Japan thinking that it was normal to have the hand wrapping done by a cut man provided by the officials or promoter, which is commonplace at their own country’s events. This was before the establishment of JMOC, but we started preparations at a Rizin event in 2017 and, in 2018, JMOC started full-scale training of hand wrap officials.

Now that the certification system has started, there are five people certified as hand wrap officials. On New Year's Eve, those certified hand wrap officials are preparing to handle Bellator athletes as well. Before the information exchange, we didn't have people certified, but we spoke with the Bellator cut man and got a tour of the competition operation site of the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), and now we finally have a working certification system. That is a great evolution.

Toyonaga: I think it changed the way I am as an official. Before JMOC, I had been interacting with fighters, refereeing and judging fighters I knew or who belonged to the same organization. I try to eliminate such things as much as possible now and I try to create distance and maintain neutrality.

As Big John said, we should not be chatting with fighters around the ring or with the promoters. As much as possible, we should be involved as a neutral, impartial and fair organization, and as an impartial person. In that sense, we have changed our stance to be more like public organizations in North America.

Sherdog: As an organization, you are trying to avoid any suspicion of a conflict of interest, but one aspect is that some of the JMOC officials have their own gyms and so there are fighters who come to practice. What things do you pay attention to when you are involved with fighters?

Matsumiya: I don't think it is possible for us to have no relationship at all with any of the fighters or people involved in MMA. We have studied martial arts in the gym. I think it is a question of how we behave on a daily basis so as not to arouse any suspicion. I would like to ask Mr. Uematsu specifically about this.

Naoya Uematsu: I don't have any training with the people I would be refereeing now, so I don't think anything of it at the moment, and I don't participate as a referee in events with fighters I would have been in contact with before. I don't referee for Pancrase because fighters who belong to my gym compete there. I don't coach fighters from other gyms, so I don't have that problem now, but there is a possibility that it may happen in the future.

Sherdog: Because of the nature of MMA, it is impossible to be completely independent from anyone, so it is necessary to be disciplined. There is a way of thinking with common sense but also a way of making it clear through writing. Does JMOC have such a written rule?

Matsumiya: We have not yet done so, but some commissions in the U.S. have already established a code of ethics and we will do so in the near future. As we continue our official activities, so as not to arouse suspicion from those around us, we are making fewer and fewer friends within the martial arts community (laughs).

Sherdog: When Herzog and McCarthy were invited to Rizin, I think there was a feeling that they were “big,” but looking ahead I feel that there will come a time when referees with big bodies will be required as a generational change. However, the population of MMA fighters in the heavyweight class in Japan is small, so I would like to ask you if you are making preparations for this?

Toyonaga: In Japan, I believe that referees should be assigned to fights that match the fighter’s size as much as possible, and the most recommended thing is to have female referees for female fights. There are very few female referees in Japan right now, so it is difficult to assign a referee to every fight. I think it is better to have a referee of a similar size to the fighters. The JMOC officials are well-trained, so there has never been a time when they could not stop a fighter during a match in Japan.

Sherdog: Rizin’s body checks for female fighters are done by a woman (Tomoko Igarashi), but for Deep Jewels, they are done by a man.

Matsumiya: It depends on the event.

Sherdog: Is that something you would like to work on in the future?

Toyonaga: We would like to do as much as we can.

Fukuda: I think the trend of having female officials for female fighters started with the introduction of female officials at Rizin in 2017. The women who are currently in charge of that were first introduced to Rizin after attending the inspector training session, and then moved up to that spot after continuous training through practical work at feeder shows and follow-up meetings, so it is not just anyone. It is not easy to train and develop a large number of people, so it will take time.

Matsumiya: It is impossible without increasing the number of officials, in terms of gender and body size. It would be nice to have a more diverse group of people, but since we have only been active for four years, we do not have that many staff members. We have to assign the best people among our current officials. The presence of female staff is very important. I think the stress that female athletes, in particular, face would be lessened if there were more female officials.

Sherdog: This may be outside the scope of the JMOC, but when women are in the MMA industry, there are often many men around them and women's health is a delicate subject. I feel it is wrong to ask a man for advice about a woman's health condition. What kind of contact person should there be for women who participate in the competitions, and how does JMOC feel about that?

