The Melvin Guilard vs Jaime Varner fight at 155 is the perfect fight to use as an example when trying to address the judging problems facing the UFC. For a second, disregard any of the actual goings on of the fight itself, and just look at the judges scorecards. Two judges (Mark Smith and Cecil Peoples) gave every round to Varner, while one judge (Adalaide Byrd) gave all three rounds to Guillard. This means that one judge thought the exact opposite of the majority, in every single frame. Scoring fights is tough, and tricky. Judges come from different walks of life, and have backgrounds in different areas. They aren't there to judge what their background is, however. A boxing judge isn't cageside to ignore all techniques aside from boxing, or to place a lower value on techniques they aren't familiar with.
The first piece of the puzzle is accountability. We need to hold these people's feet to the fire on this. If one judge decides that the other two, who agreed completely, are entirely wrong in their decision, in every round of the fight, then that judge should have a responsibility to articulate why they came to their conclusion, and why they disagreed with the other two. When a fighter goes into a UFC fight on a two fight losing streak for example, that will have an impact on how that fighter performs. Their back will be against the wall. Plenty lose, and get cut, but at least when they go in there and ply their craft, they have an understanding of A) what the consequences could be, and B) why they were in that spot to begin with.
Imagine a judge, coming off of two fights where their judging was deemed sub-par, about to judge a championship UFC fight. There's a case to be made that said judge may have their eyes open slightly wider, and be ever more aware of the action. I'm going to touch on the 'how's' and the 'who's', and the logistics of all this a little further into the column, so bare with me if you are already asking questions.
Here is my proposal. Peer review. Plain and simple. When a decision is questioned, or challenged, by a promotion, a fighter, a fighter's corner, or any other body deemed to have a reasonable interest in the outcome(again, details of such would need to be heavily hammered out), there should be a review system in place. In the case of the Guillard/Varner fight, it was a majority decision, so there isn't any impact to the result of the fight, but this can be either a coaching opportunity for Adailade Byrd, or an opportunity for the NSAC to impose some type of infraction. Or it could be the opposite. Upon review, if it was deemed that the other two judges made the bad decisions, the reverse can also be implemented.
One option would be to have other judges, a certain amount, watch the fight afterwards and score it. Maybe you get 10 judges to score it, and you look at the results. If all 10 scored it the same way Peoples and Smith had, well then the consensus would imply that Byrd didn't score the fight accurately. And there of course can be some type of appeal process, as maybe Adailade Byrd has a solid and articulate point to make about why Melvin should have won. There needs to be room to hear that argument as well. This is why this particular fight is a good example, it's very cut and dry. Now, if you have a five round back-and-forth war with a few 10-8 rounds, maybe for both fighters, then it gets complicated. All three judges could have come up with a different score per fighter for every single round. But if there was sufficient merit for a challenge of the decision, it should be held to the same review standards. Also, what if the judges reviewing the fight all see the outcome differently? These are questions that barely scratch the surface of complications that would arise, but in practice, with constant refinement, a review process of fights that went to a decision is completely possible. Even if the decision remains exactly the same, and exactly as unjust as it was on fight night, there is a value add in having judges question themselves, and each other.
So now we can talk about criteria. Most of us are aware of the all the rules and judging criteria in mixed martial arts. That much has already been defined. Most of us also have heard the idea of 'home-cooked' scorecard, where the fighter who has the hometown crowd behind him may win the fight, deservingly or otherwise. The prevailing theory behind this is that the crowd would cheer and roar more so when the hometown fighter lands strikes, scores takedowns, or attempts submissions, causing the judges, sitting cageside, to incorporate the crowd reaction into their decisions. Now, if those judges were aware of this pitfall, and maybe were required to view some type of Powerpoint slideshow pre-fight, which addressed potential pitfalls and things to be conscious of during the fight, this might not occur. Just like a fighter needs to gain a working knowledge of his opponents skill sets, and needs to form a gameplan, judges also should be required to have a working knowledge about the fights they have been assigned, and mma in general.
Dana White and Joe Rogan, during FX prelims, loudly yell at the television audience minutes before every PPV starts. The goal being to make the fans aware of the action in store, and to provide a few quick bullet points about the fighter's, their win/loss streaks, style match-ups, and of course, to sway people to buy the ppv. Sadly, I feel that the causal fan watching FX who sees these pre-fight hype rants has a better idea of the night's fights than the judges who are responsible for their outcomes. Dana has said that he doesn't have the solution to the judging problem, and couldn't implement it if he did. That's probably true, and Dana is a very vital cog in the mma machine, but he isn't the only thing keeping this thing moving. The phrase 'don't leave it in the hands of the judges' needs to become obsolete. Hopefully this column has planted a few seeds in the ground, and we can come up with a way to greatly improve judging in mma. This problem isn't unsolvable. It's going to take work, and perseverance.
MMA has come a long way from the dark ages of NHB fighting being banned from television and almost every state. Now we are on the precipice of stadium shows and superfights. If two fighters can produce a multi-million dollar live gate and several hundred thousand PPV buys, and are fighting for a paycheck that usually doubles if they win, then they deserve that same caliber of judging.
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