In the last couple of months the issue around judging and scoring has intensified in the MMA community due to recent controversial decisions. In the below post I detail what I believe is the solution to this complex issue. I’m not a writer, so you will see the impact of that. I’m an Operations and Systems Manager in a major US Corporation, where I believe a lot of the main concepts I use on a daily basis apply directly to the task at hand.
I’ve read countless articles from other writers (bloggers, reporters, etc) on how to solve this issue, but mostly read on solutions on how to minimize the symptoms, instead of how to treat the disease. Incompetent judges, over simplified rules, misuse of set guidelines are all symptoms to the cause that needs to be identified.
The question to cover is who is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the unified rules of MMA? Athletic Commissions, at least in the US, are at a state level. In other countries, are at a federal level. Still, there is a lot of decentralization having to deal with hundreds of entities to get a change through and applied globally providing an uneven quality of the product, and therefore opening the question of if a win in one place comparable with a place in the next? Is the result as legit if being overseen by a Commission versus a Promoter? Would the same fight have a different result under a different set of rules?
To solve this issue an independent entity should be created. This new entity proposed, the Global MMA Commission, would act and interact with each state commission when an event is held under their jurisdiction, but will also be responsible to ensure consistency across jurisdictions and across promotions. It could act under the supervision of Commission committees and Promoters committees to whom it would be accountable for certain shared items in the sport.
Promoters (UFC, Bellator, WSOF, LegacyFC, etc) would be registered with the GMC and would have to comply with an agreed set of guidelines that would be created to ensure consistency amongst promoters. These guidelines include but are not restricted to safety, quality, match making, etc. This would assist in solving issues similar to, for example, having 24 year old fighter with 31-0 records. There are several issues with this, including fighters not facing proper competition, fighting too often, under-aged, etc. Fighter safety is a strong issue which the UFC is tackling head on in a superb manner, but this is not the case for smaller promotions, often making an Amateur fight more dangerous than fighting for a UFC title. Also things such as drug use and health review (i.e. current issues in weight cutting) would benefit from consistency across the board.
There are several areas to look into bettering the judging in the sport, from training and preparation, to certification, to growth, to execution and to compensation.
Not all judges are equal. It would be stupid to think that someone judging an amateur MMA fight should be as capable as someone judging a UFC Championship fight. It would also be stupid to think the reward should be the same, as the pressure and exposure is not. As with athletes, better judges should be officiating in more relevant events and therefore getting better compensated. Bad judges should be rapidly weeded out.
An initial step should include categorizing judges into different levels to cover Amateur events, Undercards and Regional professional events, Main events and Championships. The category a judge falls under could be determined based on exposure to striking, grappling and wrestling disciplines (hours of training, belt achieved, etc), number of events judged, performance peer review scores, etc., requiring for minimum thresholds to be met to pass on to the next category. Judges will still be required to be licensed with the local commission and assignment of judges could be determined the local commission assuming the minimum requirements of the GMC are properly met.
As the sport evolves, and judging evolves, these thresholds could be updated to increase the level of judging. On the other hand the judges compensation should be impacted by the type of event that they can cover based on the judge category they fall in, pushing the judges to get better trained and better performances. Also fines and bonuses could be handed out for extreme cases (i.e. CJ Ross case).
The GMC could partner with local gyms to put together training programs to allow judges to rack up the hours of exposure needed to move into the next category without having to actually execute the discipline if not physically possible (i.e. age, disability, etc).
After each event a committee of peers would review the performance of the judges that would impact their future categorization. Also in cases of controversial decisions a more extensive review can be requested by either the promotion or the commission and the GMC would be responsible for opening an investigation and providing a full analysis for the fans and media to review. One of the things the GMC should focus on is providing transparency on the process and make the fans comfortable with how the process works and weeds out bad judges. Potentially there could even be a process for overturning decisions if it’s found in the investigation that its clear the call should have gone for the other party.
Same concept can be extrapolated to referring.
Opinions on how to solve the scoring issue range from open scoring, to increased use of 10-8 and 10-7 results, to definition of a tie as a 9-9 or a 10-10, to point based system, to full fight vs round based scoring, to re-balancing of scoring definitions to include damage as the main item, etc (I’m sure I missed a couple valuable ideas and a lot of not-so-valuable as well). All excellent suggestions. The question is how do you change this and who is responsible for it?
Again this is a place where a Global MMA Commission would provide great value. First, the suggestions need to be proved in practice. Although open scoring might seem like a no-brainer to minimize controversy, it could impact the way a fighter approaches a fight negatively. Win 3 first rounds in a championship fight and play it safe for the last 2.
One thing that needs to be ensured is that the experimentation minimizes the impact to fighters careers and records, while still keeping results comparable and legit. The second is, once a change in the scoring system is tested successful, the GMC would be key in deploying the change to all promotions in all jurisdictions for the betterment of the sport overall and training the judges and referees to implement it properly.
To do this, it’s important to get agreement from the majority of the promotions and local commissions and the GMC could coordinate these discussions (good luck putting Bjorn and Dana in the same room :S).
The GMC could expand into covering other areas such as fighter unions, rankings, etc. The GMC could coordinate training sessions, yearly summits, and better communications to the community (fans, media, etc).
The big question is how a GMC be created in the first place and who would do it? My suggestion is to get the 3 biggest promotions (in my opinion UFC, Bellator and WSOF) along with the 3 biggest Commissions (e.g. Nevada, Texas and Brazil) to set the ground stones for this model. I believe it would be to huge advantage to both parties as it will speed up the bett