Toyonaga: In major promotions, I think it would be better to have women handle as much as possible for the more delicate and difficult situations, such as weigh-ins, weigh-in locations and body checks, but there are not many people who can do this and so I am not sure if we can cover everything. However, I think it would be better if female athletes were overseen by female officials as much as possible.

Matsumiya: In order to increase the number of female competitors, we need to increase the number of women involved in martial arts; not only athletes, but also staff and coaches. Physical conditioning is, in a sense, coaching, so I think we need a system to encourage women to enter or remain in the martial arts industry. It would be good if such people could be active in the JMOC. At any rate, unless we take measures to increase the number of women, I think it will be difficult to achieve that.

Sherdog: Back to the discussion on rules, in North America the Unified Rules are fully posted and available online. However, on the Rizin website in Japan for example, there is unfortunately only a small rules page. By enhancing the rules, it would be easier for foreign fighters to decide whether to participate at an event if they can read the rules in English before competing.

For Rizin, it is their responsibility because it is Rizin's website, but I don't think that means that JMOC should have nothing to do with the rule pages. JMOC could be involved to some extent, but I would like to ask you how you would like to move forward in this area in the future?

Fukuda: I don't think we need full text of the rules, from Article 1 to Article 40. There is text that conveys enough of the information for rule reviews. If there is such a request in the future, we will release essential information from that text and then we can make a request to Rizin to upload it. Although we cannot solve the discretionary issue of whether we can release the information, we should accept such a request.

Sherdog: Please explain what you are doing with regard to deepening the rules of MMA by interacting with organizations that promote Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and kickboxing.

Uematsu: Conversely, my question to you is whether there are specific examples of exchanges in other sports and competitions? In the case of martial arts and combat sports, there are comparisons, but I feel that it is not always beneficial to have exchanges because the fundamentals do not match since the refereeing process is quite different in each sport. As for formal refereeing, I am involved in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA and sambo, but the purpose of each is different.

To give a specific example, people who are involved in Brazilian jiu-jitsu try to grade MMA based on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu scoring standards, which is harmful. I often see that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu point system is being dragged down by MMA standards, and I honestly think that’s a bad thing. My personal feeling is that it is possible to bring the aspect of evaluating Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques to MMA judging, rather than applying Brazilian jiu-jitsu refereeing to MMA as it is.

For example, in judo, wrestling and boxing, each of those sports evaluates criteria differently. In boxing, whether it is a flash knockdown where the fighter stands on a 3-4 count or a down where the fighter stands up just before the count of 9, they will all probably receive a 10-8 round score. In MMA, I don't think it is necessarily rated that way. A flash knockdown is probably not rated as highly in terms of damage.

In MMA, if a fighter can take down an opponent and inflict damage, that is highly valued, even if that does not include an ippon grade (near submission) technique like in judo where the opponent is thrown so that his back is on the ground. So I think it is good to use it as a reference. However, whether or not it would be beneficial to both parties to exchange refereeing skills as they are, I think an exchange is something that needs to be considered. I myself have been thinking about this issue for some time.

Sherdog: The reason I asked you about this is because I believe that two things are necessary: to bring specialists into the JMOC to sharpen detail, and standardization, which is a bit contradictory in a sense.

Fukuda: There is no official exchange between organizations, but we’ve had discussions such as the one just described by Mr. Uematsu, who is in charge of competition management in other sports, and he has shared his knowledge with us.

Matsumiya: It is important to have people with various backgrounds among our officials. Japanese MMA is also becoming more sophisticated. In the past, we had judges from other sports such as wrestling and kickboxing, but we have long passed that stage. By referring to other sports, it does not mean adopting methods as they are, but rather increasing the number of ways to look at MMA. It is like what Mr. Uematsu has just mentioned, where we ask people to show us their points of view.

Sherdog: Many of Rizin's fans watch on YouTube. JMOC's website has many columns and official Twitter and Facebook accounts, but it is lacking in terms of video, and video is one of the keys to appealing to a different audience rather than just text. How do you feel about this?

Toyonaga: If we can, we would like to do so. If we are going to communicate what we are doing, it would be better to film what we are actually doing on-site. We need to talk to each promotion to confirm what kind of work they are doing. For example, there are people who are not in the ring, so it would be good if the inspectors, hand wrap officials, etc. could show what kind of work they are doing. It is true that people would be more interested if we could transmit more than just text and photos but also videos and actual actions. This is something to be considered in the future.

Matsumiya: We have been sending out information on official matters, such as interpretation of rules, in written form, but I think it would be beneficial to send it out in video form as well. However, as is characteristic of our organization, we do not have a full-time staff. We are a volunteer organization with busy work schedules, and we do not have a strong financial base. We would like to have people who are willing to help us create and distribute the videos.

Sherdog: Japan (Rizin) has its own rules for grounded knees, soccer kicks and stomps, and the use of a ring is the most noticeable difference from the Unified Rules. It is necessary for foreigners to understand the rules, and I would like to ask how you are implementing them and how you have accumulated knowledge?

Matsumiya: Under the Unified Rules, the referee has the exclusive authority to make decisions, and no one can interfere with his rulings. In Japan, however, the sub-referee and the referee work together as a team to minimize blind spots in order to make a fair decision. Also, at one time, there was a rule in the U.S. that the corner (second) could not throw in the towel. However, the corner's instantaneous judgment and action is also necessary to protect the safety of the athlete.

There are disadvantages to throwing towels, such as not being able to tell who threw it or not being able to reach it because it gets caught in the ropes or fence, but we introduced the baton to eliminate such disadvantages. The corner can throw the baton and the sub-referee can also throw it. I think we have created a system that prioritizes the safety of the fighters.

Sherdog: I understand that Herzog has participated in sub-refereeing and gave a good evaluation of its effectiveness.

Matsumiya: He praised it as “teamwork.” The referee is the exclusive arbiter, but the sub-referee system means that the referee is not alone. From another perspective, it is also a system for training referees. The sub-referee can prevent situations where an inexperienced referee might make a poor decision alone, in advance. So it is one of the training systems that can be used for study and experience, and also for building a career without unnecessary trouble. While it is important to make proper judgments and rulings during matches, another major role of the JMOC is to nurture referees, and I think sub-referees fulfill a function in that sense as well.

Sherdog: In that sense, can you say how much the number of JMOC members has increased since its establishment?

Toyonaga: At first, we had people who had grown up in different promotions, but now we are at the stage where we have people who have grown up in JMOC. Before JMOC, we had gained experience through each promotion's own system, but now we are at the stage where members are gaining experience by gathering it from other members. We develop two to three officials per year. There are always about 50 members, and about 20 officials who are certified.

Matsumiya: We have a JMOC community where we share information. From there, they go through various training sessions in the field. After that, as Mr. Toyonaga just said, not many people can be active in the professional arena. There are 40 to 50 people in the community and, out of them, a few per year may or may not be able to become professionals after gaining experience through on-the-job training. That is the de facto system at the moment.

Toyonaga: Officials are not often praised. Inexperienced officials make mistakes and are not praised. On the contrary, they are insulted. If that is the case, there will not be many people who will continue to work with us.

Sherdog: As mentioned in the JMOC column, people at the UFC level are chosen. In the past, new people were sometimes brought in and made strange refereeing decisions, but that is not typically the case now. It is a stage where only selected people can move up.

Toyonaga: In the end, the chosen people are a select few, but it is not enough to have a small group of elite people and so we must broaden our talent’s base.

Matsumiya: We follow the rules, practices and customs with regard to judging under the Unified Rules, but there are also different ways of judging like total must. There are two phases in our role regarding judging: the rule-making phase and the on-the-spot judging phase. We do our own rule making, but in the case of the Deep rules, with the time constraint of two five-minute rounds, how do we determine clear winners?

Deep adopted a rule, which we supervised, that the rounds are scored by a 10-point must system. If there is a tie, the winner is decided by a total must decision. This rule is the result of thinking about how to evaluate offense and defense in MMA competition. I think there are many positive evaluations of this rule.

Sherdog: [Deep promoter] Shigeru Saeki has expressed that he has complete trust in the judges scoring his fights.

Matsumiya: The total must decision system in Rizin is unique, however. The old Pride total must system only told you which side won. There was no basis for the decision. However, I think that scoring is based on the idea that judgments need to be supported by evidence. In a Unified Rules system, in which three five-minute rounds are fought, the fighter who wins more rounds wins the fight. So it feels like a single match, whether that single match is 5 minutes or 15 minutes.

As I told Bellator fighters at the rules meeting the other day, if there is a 30-27 decision under the Unified Rules, the result will not be overturned under the Rizin Rules. However, in the case of 29-28, there is a possibility that the result could be overturned. What I mean is that, even if the fighter who took 29 was better in generalship, if the fighter who took 28 made an impact in damage then that fighter would win.

This is one evaluation system that was created after considering these factors. Of course, the meaning of an attack and defense changes within a 15-minute period as opposed to a 5-minute period, so it is more difficult to evaluate. We are also thinking about what kind of system would lead to more valid results and a conclusion that is more acceptable in MMA, so we are adopting American standards, but at the same time we are also thinking about how MMA should be. Not necessarily unique to here in Japan, but we aren’t simply imitating the United States.

Sherdog: Is there anything in particular that’s noteworthy from interactions with Herzog or individual referees, or anything that you were taught or told that really stuck with you?

Toyonaga: Jason is doing this in North America, where he makes the rounds before each match to do a final rules check with each fighter to build up a sense of trust, so we thought it would be better to do this on the biggest stage possible and especially in Rizin. By doing this in promotions other than Rizin, we can eliminate any discrepancies in awareness between the fighters and the promoters, so we are doing this in other promotions as well.

Matsumiya: It may come as a surprise to you, but there are some fighters and seconds who do not understand the details of the rules. By having them ask us questions during our rounds, we can ensure that the rules are thoroughly understood. Also, since we are rarely unable to answer questions, our credibility is enhanced.

With international competitors, we have to make sure that they understand the unique Japanese calls. We say, “In such and such a case, we will make such and such a call” (signal). Our calls do not convey our feelings, but rather our interpretation of the rules, so the pre-match patrol is also important to ensure the meaning of the signals. I think we have been able to build a relationship of trust with the fighters and seconds in the matches by being aware of such things.

Uematsu: In my case, it is also about the way I act and behave, and when I heard about the origin of the Unified Rules from Big John, I was able to understand the essence of the rules more. For example, I think that there are two kinds of intentions in recognizing fouls. One is to recognize fouls to protect the safety of the athletes, and the other is to activate the offense and defense in the competition. It is very important to be aware of the meaning of the foul and how it affects the fighters, and if you think about it, you will have a better understanding when making judgments.

It's all in the details, little by little. In fact, there have been cases in which a casual comment made in the field has had a great impact on me. When I attended a seminar once, I was asked why spiking is a foul and why falling on the head is extremely dangerous, and when the rules were being established in North America, doctors were of the opinion that any throws that fall on the head should be banned. Big John reviewed all throws from the Atlanta Olympics.

As a compromise, they decided to prohibit only the vertical throws such as spiking, which is a vertical drop. All other throws, whether they fall from the head or the shoulders, were allowed. I was able to understand very well that this is how spiking is supposed to be done, so I was able to understand what had been troubling me until then by hearing how it was established. This was helpful in understanding the true meaning of the rules and in how to manage and proceed with the competition.

Fukuda: I agree. I think that there have been cases where rules have been adopted simply by translating the text of the U.S. Unified Rules, but I realized once again that I did not understand the essence of them. By learning the origin and background of the rules, I realized that what I had thought was difficult was actually not so difficult. I realized that I had not understood the essential nature of the rules when I had only translated them.

This was a big part of what became very clear to me through exchanges with North American officials. As mentioned earlier, there is definitely a trend in the field of 10-8s. Since it is difficult to understand the trends only from the text, we are able to update our own trends by referring to them, rather than just accepting them as they are, by having exchanges across borders with other officials. I think that this is a very important thing. I understand what Mr. Uematsu is saying.

Sherdog: In that regard, do you think that Japan is already at the same level as English-speaking countries?

Toyonaga: I have opportunities to actively communicate with Jason and Jerin, and I hear the trends and the real voices; not just what is being transmitted in media or being written down. I think I am incorporating these trends at an early stage. I am not just referring to what I read in a magazine. I’m listening to what people are actually doing in the field. I think this is possible because of the information exchange.

Matsumiya: Speaking of exchanges, Jason appreciates our activities, and we are grateful that he is actively sending us information. We are doing activities that are meaningful in their own way, and that means that we are receiving support from the people around us. I think it is quite a hassle for Jason to schedule meetings with us. Even so, he dares to do such a thing.

He has commented to me that, “Our work never sees the light of day. Even so, it feels good to be able to work with like-minded people who are trying to improve the industry.” I feel that we are doing something that will receive such comments, and I am sometimes encouraged by them. I feel that I am receiving support, not only from Jason but also from many other people.

Sherdog: You began a certification system in December that established a written rule to nurture officials, which I felt was one of the goals when JMOC began. I understand that it is not easy to train officials, but how much of this know-how has become an effective tool for developing them?

Uematsu: I personally think that the system is quite well-established, as several people have actually become Rizin referees based on the classroom or hands-on training at JMOC. Many referees in existing organizations are retired professional athletes who are suddenly asked to take on the role of referee and wear the official polo shirt, which is the same as how I started out.

I have taken many courses at the JMOC, and actually worked as an inspector and hand wrap official in the field as an intern, while studying, mock judging and then becoming an official judge. One can also gain experience as a referee at amateur tournaments that are under our guidance and then gradually rise up to the level of our professional referees, starting with rookie fights and then on to higher-profile fights.

I think that we can help the referees by registering them in the certification system. This is my own theory, which is different from the JMOC's, but in the end only the referee can protect the referee, and in Japan there is no official backing for them. In that sense, we have a responsibility to protect the referees who have registered with us. I feel a responsibility to help and protect them.

Sherdog: There will be a joint Japan-U.S. officials team on New Year's Eve, and top referees from the U.S. will come to Japan to form a joint team. What is the significance of this collaborative work for JMOC?

Matsumiya: The most important thing is to make the competition environment more fair; not just for JMOC but for Rizin as well. The first priority is to make the Rizin-Bellator rivalry fair under the Rizin rules by including people who are licensed by the U.S. commissions.

Fukuda: In recent years, we have not been able to bring in foreign fighters due to the Coronavirus, so it has been a long time since we have had an event that is heavily populated by foreign fighters. Even if you include the past times when there were foreigners at events quite frequently, I think that this [Rizin 40] is an extraordinarily high level of matchmaking in the Japanese MMA world.

Moreover, matchmaking is happening in a way that none of the Japanese officials have ever experienced before. I think there is a part of the American side that wonders if Japanese officials can really respond to the situation with the history and environment that Japan has had up until now. In that sense, making a team [of officials] is a way to convince them of the other side's feelings, and also a way to make it fair. If we are creating a team, I think it would be good if we could connect it to the sharing of know-how that I mentioned earlier.

Toyonaga: MMA as a competition is not the same as the old “vale tudo,” and I think this is the best MMA event ever held in the modern era, when MMA techniques have been refined. We have established a certification system to prove to the officials from North America that we have a certain amount of experience and knowledge. JMOC is made up of accredited officials who are able to answer inquiries about the experience of the referees and judges.

Fukuda: For this New Year's Eve, not only certified referees and judges but also backstage inspectors and hand wrap officials - all of whom are certified - will be employed to manage the competition at the event. In the past, inspectors were people who did not know the rules and did not know what to check, but they participated in the event on an open-spot basis.

We have been doing the same thing for the past few years, but we have established a system whereby inspectors can participate backstage only after a long period of training. It was a coincidence that the timing was right for this event, but we prepared for an event with this level of competition in anticipation of it coming.

Matsumiya: After working with JMOC, I think that the way of looking at and accepting “officials” has expanded. I also think that the ways of becoming involved with MMA have expanded, too. For example, when people ask how they can become an inspector, I think that we have been able to show them that the martial arts are not only about fighters and spectators but also about other ways of involvement and support. Not many people are able to move up to the professional stage, but I think that by getting people interested in this kind of work, there are more ways to look at it and get involved.

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